TAMPA — Two state senators are asking for an audit of University of South Florida Polytechnic expenditures following accusations that the school's leader is mismanaging funds and reports about plans to produce a $500,000 promotional video.
Senators Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who oppose a push to make the Lakeland school an independent university, called for the review in a letter sent Thursday to USF president Judy Genshaft.
As of late Thursday, Genshaft had not responded.
The call comes just three weeks before the board that oversees the university system will discuss a possible USF Poly split from the Tampa campus.
Included in the senators' letter is an unsigned message listing allegations against USF Poly chancellor Marshall Goodman, as well as a copy of a St. Petersburg Times article that details the pricey video plans. The message says it is from students at the school.
"We sincerely urge that you fully investigate USF Polytechnic expenditures to determine whether the accusations of the students are valid," the senators wrote, "and whether or not Dr. Goodman is using good judgment in utilizing taxpayer dollars to produce a half-million-dollar video."
Goodman did not respond to a request for comments.
The accusations made in the unsigned message are mostly unsubstantiated rumors — Goodman spending school funds on "personal follies," faculty whispering about threats if they speak out, a desire of Goodman and powerful Sen. J.D. Alexander "to create their own legacy."
But at least one checks out: Goodman's son, Robert, is employed by USF Poly to run the school's business incubator program, a hire USF Poly defends.
Dockery said it was the combination of the anonymous plea for help, the lack of answers from Goodman about costs of independence and other information trickling in that prompted the audit request.
Fasano said the lawmakers are simply seeking transparency.
"This is not a witch hunt," Fasano said. "We just want to make sure tax dollars were spent appropriately. … We are struggling in this state now, economically."
The move highlights a shift in the independence conversation, which was sparked a few months ago by a group of Polk County leaders including Alexander.
Until recently, most opposition was muted. Dockery and Fasano, who have been warning against a hasty decision from the start, note that separation is now "coming under intense fire from multiple directions."
Earlier this month, Gene Engle, the chairman of USF Poly's board and a member of the USF Board of Trustees, publicly cautioned against the move.
A couple of weeks ago, the USF Board of Trustees said the university wants to be reimbursed for its investments in the Lakeland campus if it does split off.
And as an example in their letter to Genshaft, Dockery and Fasano pointed to former Sen. Rick Dantzler, a Winter Haven lawyer who was among the first to publicly reconsider his initial endorsement of USF Poly's independence.
"The idea of Polk County having its own state university appealed to my sense of civic pride, but I made a mistake," Dantzler told the Times. "I let my heart overload my brain."
Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.