Meeting stalls on USF control
By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published February 17, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft came here Friday to learn what USF St. Petersburg faculty think of a strategic plan that will guide the university's future.
Instead, she spent much of the two-hour meeting promising that neither she nor other Tampa officials would jeopardize USF St. Petersburg's separate accreditation, a concern uppermost in the minds of many in attendance.
"There is no way we're going to do anything but keep this accreditation strong and healthy," Genshaft told a standing-room-only crowd of about 200. "This is so important. We are a model in the Florida system."
She reiterated the sentiment moments later.
"We are all committed to keeping this accreditation on this campus," Genshaft said. "Why would we have worked so hard over so many years if we don't value it and want to see it continue?"
Many seemed skeptical.
USF St. Petersburg anthropology professor Jay Sokolovsky praised Genshaft for her role in the six-year effort that resulted in the campus being granted separate accreditation last summer from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
But he expressed concern that some elements of the strategic plan, such as centralization of the budget on the Tampa campus, were "going in the wrong direction." He said that could be perceived by the regional accrediting board as a sign that USF St. Petersburg is incapable of governing itself.
History professor Ray Arsenault told Genshaft many professors resented what appeared to be a "top down" approach in crafting the strategic plan. Faculty in St. Petersburg never saw the plan until it was in its ninth draft, he said.
"Instead of threatening us with an intrusive centralization," Arsenault said, "it seems to me the administration and the Board of Trustees should be over here examining how we've been able to do so much with so little."
And former USF St. Petersburg dean Bill Heller, who was elected to the state House last fall, questioned the plan's requirement that the library dean in St. Petersburg report to the Tampa campus.
Genshaft said the move is necessary to make USF eligible for entry into the prestigious Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of 62 top schools. The only public school in Florida currently in the group is the University of Florida.
USF St. Petersburg senior Ged Helm, 24, then asked a hypothetical question: If redirecting library control to Tampa could cost the campus its separate accreditation, which would she choose?
"Do you know what has priority?" Genshaft asked. "SACS accreditation. We didn't work this hard to jeopardize that."
At times during the meeting, it was clear that Genshaft and USF trustee Lee Arnold were frustrated with how the conversation kept veering away from the strategic plan and coming back to USF St. Petersburg's autonomy. A PowerPoint presentation remained stalled on the sixth slide of a 19-slide package.
Genshaft acknowledged after the meeting - the third in a series of five scheduled this month across the USF system - that she would have preferred to stay more focused on the plan. Still, she said, she hoped she resolved some of the faculty's fears about autonomy.
At least one USF St. Petersburg professor left the meeting dissatisfied.
"It's clear to me they're not interested in our concerns," said Eric Odgaard, a psychology professor who left a post-doctoral post at Yale to come to the campus two years ago. "They're clearly concerned about the overall reputation of the system at the expense of the individual campuses."
Donna Winchester can be reached at 727 893-8413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.