Trustees say if Lakeland campus splits, USF needs to recoup its investment

TAMPA — Some members of the governing board of the University of South Florida expressed frustration Thursday with efforts to make USF's regional campus in Lakeland an independent school.

But if USF Polytechnic does split and becomes the state's 12th university, state leaders should ensure USF recoups at least some of the investment it has made in the school, the board said in a statement released at Thursday's meeting.

The statement by the USF Board of Trustees is its first about the proposed split. It came after trustees grilled USF Poly's regional vice chancellor, Marshall Goodman, about separation logistics. How would the transition be funded? How would the school succeed without the USF brand? Have the students' opinions been considered?

Goodman promised a "seamless transition." He compared a breakaway to the experiences at Florida Gulf Coast University, which was built from the ground up in the 1990s and absorbed the USF Fort Myers branch, and at New College, which also was once under USF's umbrella.

Both of those schools remained accredited within USF's system until they were able to gain separate accreditation.

Some trustees weren't convinced.

"I'm sure you must understand our frustrations," said board chair John Ramil. Just a few years ago, Ramil said, Goodman stood before the same board, urging it to support the Lakeland branch's new focus on a polytechnic mission. That distinction, which emphasizes applied learning in technical fields, was intended to strengthen the whole of the USF system.

"Now all of a sudden Poly doesn't fit in that system?" Ramil asked.

The ultimate decision rests with the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state's public universities, and the Florida Legislature. The issue is expected to go before the Board of Governors next month.

J.D. Alexander, a powerful state senator from Lake Wales, and a group of Polk County civic and business leaders are leading the charge to make USF Poly independent.

But opponents are starting to come forward.

Last week, Gene Engle, a USF trustee and chairman of the USF Poly board, spoke against a split. Rick Dantzler, a Winter Haven lawyer who signed the Polk County group's letter in support of independence, said last month that he regrets doing so. Other state leaders are quietly asking questions about the cost.

The USF board said Thursday that if state leaders decide to sever the campus, USF wants help with transition expenses and some reimbursement of money already spent supporting the Lakeland campus. The campus, established in the late 1980s, has benefited from millions of dollars in resources from the main Tampa campus, including legal services, marketing, financing and IT software. USF's other campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota do, too.

"When you make an investment, you expect a return," said trustee Brian Lamb.

USF also wants to retain its new pharmacy program, which was slated to be located at the new USF Poly campus being built off Interstate 4.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com

This story has been amended to reflect the following clarification: Members of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees on Thursday said they wanted USF Polytechnic to remain part of the USF system, but a formal statement they released did not take a position, instead outlining conditions if a split did occur. A story was unclear on this point.

USF's statement

The position of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees is that we have been, and continue to be, well-served by a system that is based on delivering what's best for our students, region, and Florida citizens.

Recent independent rankings and assessments of the USF system and its achievements speak for themselves. Should the Board of Governors, the Legislature and the governor decide that, because of its unique characteristics as a polytechnic campus, USF Polytechnic should be separated as the 12th state university, USF will assist with the transition, as long as concurrent actions are taken to recognize USF's contributions to higher education and to ensure protection of the balance of the USF system.

Such action would include making the USF system whole with respect to the transition expenses and its investments in USF Polytechnic, bringing USF funding more in line with the other top research institutions in the state and ensuring that the facility and current pharmacy funding is appropriately directed to USF Health.

This action shall not be construed as a precedent for any other request for independence of any other USF regional campus.

As a component of that transition, steps should be taken to ensure that the resources necessary to create USF Polytechnic as a stand-alone university will not be taken from the remainder of the USF system … or from any other existing state university.

Trustees say if Lakeland campus splits, USF needs to recoup its investment 10/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 8:44pm]

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