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Why you should care about the USF Polytechnic debate

You should have been at USF Monday evening for an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees.

You should have felt the passion. You should have heard the angst. You should have witnessed a call to arms in the land of tweed.

The University of South Florida — and by extension the Tampa Bay area — has been attacked by the Florida Senate. And that is not an embellished sentence.

The recently unveiled Senate budget not only defies the wishes of the Board of Governors by insisting USF's Polytechnic campus secede from the university, but it has also proposed obscene and retaliatory funding cuts.

Budget committee chairman JD Alexander has been sparring with USF officials for months, and is now swinging far below the waist.

Funding for 11 state universities would be cut by $400 million under the Senate proposal, and USF will be responsible for at least 20 percent. That doesn't include millions more in new spending obligations being assigned to USF.

"It is blatantly unfair,'' USF president Judy Genshaft said.

So what has Alexander done?

Well, he has spit on the Board of Governors. Those silly people think they're in charge of the state university system. Alexander just told them to suck lemons.

He has also blown off his peers. No need for this issue to go through normal channels, Alexander is ramming it down the Legislature's throat.

Finally, he has brutalized USF. He didn't like being challenged on the Polytechnic issue, and so he has taken his spite and pettiness out on a bunch of college students.

Loan sharks have more scruples. Weasels have more compassion.

If the Senate budget is approved, it will mean job losses. It will mean elimination and overcrowding of classes. It will mean a reduction in research and a loss of prestige. Which is why USF officials tried to rally the troops Monday night to alert lawmakers.

"The ripple effect to the Tampa Bay area would be tremendous,'' said USF trustee Lou Saco. "This is not USF; this is the entire bay area.''

Here's one way of looking at the severity of cuts:

Go ahead and discount the $25 million the state is holding hostage until the Polytechnic split is finalized. Forget about the $18.1 million it will cost USF to absorb Polytechnic's staff and students. Ignore the $6 million whacked from the pharmacy program.

Even without that $50 million or so, USF's $79 million cut is still deeper than any other university in the state. Deeper in total dollars, and far deeper in percentages.

"There is no formula,'' USF's chief operating officer John Long said after talking to two members of the Board of Governors. "It's political. That's their words.''

You may not care. You may have little interest in USF, and even less in Polytechnic. You may dismiss it as infighting among a high brow crowd.

But here's why you should pay attention:

The abuses are significant. The arrogance is stunning. And the acquiescence in the Senate is shameful.

If legislators are allowed to get away with this vindictive attack, what's to stop them from trying again when it's an issue you might actually care about?

John Romano can be reached at

Why you should care about the USF Polytechnic debate 02/13/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 13, 2012 10:35pm]
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