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As the USF system hurtles toward consolidation, a growing number of St. Petersburg faculty members want clear-cut answers about the future of their campus.
Some of St. Petersburg’s longest-serving professors say consolidation planners seem to be ignoring state law and the programs and culture that make the St. Petersburg campus special.
In a statement sent to President Steve Currall on Aug. 29 and a meeting with him the next day, faculty members gave the new president a blunt assessment. (See statement below.)
“USF St. Pete comes after everything else at the university (system) is taken care of,” Dr. James McHale, the founding chair of the campus’ Psychology Department and director of its Family Study Center, told Currall.
Unique and innovative programs on the St. Petersburg campus seem to be in jeopardy, and so does the campus’ bond with downtown businesses and the community.
“I’ve been here since 2001, and in my opinion, we have lacked research administrators on this campus,” said Deby Cassill, an associate professor and associate chairperson of biological sciences. “Because of that, we haven’t really gotten research support that has been given to the Tampa campus.shaft
“We are hungry for it. We’ve got anthropology bringing in grants, psychology bringing in grants, biology bringing in grants — despite the lack of support.”
Currall told Cassill her assessment is an “important message.” St. Petersburg “has to be an integral part of the trajectory” toward the “world-class intellectual and academic footprint that we aspire (the consolidated) USF to have,” he said.
By law, the campuses must consolidate by July 1.
The USF Board of Trustees must submit a “substantive change” request to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) by March 15.
The request must fully describe the programs and their locations that will be offered by the newly formed university.
‘A gem and jewel’
The Aug. 30 meeting, which was attended by about 65 faculty and administrators, was cordial and interactive.
Currall was quick to agree that the St. Petersburg campus “is a gem and jewel.” He emphasized that “one university means one accreditation, not homogeneity across the campuses.”
But when asked what it means for a branch campus to have its own budgetary and hiring authority, as required by state law enacted this year, Currall said he doesn’t have the answers to that.
He called USF St. Petersburg an “intellectual puzzle” with the challenge of increasing the campus’ “research footprint” while maintaining “this more intimate community feeling” for students.
“We are in the process of making some decisions,” Currall said. “By the end of September, there will be some more information coming out.”
USF system Provost Ralph Wilcox has been involved with consolidation planning from the beginning. His contract was renewed by Currall for five years with an annual salary of $471,203. Wilcox attended the Aug. 30 meeting but did not speak.
Since 2006, the St. Petersburg campus has enjoyed independent accreditation — a stretch that has seen “an amazing surge of energy here,” history professor Ray Arsenault told Currall at the Aug. 30 meeting.
But the Legislature decided in 2018 to consolidate the St. Petersburg (4,455 students) and Sarasota-Manatee (2,223) campuses with the huge Tampa campus (44,249).
Last spring the Legislature amended state law to ensure that St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee would become full branch campuses under the definition of the regional accrediting agency. That means they should have the authority to shape their budgets, hire faculty and tailor programs for their students.
But planning documents that Tampa-based administrators have shared so far are too Tampa-centric and seem to ignore the mandate for full branch campuses, Currall was told by senior USF St. Petersburg faculty.
Seventeen full professors and Patricia Pettijohn, associate librarian at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library and member of the USF System Faculty Council, signed the statement that went to Currall on Aug. 29.
There are 39 full professors at the St. Petersburg campus, according to 2018 data from the USF InfoCenter. No one from the College of Business signed the statement.
The group of 18 said documents they reviewed on the proposed academic structure for consolidation of the three campuses do not match the requirements for a branch campus as outlined by the Legislature and SACSCOC.
They also said the proposed academic structure gives scant information on how the university will be organized under consolidation, and it should not be assumed that the central administration will be on the Tampa campus.
One of the consolidation documents that concerns some faculty members shows that several of St. Petersburg’s unique programs appear to be feeding up to schools and departments that are known (but not obviously identified) to be located at the Tampa campus.
Currall told a Crow’s Nest reporter after the Aug. 30 meeting that “program alignment does not mean that all the control is in Tampa.” There are still decisions to be made about organizational structures and their schools or departments, he said.
USF St. Petersburg Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock told the audience at the meeting that Currall is sincere when it comes to his determination to come to St. Petersburg and learn about the campus.
“He’s very receptive to everything we have to say . . . Say whatever you want, ask whatever questions you want because he accommodates that and he’s very good at doing that,” said Tadlock. “That’s who he is.”
Senior faculty statement on consolidation
This is the statement on the proposed academic structure of the USF system that was sent to President Steve Currall on Aug. 29. The statement was signed by 17 full professors and Patricia Pettijohn, associate librarian at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library and member of the USF System Faculty Council.