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USF Tampa faculty urge against branch campus consolidation plan

A letter sent to university leadership Friday says a recommendation by the consolidation task force could have adverse effects.
CHRIS URSO | Times Pedestrians are seen on the campus of the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. A task force has proposed that the downtown campus retain autonomy as a “branch campus” as officials move toward consolidating USF. Now faculty in Tampa is urging against that. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Feb. 22
Updated Feb. 26

Even as the University of South Florida consolidates into one entity, its three campuses would retain much of their autonomy under a plan that has the backing of school leaders, legislators and a 13-member task force.

But in a letter issued Friday to the school’s board of trustees, the USF faculty in Tampa became the first group to publicly to push back against the idea.

The task force recommended earlier this month that USF's smaller locations in St. Petersburg and Sarasota be deemed "branch" campuses, with power over hiring, spending and curriculum. In doing so, it turned aside the option of making the two campuses "instructional sites" with little control under USF Tampa once consolidation takes effect in 2020.

Though months of planning have gone into consolidation, USF officials have not directly discussed the organizational structure of the university, and a final decision is months away.

RELATED: As USF steers closer to consolidating, a big decision remains

But Tampa's faculty senate says keeping separate administrative teams on each campus under consolidation would threaten student success and critical funding for the university. It urged that USF Tampa's processes be adopted across all campuses if the university wants to succeed.

“We have said the point of consolidation is for students to come onto any campus and get the same thing,” Tampa faculty senate president Tim Boaz said in an interview Monday. “It seems to me that it would be hard to see that operate if we are functioning more autonomously.”

The note was met with pushback from top leaders on campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, as well as USF faculty outside of Tampa. Task force leader Mike Griffin said while he respects the senate's input, it's too late for the task force to use it.

"We're not going to let a letter distract us from what I believe is in the best interest of USF," he said in an interview Monday. "The task force agrees and many others have agreed that the branch campus structure needs to be our future, and I'm going to continue advocating to make sure that happens."

Karen Holbrook, chancellor of USF Sarasota-Manatee, called the letter disappointing, adding that consolidation "shouldn't be unidirectional." Resources and ideas should be equally shared and enjoyed across all campuses, she said.

"We are excited about working with our colleagues in Tampa, but I don't think that's reciprocal," Holbrook added. "I thought we were going down a very positive track, and I don't see that the letter is helpful to that."

The letter largely focuses on concerns related to preeminence, a prestigious designation USF Tampa achieved in September 2017 after meeting various performance benchmarks outlined by the state. Once USF consolidates, student metrics on all three campuses will be calculated together and the senate worries the title would be at risk under a branch campus model.

"It is highly implausible that USF could attain preeminence operating as three separately managed entities focused primarily on implementing their own individual projects, rather than working together as a unified institution," the letter said, adding: "The costs of losing preeminence status would be enormous."

MORE: Read the full letter

In an interview, USF St. Petersburg chancellor Martin Tadlock pointed out that the faculty senate in Tampa has little knowledge about processes on other campuses and may have overstepped. Campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota adopted USF Tampa's admissions requirements in the fall, and those will directly influence preeminence metrics, he said.

"We are going to have the same academic profile as Tampa once consolidation is approved," Tadlock said. "Everything is already aligned."

Ray Arsenault, president of the faculty senate in St. Petersburg, said preeminence shouldn't be the end-all goal for USF — before or after consolidation.

“They should have more respect for what we’ve done on these campuses, and not be willing to throw us under the bus for this goal of preeminence,” he said Monday. “That flies in the face of what we’ve done here for 20 years or more. … That’s not as important as having a university that is structured in a way that serves the students and the faculty.”

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

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