Make us your home page

Claire McNeill, Times Staff Writer

Claire McNeill

Claire McNeill covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times. She joined the paper in 2014 and covered general assignment news in Pasco and Pinellas counties.

She grew up in a one-square-mile town in South Jersey and graduated from the University of North Carolina, where she studied journalism and political science. She has worked for The Boston Globe and The Charlotte Observer. She lives in St. Petersburg.

Phone: (727) 893-8321


Twitter: @clairemcneill

  1. Report: USF faculty complained of a hostile, sexist, boorish boss


    TAMPA — A certain University of South Florida academic may be an unpopular and insensitive bully, but none of his actions have risen to the level of discrimination, a lengthy legal review has concluded.

    USF stripped Herb Maschner of his leadership title last year after he failed to disclose a sexual harassment finding from his prior job.

    But even as the dust settled in that case, Maschner continued to ruffle feathers at the school. As the director of a campus technology center, he became the subject of internal complaints, faculty discontent and an investigation into his behavior that produced an exhaustive, 37-page report....

    Herb Maschner was removed last fall as the head of a technology center at the University of South Florida after the school learned his previous employer found he engaged in inappropriate, on-campus sexual behavior. A new report looks at Maschner's tenure at USF. [Idaho State University]
  2. As mental health crisis deepens on Florida campuses, universities are left to find their own solutions


    TAMPA — With wait times at university counseling centers spilling into the four-week range across the state, Florida's universities made an appeal.

    Fund the overburdened mental health system, they asked the Legislature, and give students some relief.

    Lawmakers weren't convinced. They felt the universities had room in their budgets to figure out solutions themselves. For the second year in a row, they rejected the request for mental health funding....

    Dark clouds loom over the University of South Florida campus, where officials say they are working to alleviate a shortage of mental health counselors in time for the 2017-18 school year. At USF and other Florida universities, the shortage is prompting schools to curtail services to students in crisis who need immediate help. The Legislature declined extra funding this year to address the problem, leaving individual schools to figure out solutions on their own. [Times files]

l, an incoming freshman at USF looks at the dark clouds looming over campus while she's on a scavenger hunt for the school's seal with her group on Tuesday, August 1, 2016. Engel is apart of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Academy (STEM) on campus where students arrived early for orientation. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  3. Amid budget shortfall, new St. Petersburg College president to make less than predecessor


    ST. PETERSBURG — As a $6.2 million budget shortfall looms for St. Petersburg College, its new leader will make about $30,000 less than outgoing president William Law Jr.

    When lifelong employee Tonjua Williams takes the reins in July, if she accepts the contract SPC trustees have approved for her, she will make $300,000 in base pay with a deferred compensation package of $55,000. She will also get 30 days paid leave per year, and SPC will provide a car for her to use....

    Dr. Tonjua Williams, St. Petersburg College's incoming president
  4. At USF and elsewhere, education schools reboot as enrollment declines and teaching gets harder


    TAMPA — Thunder rumbled dimly through the thin classroom walls. A dozen future teachers settled into silent reading time, with selections ranging from One Special Elephant to The Girl on the Train.

    Instructor Gretchen Dodson paced, encouraging her pupils at the University of South Florida to share the ritual with their own students one day.

    "There comes a moment when there's almost a magical buzz in the room," she promised, "but it's a silent buzz, and all you hear are pages turning."...

    The University of South Florida College of Education, where enrollment has dropped 40 percent since 2010, mirroring a national trend. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  5. Long-awaited accreditation for Florida Poly marks school as 'serious and legitimate'


    In Florida Polytechnic University’s short history, one to-do list item has loomed large.

    Finally, Poly leaders can check that box.

    In being granted initial regional accreditation to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Poly can assure current and future students it has the proper credentials to award quality degrees.

    “Accreditation signals to prospective students and faculty that we are serious and legitimate contenders in the world of higher education,” President Randy K. Avent said in a news release, calling the milestone “the biggest yet” for the college....

    Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland
  6. USF's path to 'preeminence' is restored after Rick Scott vetoes higher education bill


    The University of South Florida's quest to become "preeminent," an official status that could elevate the school's prestige and send millions of extra dollars its way, received a positive jolt late Wednesday as Gov. Rick Scott lifted a key barrier.

    Scott vetoed a sweeping higher education reform bill that was one of Senate President Joe Negron's top priorities of the 2017 session, saying that the measure "impedes" the ability of state colleges to provide access to low-cost, quality education. ...

    Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R- Stuart, greets Gov. Rick Scott on the floor of the Senate during the first day of the 2017 session. On Wednesday, Scott vetoed SB 374, which was a major priority for Negron. The bill would have ushered in reforms in the state's higher education system. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  7. American universities slip in worldwide university rankings, analysts find


    When it comes to the world’s top universities, American colleges are losing ground, according to the latest ranking of the best schools around the globe.

    At the very top of the list, prestigious U.S. colleges hold their own. But analysts found that more U.S. universities slipped rather than rose in the rankings. Meanwhile, international students were less likely to study in America....

