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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. 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....

  2. 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]
  3. 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]

  4. 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]
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. 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....

    Protesters shout "Go Home Spencer, Go Home," during Richard Spencer's speech at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Florida Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.
  8. 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]
  9. UF president Kent Fuchs: 'Charlottesville changed everything' (w/video)


    GAINESVILLE — Wednesday evening, hazy rumors of an impending Neo-Nazi march reached some wary protesters. A few quickly rallied to denounce the marchers in downtown Gainesville, only to find plazas empty but for police.

    The march that never was served as another reminder of the fear and tension in this college town under siege.

    All day, clusters of officers walked the University of Florida campus. Between classes, students debated their last-minute plans: Stay away? Join the action? ...

    University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs talks with reporters Wednesday about white nationalist Richard Spencer's planned speech on Thursday. He said of Spencer: "In a small way, he is causing us to redouble our focus on supporting actions that are the opposite of what he wants." [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  10. Q&A: Eight things to know about Richard Spencer and his visit to UF


    As Richard Spencer's controversial speech approaches, the University of Florida has been making extensive preparations and reassuring its students. Here, we answer some of the questions swirling around his visit on Thursday.

    Who is Richard Spencer?

    Spencer is a white nationalist whose spotlight has burned brighter this year as issues around race and free speech have heated up in national politics. He advocates for a white "ethno-state" in North America achieved through "peaceful ethnic cleansing" and has said people are not created equal. He calls himself an "identitarian." The Southern Poverty Law Center calls him a racist in khakis. ...

    The view from the balcony at the University of Florida's Phillips Center, where white nationalist Richard Spencer will speak on Thursday. Spencer is distributing about 700 tickets. Protesters and Spencer supporters are expected to attend. [University of Florida]
  11. Richard Spencer coming to town? What UF can learn from other schools


    With Richard Spencer's controversial visit to the University of Florida quickly approaching, some UF and Gainesville police officers boarded a plane bound for Berkeley.

    They flew west to gather lessons during the so-called "Free Speech Week" last month at the University of California, Berkeley, hosted by the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

    The last few months have been filled with plenty of clues on how UF should approach the next few days. When, if at all, should police intervene? How much security is too much? Where is the balance between free speech and safety?...

    Thousands of people, many of them college students, gather for a vigil on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 16 -- four days after a Unite the Right rally that led to clashes and the death of a woman. In advance of an appearance Thursday at the University of Florida by white nationalist Richard Spencer, the school is looking at what happened in Charlottesville and other venues where controversial speakers have visited. [Jason Lappa | The New York Times]
  12. 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]
  13. 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."...

    White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks at Texas A&M University in 2016. Next week, he appears at the University of Florida, where he plans to talk for 30 to 45 minutes then take questions for an hour. Whether students want to banter, ask serious questions or scream, he promised to engage. [Associated Press]
  14. 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.
  15. 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....

    Dr. Marvin L. Bright arrived at St. Petersburg College in 2014 to serve as provost of its Tarpon Springs Campus. [St. Petersburg College]