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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. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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's GoFundMe page appears on her laptop. She's one of more than 130,000 GoFundMe users who have raised $60 million for college expenses over the last three years, according to the site, which takes an 8 percent cut. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  5. 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]
  6. 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.
  7. UF cracks list of top 10 public universities, a victory years in the making


    The state of Florida now boasts a top 10 public university.

    The University of Florida has long aimed to crack the top 10. Today, the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings put UF in the No. 9 spot, a leap from last year at No. 14.

    President Kent Fuchs called the victory “the result of many years of focused work and a keen sense of purpose.”...

    The University of Florida
  8. After a graze from Hurricane Irma, Tampa Bay will remember the emotional toll


    It was called one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. It was bigger than Andrew, bigger than the state.

    First it aimed for Miami, then Naples. Twenty four hours before landfall, it set its sights on Tampa Bay.

    Fleeing cars packed highways. Homeowners hammered plywood onto windows and anchored garages with sandbags, with scenes of a water-logged Houston fresh in mind.

    "Stay safe," they told their neighbors....

    Steve Miccio, 53, secures a limb with a rope as he and others work to remove a tree from the roof of his Gulf Road home Monday in Tarpon Springs. Miccio and his family weren’t home when it fell.
  9. Irma spares Tampa Bay, other parts of the state not as lucky


    Monday's blustery daybreak brought relief — albeit cautious relief — across the Tampa Bay area.

    Hurricane Irma downed trees and power lines and knocked the canopies off some gas stations, but seemingly spared the region the catastrophic damage that had been predicted.

    "A glancing blow," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who had previously warned Irma would "punch us in the face."...

    A tree down came down but missed this 1920s home at 738 Seventh St. N in the Historic Uptown neighborhood of St. Petersburg. Damage became apparent with the light of day Monday morning.
  10. A day of dread in Tampa Bay as Hurricane Irma battered the state


    Marc Johnson, 50 of Palm Harbor, braces against the wind and rain as his son Jacob, 12, walks along the exposed sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico ahead of Hurricane Irma Sunday in Crystal Beach. Winds westerly winds pushed the water from the shoreline as Hurricane Irma approached Tampa Bay. (CHRIS URSO  |  Times)
  11. With Hurricane Irma on track for Tampa Bay, here's what you can expect


    Hurricane Irma began a dreaded march north late Saturday, erasing any hope the Tampa Bay region and Florida's Gulf Coast would be spared its devastation.

    At shelters where thousands waited for the storm to arrive, and in living rooms where families gathered around their TVs, a community wondered just how bad it would be.

    "I'm terrified," said Nicole Manuel, 37, who huddled with family at her mother's house in Clearwater. "I keep on hearing different things, different changes. How fast is it coming? When is it even coming? It's different every time I see the TV."...

    George Blake loads up sandbags as his son William Blake helps his mother Elena Blake fill sandbags as A handful of people visit the Davis Island beach to fill up sandbags and trash bags filled with sand. (LUIS SANTANA   |   Times)
  12. Making another attempt to speak at UF, Richard Spencer asks for Oct. 19


    As the University of Florida battens down the hatches in advance of Hurricane Irma, white nationalist Richard Spencer has made another request to speak at UF.

    The potential date is Thursday, Oct. 19. Spencer has requested that the event be held from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the university's Phillips Center.

    He and his National Policy Institute initially tried to rent space for Sept. 12. UF denied that request in the days after Charlottesville, citing the potential for violence. After Spencer threatened an immiment lawsuit, the university said the denial was never intended to be a permanent ban, and that the school would welcome another request for a later date....

    The University of Florida
  13. 'Incredible:' USF achieves goal of preeminence, and millions in funding


    The University of South Florida has finally reached the end of its path to preeminence, President Judy Genshaft announced in her fall address to students Wednesday. With that achievement comes millions in bonus dollars from the state.

    USF leaders set their sights on the state’s “preeminent” designation from the very start, when lawmakers in 2013 decided that top-tier universities should be honored not just in name, but also in the budget....

    USF System President Judy Genshaft
  14. 2017 Hurricane Season: How to protect your documents, home, boat


    Longtime Floridians know the drill. Each year, as the heat and humidity build, forecasters begin their warnings: Hurricane season is upon us, and you'd better take it seriously.

    Sure, it was easy to tune out the advice when, year after year, storms skirted past Florida. The Tampa Bay area hasn't had a direct strike in almost a century.

    Let the 2016 storm season serve as a warning: Destructive hurricanes lashed both Florida coasts. The bay area also endured flooding, especially in Pasco County....

  15. As UF maneuvers, white nationalists say they're coming to campus


    A few days ago, University of Florida president Kent Fuchs made a vow to students. UF would "vigorously" defend its decision to reject white nationalist Richard Spencer from speaking on campus.

    On Friday, the school made clear the denial was just for Spencer's preferred date, Sept. 12.

    He is welcome to try again.

    "It was never the intention of the University to permanently bar Mr. Spencer from speaking at an appropriate time and location," a letter to Spencer's attorney read. Instead, UF officials said, it just wasn't the right time....

    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 in Charlottesville, Va. A woman was killed when a man described as a Nazi sympathizer drove his car into a crowd there, authorities said. Now the University of Florida is maneuvering for a possible legal fight with Spencer, who wants to speak at the Gainesville campus. [Getty Images]