St. Petersburg legislators and city council seek further study before separate accreditation bill passes
By Jeffrey Waitkevich
Several St. Petersburg officials are now calling for legislators to pump the brakes on a bill that would abolish the separate accreditations of USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee.
St. Petersburg City Council adopted a resolution calling for the complete removal of language in House Bill 423 that would consolidate all three USF campuses.
Other voices speaking out against the bill are Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who wrote a two-page joint letter to the USF Board of Trustees to express concerns they’ve developed about the bill after weeks of meeting with the community.
“In our view, these questions, and many others, deserve study, and meaningful public discussion and input, prior to any legislative direction is given to start down a path toward accreditation consolidation,” Diamond and Rouson’s letter said.
The City Council’s draft called for a study to explore the impacts the bill would have on the local community and regional economy in order to “ensure the most successful future for current and future USF St. Petersburg students and faculty.”
Diamond also expressed interest in appointing a study committee consisting of one student, faculty and board member from each of the three USF institutions, as well as business leaders from those communities.
He also recommended that someone from the Florida College System be appointed to the committee.
At a meeting with students at USF St. Petersburg on Friday, Jan. 26, he said “I want to be a champion for you guys.”
“I’m concerned about the way this sort of just appeared on the scene,” said Diamond. “Which is part of why I’m trying to sit down and talk to people about it.”
Diamond added that he and Rouson are “on the same page,” and that other legislators have been willing to listen to his ideas.
A RESOLUTION SUPPORTING CONTINUING SEPARATE ACCREDITATION FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA ST. PETERSBURG (“USF ST .PETERSBURG”) REQUESTING THAT LANGUAGE BRINGING USF ST. PETERSBURG BACK UNDER THE ACCREDITATION OF UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA TAMPA (“USF TAMPA”) BE REMOVED FROM HB 423; INSTRUCTING THE CITY CLERK TO TRANSMIT THIS RESOLUTION TO CERTAIN PERSONS AND ENTITIES, AND PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE.
WHEREAS, the University of South Florida is currently considered to be a system includes three separately accredited institutions: USF Tampa, USF St. Petersburg, and USF Sarasota-Manatee; and
WHEREAS, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee are operated and maintained as separate organizational and budget entities of USF and both campuses obtain separate accreditation; and
WHEREAS, USF St. Petersburg is a key economic driver for the City of St. Petersburg; and
WHEREAS, dramatic improvements to the USF St. Petersburg campus have occurred over the past 10 years; and
WHEREAS, proposed legislation has been added to HB 423 filed for consideration during the 2018 session of the Florida Legislature which proposes to phase out the separate accreditation of USF St. Petersburg; and
WHEREAS, concerns arise on the continued success of the USF St. Petersburg campus if all key decisions on programs, funding, and staffing are made in Tampa; and
WHEREAS, questions about enrollment and minority access for students at a local university campus if the same admission criteria were used statewide need to be addressed.
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the City Council of the City of St. Petersburg, Florida that City Council urges the Florida Legislature that the language bringing USF St. Petersburg back under the accreditation of USF Tampa needs to be removed from HB 423.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a study should be funded and performed to ensure the most successful future for current and future USF St. Petersburg students, faculty, and potential impacts to our local community and our regional economy.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that changes to governance need to be made to increase membership on the USF Board of Trustees with trustees who reside in St. Petersburg.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Council hereby instructs the City Clerk to transmit
a copy of this Resolution to the Senate President, the House Speaker and the Pinellas County
This Resolution shall become effective immediately upon its adoption.
Full letter from Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, to USF Board of Trustees:
Dear Mr. Lamb:
Thank you for your leadership of the University of South Florida Board of Trustees. We are writing to share with you our concerns regarding Florida House Bill 423, which directs the USF Board of Trustees to phase out the independent accreditation of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
We recognize that proponents of accreditation consolidation believe it will be in the best interests of the students and faculty of all three institutions. We know this proposal is offered by our colleagues with the sincere goal of increasing funding and opportunities for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. We also recognize that regional cooperation is critical to the success of Tampa Bay for so many public policy issues – including providing the best higher education possible for our students.
However, the proposed accreditation consolidation would have many consequences, some intended, and many unintended. The proposal was not workshopped in any of the public legislative committees prior to the start of the 2018 legislative session in either the Florida House or the Florida Senate. The proposal was not discussed, as far as we can tell, at any USF Board of Trustees meeting leading up to the start of this legislative session, or any faculty senate meeting, or any student government meeting, on any of the three campuses. Community and business leaders that had worked for years to support USF St Petersburg had not heard about the proposal in any Chamber of Commerce meeting or at any other forum prior to the release of House Bill 423.
In our view, a decision of this magnitude must be carefully studied. There should be an opportunity for meaningful community input before the Legislature decides to reverse course and direct the Board of Trustees down a path toward accreditation consolidation. As you know, there is a long history here that must be considered. For years, there was concern that Tampa administrators were not offering appropriate consideration for issues relating to scheduling, hiring, and budgeting on the St. Petersburg campus. Eventually, after much discussion and debate, the Legislature determined in 2006 that the campuses would be better served through independent accreditation and governance. Since that decision was made, USF St. Petersburg has grown into a successful and thriving campus of 5,000 students. Its academic programs and opportunities for students have become a source of pride for all of us in Pinellas County.
There are many questions that must be considered relating to accreditation consolidation. How would the proposal impact student admissions and access by minority students to enrollment at the various campuses? How would the proposal impact academic programs offered and faculty hiring? How would accreditation consolidation impact USF St Pete’s ability to lead in the innovation district and more broadly in the continued successful economic development of St. Petersburg? How would accreditation consolidation potentially help all campuses as USF seeks to achieve the excellence standards necessary for preeminent university funding from the State of Florida?
In our view, these questions, and many others, deserve study, and meaningful public discussion and input, prior to any legislative direction is given to start down a path toward accreditation consolidation. We believe that the bill should be changed to direct the appointment of a study committee which includes student, faculty, and administrators from each campus, as well as business leaders from Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee/Sarasota. The study committee should hold public meetings on each campus. If the study committee determines accreditation consolidation is indeed in the best interests of the students on all three campuses, then there will be additional questions to consider. How should the governance structure of the Board of Trustees be changed to ensure appropriate representation from each of the counties on the Board? How would budgeting decisions be made in Tampa in a more transparent and appropriate manner? What would be the role for St. Petersburg’s student and faculty leaders under a new arrangement?
The St. Petersburg Chamber, St. Petersburg City Council, Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, Pinellas County Economic Development Council, the Dali Museum, and the Retired Faculty and Staff Association of USF St. Petersburg have all sent letters stating their opposition to this proposal.
We have raised our concerns with this proposal to legislative leaders in the Florida House and Florida Senate, and will continue to do so. This is not a partisan matter, it is one of education. We have also each met individually with President Genshaft to share with her our concerns, and advocate for a more deliberative and public approach to the discussion and analysis of these issues. We welcome your feedback and look forward to discussing this issue further with you.
Thank you Chairman Lamb for your leadership and consideration.
Header photo courtesy of Ben Diamond