Will USF Polytechnic Break Away?

Former Joint Legislative Budget Commission Chair Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, left, confers with Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, center, and then-Majority Leader Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, on April 17, 2009.
TAMPA (2011-11-8) -

Wednesday afternoon, the Board of Governors for Florida's university system is scheduled to talk about, and perhaps vote on, whether USF-Polytechnic in Polk County should be allowed to split from USF.

That would make it the state’s 12th university.

The effort has the backing of a powerful Polk County state Senator, Finance Chairman J.D. Alexander, as well as many business and civic leaders in the county. They say it will spur high-tech jobs in the region.

But other leaders in Polk County are raising questions about the cost and wisdom of the split, including another Polk County state Senator, Paula Dockery.

Dockery has publicized an unsigned letter from students raising questions about USF-Polytechnic Chancellor Marshall Goodman. She says the letter is a plea for someone to start asking tough questions about this proposed split.

We asked St. Petersburg Times reporter Kim Wilmath about these claims. She says she was able to substantiate one claim in the letter – that Goodman hired his son for a position.

USF-P officials defend that move, saying there was no violation of ethics in that hiring and that Goodman’s son was the best qualified for the job.

Wilmath says both sides are making claims that are hard to back up. USF-P released a 50-page business plan last week.

“It’s really hard to pin down where they get these things,” she said. “As far as what it will actually cost, and what kind of enrollment they actually might have, that remains to be seen,” she said.

She said a lot of people are asking, “What’s the rush?” Why is it that this has to be shoved through right now?

“Isn’t there maybe a period that we need to study this idea, and weigh the pros and cons, and how much this is going to cost, and look into real closely the business model for this plan, especially in a time when there’s not much funding to go around for the existing 11 universities,” she said.

A lot of people point to Alexander, who’s in his final term in the state Senate because of term limits.

“How can you blame him? This is what he wants to give back to his community,” she said.

The Board could resolve the issue Wednesday…or they could put it off. Either way, the state Legislature is bound to weigh in later, Wilmath said.

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