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  1. Opinion

USF president isn’t listening to us students in St. Petersburg

Where is the autonomy we were promised as a branch campus, ask USFSP editors | Column
Steven Currall, the University of South Florida's new president
Steven Currall, the University of South Florida's new president
Published Oct. 1, 2019
Updated Oct. 1, 2019

When Steven Currall became president of the University of South Florida three months ago, he announced that he would spend his first 100 days on a “listening tour” across all three campuses. There’s a slight problem, though. He neglected to listen.

With six days left in those first 100, he still isn’t listening. Not to students like us, not to faculty, not to community stakeholders and certainly not to the legislation that guaranteed USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee would retain some autonomy as full branch campuses. Have the hours of committee meetings, studies and town halls that went into consolidation planning been for naught?

Emily Wunderlich, editor-in-chief of The Crow's Nest [Provided by The Crow's Nest]

In his proposed “preliminary blueprint” for the consolidated university, Currall makes several alarming recommendations, many of which have been outlined in the Tampa Bay Times.

The consolidation envisioned by legislators preserved unique identities for the smaller campuses and called for unification to help “ensure student success while also protecting” these identities. But Currall’s proposed structure for colleges, fees and student programs on the branch campuses is a far cry from the promises that legislators made in early 2018.

And if the university’s failed, $1 million attempt to unite the three campuses under a new logo is any indicator, consolidation will just be another hasty — far more expensive — mistake.

James Bennett III, The Crow's Nest editor [Provided by The Crow's Nest]

If Currall’s plan can recommend “campus operational deans” to oversee the accredited programs within the Muma College of Business, why can’t other colleges be afforded the same privilege? Is it because they’re not considered as profitable, popular or prestigious?

Take our journalism program, for instance. It was widely assumed that St. Petersburg’s journalism department would be absorbed by Tampa’s Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications. But after a private meeting last Thursday with faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences on the St. Petersburg campus, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox told The Crow’s Nest that Currall heard the criticism of that “loud and clear.” Now, Wilcox says the St. Petersburg campus will retain its journalism department and offer distinctive programs in education, finance and environmental sciences. He said a new plan will be released within a month.

Katlynn Mullins, The Crow's Nest editor [Provided by The Crow's Nest]

But will that plan restore some of the autonomy for St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee? Or will it maneuver, again, around the legislative mandate that the two become full branch campuses? And will it address student fees? Currall’s plan for a “uniform” fee structure leaves the smaller campuses at a disadvantage.

As the July 1 deadline for consolidation approaches, there shouldn’t be this much confusion and uncertainty about the structure of campus programs. Sure, many of us will have graduated by the time consolidation takes effect. But what about our legacy?

We can’t rewrite the 2018 law that abolished our independent accreditation, but we can follow the spirit and the letter of the law to ensure we don’t undo years of progress we’ve attained as an independent campus.

The first step is to start listening to the students, faculty and community who know what makes USF St. Petersburg special — and how to make it stronger.

Emily Wunderlich, James Bennett III and Katlynn Mullins are editors at The Crow’s Nest, the weekly student newspaper at USF St. Petersburg.

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