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University system says unified USF ‘just makes sense,’; St. Pete Chamber says ‘slow down’

The state university system’s Board of Governors said Thursday it was fully behind a plan to combine the three USF campuses, but the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce said lawmakers need to “hit pause” on the consolidation plan.

Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls added a provision to the House higher education bill, HB 423, that would bring the USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee campuses back under the purview of the main USF campus in Tampa as one accredited institution, rather than three.

The endorsement of the idea by the state university system’s Board of Governors came after USF President Judy Genshaft wrote a letter this week saying the unification, which would take place in 2020, could provide “significant benefits” to USF students.

Norman Tripp, a Board of Governors member, said there were political reasons behind the original move to separate the USF campuses, but it did not work out as planned.

“I think we now have an opportunity to bring the children back home and make them part of the family,” he said.

On the same day the Board of Governor’s gave the okay, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce said it wanted a formal study on the effects of the proposal before the plan moves forward, citing concerns over the “the pace of taking this from an idea to a policy without any public process or due diligence.”

“Our concern is not with our USF System leadership, our elected representatives, or the idea itself. Our concern is with the lack of process, facts or evidence to prove this indeed is the right direction for our community and our economic development strategies. Every stakeholder group deserves to know more prior to making this major change to the way we have envisioned our future,” the Chamber said in a Thursday press release.

“We ask for consideration of our request to ensure a study is commissioned in this session and we look forward to working together with our regional partners to bring back in next year’s session the facts, impacts and opportunities of this idea so every stakeholder group can be certain it will indeed provide the best system for our students, city, region and unique community economic development strategies.

Lawmakers approved USF’s split back in 2002, and USF St. Petersburg earned its own accreditation in 2006, followed by the Sarasota-Manatee campus in 2011.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post, republished with permission.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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