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    Trade-off to keep USF intact

    A plan to be announced today leaves the St. Petersburg branch as part of USF, but with greater independence.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001

    ST. PETERSBURG -- The University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus would have greater control over its destiny, but still be a part of USF, under a legislative compromise expected to be announced today.

    The plan, which has the support of USF President Judy Genshaft and state Sens. Jim Sebesta and Don Sullivan, both local Republicans, would create a five-member board of Pinellas residents to help run the campus.

    It would provide the branch with greater financial independence, including a separate budget from the main USF campus for academic programs and building construction. It also would create a new chief executive position and allow the campus to seek separate accreditation.

    Sebesta, Sullivan and Genshaft are expected to unveil a bill with those measures at a 2:30 p.m. news conference at the St. Petersburg campus. Also scheduled to attend is state Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, who will introduce the measure in the House.

    Many of the details were unclear Thursday night, and none of the participants would discuss specifics.

    But the plan, which still must navigate the dangerous tides of the legislative session, could mark the end of two years of painful uncertainty about the future of the campus.

    The bill seems to provide Sullivan, who has worked to split the campus from USF and make it independent, the increased autonomy he considers essential to meet the education needs of Pinellas residents.

    It seems to provide Genshaft with what she wants most -- a guarantee that USF's largest branch will remain under the university's umbrella.

    Sebesta called the compromise the product of "blood, sweat and hard work." He drafted a bill in December that provided the basic blueprint, but it has since been heavily reworked by all sides.

    A USF spokesman said the school is looking for a "win-win resolution."

    "We want one that satisfies legislative concerns while preserving the university's ability to serve the students, the taxpayers and the region," said Genshaft's spokesman, Jack Wheat.

    Sullivan could not be reached for comment Thursday. As recently as two weeks ago, he said he expected the fight over the campus to continue through the legislative session.

    But Gov. Jeb Bush has shown little enthusiasm for his plan, which would convert several branch campuses in Florida into independent schools. Those schools would concentrate solely on undergraduate education.

    That future did not please much of the St. Petersburg faculty, which wants to remain affiliated with a fast-growing research institution. Many have said they will leave the branch if Sullivan's effort succeeds.

    The compromise to be announced today seems to acknowledge that sentiment by exempting several research-oriented programs in St. Petersburg, including the College of Marine Sciences, from the new setup.

    The compromise doesn't mean Sullivan's idea of increasing access to undergraduate degrees is dead.

    It's just changing.

    At a separate news conference today, Sullivan is expected to discuss another bill that would allow St. Petersburg Junior College to offer four-year degrees in specific, high-demand areas such as nursing. He has said that would be particularly helpful in northern Pinellas County, where residents live just as far from the St. Petersburg branch as from USF's main campus in north Tampa.

    USF officials said they have not been involved in that proposal.

    "That's an issue for the entire state," Wheat said.

    Genshaft, who has spent much of her first year as president wrestling with the threat to the university's branch campus system, has promised to promote fast growth in St. Petersburg.

    She has talked about increasing student enrollment from the current 3,500 to 5,900, and has proposed hiring 32 new professors. That would allow the campus to add five new degree programs and convert five partial programs into full ones.

    The university also would fill 89 new support positions in areas such as academic advisement, financial aid counseling and facilities management. The total cost of such changes is projected at $9.8-million, at least $7.6-million of which would recur every year.

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