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Charlie Crist: Branch campuses ‘only logical’ choice for USF consolidation

He is the third politician to publicly voice support of a consolidation model that keeps strong leadership in place on campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

Congressman Charlie Crist on Thursday added his voice to the choir urging University of South Florida leaders to implement a consolidation structure that keeps strong authority on all three campuses.

In the coming months, USF leaders will decide to designate smaller campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota as either “instructional sites” with little autonomy under USF Tampa, or “branch” campuses that keep control over hiring, spending and curriculum.

MORE: As USF steers closer to consolidation, a big decision remains

Crist, D-St. Petersburg, wrote to USF president Judy Genshaft and board of trustees Chairman Brian Lamb Thursday, urging them to support the latter. “A branch campus designation ... is the only logical and appropriate choice,” he said in a letter.

Mike Griffin, leader of USF’s consolidation task force, shared the same sentiment with university leadership at a meeting this week, saying the two campuses have come too far developing programs and forming community connections to lose those abilities.

At the same meeting, Genshaft, Lamb and other trustees voiced support of the branch campus model, which the congressman pointed out in his letter.

"I was heartened to read of President Genshaft’s recent comments indicating support for USFSP being deemed a ‘branch’ campus with ‘fully developed programs,’” Crist said in the letter, citing a Tuesday story by the Tampa Bay Times.

RELATED: USF leaders suggest smaller campuses keep authority through consolidation

He continued: “I look forward to forthcoming, detailed plans for that designation ... informed and in line with the recently completed task force recommendation.”

Crist is not the only local politician to come out with public support of branch campuses.

State Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Republican from Palm Harbor who led the effort to pass the legislation requiring consolidation, recently praised Griffin’s report on Twitter. His post was then shared by state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Manatee, who called the task force recommendations pushing for branch campuses a “road map for consolidation."

A final decision about USF’s post-consolidation structure won’t come until March 2020, when a plan by trustees is due to the region’s accreditation agency. Conversations on the topic, however, are ongoing.

EDITORIAL: USF St. Petersburg should be a branch campus

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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