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At USF Poly's last commencement, Dockery laments poor leadership

USF president Judy Genshaft, left, listens to state Sen. Paula Dockery’s commencement address at the Lakeland Center.
USF president Judy Genshaft, left, listens to state Sen. Paula Dockery’s commencement address at the Lakeland Center.
Published May 8, 2012

LAKELAND — A good leader, state Sen. Paula Dockery told the graduating college students, is not someone who dictates.

It's not someone who rules with fear, abuses power or acts unethically. Not someone who forces his will onto others.

Monday night's ceremony marked the last graduating class of University of South Florida Polytechnic before the school breaks off from the USF system and becomes the state's 12th public university.

And as commencement speaker, Dockery, who had once called the split "folly," didn't bother being subtle.

At Monday's ceremony, Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, praised students who joined her to fight against the split — even in the face, she said, of "what can only be described as a textbook example of the antithesis of leadership."

"I wish I could say in the end, truth wins out. … Unfortunately, in this political climate, and perhaps business climate as well, that is not the case," Dockery told the graduates.

She pointedly continued a clash against politicians who spent months bandying around options for creating a new university, to be called Florida Polytechnic.

A leading opponent of the split, Dockery's comments seemed to encompass any number of them.

Her criticism may have pointed to Gov. Rick Scott, who signed a bill that hastened USF Poly's dissolution.

On Monday, the governor launched a nationwide search for trustees to guide Florida Polytechnic. He'll eventually appoint six of those 13 board members leading the new university as it tries to get accreditation in the coming years.

Maybe Dockery meant fellow state Sen. JD Alexander, a Polk County Republican who championed the cause for a new university with his heavy political influence as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Or Dockery could have had Marshall Goodman in mind, the ousted USF Poly chancellor criticized for spending thousands of the campus' dollars on frivolities.

Her keynote speech garnered applause from the crowd, which seemed most enthused by commendations of the campus' unity throughout the tense saga.

Dockery, who served her final term in the Senate this year, was invited to speak by USF Poly interim vice president David Touchton, according to campus spokesman Thomas Hagerty.

Touchton had earned praise from both Dockery, who called him a "ray of sunshine," and USF president Judy Genshaft, who noted his "stellar" leadership.

Some 140 students graduated Monday night — the largest and last class at USF Poly, school officials said.

As USF phases out the campus, a five-year, transitional "teach-out" will accommodate remaining students in the area.

For many graduating students, the convocation was tinged with the bittersweet acknowledgement of USF Poly's end.

Kayla Hobbs, 22, had a choice about what her diploma would come from: USF Poly or, simply, USF.

She decided against getting a degree with a defunct name.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

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