The University of South Florida received approval Friday for its academic plan to consolidate its three campuses under one umbrella - a "historic milestone," according to USF System President Steven Currall.
Florida legislators, including then Gov. Rick Scott, approved a law two years ago that required the school to unify its operations and academic standards for its Tampa campus, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee and set a deadline for July 1 of this year.
"Considering the complexities of consolidating three separately accredited institutions, today’s approval represents a remarkable accomplishment," Currall said in a statement.
"We have an extraordinary opportunity, as One USF, to strengthen our position as one of the nation’s premier research universities and a leader in student success by developing new and innovative ways to serve all members of the university community and the broader Tampa Bay region as we strive to become a top-25 public research university and position ourselves for eligibility for membership in the Association of American Universities."
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which signed off on the plan, now will make sure the consolidated university complies with the organization’s requirements.
Members of the Association will visit all three campuses, the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine in downtown Tampa, and possibly off-campus instructional sites. That visit will take place later this year or early next year.
The separate campuses will be able to maintain their own identities once consolidation is complete, and share in extra state money the main campus earns as a preeminent university.
Under the plan, the regional chancellors of USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee will become members of the Provost's Academic Leadership teams.
Academic programs that have a presence on multiple campuses - like business, education, and arts and sciences - will be grouped under one college with a single dean.
One of the goals of the plan is to maintain the same number of full-time faculty, although some may change campuses or departments.
University officials say the plan meets the needs not just of students, faculty, and research, but also the local communities involved. Politicians, as well as community and business leaders in St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, spoke out frequently during the consolidation planning process to make sure the campuses' local identities, as well as their faculty, were protected.
USF St. Petersburg faculty senate president Ray Arsenault was an outspoken critic of the initial consolidation plans. He told the Tampa Bay Times faculty there are slowly accepting the plan.
“We fought like crazy to retain some level of autonomy and identity,” he said. “We got more than we feared we’d get. ... We had serious research, small classes. We did everything we were supposed to do, but we didn’t always meet the metrics and make the numbers go the way they were supposed to go.”
Among the changes students will see under consolidation are uniform tuition and fees, as well as access to the same services, such as academic advising, financial aid, career services and mental health counseling.
In addition, student government has already changed. April elections saw a single Student Body President elected for all three campuses - Claire Mitchell - who is also the student representative to the USF Board of Trustees. Senators representing all three campuses were elected as well.
Each campus also voted for a Governor and Lt. Governor, and Campus Council representatives were also chosen.