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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

Email: cmcneill@tampabay.com

Twitter: @clairemcneill

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  1. After Charlottesville, Judy Genshaft asks USF to "stand together with open minds and open hearts"

    Blog

    TAMPA — In a welcome letter celebrating the start of a new academic year, University of South Florida System President Judy Genshaft took a moment to reflect on last weekend's violence in Charlottesville and asked students to unite with "open minds and open hearts."

    Genshaft called expressions of hatred and racism a "reprehensible step backward," and reaffirmed USF's core values of diversity and inclusivity. Walking a careful line, she also underscored USF's commitment to the First Amendment guarantee of free speech for all. ...

    USF president Judy Genshaft posed with graduate Matt Jackson in 2015.
  2. On move-in day at USF, 850 students call brand-new Village dorms home

    Blog

    TAMPA — As thousands of University of South Florida students flock to campus for the fall semester, 850 of them have lucked out with rooms in brand-new residence halls.

    Two new six-story dorm buildings are throwing their doors open today for the first time, marking a critical boost in housing for a campus at capacity.

    Dubbed Beacon and Summit halls, they are part of a new complex at USF called the Village, where three additional residence halls are slated to open next fall. Altogether, 2,000 students will call the Village home....

    A view of an open plaza leading to "The Hub," a student dining hall in the Village, the new $134 million student housing complex set to open in phases at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
  3. UF's move to deny white nationalist Richard Spencer a venue sets up a First Amendment court fight

    College

    In denying a notorious white nationalist his request to speak on campus, the University of Florida has brought a thorny legal battle to Gainesville in the name of keeping its students safe.

    First Amendment protections do not mean UF has to "risk imminent violence" in giving Richard Spencer a stage, President Kent Fuchs said on Wednesday.

    "The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action," Fuchs wrote in a statement....

    White nationalist Richard Spencer, center, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Lee Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering Aug. 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. [Getty Images]
  4. UF rejects white nationalist's request to speak on campus

    Blog

    Citing "serious concerns for campus safety," University of Florida leaders have denied white nationalist Richard Spencer's application to speak on campus in Gainesville next month.

    "I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for," President Kent Fuchs said in astatement to the campus on Wednesday. "That said, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others. The likelihood of violence and potential injury - not the words or ideas - has caused us to take this action."...

    UF President Kent Fuchs
  5. In Gainesville, UF grapples with the specter of its own brush with white nationalists

    K12

    GAINESVILLE — Suspended in its final weeks of summer doldrums, the University of Florida waits.

    Its bell tower echoes across vacant red-brick paths. Construction workers labor under trees draped in wet Spanish moss.

    In just days, students will return. Football games will light up the stadium. And, some fear, white nationalists will make Florida's flagship university the next site of a torch-bearing rally....

    White nationalist Richard Spencer, center in sunglasses, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police after hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" clashed with anti-fascist protesters and police in Charlottesville, Va. Saturday. Spencer's National Policy Institute has requested space at the University of Florida for a Sept. 12 event featuring Spencer as a speaker. Officials in Gainesville are puzzling over how to deal with his potential presence on campus. [CHIP SOMODEVILLA | Getty Images]
  6. Gators coach Jim McElwain calls white nationalists 'unacceptable' as Richard Spencer applies to speak at UF

    Blog

    Asked about the possibility of white nationalist activist Richard Spencer speaking at the University of Florida next month, here's what Gators football head coach Jim McElwain had to say today:

    "We’ve been alerted of the possibility. I think first and foremost, any extremist group, I don’t care – nationalist, whatever they’re called – is unacceptable. It’s just not what we believe in here. ...

    Gators head coach Jim McElwain
  7. Florida universities are hiring hundreds of new faculty in push for smaller classes, more prestige

    College

    TAMPA — Ambition defines the University of South Florida, where enrollment has surged so fast that the number of professors has not kept pace.

    In high-demand fields like health and engineering, crowded auditoriums have become a symptom of success.

    Now that USF is on track to join the state's top-tier of universities, it wants a classroom experience to match.

    The plan: bring 350 new, full-time faculty members on board in the next five years....

