Bush names USF trustees
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- Former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack has a seat on the University of South Florida's new board of trustees. So does the president of TECO, the chairman of Outback Steakhouse, several developers and two prominent attorneys.
But the 13-member panel appointed Monday by Gov. Jeb Bush includes just one experienced educator -- Howard University president H. Patrick Swygert, the board's only black member.
And at least 12 of the 13 appointees are Republicans.
While some faculty members said they fear the board may be too business-oriented, others said the trustees' collective clout and financial savvy are exactly what the university needs.
"This is an awesome group," said USF President Judy Genshaft, who said she was so eager to learn the names of her new bosses that she called the governor's office early Monday and begged for the list.
"This is the kind of board you find at great universities," said Phil Handy, chairman of the new Florida Board of Education. "You need people who understand fiduciary responsibility, and, let's face it, fundraising."
The new trustees, who will serve four-year terms, won't take over immediately.
While they assume legal authority over most of USF's operations next week, they won't hold their first meeting until they complete orientation and training, which is expected to be held sometime in July.
There are sure to be plenty of questions.
As part of a Republican-led overhaul of Florida's education system, the trustees have been empowered to set budgets, bargain collectively, approve new degree programs and hire and fire the university president.
But it's unclear how their powers will mesh with those of the state board, which is supposed to set statewide policy for Florida's 11 universities.
And no one knows who will hold the whip hand -- the presidents, who will act as a university's CEO, or the trustees, whom the presidents hope will function as a corporate board of directors, leaving the operational decisions to them.
USF officials say they did not recruit candidates for the board. That job was handled by the Tampa Bay Partnership, a business group that asked local chambers of commerce and economic development agencies to identify people who deserved consideration.
Lee Arnold, who leads the partnership, said 40 recruits eventually submitted applications. One, presumably, was Arnold, a USF graduate whom Bush named to the board.
A few of the trustees talked Monday about bringing business concepts to academia.
Robert Soran, president and chief operating officer of Uniroyal Technology Corp., spoke about the benefits of establishing a "value-added concept" to USF's product line.
"Business, I don't think, is all that different from the way universities should be run," Soran said.
That sentiment worries Nancy Jane Tyson, an English professor and president of USF's Faculty Senate. She said she was grateful the governor at least picked Swygert, the Howard University president who has known Genshaft since both were administrators at the State University of New York at Albany.
Tyson said she would have submitted her own nominations, "but I don't know any rich people."
Others called that criticism unfair. They noted that most of the trustees have a direct and longstanding connection to USF.
Six are graduates of the university and Michael Griffin, the only student on the board, is USF's student body president. Gus Stavros, a Pinellas County investor, is a major donor. So is Chris Sullivan, the president of Outback Steakhouse.
Several of the trustees spoke Monday about where they hope to steer the university's future.
Mack, who sits on the board of directors at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, pointed to the high-tech corridor that runs along Interstate 4 between USF and the University of Central Florida.
"I think we have the opportunity to create one of our nation's most significant bio-tech centers," he said.
Richard Beard, a Tampa developer and former member of the state Board of Regents, said the 36,000-student university needs to stop growing in size and start growing in quality.
He thinks that can happen first in the school's growing medical complex.
Like many of the trustees, Beard has strong Republican credentials.
He is a former finance chairman for the state Republican Party. Sullivan, the Outback founder, has contributed more than $100,000 to the state party since 1996.
Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, who introduced the new trustees to a packed auditorium, was asked later why so many board members are Republican.
He said he wasn't aware of their political affiliation. He said it wasn't a factor in their selection.
Others aren't so sure.
Mandell "Hinks" Shimberg is the chairman of USF's fundraising campaign. He has given millions of dollars to the university. Many thought he was a shoo-in for a board seat.
Shimberg wasn't one of them.
"I'm a registered Democrat," he said with an amiable shrug. "This is about getting things done in the Legislature, and the Legislature right now is Republican."
Brogan also was asked about the board's racial makeup.
Two members have Hispanic backgrounds -- John Ramil and Dr. Margarita R. Cancio, a USF graduate who was chief of staff at Tampa General Hospital. But Swygert is the only African-American on the board.
Brogan asked for patience. By the end of the week, when all 11 of Florida's university boards are filled, "people will be very proud of the diversity of these boards," Brogan said.
But those won't be the final appointments for USF. Genshaft still must select people to sit on advisory boards for USF's regional campuses in St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Lakeland.
USF spokesman Jack Wheat said no timetable has been set for those appointments.
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