USF president Judy Genshaft faces new twist in USF Poly split

TAMPA — Judy Genshaft says she isn't rattled.

Yes, a powerful state senator has lashed out at the University of South Florida president, calling for an investigation into her leadership. And now here comes a fellow university president with a diss, saying he's "willing to help" one of her campuses break away if asked.

As the USF Polytechnic-split saga continues to unfold, Genshaft stayed on message Tuesday: "It's about getting things done."

She stands behind the USF model — unique, Genshaft says — because the campuses are autonomous in governance and finances. And USF will work to meet the conditions set by state leaders to make the Lakeland campus a new university.

Allowing its transition to independence under a different university — like, say, the University of Florida — would not be "economical or necessary," Genshaft said.

Her comments come a day after UF president Bernie Machen joined in the brouhaha, following suggestions by Sen. J.D. Alexander that USF Poly might fare better under the Gainesville school.

It's an idea Alexander has been floating since moments after the Florida Board of Governors voted to impose conditions on the Lakeland campus' split, delaying it by several years. It also interested a few board members, Machen said.

"Several members," Machen said in a statement, "asked if UF would consider assisting in the transition to independence, and I said that, if asked, we would be willing to help."

The UF president supports an independent Polytechnic, he wrote, "in part because I do not endorse the branch-campus model of research universities."

Genshaft said the presidents hadn't discussed the possibility. And until she sees a plan, she can't comment on hypotheticals.

But she did point out that UF has a broad-reaching Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension program, which "could be viewed as a branch campus."

Still, "We haven't seen a plan."

Machen isn't the only one criticizing Genshaft's system. At the board meeting last month, several members questioned whether branch campuses were really a good idea.

Genshaft, who has led USF for more than a decade, says the system serves students effectively and efficiently. And because they have more autonomy than traditional branch campuses, she says they are better equipped to develop curricula they want.

"It is working," she said.

Ironically, it's that freedom that may make them easier to break off.

The campuses each are separate line items in the state budget. Alexander told the Ledger of Lakeland last week that moving USF Poly to UF would require a simple legislation wording change.

Though Genshaft acknowledged that "there isn't any insurance" against her campuses trying to break off, she says she didn't see the USF Poly push coming.

She was also surprised by a letter sent to the board last week by Alexander, accusing Genshaft of making misleading statements in what he called an effort to thwart a split and discredit USF Poly's leader.

While the board criticized USF Poly's lavish new campus construction plans, Genshaft never volunteered that she signed off on the contracts — the linchpin of Alexander's letter. But the board members never asked, Genshaft said.

As for Marshall Goodman, the USF Poly chancellor who was called "incompetent" by a board member and who has come under fire by two state senators for "questionable spending," Genshaft said his "evaluation" simply depends on meeting the conditions laid out by the board.

Last question: Does Genshaft feel threatened by Alexander?

Pause.

"Michael Long," Genshaft said, referring to the student Board of Governors member who called the senator out for behind-the-scenes intimidation, "is a very unique and strong young man."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337.

USF Poly board of monitors named

The Florida Board of Governors announced on Tuesday the three-member committee that will monitor USF Poly's quest to meet the conditions for independence, including increased enrollment and separate accreditation: Board members are Dick Beard, a Tampa real estate developer; Morteza "Mori" Hosseini, the Daytona Beach construction company CEO; and Norman Tripp, founder of a Fort Lauderdale law firm who will give quarterly reports to the board starting in March.

USF president Judy Genshaft faces new twist in USF Poly split 11/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 9:52pm]

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