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USF Poly puts grand plans in writing for independence push

TAMPA — Flip through the University of South Florida Polytechnic's ambitious plan for becoming the state's 12th university and you could forget it's still just a 1,300-student branch campus in Lakeland.

Though the school has been operating as a polytechnic for three years, making it an independent university would lead to a twelvefold jump in enrollment, according to the report.

That demand will justify charging higher tuition than the state standard, while satisfying Florida Gov. Rick Scott's call to increase science, technology, engineering and math graduates.

All because of the creation of "Florida's first and only public polytechnic," the report says.

The report was prepared for the board that oversees the state's universities, which will discuss USF Poly at its meeting next month. But the school isn't waiting to start flaunting that title.

Just look to the invitation sent for a fundraising gala at the new USF Poly campus site, a pasture off Interstate 4. The event is being co-hosted by Cindy Alexander, wife of Sen. J.D. Alexander, the powerful budget chairman who has been one of the strongest supporters of making USF Poly independent.

"Be Part of Florida's First Polytechnic University," it reads in black and blue. "USF Polytechnic is an institution on a TILT."

Whether that tilt actually knocks USF Poly out of the USF system remains to be seen.

The decision is ultimately up to the Florida Board of Governors, and then the state Legislature. If you read USF Poly's proposal, the decision should be an easy one, an "exceptional opportunity."

But the proposal is just one piece of a USF Poly presentation the Board of Governors asked for last month. Board members also said they wanted to hear from USF president Judy Genshaft about her stance, which she has not yet publicly revealed.

Genshaft did, however, weigh in on one facet of the debate Tuesday morning — saying that spending at USF Poly, as well as any investigation into that spending, is the responsibility of the leader of the Lakeland campus.

That autonomy was set up by the Legislature, Genshaft wrote in a letter to state Sens. Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano. It was sent in response to the senators' urging to fully audit USF Poly, following accusations that the school's leader was mismanaging funds.

In her letter, Genshaft included language from the 2008 state statute that spells out that USF Poly "be operated and maintained as a separate organizational and budget entity of the University of South Florida."

"Therefore, by virtue of legislative mandate," Genshaft wrote, "the campus CEO for USF Polytechnic is accountable for operational expenditures within his campus administration."

That CEO is Marshall Goodman, the subject of an anonymous letter sent to Dockery and Fasano last week. Goodman, the letter says, has used state dollars for his own "personal follies," in addition to hiring his son to run a USF Poly business incubator program.

Most of the letter consists of unsubstantiated rumors — except the part about his son. Robert Goodman does work for USF Poly, a hire that school officials defend.

Genshaft's letter does not include any judgments on the way Goodman has run his campus.

Rather, she directs the senators to the financial audits completed by the state's auditor general for the past three fiscal years. The most recent of those is still being drafted, but the other two found no material weakness in USF Poly's spending.

"I must stress, however, that while these audits account for expenditures, they do not comment on the prudence of each expenditure, which seemed to be the general concern expressed in your letter," Genshaft wrote. "As discussed above, the Legislature has vested directly with the campus CEO the authority and responsibility to exercise sound business judgment in the expenditure of state funds. …

"Like you, we at USF recognize the great need at any time — but most especially during the current time — to be careful stewards of scarce state resources. I would be pleased to work with you on any initiative that could help increase state universities' Boards of Trustees' oversight authority for state finances provided to their institutions."

In a statement, Dockery responded that she was "disappointed" that Genshaft was unable to perform the audit, per that state statute.

However, Dockery said, she's not giving up on the issue.

"Sen. Fasano and I do plan to seek financial information in some manner in the near future."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

USF Poly puts grand plans in writing for independence push 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:09pm]
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