USF Going Big Time – Really BIG Time

The University of South Florida: It’s not your father’s USF anymore.

Cosmetically, the Fowler Avenue entrance no longer features that ’60s industrial park ambience. There are on-campus fraternities and dorms that wouldn’t look out of place in SoHo. There’s a snazzy, contemporary Bulls’ logo and a football team that plays in the Big East Conference with the likes of Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

USF, which didn’t graduate its first class until Lyndon Johnson was president, is the second largest university in the Southeast with an enrollment of some 43,000. It anchors the I-4 high-tech corridor. Sponsored research now tops $250 million.

The campus is home to the state’s only accredited college of public health and houses the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute, the third busiest cancer center in the country. Currently under construction is a $20-million Alzheimer’s research institute.

Even with its geographic misnomer of a name, USF is on the map.

Now it goes for the globe — thanks to the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions. That’s what will be built on the USF campus – thanks to the biggest gift in the university’s history. That $18.5-million bounty – from Tampa doctors Kiran Patel and his wife, Pallavi – will be matched with $16 million in state matching grants. Ultimately, it will be parlayed into a $62.5-million project that will include a conference center, classrooms, an auditorium and quarters for scholars and foreign dignitaries.

It means that USF’s academic credentials will be significantly enhanced as well as its international status.

The timing couldn’t be more propitious. It wasn’t that long ago that USF, a global nonentity, was smitten with the World Islamic Studies Enterprise, a think tank of dubious virtue and value. The WISE guys ultimately brought ignominy instead of enlightenment. “Jihad U” epithets made “Sandspur U” pejoratives seem quaint. An upcoming trial in downtown Tampa is a disturbing reminder.

But USF will now be a real player on the world stage of academe. The Patel Center represents the legitimate big time, an institute that could logically have been located in Washington or New York. It will house researchers and host foreign leaders on a range of planetary topics from global trade and environmental destruction to world hunger and health issues.

Most impressively, the Patel Center’s charge won’t be theoretical or abstract. Its mission will be concrete and solution oriented.

And it will be in our own back yard.

If ever there was a “win-win” scenario, this is it. USF’s profile should ratchet up markedly. But much more importantly, the world will be better off.

The Patels, whose generosity already ensures their legacy, are more than philanthropists and humanitarians. They are natural resources. We are all in their debt.

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