USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

Students make their way across the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida, which is facing the daunting task of merging the USF System's three parts into one entity. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times]
Students make their way across the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida, which is facing the daunting task of merging the USF System's three parts into one entity. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times]
Published Sept. 19, 2018

TAMPA — All summer, while most students were gone, the University of South Florida has been toiling away on a blueprint for the complex merger of the USF System.

Its three universities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota will soon consolidate into one USF, creating, as local lawmakers envisioned, a single, preeminent institution with three campuses.

To make that happen, the school has hired a consultant, held town halls and convened committees. There are timelines and accreditation rules and community desires to heed.

And there are big questions, like: How will a united USF preserve the small-town sensibility of USF St. Petersburg? How will the school stay accessible as it comes under one tough admissions standard? Where will USF launch new degree programs, and where will it streamline its 24 duplicate bachelor's programs? How can such a complicated process stay fair?

On Wednesday, the public got a preliminary peek at what the consultant is calling a "reimagined" USF. The main takeaway: Each degree program should have one campus home, but overall, the number of programs hosted on each campus could dramatically expand.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: So the USF system is consolidating. Here's what you need to know.

Where now an arts student at USF St. Petersburg can take only graphic design, soon that student could pursue architecture, dance, drama, music and more, depending on what USF officials decide to offer.

Where now a USF Sarasota-Manatee business student can take finance and accounting, expanded offerings could allow for studies in real estate, sports management and entrepreneurship — even if those programs have their headquarters elsewhere.

There are difficult changes ahead, too. Accreditation rules say a university can't have duplicate colleges in the same field, but the USF System has plenty. There are two colleges of education, for instance, and three colleges of business.

A college may have multiple schools or departments within it. So, for business, Huron consultants proposed this approach: Take the Muma College of Business in Tampa, with its 5,900 students, and make it the home, or headquarters, of USF business programming.

In St. Petersburg, turn the Kate Tiedemann College of Business into the Kate Tiedemann School of Finance and Entrepreneurship. Have that school fall under the Muma College.

And in Sarasota, turn the business college into two other schools — one in hospitality and tourism leadership, and another in insurance and risk management — that report to the Muma College.

This eliminates duplicates, consultants said. They also laid out a raft of expanded degree options, like the potential to offer a master's in management science in St. Petersburg.

But the proposal disappointed the woman who gave the St. Petersburg business college its name after she donated $10 million in 2014.

"I realize fully that the state wants to have one university and have the same thing taught at all campuses, and that makes a lot of sense from a practical point of view," Kate Tiedemann said Wednesday in a phone interview. "I'm not happy that they have to eliminate the Kate Tiedemann College of Business; however, I do realize that only one college of business can exist and there can be schools under that that can do speciality work."

She said she's been in touch with leaders, and that she hopes for a practical solution.

Another proposal the consultants offered was to house a new College of Oceanography, Environmental Science and Sustainability in St. Petersburg. Reporting under it would be the School of Marine Science and the Patel School of Global Sustainability.

Huron consultant Mike Stallworth said deans across all three campuses are still talking about the best ways to divvy up programs and leadership. He stressed that the presentation was just a starting point.

"We understand that this change could be intimidating," he said, but emphasized the opportunities.

St. Petersburg College president Tonjua Williams, a member of the subcommittee that met Wednesday, said she didn't see many doctorate programs proposed for the regional campuses, though they had been invoked as a benefit of consolidation.

"It still seems all roads would end in Tampa," she said. "I know this is just for discussion, and this is not set in stone, but I just want to go on the record to say that's important."

"Certainly there's considerable work to do to flesh this out," Stallworth said.

Subcommittee member Frederick Piccolo, CEO of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, said that though he appreciates expanded programs, he fears a backlash on the Sarasota campus that would see all of its colleges downgraded into schools.

"It would seem that the bigger campus is the one that will have to sacrifice some things if it's going to bring everyone into the fold," Piccolo said. "Otherwise, I'm trying to figure out where the benefit is for other campuses, other than that, well, now preeminence is there."

Mike Griffin, subcommittee leader and real estate executive, said USF will have to work hard to show the net gain for all.

"The vernacular of colleges and schools, in my mind, are less relevant than the quality of programming that's going to be available," he said.

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Several deans spoke, including Sri Sundaram of the St. Petersburg business college, who urged the committee to remain consistent as it deals with departments that have donors' names attached.

Dean Jackie Dixon of the College of Marine Science said her program will need a commitment to research infrastructure as it comes under St. Petersburg's wing.

Provost Ralph Wilcox steered the discussion toward students, saying that faculty and administrators who get caught up in structural qualms can lose sight of their real purpose.

"I urge all of my colleagues to put self-interest aside and focus first and foremost on meeting the demonstrable needs of our students," he said.

The subcommittee will meet again in October and November before submitting recommendations on academic programs and campus identity to the main consolidation task force by Nov. 29.

Then the main task force will weigh those recommendations, as well as proposals for student access and shared governance. They'll submit their own recommendations to the USF board of trustees by February. Trustees have a month to send a plan to state leaders, and by July 2020, USF will be operating under a single accreditation.

Contact Claire McNeill at or (727) 893-8321.