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    USF expansion depends heavily on funds, letter warns senator

    By BARRY KLEIN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


    If state lawmakers provide the money, the University of South Florida will hire 32 new professors for its St. Petersburg campus, greatly increasing the number of degrees that can be offered there.

    But the five-year timetable for that expansion depends entirely on adequate funding, USF officials warned in a letter to state Sen. Don Sullivan, who tried to dismantle the university's regional campus system earlier this year and is expected to try again.

    Sullivan said Wednesday he hasn't read the Dec. 18 letter, which is the university's response to 26 questions the Pinellas lawmaker posed in November.

    Sullivan, R-Seminole, said he isn't sure the answers matter much anymore. That's because Florida's revenue estimates keep changing.

    "We're still a month or six weeks too early for this exercise," he said.

    That is almost certainly a surprise to USF President Judy Genshaft and university system Chancellor Adam Herbert, neither of whom could be reached Wednesday for comment.

    They authorized considerable staff work to get the questions answered, and both signed the final product.

    Their letter, which fills 16 pages, covers both fiscal and policy concerns.

    It notes, for example, that USF opposes the creation of local governing boards on its regional campuses. Instead, the campuses would have representatives on a single board of trustees that would oversee university-wide operations.

    Sullivan, who has proposed coverting USF's branches into independent institutions, wasn't thrilled by that answer.

    "That isn't even up to USF," he said. "It's up to the governor and the Legislature."

    Several of the senator's questions focused on Genshaft's repeated promises to pursue separate accreditation for the St. Petersburg branch and for New College, USF's nationally recognized liberal arts program in Sarasota.

    Sullivan seemed especially interested in pinning down the university's timetable.

    He wasn't successful.

    The letter says both campuses are only beginning to assess their ability to meet accreditation criteria and the process could last until 2004.

    Sullivan's most pointed queries focused on USF's plans for expanding its St. Petersburg branch.

    In recent months, Genshaft has said her goal is to boost student enrollment from its current 3,500 to at least 5,900 within five years. She has promised to add five new degree programs and convert five partial programs into full ones.

    But the letter includes considerably more detail.

    It says USF wants to hire 32 additional faculty by 2005, an increase of about one-third. The university also would fill 89 new support positions in areas such as academic advisement, financial aid counseling and facilities management.

    The total cost was projected at $9.8-million, with at least $7.6-million recurring every year.

    But there was one major caveat.

    If the Legislature doesn't provide the money, the letter states, the expansion could still go forward, but at a considerably slower pace.

    Recent coverage

    Bullish on USF -- the local one (December 17, 2000)

    Study: Little need for more universities (December 14, 2000)

    Study: USF inadequate in serving jobs needs (November 9, 2000)

    Campus crowd puts lawmaker on defensive (October 25, 2000)

    School feels pain with gain of independence (October 8, 2000)

    Senators cringe at USF plans (October 5, 2000)

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