The University of South Florida is holding a series of town hall meetings to gather opinions about how to best consolidate the separate accreditations of its three campuses under one umbrella.
The first such gathering was held Wednesday in Tampa, where a crowd of between 200 and 300 students, faculty members and staff packed a meeting room and spilled into the hallway of USF's Marshall Student Center.
Almost 20 people - mostly faculty - shared their thoughts during the public comment period.
Dr. Jonathan Ellen, the President of Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, serves as the chair of USF's Consolidation Task Force. He expects more members of the public will speak up at future meetings.
"In Sarasota and St. Petersburg, the communities, because of the way they're established, are much more I think engaged in advocating for the campuses, whereas I think the state is much more an advocate for this campus," he said.
In addition, there remain concerns that USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee will lose their separate identities - a fear that university and task force officials tried to allay again Wednesday.
“The impact on (the two campuses) is currently being perceived as something that may be more than on Tampa,” said Ellen. “I think that any change causes anxiety, but I hope that as people come to understand the process, they’ll see opportunity.”
The next town halls are September 11 at USF St. Petersburg and October 2 at USF Sarasota-Manatee.
The Task Force will have to submit recommendations to USF trustees by February of next year, then the trustees must adopt and submit an implementation plan to the Florida Board of Governors, which oversee the State University System's 12 public universities, by March 2019.
USF faces a state-mandated deadline to bring the separate accreditations under one umbrella by July 1, 2020.