Thursday, February 22, 2018
Education

Tampa Chamber chair wonders if other universities blocked USF's preeminent status

TAMPA — Just as University of South Florida football strives to be on the same level as teams from the University of Florida and Florida State University, so does the Tampa institution when it comes to academia.

But Mike Griffin, chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, believes one of those two competing universities chop-blocked USF to prevent it from obtaining "pre-eminent status" in terms of the education it provides and the millions of dollars in state funds that come with it.

"I don't have direct proof," Griffin said. "But do the math."

Over the weekend, the chamber joined forces with USF to pressure the Tampa Bay area's legislative delegation to stop this from happening.

And the thousands who took part in this effort made their belief clear — USF deserves the pre-eminent status and it was being stolen away.

It won't take long to see if the campaign worked.

Bills before the Legislature since January stated that a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent was needed to be considered pre-eminent.

USF is now at 54 percent, seemingly clearing the way for it to join UF and FSU, which already have that status, and to split the $48 million set aside next year for universities that meet 11 of 12 performance metrics in areas that include student test scores, national rankings and research spending.

But in the final hours Friday, lawmakers changed the bill to raise the graduation rate to 60 percent, which USF does not expect to make until 2020, according to USF spokesman Adam Freeman.

Griffin places the blame on behind-the-scenes lobbying from FSU or UF.

Further changes to the bill cannot be made. It can only be voted for or against, which occurs today.

So, over the weekend, the chamber joined with USF in a call to action to not just the university's students, alumni and supporters but also the business community, asking everyone to contact state elected officials to express anger.

Tactics included emails and calls to these leaders, social media, an online petition through the Tampa chamber and a USF Alumni association website page that helps send messages to elected officials.

USF's Freeman said more than 7,000 such messages were sent within 24 hours.

The chamber could not obtain numbers on Sunday.

"There has been a significant amount of outrage throughout the weekend," said chamber chairman Griffin, a USF class of 2003 graduate. "This is a tactic to take millions of dollars outside this community and put it elsewhere."

Griffin said he personally called every state House member and senator from the Tampa Bay area to let them know where the chamber stands.

This will affect the entire business community, Griffin said.

Pre-eminent status would mean USF can better attract the best and brightest students from around the world, he said. Then local businesses can seek to keep them here, or perhaps the students will launch their own local endeavors.

"Educating the next generation of workers is fundamental to the growth of our community," said Ronald Christaldi, a past chair of the Tampa chamber. "To deny any university the ability to create jobs and grow our talent pool is wrong."

Still, when pressed if he thinks either UF or FSU was behind the change to the bill, Christaldi, who earned his master's and law degree from FSU, would only say, "I have no basis to judge whether that is accurate.

"We all sink or swim together and this should not be about taking away from one to give to another."

If the bill is voted down, the status quo of a 70 percent six-year graduation rate for preeminent status remains. USF is now at 67 percent, Freeman said, and expects to reach 70 by next year.

"We were on the goal line and they moved it back a few yards," Griffin said. "If we allow this to happen now they will do it to us again."

As for which university he thinks is to blame, he wouldn't say.

"At least one of them," he said. "I don't think both."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Comments
How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

How will Douglas High students go back to class? There’s now a plan in place.

When students return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High for the first time next Tuesday, they will be greeted by additional counselors and law enforcement."There will be a plethora of counselors and services at the school," Broward Schools Superintende...
Published: 02/21/18
School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

School shooter may get inheritance — and be ordered to spend it on legal bills

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz appears to have been in line for a sizable inheritance. He’ll never get to spend it — except perhaps on defense attorneys.The amount could be enough to compel a judge to order him to hire a private lawyer, rather ...
Published: 02/21/18
Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

Pasco County schools, dealing with threats, warn students of consequences

DADE CITY — A Pasco High School student was taken into custody Tuesday amid accusations of threatening violence against the school. The campus was not at risk, school district officials said. But they made clear they take each threat seriously, and t...
Published: 02/21/18
Officers: When an active shooter attacks, survive by taking action

Officers: When an active shooter attacks, survive by taking action

LARGO — An Illinois teacher used confrontation. A campus safety monitor in Seattle attacked with pepper spray and physical force. An assistant football coach in Indiana shouted as he chased him into the woods.All were civilians who took down an activ...
Published: 02/20/18
Under a new law, some public schools will be managed by companies. Pinellas is getting ready

Under a new law, some public schools will be managed by companies. Pinellas is getting ready

LARGO — Pinellas County School Board members are not happy about the prospect of having to hand over academic control at three struggling schools to a private company, and paying the firm up to $2 million on top of it. But that’s the course they must...
Published: 02/20/18
Lawsuit accuses FSU fraternity, national chapter of negligence in pledge’s death

Lawsuit accuses FSU fraternity, national chapter of negligence in pledge’s death

The parents of Andrew Coffey, the Florida State University student who died from alcohol poisoning after an apparent hazing episode last year, have sued the national Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity and nine of its members for their son’s death.Coffey, who wa...
Published: 02/20/18
Upset by grade, Robinson High student threatens to shoot up campus, police say

Upset by grade, Robinson High student threatens to shoot up campus, police say

Schools nationwide are on heightened alert in the wake of last week’s fatal shootings in Broward County, and in the Tampa area, that means official warnings about social media posts and more calls for police action.Two Tampa boys, one 15 and one 16, ...
Published: 02/20/18
Schools, Tampa police warn against ‘misleading’ school security reports

Schools, Tampa police warn against ‘misleading’ school security reports

TAMPA — During a news conference Tuesday morning, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan warned against misleading investigators with reports about school security."Spread the word," the school said in a t...
Published: 02/20/18
‘I would take a bullet for the kids’; Teachers struggle with life-and-death realities after school shooting

‘I would take a bullet for the kids’; Teachers struggle with life-and-death realities after school shooting

TAMARAC — The shooting was all over, but the emotional reckoning had just begun, and so on Saturday the teachers of Broward County in Florida packed their union hall to discuss what it meant to have become the nation’s human shields."Last night I tol...
Published: 02/20/18
Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

The massive education measure known as House Bill 7055 has received plenty of attention during the legislative session, with its emphasis on decertifying teachers’ unions and using state-backed scholarship programs to steer kids away from public scho...
Published: 02/20/18