    U.S. colleges are losing their foothold among the world's universities, analysts found in a new report.
  8. St. Petersburg College selects its first black and first female president in school history


    ST. PETERSBURG — A 30-year employee of St. Petersburg College rode an overwhelming tide of public support on Wednesday to be named the school's first female and first black president.

    A crowd that included faculty and staff broke into applause as the college's five-member board of trustees unanimously chose Tonjua Williams, 53, as their new leader.

    "It is truly an honor," Williams said later in an email. "What this proves is that there is no ceiling, not just for me, but for everyone who has a dream. This is what SPC is all about, helping people reach their dreams."...

    St. Petersburg College board of trustees chairman Bill Foster, left, tallies votes while deliberating the choices for the college's next president on Wednesday. Tonjua Williams, Senior Vice President Student Services at SPC, was picked over four other candidates. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  9. St. Petersburg College picks a new president today


    ST. PETERSBURG — By the end of this morning, St. Petersburg College will have a new president to shape its future and guide it through the choppy financial waters ahead.

    Five finalists are vying for the position, including two internal candidates, a university dean, a community college president and a community college provost.

    The decision rests with the college's five trustees, who will meet at 9 a.m. today at the SPC's Clearwater EpiCenter. ...

    A view from earlier this year of St. Petersburg College's Gibbs campus in St. Petersburg. The school's trustees are expected to decide on a new president Wednesday morning. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  10. Meet the five finalists for St. Petersburg College president


    ST. PETERSBURG — In the last month, five finalists for the job of St. Petersburg College president have taken campus tours and answered questions from students, faculty and staff.

    They've shaken hands with community leaders. In interview after interview, they've sold their vision for the sprawling community college.

    Their fate rests with the college's five trustees, who will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday to choose president William D. Law's successor. Law will soon retire after seven years at the helm....

    Frank A. Biafora Jr., Ph.D.
  11. Veto community college budget cuts, St. Petersburg College leader urges Gov. Scott


    The president of St. Petersburg College is calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto a proposed budget cut that slashes community college funding in a time of declining enrollment and tuition revenue.

    State lawmakers cut funding for the Florida College System’s 28 community colleges by $25 million. SPC stands to lose $1.8 million.

    The could mean fewer class offerings for students and fewer support services like tutoring and career advising, SPC said in a news release. It could mean students take longer to graduate....

    Dr. Bill Law of SPC
  12. Eckerd grad presses for answers after closure of Program for Experienced Learners


    ST. PETERSBURG — It’s not unusual for colleges to end programs or discontinue majors that suffer from low enrollment.

    Eckerd College’s Program for Experienced Learners met that unfortunate fate after the number of new students dropped to just 20 in fall 2016, despite efforts to boost enrollment....

    Eckerd College
  13. Police: Two dead in Tampa Palms apartment shooting, man in custody


    TAMPA — The man waved a gun and told them they couldn't leave.

    He ranted to those inside the Green Planet Smoke Shop in north Tampa on Friday evening that he had killed two people and wanted to end up on cable news.

    When police arrived and took the man into custody for his erratic behavior, Devon Arthurs, 18, repeated his assertion of homicide. He led officers to his apartment, just a quarter mile from the smoke shop inside the Hamptons at Tampa Palms subdivision, where they found two dead males. Both appeared to have died from gunshots, police said. It was unclear if they lived at the home with Arthurs....

    Devon Arthurs, 18, of Tampa faces murder charges.
  14. Could Tampa reach 100 degrees for the first time ever? Another record heat day begs the question


    TAMPA — May's unrelenting heat wave has shattered another record temperature at Tampa International Airport, this time hitting 97 degrees on a day when the previous record was 93.

    The airport also tied a temperature record the day before, with a high of 98 on Wednesday. The previous record had been set in 1975.

    "Ninety-eight degrees for May, that's crazy," said 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Bobby Deskins. "That's one degree from the warmest we've ever measured at Tampa International Airport — ever."...

    The sun burns through the sky Thursday morning over Clearwater, a day in which Tampa Bay would see another heat record shattered. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
  15. Questions about equity persist as a proposed boost in Bright Futures aims to help top grads


    TAMPA — Sometimes, as Kareem Elgendi stared down a tough SAT question, a tendril of anxiety wound its way into his head.

    If I don't get the score I need, will I be able to pay for college?

    He had lugged home SAT books his sophomore year at Blake High School, already practicing, hoping to win Florida's Bright Futures scholarship.

    With a score of 1290, he would qualify for Bright Futures' top tier, securing about $3,090 a year — a big dent in the $6,000 tuition and fees that Florida's public universities charge on average. He took the SAT once, twice, three times, with mounting fear....

    A bill awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature would sweeten the Bright Futures scholarship for Florida’s higest-performing students. But state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, standing, is among those who argue that the state should focus more on need-based scholarships. Smith has proposed restoring the pre-recession requirements that made Bright Futures more inclusive. A B-level student, he said he would not have been able to afford college without Bright Futures. “And I wouldn’t be a state lawmaker,” he added. “What they’re saying is students like me don’t deserve it.”