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USF leaders suggest smaller campuses keep authority through consolidation

Trustees are still working through plans but seem open to keeping strong leadership in place at campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota.
USF System President Judy Genshaft | Times files
USF System President Judy Genshaft | Times files
Published Feb. 12, 2019
Updated Feb. 13, 2019

TAMPA — Multiple University of South Florida leaders on Tuesday publicly voiced favor of a consolidation model that would preserve uniqueness and strong leadership at the institution's smaller campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

The comments, shared at a Board of Trustees meeting, likely calmed fears that those campuses might become "instructional sites" with little independence from USF Tampa, which is expected to become the university's main campus under consolidation.

Faculty and community members have said the designation would strip campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota of the independence that has helped them thrive. No longer would would the institutions have control over spending, hiring and curriculum.

Instead, those smaller locations should be deemed "branch" campuses with "fully developed programs," USF president Judy Genshaft said, though she didn't share details on how the structure will look. A final decision on the topic is months away and won't be final until March 2020.

"The regional institutions being called branch campuses is fine," she said. "What we still need to figure out is the structure we need to coexist and co-create our vision of the future."

MORE: As USF steers close to consolidating, a big decision remains

Accreditation rules say a branch campus must be permanent, offer course programs that lead to a degree, have its own faculty and administration, and maintain authority over budgets and hiring.

While Genshaft and trustees did not discuss those requirements specifically, they expressed support of a post-consolidation structure that celebrates and maintains each campus' strengths and community partnerships.

Trustee Jordan Zimmerman said he wants USF's smaller campuses "to be empowered." Trustee Les Muma agreed, saying that as a resident of Pinellas County, he "can understand the value" of keeping strong leadership in place at USF St. Petersburg.

Chairman Brian Lamb said he isn't aware of anyone who is against the idea, then praised regional chancellors Martin Tadlock and Karen Holbrook for being "highly engaged" in the consolidation process.

"I think it would be hard to have the right branch campus strategy without trying to lift up and support our regional chancellors," Lamb added. He also reiterated that Genshaft is "not opposed" to branch campuses.

Moneer Kheireddine, president of the USF student advisory council who also serves as a trustee, said students hope consolidation will create equal access to programs and preserve unique operations on each campus.

"I think the designation of branch campuses is a good step," he added.

Trustee Harold Mullis also voiced support of the branch campus set-up but said it must have "USF flavor" that spurs growth for the entire USF system.

Trustee Deanna Michael, an associate professor who sits on the board to speak on behalf of faculty, said Genshaft's stance brings comfort to faculty members who have worried about what USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee might lose in consolidation.

"The president's words have put them at ease that what they have worked for will not be lost in this process."

Contact Megan Reeves at Follow @mareevs.