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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. After Monday mayhem, will St. Pete's candidates be heard at all? (w/video)


    ST. PETERSBURG — What began as an exercise in civil society Monday evening ended in mayhem. Now organizers are wondering whether they can ensure city candidates will be heard by voters at future forums — and not shouted down by unruly protestors....

    A forum for six St. Petersburg mayoral candidates and eight City Council hopefuls was disrupted by jeers and chants largely orchestrated by the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement on Monday night at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. The debate ended with shouting, jostling and the police being called in. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  2. USF fraternity hit with lawsuit alleging sexual assault of teen at party


    TAMPA — A teenager is suing a University of South Florida fraternity and its national body, alleging that one of its members sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious at a party.

    The plaintiff, who was 16 at the time of the alleged assault, joined with her parents and attorney Herman Law to file the suit in Hillsborough County last week. They are seeking $5 million in damages, as well as court costs and a jury trial....

    Dillon LaGamma. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
  3. USF improv instructor responds to sexual misconduct finding


    TAMPA — The University of South Florida improv instructor implicated in a Title IX sexual misconduct investigation has responded to the allegations on Facebook.

    “No one is more disturbed and outraged by these allegations more than me,” Nicholas Riggs wrote. “Ultimately, these things that are being claimed are flatly untrue, appalling, and traumatic.”...

    In this image taken from Facebook, Nicholas Riggs is seen with his wife, Hannah Prince. The two figure prominently in a report that details a Title 9 investigation by the University of South Florida.
  4. USF: Improv instructor abused power to coerce students into sex


    TAMPA — Members of the improv comedy group knew the unspoken arrangement: Go along with the persistent sexual advances from the USF instructor who led their club and get special treatment.

    Now a University of South Florida Title IX investigation has concluded that, under school policy, former adjunct Nicholas Riggs sexually assaulted one student and sexually harassed at least one other, abusing his position to coerce them. One student called him a "puppet master."...

    Messages on the front window at the Spitfire Theater invite people to attend shows, participate in classes and perform. The theater is run by former USF adjunct professor Nicholas Riggs. Riggs was found to have sexually assaulted and harassed USF students in his improv group, according to a Title 9 investigation by the school. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. SPC's William Law leaves with pride for the faculty, concern for students — and a story about hotdogs


    ST. PETERSBURG — The local community college had already made a name for itself when William Law Jr. first arrived on campus in the early 1980s as a vice president. Still, the school, then named St. Petersburg Junior College, was just a shadow of the sprawling state college it would later become.

    When Law returned in 2010 as the new leader of St. Petersburg College, he took that expansion further. He worked to deepen community ties and brought the celebrated Midtown Campus to life with a focus on leveling the educational playing field. He broadened the college's baccalaureate degrees and workforce programs and expanded its faculty. And with quick-talking candor, he imbued the president's suite with a passion for metrics, public policy and SPC students....

    William Law Jr. is retiring as president of St. Petersburg College after seven years.
  6. 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]
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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]
  10. 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
  11. 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]
  12. 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.
  13. 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."...

    Tonjua Williams, Vice President of Student Services at St. Petersburg College, has been chosen unanimously as the school's next president. [St. Petersburg College]
  14. 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]
  15. 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....

    James Henningsen, Ed.D.