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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. SPC provost fired after officials say he waited too long to disclose arrest


    The president of St. Petersburg College has chosen to fire a campus provost after school officials said he strayed from protocol, withholding information about an eyebrow-raising arrest for too long.

    Marvin Bright, the former leader of SPC's Tarpon Springs campus, was arrested on Sept. 1 after Pasco sheriff's deputies said he forced his way into the home of a woman he had dated and choked her....

    Marvin L. Bright arrived at St. Petersburg College in 2014 to serve as provost of its Tarpon Springs Campus. [Times files]
  2. UF security costs top $500,000 for Richard Spencer's talk on white 'separation'


    Richard Spencer wants his talk at the University of Florida to be timely, "not curdled milk."

    After all, UF will be the first school to host the notorious white nationalist since his "Unite the Right" rally brought torches, Nazi chants and bloodshed to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

    Still, his speech will center on his primary concern: what he calls the necessity of white identity, and a white homeland, in a multiracial era. His message to students, he said, will be an adopted mantra from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher: "Become who you are."...

    By spending $500,000 on security, the Univeristy of Florida hopes to prevent violence like this Aug. 12 attack on a man in a Charlottesville, Va., parking garage after police dispersed a white nationalist rally. [Associated Press]
  3. New USF dean of undergraduate studies hails from the University of Kansas


    The University of South Florida announced on Wednesday that cognitive science researcher Paul Atchley will join USF to serve as senior associate vice president and dean of undergraduate studies. 

    Atchley, a University of Kansas faculty member since 1998, brings experience in higher education leadership and is well-known for his research, the university said. He will begin at USF in January. ...

    Dr. Paul Atchley will join USF in January 2018.
  4. Charged with burglary and domestic battery, SPC provost faces firing


    On Sept. 1, the leader of St. Petersburg College's Tarpon Springs campus was arrested, accused of forcing his way into the home of a woman he had dated and choking her.

    But college officials say it wasn't until Sept. 18 that Marvin Bright told them about his arrest. His boss has asked for his firing, citing misconduct for "not being truthful and forthcoming."

    Bright's attorney disputes that timeline, saying that his client tried several times to meet with SPC President Tonjua Williams to no avail. He said Bright texted her as early as Sept. 5....

    Marvin L. Bright, a provost at St. Petersburg College, was arrested Sept. 1 after Pasco officials said he forced his way into a girlfriend's home and choked her. [Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  5. At USF St. Petersburg, the ouster of another leader shows who's boss


    ST. PETERSBURG — Disbelief has shadowed the waterfront campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg since the abrupt ouster of its well-liked leader, but along with that shock has emerged a trademark streak of defiance.

    Faculty members trade rumors, many unwilling to accept USF's rationale for the forced resignation of regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska, who ruffled feathers when she caught a ride to Atlanta as Hurricane Irma bore down....

    Judy Genshaft has been president of the University of South Florida since 2000. She once told former regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska in an evaluation to play a more devoted role in the USF system, from performance-based goals to getting a USF license plate for her car. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  6. White nationalist Richard Spencer's UF speech date set, organizer says


    Some final details remain. But after signing off on security cost estimates, notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer is poised to speak at the University of Florida in three weeks.

    UF cautions that Spencer's people still haven't been sent a contract.

    "Just because they've agreed to pay doesn't mean we've received a check," UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said.

    But Spencer's event organizer is already claiming victory as weeks of negotiations draw to a close....

    In this 2016 photo, Richard Spencer attends the largest white nationalist and Alt Right conference of the year, in Washington D.C. An organizer says that the University of Florida has approved the white nationalist's request to speak on the Gainesville campus on Oct. 19. [Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via AP]
  7. Kiran and Pallavi Patel commit $200 million for Clearwater medical school

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay philanthropists Dr. Kiran Patel and his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel are spending $200 million to create and promote a Tampa Bay regional campus for the private Nova Southeastern University.

    Their commitment to the Fort Lauderdale-based university — $50 million in a cash donation and $150 million toward real estate the Patels would continue to control — would rank among the largest individual commitments to a college or university....

    Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel are putting up $200 million toward a new medical school run by Nova Southeastern  University. | [Courtesy of Nova Southeastern University]
  8. Update: USF business program acknowledges $5 million in support from Vinik family


    The University of South Florida on Tuesday named a business program for the Vinik family.

    Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, along with his wife, Penny, and the team, helped launch USF’s dual-degree, sports-centric graduate program in 2012. 

    It will now be called the Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management program.

    USF officials said the renaming comes amid Jeff and Penny Vinik’s generous and ongoing support, which they said totals $5 million....

    Tampa Bay Lightning owner and chairman Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, in 2010.
  9. Betsy DeVos rescinds Obama-era rules on campus sexual assault


    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said over and over again that sexual assault on campus is an issue she wants to get right.

    On Friday, her department rolled back Obama-era guidance and released new steps that will “treat all students fairly,” DeVos said, as schools investigate and adjudicate thorny cases of sexual misconduct on campus....

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
  10. USF boasts a diverse, record-breaking class of new students


    TAMPA – Another year, another record-breaking freshman class for the University of South Florida.

    Its incoming students boast the strongest academics and most diversity in school history, officials said Tuesday.

    It's also the biggest group of students the USF System has ever seen, numbering more than 50,000 enrollments between the main campus in Tampa and regional institutions USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee....

    Student Nick Russin talks to incoming students during a tour of the Marshall Student Center on USF’s Tampa campus.
  11. USF St. Petersburg leader responds to criticism of hurricane decisions


    ST. PETERSBURG — The former leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, who resigned Monday amid internal criticism of her handling of Hurricane Irma, is defending her decisions during the storm.

    "I strongly reject any question of my leadership during Irma and my leadership during my tenure at USFSP," former regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska wrote in a text message to a Tampa Bay Times reporter Monday night. "Certainly, I did nothing to warrant firing for cause. However, I do realize that President Genshaft has the right to choose another Chancellor, and she did."...

    Former USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska in 2013
  12. USF: St. Petersburg leader forced out for botching Irma evacuation


    ST. PETERSBURG — While students at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg awaited a lashing from Hurricane Irma, the school's leader fled the state for Atlanta and insinuated in an email to her boss that she remained on campus — going so far as to say things were quiet and that she heard birds chirping.

    After the storm, USF officials moved to fire USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska for incompetence and "lack of leadership," criticizing her departure and alleging that she had hesitated to evacuate students as Irma grew more dangerous....

    Anthony Loffler, a senior at USF St. Petersburg walks Jennings, the dog he works with as a puppy raiser on the USF St. Petersburg campus in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. Loffler began working with Jennings in early December and is a member of the USF St. Petersburg Puppy Raising Club.
  13. Staring at the cost of college, some ask the internet to help pay the bills


    TAMPA — Jenn Flansburg found an old journal recently. She had written so hard that the pencil broke.

    "Anger, hatred, jealousy," she recalled. "It consumed me."

    Finding peace took time. It took a lot of visits with her mental health counselor. It took humility, especially the day Flansburg returned to her third-graders at Carrollwood Day School and felt all eyes on her.

    Flansburg got help then. Now she's asking for a different kind of aid....

    Jenn Flansburg had seen another teacher set up a GoFundMe page for breast cancer costs, so with her school's support, she followed suit. She plans to use the money for a master's degree in mental health counseling at the University of South Florida. "I want to see what I can do," she said. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  14. USF St. Petersburg leader abruptly ousted


    ST. PETERSBURG — The leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has been ousted.

    University officials did not provide an immediate reason on Friday for the departure of Sophia Wisniewska, USFSP's regional chancellor of four years.

    Wisniewska said she is leaving her post with pride and gratitude.

    "One of the great joys of my career has been my years as regional chancellor at USFSP," Wisniewska wrote in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times late Friday. "In the life of any institution, there are natural times for leadership change. This is one of them."...

    Sophia Wisniewska, the regional chancellor of University of South Florida St. Petersburg, seen in 2013. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  15. Hot, sweaty and still powerless, Tampa Bay leans on each other


    The power trucks massed in the morning.

    They rolled out into quiet streets across Tampa Bay, where residents shared extension cords and bags of ice and precious air-conditioned real estate. When they had nothing else to give, people offered patience.

    COMPLETE COVERAGE: Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here...

    It's been a long haul for Port Richey resident, Stephanie and Miguel Padilla, and family members. The house is too hot, so they spend most of their time on the front porch together since losing power at about  9 p.m. Sunday. Pictured (left to right) Stephanie Padilla, 30, Savanah Arlequin, 6, Darrin Rodriguez, 11, Miguel Padilla, 37 and Luz Codero, 63.