"Vision" of Separate USF Polytechnic University Outlined

Proposed campus
Artist's rendering of proposed USF Polytechnic campus
MIAMI (2011-9-15) -

It hasn't even sprouted its first building yet, but support is building in Polk County to spin off USF Polytechnic into a separate state university. Today, the move picked up some steam before the state's board of higher education.

So far, the site of the proposed USF Polytechnic campus is little more than a cow pasture. But USF Poly Chancellor Marshall Goodman compares his proposed new school to its neighbor a ways down Interstate 4.

"Now think for a minute about a visionary decades ago," Goodman told the state Board of Governors. "He came to Florida from another state and what he saw was swampland, mosquitoes and gators. And he bought all of it that it could. And he dreamed of something better in that space: a mouse."

There's no monorails or fairy castles, but Goodman has hired internationally-known architect Santiago Calatrava to design the new campus. But Goodman says the school won't reach its full potential unless it breaks away from USF.

"Obviously, as a distinctive university, we would be able to develop and grow programs with greater flexibility that we can as a complex organization that has a number of competing interests," he said.

What's greasing the wheels of this move is the clout of J.D. Alexander, the Polk County state senator who heads the Senate's budget committee. He managed to get the school $35 million in state funds, during a very tight fiscal year.

"I think the costs will be very minimal compared to the return for the people of Florida," Alexander told the board, "and I commit to you to continue to work for it for as long as I can, for as long as I'm in office - and beyond - to help you implement the greatest set of opportunities - unique, different and wonderful - that can help us grow this state."

The board of governors agreed to study the proposal and come up with a plan for a vote at their November meeting.

USF President Judy Genshaft was at the Miami meeting, but didn't address the issue. Here's what she had to say in a letter addressed to the chair of the Board of Governors: "Realizing USF Polytechnic has, and continues to have, a unique mission separate and apart from the other campuses of the USF system, we are willing to consider options there, which we would not entertain elsewhere."

The uniqueness of the request is something that was hammered home by Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state university system. He made a point of mentioning that there are many branch campuses throughout the state that could start getting the same idea.

"But make sure that it is held up to such a standard that are not unintentionally paving the way for what could become an Oklahoma land rush of other people saying, 'me too'," Brogan said.

Several board members questioned having to shell out money for another state school, given the current belt-tightening in Tallahassee. Board member Gus Stavros, a former USF trustee from Pinellas County, says the state budget is already limiting things like basic maintenance of existing buildings.

"I wonder how a 12th university would affect the other 11 universities," says Stavros, "and how can we expand the base for more funding? I've not heard that yet."

And what about the students? Michael Long of New College represents students on the board of governors. Long says 85 percent of the students surveyed by the USF Polytechnic student body president say they want stay with USF.

"Their main concern right now is their job outlook," says Long. "When you're bringing in a new university into the mix, they don't have the name recognition nationally or in the state - they're Polytechnic, not USF. So they want to make sure once they graduate, that they have a diploma that will get them a job."

And if Alexander and Goodman get their way, the state's 12th university will soon take its place halfway between Orlando and Tampa. It would arise just across I-4 from Fantasy of Flight, with its sign promoting it as "Downtown Orlampa."

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