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    Senator says he won't head new university

    But Don Sullivan continues to fight for a St. Petersburg campus free of USF's control.

    By BARRY KLEIN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- State Sen. Don Sullivan, pushing hard to create a new university in Pinellas County, said Tuesday that he will never be its president.

    It's not that he doesn't want the job. He said he would love to be a president.

    But there are consequences to the kind of fight he is waging.

    "It isn't going to happen in my lifetime," Sullivan told members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club who had come to hear him speak about his efforts to spin the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus into an independent school.

    On that issue, Sullivan, R-Seminole, was less forthcoming. He said several times that Pinellas County needs its own university. But he also said talks continue with USF President Judy Genshaft, and he claimed to be uncertain how things would work out.

    That's what worries Genshaft, who said last week she was hoping the talks would lead to a satisfactory resolution. For USF, that means retaining control of its branches in St. Petersburg, Lakeland and Sarasota.

    Her spokesman was not heartened when he heard that Sullivan is still talking about the need for new universities.

    "The president intends to protect USF's interests, even if it means a fight," said Jack Wheat, Genshaft's spokesman.

    Sullivan indicated he was prepared to do battle.

    He told club members his proposal for new universities has the support of Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton, who he said is considering a grab for New College, USF's nationally known liberal arts college in Sarasota.

    And Sullivan said he is working on Gov. Jeb Bush, who had said last week he sees no need for more schools.

    But the issue of higher education access is not strictly about unmet needs in Pinellas County, Sullivan said. He said what happens here will have an impact in other parts of the state.

    In addition to Sarasota, he mentioned Daytona Beach and Florida's Panhandle as possible sites for new universities.

    Sullivan said he also sees big changes ahead for the state's 28 community colleges. He predicted the two-year schools soon will be allowed to offer undergraduate degrees in a number of fields, including nursing and education.

    "I think we should just turn things loose and let anyone teach anyone," he said.

    That's classic Sullivan, who loves to stick his thumb in the eye of Florida's higher education establishment, even if it requires hiding some embarrassing facts.

    On Tuesday, for example, Sullivan talked about how silly it is for people to lament the elimination of the state Board of Regents, the university system's longtime governing board.

    If the board was so valuable, he said, why did it "cave in" last year to legislative demands that led to the creation of two new law schools and a new medical college?

    Sullivan said the schools are unnecessary.

    He didn't point out, however, that he co-sponsored the bill that created the new law schools and voted in favor of the new medical college.

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