LAKELAND — He came to town five years ago, armed with a speech titled "Dream No Small Dreams" and vowing the small branch campus of the University of South Florida in Polk County would make waves in the region and the state.
Marshall Goodman has kept his promise.
The man who shows up to meetings in a crisp suit with a USF pin on the lapel this week will officially try to split his campus from the system. He will pitch his vision to state education leaders, hoping to clear the first hurdle on the way to becoming Florida's 12th public university.
And make no mistake, Goodman's vision is grand: a "destination campus" that promises international acclaim.
A likable guy and a good public speaker, Goodman keeps his cool even when being grilled by skeptics. He likes to tell stories. He likes to shake hands. He is persuasive. He could make chicken nuggets seem like filet mignon.
How long he has pondered the possibility of an independent polytechnic, which he compares to the dream of Walt Disney, is anyone's guess.
Ask him, and he'll say he's neutral, deferring to state leaders. The whole split debate, he'll remind you, was sparked by a letter from 30 Polk County residents this summer.
But in many ways, the 54-year-old Chicago native began acting like the head of his own university long ago.
Before landing at USF Poly, Goodman was provost at San Jose State in California and applied for the presidency. His colleagues said people clashed with his aggressive style, and he often rushed ideas with little cooperation.
Still, in tapping Goodman to lead the Lakeland campus in 2006, USF president Judy Genshaft called him a "rising star" and said he would play "a crucial role in the growth of USF Lakeland and the USF system as a whole."
Since then, Goodman has sold his polytechnic vision to anyone who'll listen. He talks about it on his own Sunday radio show. In 2008, USF officially adopted the mission and changed the campus' name to reflect it.
When the school began planning to build a new campus off Interstate 4, Goodman hired a high-profile architect from Spain to bring the vision into the "21st century."
And he has spent tens of thousands of dollars promoting the "destination campus" across the globe. He has gone as far as India and France to recruit students and explore partnerships, and he has made Las Vegas a frequent stop for conferences.
He was too busy traveling, his spokeswoman said, to comment for this story.
Now, even as students, faculty, community leaders and others rally against the split, Goodman surges ahead.
Looking back, his first speech seems almost prophetic.
The future of USF Lakeland, he said then, was "bright, and limited only by the imagination of those involved in shaping it."
• • •
Marshall Goodman is a student of political science.
He earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in the subject and spent five years teaching it at the start of his career at Georgetown University.
He has applied-learning, or "polytechnic," experience, too. As dean of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Goodman served as special assistant for globalization to then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, promoting partnerships overseas. The international flair carried over to campus, with Goodman setting up a partnership program for Wisconsin and schools all over the world.
In 2001 he took the provost job in Silicon Valley. It's one he regularly harkens back to when talking about the merits of his vision in Polk County.
But his three years as the school's chief academic officer weren't all golden. While Goodman was known for being a "visionary," he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way while bringing his ideas to life.
"He decided he wanted to do something, and he did it," said Wiggsy Sivertsen, San Jose State's director of counseling.
Sivertsen and other former colleagues brought up the same example of Goodman's brash management style — a campus program that had professors teach courses of their interests to small student groups, promoting closer connections.
The problem was, they said, Goodman didn't go through proper channels to set the program up. He did it without the approval of the faculty senate and without a sustainable funding plan.
Similar criticisms have emerged about his business plan for an independent USF Poly.
After a couple of years, the San Jose program fizzled out.
San Jose State history professor Jonathan Roth, who was head of the faculty senate at the time, thinks the project might have worked if Goodman had taken his time.
Hundreds of Polk County residents have urged state leaders to do the same and slow the push to create a new university.
"He's very good at getting things done," Roth said, "but he's not a listener."
In 2003, the university president left. Goodman was named a finalist to replace him but didn't make the final cut. Instead, the interim president asked Goodman to resign in what was deemed a housecleaning. Goodman remained there a couple of more years as an assistant to the president and professor.
But soon, a brighter future in the Sunshine State came calling
And not long after arriving at USF, Goodman met a powerful local senator from Polk County.
• • •
Alexander, the state's budget chairman, seems to be the only person pushing harder than Goodman for USF Poly's independence.
While Goodman has peddled the polytechnic vision in Polk, Alexander has worked behind the scenes for years, making sure USF Poly had the millions of dollars it needed to break ground on its new site, even when dozens of other school building projects were vetoed.
When asked about Goodman, Alexander called him "competent."
"I think he came from a good background," Alexander told the Times, "and was Dr. Genshaft's choice for the job."
Would he make a good president of the new university, if it does split off?
"Well, Dr. Genshaft hired him because of his experience in polytechnic campus development. That's what he was hired to do, and I think he's done a good job," Alexander said. "I wouldn't have any problem supporting his recommendation."
The two stood side by side at the last meeting of the Board of Governors in September, explaining why the campus can't thrive under USF's thumb.
Whether they'll be together at the board's meeting this week remains to be seen.
• • •
Even if he is alone, Goodman doesn't seem to have any problem spreading the USF Poly gospel.
It's a pastime Goodman prides himself on, taking more trips to promote his school than any other USF regional chancellor — paid for by USF Poly, with donations to the USF Foundation, by people who invite him or by Goodman himself.
He boasts about it on a USF Poly Web page called "Where in the World is Marshall Goodman?" It's illustrated with a photo of Goodman's face, superimposed on an image of a tourist at the Pyramids holding a map and a camera.
In the past few years, Goodman has gone to Europe, India, Las Vegas, New York and Austin, Texas — more than 40 trips since 2008 paid for with $13,000 from USF Poly's general operating funds. There were more trips paid with USF donations, but a spokeswoman said it would take at least two weeks to compile the records.
Goodman's June 2008 South of France tour, which included stops in Marseille and Nice, was meant to build partnerships with other polytechnic and business schools, according to a news release. It cost $4,000.
"I was absolutely amazed with the linkage possibilities and the parallels between the two regions," Goodman said in the release.
Last September, records show Goodman and others from USF Poly went to New Delhi to "initiate initial phases of establishing a USF system center in India."
He has also gone to New York several times to meet with Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish architect for the new campus.
By comparison, the regional chancellors of USF's other campuses traveled mostly in state.
Arthur Gilford of USF Sarasota-Manatee went to a chamber of commerce conference in Manatee this year. Margaret Sullivan of USF St. Petersburg went to a couple of Florida Board of Governors meetings.
Meanwhile, Goodman is slated for another trip in mid November to the United Arab Emirates, for a conference called the "Festival of Thinkers."
• • •
There's a story Goodman tells about two explorers and a hungry lion. As the lion stalks them, one says, "We've got two choices: do nothing, or run." The other calls him crazy — outrun a lion?
It's not the lion I have to outrun, says the first.
He told it back in 2007, explaining to an editorial board why he was fighting so hard for the new USF Poly campus.
"I'm trying to get a big project going. Some would say outrageous," Goodman said. "Building a polytechnic in Polk County, Florida, there's a lot in that statement. … I think some of you know what that means for the state, for the economy and state politics. … We are now faced with making the decision, do we stand still, or do we run?
"We've decided to run."
Times staff writers Emily Nipps and Steve Bousquet and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-226-3337.