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USF plan gives autonomy to Pinellas branch

The proposal provides branch independence without severing ties. Sen. Don Sullivan so far is silent on the measure.

State Sen. Don Sullivan remains committed to an independent university for Pinellas County and has yet to assess USF President Judy Genshaft's plan to make USF-St. Petersburg more autonomous but still part of the university.

"I firmly believe in a separate, accredited institution in control of its own destiny," Sullivan told a breakfast meeting of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

"What name you give it, I don't care. That's my vision, and I am sticking to it," Sullivan said. A Republican from Seminole, he introduced a bill in the most recentlegislative session that would have cut the St. Petersburg campus out of the USF system. The bill failed.

Sullivan said limits on enrollment at the main USF campus in Tampa obviously would lead to growth on branch campuses. He also said Florida has one of the lowest numbers of high school students going to get baccalaureate degrees in all the Southern states.

Sullivan said adequate access to four-year campuses needs to be improved.

"The state university system has to make basic changes so all people in various communities have an opportunity to get a baccalaureate degree," Sullivan said.

USF-St. Petersburg began accepting freshmen and sophomores last year and will be increasing its number of underclassmen in coming years. Freshman enrollment is limited each year as a concession to St. Petersburg Junior College and Eckerd College, both of which feared expanding the USF-St. Petersburg campus to a four-year school would cut into their enrollment numbers.

This year, USF-St. Petersburg was allowed to enroll 100 freshmen, started with 105 and now has 98, according to Dean William H. Heller.

Genshaft spoke after Sullivan, outlining a plan that would give the St. Petersburg campus more control than it now has. The campus leader would answer to the USF president.

"You would have your own college of education, your own college of business, your own college of liberal arts," she said.

Tuition collected for classes in St. Petersburg would be spent on programs in St. Petersburg. The university in St. Petersburg would be accredited separately. Faculty tenure and promotions would be handled in St. Petersburg.

She told the group the St. Petersburg campus needs to remain part of the USF system to take advantage of bulk buying power; to avoid duplication of technology, such as registering online; and to give students access to main campus programs.

Sullivan would not comment on the plan, saying he needed to see more details and to see something in writing that takes planning five to 10 years out.