State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey (Pic via Facebook)

State Sens. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, have sent a joint letter to the chair of the Florida Board of Governors, Ava Parker, responding to a letter she sent last month to the St. Petersburg Times.

On Dec. 24, chairwoman Parker penned a letter to the editor in the Times, writing that USF Polytechnic President Judy Genshaft, left the members of the Board of Governors in the dark about who would replace the school’s recently fired chancellor, Marshall Goodman.

Goodman had been mired in controversy over attempts to grant USF Polytechnic independence from the main USF campus — a debate that had drawn lawmakers from both sides of the issue.

He was replaced by accountant David Touchton.

“We do not question Genshaft’s authority regarding personnel matters; however, while she gave notice that she intended to fire the previous campus leader, she left Board of Governors members in the dark about his replacement,” wrote Parker. “Genshaft’s selection of an interim leader once viewed as hostile to Polytechnic’s independence created tensions between the higher education community and political leaders — unnecessary friction that could have been avoided through collaboration and cooperation.”

In their response, Fasano and Dockery say they question why Parker wrote the letter in the first place.

“First of all, we question why you, in your role as chairwoman, would write a letter to the editor, particularly without a full vote of the BOG or unanimous consent to do so,” they write. “Secondly, the BOG was established to ‘operate, regulate, control and be responsible for the management of the whole State University System’ with independence from political pressures and implications. It seems your actions are a kneejerk reaction to those political pressures.”

Fasano and Dockery also dispute Parker’s claims that the Boad of Governors established a process for Polytechnic to become an independent institution “after careful deliberation.”

“Your use of ‘careful deliberation’ refers to a period of two months (September 14 to November 9) to decide to make a twelfth university specializing in a polytechnic curriculum out of a branch campus of USF with roughly 1300 students who are not pursuing a polytechnic curriculum,” write Fasano and Dockery, who add that the proposed campus is currently “undeveloped pastureland,” with no programs or faculty in place. “It could easily be argued that a decision of that magnitude would need much more time and fact finding before it could be correctly referred to as ‘careful deliberation,’” they write.

Fasano’s chief legislative aide, Greg Giordano, says the senator “fully supports President Genshaft’s authority and decision to replace Chancellor Goodman with Chancellor Touchton.”

“Not only did she take decisive action to address the financial problems at the Lakeland campus, she did so within the full scope of her authority as president of the university,” says Giordano. “She notified the chair of the Board of Governors who did not question her action. Sen. Fasano believes it is unfair to criticize President Genshaft after the fact when she was merely doing what is fully within her power and right to do.”

Touchton recently called on Fasano and Dockery to back off their calls for more investigation into USF Poly’s finances, a request Giordano says the senators are taking to heart. “Fasano has stepped back for the time being. He trusts Mr. Touchton’s expertise as a CPA and as an administrator,” Giordano says. “Sen. Fasano wants to give him a chance to investigate on his own and report back about the questionable expenditures that took place under Chancellor Goodman. When Mr. Touchton’s report is released, Sen. Fasano will decide at that point in time if he wants to continue calling for an independent investigation.”

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