    A new wave of faculty hiring at the University of South Florida and the state's other large research universities aims to cut down on crowded lecture classes like this one. [istockphoto]
  8. 'No Nazis at UF' rally planned to protest Richard Spencer

    Blog

    GAINESVILLE — More than 1,600 people say they will attend a 'No Nazis at UF' rally at the state's flagship university to protest a well-known white supremacist's plans to speak on campus at the University of Florida next month. 

    Richard Spencer's National Policy Institute has reached out to the university about reserving space on campus for an event on Sept. 12. UF President Kent Fuchs emailed the campus community about his disgust for Spencer's white separatist platform, but said the school is in a bind by law. UF has a policy that "non-university groups, organizations and persons may rent space on campus, provided they cover rental expenses and security costs like all other third-party renters" — and the content of a group's platform may not be considered....

    The Facebook cover photo of the planned rally called No Nazi at UF - Protest Richard Spencer.
  9. Trump probably won't find affirmative action in Florida schools, thanks to Jeb Bush

    Blog

    The Trump administration's potential shake-up of college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race likely wouldn't have much of an impact in Florida.

    That's because schools in the Sunshine State haven't used race as a factor in admissions for almost two decades, dating back to Gov. Jeb Bush's controversial executive order in 1999.

    "Trust me, there were a lot of people upset about this," Bush said in 2015 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, recalling his move to eliminate racial preference in admissions. He called the old, race-conscious system "discriminatory."...

    He won't find it in Florida.
  10. Why Florida schools might steer clear of trouble if Trump shakes up affirmative action

    College

    The Trump administration's potential shake-up of college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race likely wouldn't have much of an impact in Florida.

    That's because schools in the Sunshine State haven't used race as a factor in admissions for almost two decades, dating back to Gov. Jeb Bush's controversial executive order in 1999.

    "Trust me, there were a lot of people upset about this," Bush said in 2015 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, recalling his move to eliminate racial preference in admissions. He called the old, race-conscious system "discriminatory."...

    Photo illustration. [Times files]
  11. A tangled quest for fairness as students accused of campus sex assault push back

    College

    ST. PETERSBURG — On the one hand, the student's accuser painted a horrific picture.

    She squeezed her legs shut while he pushed her against his dorm room wall, she told University of South Florida St. Petersburg investigators. She told them she repeatedly said no, that she turned her body away, but that he kept going. She said it hurt.

    On the other hand, the male student insisted, she texted him in the morning. They got breakfast. She asked if he had plans that night. In a written statement to the conduct board that would decide his fate, he said he never forced anything, and stopped when she cried out in pain. ...

    Former USF St. Petersburg student Samual Goetz, accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student, has filed a lawsuit saying his expulsion was disproportionately harsh and that he'd been treated unfairly. He is one of a growing number of accused students pushing back against campus justice systems that some say are tilted in favor of accusers. "I am 19 years old and I stand before you literally fighting for my life," he told a campus panel. [Special to the Times: Devin Rodriguez | The Crow's Nest]
  12. After Monday mayhem, will St. Pete's candidates be heard at all? (w/video)

    Elections

    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....

    International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement-affiliated City Council candidate Eritha "Akile" Cainion pauses between answers during Monday's chaotic forum at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. The event for six St. Petersburg mayoral candidates and eight City Council hopefuls was disrupted by jeers and chants largely orchestrated by the Uhurus. The debate ended with shouting, jostling and the police being called in. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  13. USF fraternity hit with lawsuit alleging sexual assault of teen at party

    College

    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....

    The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house at the University of South Florida.
  14. USF improv instructor responds to sexual misconduct finding

    Blog

    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.
  15. USF: Improv instructor abused power to coerce students into sex

    College

    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."...

    In this image taken from Facebook, Nicholas Riggs is seen with his wife, Hannah Prince. A University of South Florida Title 9  investigation has concluded that, under school policy, Riggs sexually assaulted one student and sexually harassed at least one other, abusing his position to coerce them while working as an adjunct at the school. Riggs and Prince often approached students together, the report found.