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USF president proposes centers of excellence on St. Pete campus

Margie Manning

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Steve Currall addressed the USF board of trustees on Sept. 10.

The University of South Florida campus in St. Petersburg could be home to several interdisciplinary centers of excellence, under a preliminary consolidation plan unveiled today by Steve Currall, USF president.

Currall’s presentation before the USF Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday morning in Tampa was the first insight into the new university president’s ideas on consolidation, a process that will bring three separately accredited campuses under a single accreditation by July 1, 2020.

Faculty and staff at USF St. Petersburg have been waiting to hear Currall’s vision for a consolidated university. Currall, who started his job July 1, said he put together his preliminary proposals based on what he’s heard during his “listening tour” of campuses in Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee.

Florida legislators approved a measure, signed by Gov. DeSantis in June, designed to ensure St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee would be “branch campuses,” with administrative authority for the budget, hiring and supervision. But some professors have raised concerns that preliminary documents would not give the St. Petersburg campus that authority and instead would reduce it to an “instructional site” when USF begins operating under a single accreditation.

Currall called the plan he outlined Tuesday “a preliminary blueprint for the future of USF,” with an overall objective of  “one university, geographically distributed.” That model strives to preserve each campus’ identity, guided by a transparent and collaborative process.

“In the past two weeks I’ve had meetings with faculty at Tampa, at St. Petersburg and Sarasota as part of my listening tour,” Currall said. “They were very excited about the possibility of an increased focus on interdisciplinary centers of research excellence in St. Pete and in Sarasota.”

In a written presentation that accompanied his talk with the trustees, Currall suggested the interdisciplinary centers of excellence in St. Pete could focus on marine and environmental science, journalism and media studies, the arts, financial services and K-12 science education. The Sarasota-Manatee campus could be home to centers of excellence in aging studies, risk management and insurance, the arts and K-12 arts education.

“Nothing is written in stone,” Currall cautioned.

He spent most of his time talking about the leadership structure, including a “refreshed role” for regional chancellors. Those chancellors would report to Currall, as they currently do, and some of their responsibilities would remain the same, he said, citing their work as liaisons with local business and economic development organizations and the local campus advisory board, as well as identifying workforce needs in the community.

The regional chancellors would also implement the approved budget for their campuses, oversee all personnel matters and lead philanthropy and fundraising.

“In St. Petersburg last night we had a wonderful event to honor Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton [benefactors for the College of Business] for their philanthropic support on the St. Petersburg campus. Regional chancellors will continue to do that, and I’ll be asking them to enhance their time spent on advancement activities,” Currall said.

Currall expects to have a 25-page draft of specific points for consolidation ready by Nov. 1, and he will ask USF Board of Trustees approval of that draft plan at the board’s Dec. 3 meeting. The plan will be submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the university’s accrediting body, by March 15, with a final decision from the SACSCOC expected by June 11.

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