A bill to grant immediate independence to a new university in Polk County generated some passionate debate from its sponsor, Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales.
With his voice cracking with emotion, Alexander again criticized USF President Judy Genshaft for what he called dragging her feet on creating Florida Polytechnic, which would be the state’s 12th university.
“I don’t, I don’t, I don’t enjoy getting into it like this, but I have to tell you, I have no confidence in the University of South Florida’s leadership to execute the will of the board of governors in this effort,” he said.
The Board of Governors voted late last year to allow USF Polytechnic to become independent – but only after reaching several benchmarks under the leadership of USF.
The Senate proposal would create a new board in July for the new Florida Polytechnic and provide for the transfer of current students and faculty to USF.
The Senate passed the proposal 35-4, with only Senators Mike Fasano, Paula Dockery, Steve Oelrich, and Greg Evers voting against.)
Alexander’s face turned red and he banged his fist on his desk as he described what he said were USF’s failings:
- Not building 240 dorm units at the new Lakeland campus
- Not approving contracts to build a $1 million wellness center
- And most importantly, removing former USF Polytechnic Chancellor Marshall Goodman and some of his staff
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, added to the criticism of Genshaft for removing Goodman from his position and hiring an opponent of an independent Polytechnic university in his place.
“The mistake they made is, (the Board of Governors) did it on the honor system,” Latvala said. “And I don’t think the leadership at USF really did their part on the honor system.
“To me, firing the chancellor at that campus, who was supportive of the effort for independence, and hiring the leader of the opposition to that to implement the plan of the Board of Governors, to me, was a pretty clear signal they had no intentions of implementing that plan,” he said.
Latvala added that he believes the USF branch campus in his county, USF St. Petersburg, had not received a fair share of USF’s funding over the years.
Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, came to Genshaft’s defense.
“I know there was some bad blood, and Senator Alexander, maybe they drug their feet, maybe there was problems on both sides. But I will tell you this…I believe President Genshaft is being cooperative,” Norman said.
Norman said he asked Genshaft whether he should vote for the bill for independence.
According to Norman, Genshaft said, “Jim, I’m not in the way of the creation of this university…I want you to vote for this legislation.”