Genshaft says USF isn't getting proper respect

Published April 7, 2006

TAMPA - Few things irk University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft more than to hear people say her university is "striving" to become a top research school.

"We're not striving," she says. "We are there. There are just three of us: USF, FSU, UF. I can't make it clear enough."

Genshaft's emphatic explanation of USF's standing came during a breakfast Friday with reporters and university officials at the $43-million USF Research Park. The event was organized to correct what administrators see as a long-running underestimation of USF's research achievements.

They have a point: The National Science Foundation last year recognized USF as the fastest-growing research university in the nation, tied with Vanderbilt University, based on its growth in research expenditures for 2003.

USF, Florida State University and the University of Florida are the state's only public universities to receive the Carnegie Foundation's top ranking for research. The ranking is based on several factors, including research spending, instruction and a school's mix of graduate and undergraduate students.

And the first known use of robots for emergency response came courtesy of USF researchers, who developed robots that searched for bodies following the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

More recently, unmanned aerial vehicles developed at USF went to Mississippi to search for Hurricane Katrina survivors.

"USF has literally created the field of rescue robotics," said computer sciences and engineering professor Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue at USF.

USF officials point out that their school is 100 years younger than FSU, yet spends more state, local, federal and private research dollars - $213-million in 2003 - than the Tallahassee school, which spent $152-million, according to the National Science Foundation.

"We don't like to compare ourselves," said USF spokeswoman Lara Wade. "But because we're in the same state, we will."

Brooks Keel, vice president for research at FSU, said it's difficult to compare FSU to UF and USF, both of which have established medical schools. FSU's medical school is barely five years old, and Keel said the university has not yet reaped the full benefits of its research potential.

"If you take out the medical school dollars and compare it to ours, I think you would see a difference," Keel said "The medical school is the factor."

Roughly half of USF's research funding goes to its Health Sciences Center, which includes the colleges of medicine, public health and nursing. UF's health science center also gets about half of its research awards, which totaled $494-million during the 2004-05 budget year.

As pleased as USF officials are with their research achievements, they concede there are areas for improvement.

Wade said the school needs to "do some work" in raising the academic profile of its undergraduates. The median SAT score for freshmen entering last summer and fall was about 1,120 on the old 1,600-point SAT. The median score for UF freshmen was about 100 points higher.

Vice provost Ralph Wilcox warned that USF's strides are threatened by low in-state tuition and state funding, which does not come close to covering the cost of enrolled students.

This year's budget surplus provides "a wonderful opportunity" for legislators to better fund higher education, Wilcox said.

"We know that as the size of our classes grows to accommodate the excess, the quality of our education is going to be challenged," he said. "None of us wants to throw 250 into a lecture hall for calculus."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com .