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USF, JD Alexander, Polytechnic and the Budget Fight

What started as a fight over a new university in Polk County has blossomed into a battle over budget cuts to the University of South Florida. On this Florida Matters, we delve into the origin of the fight, and talk about how it may be resolved.

Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander was once one of USF's biggest supporters. That's important, because Alexander has the power to direct millions of dollars toward USF...or, as we found out recently, to take it away.

“I have lost confidence in USF's leadership of that issue,” he said recently.

That issue is the creation of what would be Florida's 12th university -- Florida Polytechnic -- in Alexander's home county, Polk County.

Alexander has said USF officials have dragged their feet on helping what is now a USF branch campus gain its independence.

This comes as Alexander's budget committee proposed budget cuts that USF said equal 58 percent of their state appropriation -- more than any other university.

USF President Jusy Genshaft immediately called the Tampa Bay Community to action:

“What is key is, we can change this. It is not a done deal,” she said at a community meeting after the proposed Senate budget was announced.

Since then, Senate leaders have backed off some of those proposed cuts, but Dr. Genshaft says more work needs to be done to make sure USF is treated fairly in this year's budget.

Dr. Genshaft spoke recently with WUSF news director Scott Finn about how we got here, and her plan for steering USF through it.

Of course, Senator JD Alexander has a different take on the dispute over USF Polytechnic and the USF budget fight.

Alexander's dream is to create what's called a polytechnic university on land along I-4 outside Lakeland, with a focus on STEM degrees -- science, technology, engineering and math.

At first, Alexander was a big supporter of having the new Polytechnic university remain as part of USF, under the UC model.

But just three years later, Alexander was saying this at a Board of Governors meeting, where he asked for immediate independence for Polytechnic.

“All I can tell you is it has been tortuous...impossible to get the program arrays, to hire the faculty, to recruit the students,” he said.

Alexander elaborated on the USF Poly split and the proposed cuts to USF recently with a group of reporters at the state Capitol.

Other universities are being cut as well, but USF officials say the Senate's version of the budget disproportionately affects them.

It's led to a movement of community leaders and students to try and reverse the cuts -- or at least make them more in-line with other universities. USF Student Body President Matthew Diaz led a group of student to Tallahassee recently and spoke to the Senate Budget Committee -- where he received a lecture from Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairwoman Evelyn Lynn.

Diaz talked with Florida Matters about his experience in fighting proposed budget cuts to USF.

We've also been hearing from you on WUSF's Facebook page. John Hayes says, "(Senator) Alexander is acting like an elementary school bully, trying to use his position to "get even" with President Genshaft. Her opposition to his desire to make USF Polytechnic become its own, independent school, is no reason to decimate USF's budget."

Let us know what you think -- go to Facebook.com/WUSF and hit the like button. There's also lots more about the USF budget battle, including the most recent updates, on our website, WUSF.org.

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