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Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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Lakeland leaders want separate USF campus

LAKELAND The University of South Florida Polytechnic's new campus near Interstate 4 in Polk County isn't even off the ground yet, but a major push is already on to distance the campus from USF. A letter signed by 29 Polk County business and political leaders asks the state university system's Board of Governors to divorce the two schools and create a separate, autonomous institution. "I think it's clear that we can continue this campus really as an independent institution without any additional financial costs," said Republican state Sen. JD Alexander, who helped secure funding for USF Polytechnic. In the letter, signed by Publix Vice Chairman Barney Barnett and former state senator Rick Dantzler, community leaders spell out their arguments for an independent polytechnic.
"We have concerns that the present structure will impede not foster growth," the letter reads. "Representation and decision making ... will be so concentrated in Tampa that the needs of this campus ... will be overlooked." Alexander said he initially thought a relationship with USF would work but now believes it's no longer in the best interest of the polytechnic's math, science, engineering and technology focus. "So much of the discussion tends to be dominated by existing institutions that have a degree of 'protect the status quo,' " Alexander said. USF President Judy Genshaft said in a written response that the university remains committed to USF Polytechnic. "To that end, we welcome, and will engage, in any meaningful discussions intended to ensure these outcomes," Genshaft said. Marshall Goodman, chancellor of USF Polytechnic, also issued a written response, expressing appreciation for the community support and saying the campus is "focused on building Florida's first and only public polytechnic university." "USF Polytechnic is very appreciative of the role of the USF System in establishing our vision and investing in our future," he added, "and we look forward to our continued collaboration." The letter to the Board of Governors requests a chance to pitch the break-up in person. Alexander says he expects that opportunity to come some time in September, and he plans to have hundreds supporters with him to help sell the idea.

jleigh@wfla.com (863) 284-1418

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