AUBURNDALE, Florida - It's a controversy that's resonated from Lakeland to Tampa to Tallahassee: should USF-Poly break away from the main university?
The independence effort now has the support of the influential Central Florida Development Council (CFDC), thanks to some help from a high-powered state senator.
Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, made the pitch for independence Monday morning at an emergency meeting to discuss the vote. The Senate Budget Chair promised tax dollars would continue to flow toward an independent "Florida Poly" next year, and helped secure a 32-6 vote in favor of recommending independence.
The board has no authority over the school's independence - the state's Board of Governors will ultimately decide at its next meeting Nov. 9-10. But the CFDC vote of confidence is significant after critical views of independence from USF leadership, elected leaders, USF-Poly faculty, and USF-Poly students.
"Don't be fooled," Alexander told the group of business and political leaders from around Polk Co., "USF's priorities are (at the) Tampa (campus). They're not here; they will never be here."
Alexander continued to make his passionate plea for Polk Co. leaders to push back against the Tampa-based USF leadership. He suggested USF was intentionally stunting the polytechnic's growth so it doesn't compete with the institution for students.
Former CFDC Chairman David Touchton has become one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed USF-Poly split, saying the timing is wrong and leaving USF's umbrella would jeopardize the single-biggest economic engine the county has ever had.
He also said independence could bankrupt the school and cost taxpayers a fortune.
Touchton cited a report that estimated USF-Polytechnic will eventually result in more than 36,000 jobs; however, changing the current growth model by going independent could set the economic engine back by 4-6 years.
A recent poll of faculty members showed 27 of 35 opposed independence too, citing possible financial failure. But Alexander dismissed the poll as a biased representation of only union faculty members.
He also said if USF-Poly becomes an independent "Florida Poly," students would have a choice to stay at the school or finish their studies at USF if they cared about the brand name. It wasn't a decision students in attendence Monday wanted to have to make.
"If you don't have a brand name (like USF), you aren't going to last," student Sage Stevens said of USF-Poly. "We have a 50+ year brand (in USF). Why do we have to be independent to have a successful polytechnic university?"
Touchton contended that an independent polytechnic would start out with no sports teams, no alumni base, and no name recognition. Without those, the school would have no students at first and would have trouble growing as expected.
10 News will continue to follow the developments leading up to the Board of Governor's decision Nov. 9-10 on USF-Poly's proposed split from USF, including a 10 News Investigators report on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 11pm on Alexander's motivation for pushing the project.
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