40th Anniversary in Focus: USFSM’s early days shaped by New College collaboration

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: February 03, 2016

Editor’s note: The story here is part of a series of 40 stories commemorating USF Sarasota-Manatee’s 40th anniversary this academic year. For more about USFSM’s history, please visit sar.flywheelsites.com/anniversary.

USF’s decision to bring New College of Florida into the university system in the mid-1970s helped introduce USF to Sarasota and Manatee counties, but USF started eying the area years earlier.

It sent teachers to Sarasota and Fort Myers in the early ’70s, and for a while Fort Myers seemed to emerge as the more promising of the two locations. Fort Myers officials proposed that USF use part of a building, the former Glen Institute, for classrooms. The university agreed, eventually bringing portable trailers to expand the campus.

Meanwhile in Sarasota, professors borrowed space at local high schools for night classes in education, business and liberal arts.

For years, USF’s focus seemed fixed on Fort Myers, which had the facilities to grow. But then something unexpected happened to challenge that dynamic. New College of Florida approached the state, disclosing it needed help amidst financial difficulties. A deal was struck on July 1, 1975 to give control of the college to USF. It agreed both to work within the USF System and provide space for USF’s fledgling regional campus.

From that point on, “USF Sarasota,” as it was called, essentially became a campus within a campus. While New College students attended classes during the day, USF Sarasota held classes at night. The fit wasn’t always easy. USF and New College frequently struggled to reconcile differences in hierarchy and operations.

“We had to bring the private school into the public sector,” former dean of USF’s regional campuses, Lester Tuttle, recalled in a 1985 interview. “It was an interesting job because we had to insulate it from the bureaucracy of the state university system.”

New College differed from most colleges and universities. For one, it didn’t assign grades, so USF was forced to make an accommodation for hundreds of New College students to advance and graduate, even though thousands of other USF students followed the traditional grading system.

The two also adhered to vastly different hiring rules, which created friction from the outset. Each New College position needed to be evaluated to determine whether it matched job categories spelled out by the university system.

“Many of them had been there for 10 years, but you had to audit and create a career service category that was analogous to what they had been doing, and then advertise those positions,” Tuttle said. “How do you convert faculty who’ve got tenure in a private institution but who don’t have tenure in a public institution?”

Even after addressing the grading and employment issues, one key difference remained. Namely, the two institutions pursued vastly differently missions. New College, born out of the 1960s, was the state’s honors college. USF Sarasota focused on working adults looking to advance their careers and students transferring from community colleges. Plus, it was eager to expand.

“USF was an open program and it was concerned about helping kids get jobs,” former Dean and Warden Michael Bassis (1997-2001) recalled.

After 26 years, USF and New College agreed to separate. Five years after that, USF Sarasota-Manatee moved to its own campus – forever ending the cycle of night classes and borrowed classrooms.

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