University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft removed the head of the system's Lakeland campus on Tuesday, saying she had lost confidence in his ability to lead.
The move comes just a few weeks after Marshall Goodman, chancellor of USF Polytechnic, opposed Genshaft in the debate to break off the campus and make it the state's next public university.
Goodman had fought for independence for months, alienating students, faculty and community members in the process. He will now take a year of leave for "professional development," Genshaft said, while USF conducts a national search for his permanent replacement.
In the interim, Genshaft tapped someone who had urged caution on the campus's split — Polk County accountant and USF alum David Touchton — to help USF Poly meet conditions set by the governing board of the state university system, which voted last month to delay the split.
"The Florida Board of Governors has charged the USF System with establishing a transparent path to independence for USF Polytechnic. We have begun that path, and we need the team to get it done," Genshaft wrote in a statement. "I believe David is the right person to lead a clear path to meet those thresholds."
Touchton will be paid an annual salary of $250,000.
While on leave, Goodman will be paid his $254,000 annual salary. After that, he will be allowed to return to campus as a faculty member with a salary of $150,000. He did not respond to a request for comment.
The 55-year-old Chicago native leaves a campus in limbo after months of turmoil, ever since a group of about 30 Polk County business and civic leaders called for USF Poly's independence in late July. Joining Goodman on that side of the debate was powerful state Sen. J.D. Alexander, who last month accused Genshaft of trying to discredit Goodman's leadership.
Alexander, R-Lake Wales, did not return a request for comment, either.
On the other side were Genshaft, 200 Polk citizens who signed a letter written by Touchton urging state leaders not to rush the split, a majority of students who wanted to remain part of the USF system and faculty members who felt they weren't given a say in the matter and cast a vote of "no confidence" in Goodman.
"It had become clear that the faculty voice had been marginalized under Dr. Goodman's leadership," said USF Faculty Senate president Elizabeth Bird.
At the same time, two state senators called for an investigation into what they deemed questionable expenditures under Goodman's reign. That included half a million dollars pledged for a documentary on USF Poly's new campus construction, $10,000 for life-size Star Wars statues, and tens of thousands of dollars for trips Goodman took all over the world.
Sens. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, praised Genshaft on Tuesday and said they hoped that with Touchton's accounting expertise they will finally get the answers they are seeking.
"Mr. Goodman has made the Lakeland campus a sideshow with his attempts to become independent from USF main," Fasano said. "His questionable expenditures and decisions he made while heading the campus cast a cloud over not only the Lakeland campus but the university as a whole."
The possibility of Goodman's departure has been hanging in the air since at least the last Board of Governors meeting, when member John Temple asked Genshaft whether she had the authority to let him go.
It's the second time Goodman has been pushed out of a high-level university position.
Before he came to USF in 2006, Goodman spent a couple of years as provost at San Jose State in California before being asked to step down in what was deemed a housecleaning.
So, why Touchton?
Though he has no academic experience, USF says his experience with accounting, particularly for colleges and universities, makes him an ideal choice.
Touchton, who said he was shocked at USF's offer, said he's honored to take the helm.
"How many people get an opportunity to work with their alma mater at this level with such a fantastic leader as Dr. Genshaft?" Touchton said.
He said he's not looking to fill the role permanently. But while he is there, "I'll be a good soldier."
Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337.