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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. Bill to sweeten Bright Futures scholarship sails through Senate


    Nearly a decade since the luster on Florida's signature merit scholarship program began to grow dim, state lawmakers have taken a decisive step toward restoring its appeal.

    Just three days into the 2018 Legislative session, the Florida Senate voted unanimously Thursday to introduce sweeping changes to state higher education — starting by slashing the tuition bills of nearly 100,000 top students....

  2. USF settles with former communications school director, rescinds his firing


    TAMPA — The former director of the communications school at the University of South Florida has landed a settlement that, along with payments totaling $140,000, turns his firing into a voluntary resignation.

    Samuel Bradley lost his high-profile job in 2016 after USF officials deemed that he had withheld information during his hiring process, including key details about his employment status at Texas Tech University. That school was scheduled to revoke Bradley's tenure after finding that he had inappropriate relations with students....

  3. Extortion emails target Florida colleges, promising violence


    TAMPA — Early Tuesday morning, the president of Hillsborough Community College received a rambling email outlining horror-movie violence to be inflicted upon HCC's campus if certain payments were not made.

    Across Florida, in Tampa and Gainesville and Tallahassee, other college and university presidents' inboxes were lighting up with the same extortion threat, promising an inundation of false bombing and shooting threats until, the sender claimed, one would prove real....

  4. Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant's special treatment


    TAMPA — A high-ranking University of South Florida Health official has resigned amid internal concerns that he was giving special treatment to his assistant.

    After an internal investigation, USF System President Judy Genshaft was poised last month to strip Dr. Edmund Funai of his leadership title, uncertain that he "understood or appreciated the management counseling" he received about supervisor-subordinate relationships....

  5. Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups


    Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant.

    "Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.

    Were the students exercising their fellow First Amendment rights? Or were they breaking the law by taking his event off the rails?

    That would be up for debate under a new "campus free expression" bill filed in Florida this week....

  6. Why do universities handle sexual assault cases, anyway?


    News stories about campus sexual assault often get the question, "Why do schools handle these cases, anyway?"

    Readers often wonder how universities got tasked with handling these convoluted cases in the first place. Where, they ask, do the police come in?

    "It's actually a very legitimate question because it's been a big cultural change," said Peter Lake, a Stetson University College of Law professor with expertise in this area. "It wasn't that long ago that that would have been a natural response, to push these things toward the police."...

    Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University in New York City, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year. The federal Title IX law prohibits sex discrimination at federally funded institutions, forcing universities to deal with it. [Getty Images]
  7. Lawsuit: USF ignored student's fears after she alleged sexual assault


    TAMPA — Last November, a psychology student named Samantha Garrett told a professor at the University of South Florida that her classmate had raped her, leaving her bruised and bleeding.

    The gears of the university's student conduct system began turning. A university investigator soon found her classmate "responsible" for non-consensual sex. Instead of a formal hearing, he chose to accept sanctions....

    A doctoral student in psychology is suing the University of South Florida board of trustees for what she calls Title IX violations in the aftermath of a 2016 sexual assault. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times]
  8. Tampa couple recounts wrong-way DUI crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway


    TAMPA — Police arrested a 26-year-old man they say drove the wrong way while drunk and caused a multi-vehicle crash that injured several people late Friday on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

    Collin John Cole faces two counts of driving under the influence causing serious bodily injury and charges of DUI with property damage and leaving the scene.

    Police did not immediately identify any of those injured but said one person remains in critical condition and another is in serious condition....

  9. In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage


    TAMPA — Robert Ryan cleaned out his office in May. He knew he was dying.

    He had kept driving to the University of South Florida even as he lost the use of his left arm. He had kept teaching English, even as tumors ravaged his mouth so that he could hardly speak.

    He was a military kid, after all, accustomed to duty. But he was also an adjunct professor, making a meager living by patchworking part-time classes, and he needed the money....

