How a small campus grew into an independent USF St. Petersburg

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
The University of South Florida St. Petersburg [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Published Jan. 17, 2018

Just a satellite campus many decades ago, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has managed to carve out considerable autonomy within the arms of the USF System. But a bill moving through the state House of Representatives could undo its separate accreditation, melding USFSP into USF as one school. This latest development marks another chapter in the push-pull of power and authority between the smaller campus and its powerful sibling.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: In major shift, House bill would turn three USF universities into one

1955: Under Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins, a new state university is created in Hillsborough County.

1957: The Florida Cabinet okays the name "University of South Florida," since the school was then the southernmost university in the state.

1960: USF's first day of classes kicks off.

1965: USF opens the doors of its Bayboro site in downtown St. Petersburg. Classes begin in the old Maritime Service barracks for 260 freshmen, who take shuttles to and from Tampa, where the main campus is overcrowded. Meanwhile, in Tampa, USF gets officially accredited.

1969: Florida lawmakers make USFSP an official branch campus. In a few years, the Bayboro Campus is offering some upper-level courses, as well as a few graduate courses.

1978: USFSP holds a groundbreaking for its growing campus.

1982: The campus holds its first graduation ceremony separate from Tampa in a tent along the harbor.

1990: Tampa administrators set up a task force to look at the roles of the regional campuses, which, especially in St. Petersburg, are clamoring for more independence.

HISTORY: USF St. Petersburg finally independent

1992: H. William "Bill" Heller is named leader of the St. Petersburg campus, serving for nearly a decade. He becomes the leading voice in expanding campus programs and pushing for more independence.

2000: State Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Seminole, argues that Pinellas County should have its own university and that the St. Petersburg campus will always be hat-in-hand to Tampa. He sponsors a bill that would sever St. Petersburg from USF, making it independent. His bill dies on the last day of the legislative session. In the spring, USF System President Judy Genshaft spends her first day on the job hearing concerns from the St. Petersburg campus, where distrust of Tampa leaders has long been simmering.

2001: State lawmakers approve a measure pushing USF to give St. Petersburg more autonomy.

2002: Accreditation officials are skeptical about whether St. Petersburg can really be independent from Tampa, considering the deep financial ties to USF, as well as the structure in which the campus leader reports to Genshaft. Beloved dean Heller is asked to step down by Genshaft amid the independence struggles. The Florida Legislature passes a law officially creating USF St. Petersburg.

2004: Genshaft grants USFSP more powers, such as creating its own programs and selecting its own students. Diplomas from USFSP will read, "University of South Florida St. Petersburg."

2005: USFSP breaks ground on its first residence hall.

2006: The university wins separate accreditation, bringing an end to a tough six-year push for more autonomy and making USFSP the first regional campus to become independently accredited. This gives USFSP the power to make its own spending decisions, among other things. "They'll always be part of the family, but they're independent — on their own," Genshaft said. Further south, USF Sarasota-Manatee holds its first day of classes.

2011: USFSP succeeds in getting re-accredited through 2021. Soon after, it breaks ground on its 81,000 square-foot University Student Center, which includes a six-story dorm. Also, USF Sarasota-Manatee becomes separately accredited.

Source: Times files, the University of South Florida, USF St. Petersburg