As the Legislature returns to pass a budget Monday, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has written an op-ed column for the Tampa Bay Times. In it, he rejects USF's contention that it was a victim of a legislative maneuver to deny the Tampa university preeminent status and millions of dollars a year now enjoyed by UF and FSU.
Negron is the Legislature's leading proponent of moving to a new four-year graduation standard of 60 percent for a university to reach preeminence, and that standard awaits an up-or-town vote Monday by both houses.
The full background on what happened is here from the Tampa Bay Times. Here's Negron's version of the controversy:
Under the leadership of Dr. Judy Genshaft, the University of South Florida has become one of the leading public universities in Florida. The USF system ranks ninth in the nation among public universities for granted U.S. patents, according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association/NAI (2015). In June 2016, USF achieved "Emerging Preeminent State University" status as designated by the Florida Board of Governors. Recently some have claimed that the Florida Legislature "moved the goal posts", thus denying USF Tampa status as a "preeminent state university."
This allegation is incorrect and entirely unsupported by the facts.
There is one, and only one, reason USF Tampa narrowly missed preeminent designation this year: the university did not reach the current metric of a 70 percent six-year graduation rate. It came up just short at 67 percent. As it has been for some time, this is the current graduation measurement in effect through the 2018 academic year.
In the first draft of Senate Bill 2, the Senate provided for a 50 percent four-year graduation rate for preeminence, effectively immediately. Upon further reflection and in consultation with the Florida House, we decided it was more equitable to apply this new standard prospectively and not retroactively. We also raised the qualifying four-year graduation rate to 60 percent. I stand by both of those decisions and would make them again.
First, in academia – as well as in business and sports – fundamental fairness requires that all competitors know the rules of engagement before the results are determined. That is why a prospective application is superior to a retroactive application. Second, any university seeking to be known as "preeminent" should have at least 60 percent of its full-time students graduating on time.
The goal posts were not moved. Proposed legislation is frequently revised and amended during session, and it was imprudent for any observer to count their chickens before they hatched. USF simply did not hit the current standard. The good news is that USF will have every opportunity to reach preeminence in the coming years if they meet the new 60 percent four-year graduation rate, which is achievable.
The University of South Florida also had a banner year in the budget, thanks to Appropriations Chair Sen. Jack Latvala and the entire Tampa Bay Senate delegation. USF received an increase in operational funding of approximately $42 million and an additional $12 million for the Morsani College of Medicine in downtown Tampa, as well as $3.1 million for Davis Hall at USF St. Pete.
At my designation ceremony in December 2015, I pledged that transforming our universities in Florida into national elite destination universities like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia would be a top priority, a promise I have kept. The proposed budget on the desks of legislators contains nearly $600 million in additional funding for universities and for merit and need-based scholarships for students. I have no doubt that the University of South Florida will continue its steady ascension to becoming one of the preeminent universities in Florida and one of the exceptional universities in the United States.