    USF adjunct English professor Mike Ruso reads a letter from former adjunct professor Robert Ryan, who used to share the office before dying of cancer earlier this year. Ryan, whose books personal items are still in the office, has become a kind of martyr for the cause of USF adjuncts pushing to start a union. "I'm reminded every single day of the very real, very human consequences of this business model that universities have adopted," Ruso said. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  10. With $15 million donation to USF, top donors urge others to follow their lead


    TAMPA — The university had already hit its $1 billion fundraising goal, and the college sweethearts had already cemented their spot as the top donors to their beloved alma mater.

    At a black tie gala at Amalie Arena on Saturday, though, philanthropic giants Pam and Les Muma surprised the crowd by announcing yet another massive donation to the University of South Florida.

    They hope their blockbuster gift of $15 million sends a message: USF's fundraising campaign may be winding down, but the gifts should go on....

    Pam and Les Muma, seen here at their Belleair home, already are USF's biggest donors but have decided to make another gift of $15 million. They hope the donation sends a message that people should keep giving to the school even though its fundraising campaign is winding down. "What we're doing is making students better, making kids' lives better, and it just feels good," Les Muma said. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

  11. New federal investigation targets USF handling of sexual violence case


    TAMPA — The University of South Florida is under a second federal investigation for possibly mishandling a case of campus sexual violence.

    Federal officers took up the case last week, following a student complaint against USF in late August with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

    In a letter to USF President Judy Genshaft, the office says it will examine whether USF "promptly and equitably" responded to the complaining student's case....

    The Marshall Student Center, in the background, is a focal point at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The school is under a second federal investigation for possibly mishandling a case of campus sexual violence. USF already has a lingering investigation from 2014, which stemmed from a student's complaint that the university failed to properly investigate her case. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  12. Have financial need? Tell FSU, and your application fee will be waived


    With an eye toward increased access for underrepresented students, Florida State University is waiving its $30 application fee for prospective students who tell the university they have financial need.

    In the past, FSU hopefuls had to jump a few hurdles to get the fee waived. They had to go to their guidance counselor and request paperwork. They had to make sure they tracked down all of the right signatures and materials, then send them by mail or fax to FSU....

    Florida State University's campus
  13. College costs keep climbing, but financial aid isn't keeping pace


    The latest look at the cost of college in America paints a fairly bleak picture for students and parents already struggling with the outsized financial burden.

    Tuition keeps rising, and financial aid isn’t keeping pace, according to The College Board’s annual reports on the cost of higher education.

    Colleges are feeling the pain, too, as they shell out grants and scholarships to students who need help paying the bills....

    Students and families continue to shoulder higher college costs as tuition sticker prices rise.
  14. Richard Spencer speaks, and Gainesville emerges weary but at peace


    GAINESVILLE — Fists raised, a sea of defiant student protesters at the University of Florida relentlessly shouted down the white nationalist on stage. Richard Spencer paced, irritated, clinging to his chance to talk.

    "Go home, Spencer," hundreds chanted over him. "We won't back down."

    Spencer tried taunts — "you all look like immature preschoolers" — and requests for reason. He tried preaching more loudly about his vision of a whites-only homeland. He tried shouting back....

    Blood runs from the lip of a Nazi on Hull Road after he was punch by a protester outside of the Phillips Center hosting white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.
  15. Spencer: 'A better and more beautiful world if people like me were in power'


    In the a small theater crammed with cameras, Richard Spencer and a small group of his coordinators clashed with reporters as his controversial speech in the Phillips Center drew near Thursday.

    Spencer stormed into the room in a three-piece suit and berated a journalist he said had incorrectly reported information related to ticketing.

    He called the reporter ignorant, maybe a liar. He eventually moved on to questions from other reporters, who asked for elaboration on Spencer's well-documented white nationalist views. ...

    A crowd gathers ahead of Richard Spencer's appearance at the University of Florida on Oct. 19, 2017. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]