The Trib & USF Lakeland

It seems the last couple of years have proved one fact to this new resident of Lakeland.

Tampa and Orlando media are afraid of Polk County.

To the Orlando Sentinel we’re often “rural Polk County” or “Orlando-area.”

To the Tampa Tribune we’re evidently a drain on their campus.

In today’s Tribune is an unsigned editorial, USF Lakeland Campus Driven By Political, Development Ambitions

I’ll sum up the editorial for you, “Dear Lakeland, We got ours. Stay small. Wait for us to annex you.” It’s the same thing we hear from Orlando. Both cities look to Polk County as land for their growth.

The editorial starts with the statement: “One of the smartest things Gov. Charlie Crist did last year was veto funding for a regional campus of the University of South Florida in Lakeland.”

Now we well know that Crist was new to the job, and pulling the funding was a matter of misinformation. The campus money…unlike the commuter rail funds…was a matter of long public debate.

The Money:

As you read the editorial, notice how the writer wants you to believe USF Lakeland is taking money out of the hands of USF Tampa.

“and weighed against the cost to USF’s aging campus in Tampa” “A new university in Lakeland shouldn’t be built at USF’s expense.”

The fact of the matter is that Polk County and Lakeland officials have pledged much of the money to the campus. Money matched by other funds. And none of the funds would or could go to USF Tampa. The Tribune’s lone reporter based in Polk County, Billy Townsend, recently wrote:

Only $15 million in state money is currently budgeted to begin construction of a single building at the proposed I-4 site. Polk County and the city of Lakeland have both pledged $5 million, which makes the campus eligible for an additional $10 million in state economic development funds.

The Land:

The Tribune editorial writer can’t determine if holding the campus off a year would keep or lose the donated land. That’s an important point to remember. The campus would be built on donated land.

“As much as anything, this campus is about helping a large landholder build a new community.” The implication is that the company thinks having a university close by would be a good thing. Guess what? It is. I am sure if I went t the Tribunes archives I could find all kinds of editorials arguing against USF Tampa getting donated land and grants.

What’s worse is the writer is confused about the land grant. On one hand they warn if the university doesn’t attract a certain number of students the land grant is revoked. The Tribune claims “USF Lakeland says it expects just 1,522 students by 2014-15,” but the USF Lakeland Educational Plant Survey states: “Projected student headcount enrollment for the 2009-10 academic year will be 3,472 with 1,736 FTE and in 2014-15 headcount is projected to be 8,688 with 4,344 FTE.” (FTE = the number of Full Time students plus a percentage of the part-time students)

Then the editorial writer counters with “However, it’s hard to believe the company will walk away if the deadline is not met, given the money it stands to make on the development.”

The corner of I-4 and the Polk Parkway is a perfect central for an university in as growth blooms along the freeway in Polk County. A company wants to give USF Lakeland the land. And Tampa thinks USF Lakeland should walk away. The Tribune opines that some other landowner would donate land. Does that make sense to you?

You’d get the impression that the editorial writer has an argument with the Williams Company. The Tribune editorial writer says, “Problem is, USF has said the Lakeland campus will not focus on research, but on extending the university’s reach to people who can’t make the drive to Tampa. So why build a research park?”

First, USF Lakeland faculty do perform research. Second, companies like to have research parks next to campuses.

Isn’t that a novel idea! A place for USF Lakeland students to intern and get good jobs. Right here in Polk County.

Of course, the Tribune has argued against USF Tampa having a research center located near the campus. Wait, no, they haven’t. In a recent editorial they argued that USF Tampa should run next door neighbor Byrd Alzheimer Center “The Byrd center should become part of USF, where scientists are doing great work on Alzheimer’s research. It’s a natural fit.”

We’ve got ours. You get yours on your own.

The Buildings:

The Tribune editorial writer was also under the belief that money for USF Lakeland could be spent on improving infrastructure at USF Tampa, “money that will not be spent for upgrades at the Tampa campus’ less-than-new facilities.” USF Tampa started in 1956. I went to a university much older than that. They had buildings a lot older than 50 years. I can’t seem to remember that classes held in older buildings were inferior.

The Tribune counters with crowding, again in Tampa, “where professors face overcrowded classes and students sometimes have to sit on the floor.”

We have overcrowded classes because the Florida voter is more concerned with saving pennies in taxes than funding salaries for more teachers.

Admission Standards:

The writer claims that USF Lakeland admissions standards will be lower. The fact is USF Lakeland would be able to set their own standards. But what if they do allow more students to attend?

“Especially since the admissions standard for the campus will be lower than in Tampa, which means a USF Lakeland degree will hold less standing.” the writer claims.

Under that logic an USF Tampa degree holds less standing than those from hundreds of universities in the US. How elitist. When you decide which Media General editorial writers to keep, do you decide based on their alma mater?

Finally:

In true editorial fashion the writer ends with a bevy of unanswered questions. I thought I’d help out with a few answers.

• The manner in which USF Lakeland is being built isn’t good public policy.

— You mean it isn’t good for Tampa Tribune public policy.

• It is, however, good for The Williams Co. and the ambitions of a handful of Polk legislators.

— And quite a few people I call my neighbors.

• When balancing funding choices in this difficult year, Gov. Crist should call a time-out on USF’s ambitions for a campus in Polk. Instead, the governor should ask the state board to come back within a year with a plan that makes sense for the state, including the possibility of a 12th university.

— Why not move all of USF Tampa here to where the population growth is projected. I am sure Tampa could use the land for another freeway.

Update: I’m chagrined. Reading Billy Townsend’s piece on the Trib editorial I realized I forgot my usual statement and link. The short version: My wife works at USF. She likes the polytechnic idea. I think it shortchanges Lakeland. Please read this.

2 thoughts on “The Trib & USF Lakeland

  1. Careful…the Trib is going to look to you to start writing editorials soon. Way to point out the errors!

  2. Careful…the Trib is going to look to you to start writing editorials soon. Way to point out the errors!

Comments are closed.