TAMPA — A powerful state senator who helped secure funding for the University of South Florida Polytechnic campus called for its independence this week, but USF president Judy Genshaft on Wednesday defended her commitment to the whole of USF's multi-pieced system.
The Lakeland campus, which touts a focus on technical disciplines, already applied for separate accreditation status from the Southern Association of Colleges of Schools. But Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said the school should become a separate institution.
"At first, I thought we can all work together," Alexander told the Ledger of Lakeland on Tuesday. "But after a decade of time and time again running into roadblocks — even with a supportive leader such as Genshaft — I know it just won't work."
His thoughts were echoed in a letter signed by 29 Polk County leaders, including businessmen, lawyers, CEOs and the mayors of Winter Haven and Lake Wales. It was sent to Ava Parker, chairwoman of the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state's 11 universities.
"Common sense dictates that a campus with a distinct mission should control its own destiny," the letter says.
Genshaft was quick with a statement in response: "We continue to move forward as a unified system focused on world-class academics and scientific research as a means of serving the needs of our communities, our region and the state of Florida."
USF's setup is unique among Florida universities in the way it includes schools across the bay that are autonomous in governing, yet under the USF umbrella. Two of those campuses now have separate accreditation — USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee.
During the last legislative session, Alexander championed building USF Polytechnic a new $35 million campus. It was the only higher education appropriation to get past Gov. Rick Scott's veto.
USF Polytechnic issued a statement of its own: "We appreciate the incredible support which our community continues to provide the University of South Florida Polytechnic. The decisions regarding independence will be made by the USF Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, and our elected leaders. … USF Polytechnic is very appreciative of the role of the USF System in establishing our vision and investing in our future, and we look forward to our continued collaboration."