USF Polytechnic will get shot at becoming 12th university

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Lilly Rockwell of the News Service of Florida reports: The University of South Florida Polytechnic will get a chance to become an independent university, overcoming strong objections of faculty, students and several lawmakers.

But first USF Polytechnic in Lakeland will have to meet a long list of benchmarks, including separate accreditation, an established campus that includes residence halls, and more graduates with science and technology degrees. Only then will the Board of Governors allow the university to separate itself from the University of South Florida system.

The path toward independence will not happen overnight, USF officials said, assuring existing USF Polytechnic students that they will still graduate in the next several years with USF diplomas.

The 13-3 vote by the State University System Board of Governors Wednesday evening after a day of tense discussions underscores the influence of Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, a longtime proponent of USF Polytechnic and the head of the powerful Senate budget committee.

Alexander appeared in person along with Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to watch the proceedings and testified himself that the USF system was holding Polytechnic back.

Gaetz urged the board to vote for the USF Polytechnic split because it was the right step to encourage more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates, a priority of his and Gov. Rick Scott’s.

Though full independence is years away, this is the first time the state has moved toward creating a new university since New College joined the 11-university system in 2001.

Alexander wields considerable influence over universities because he helps write the state’s budget. But opponents to the USF Poly split said the process was rushed and politically motivated to please Alexander.

Michael Long, a New College student and a member of the Board of Governors chosen to represent students, blasted Alexander for allegedly twisting arms on the Board of Governors.

“I don’t feel well-represented by JD Alexander

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been 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.