The search for the next president of the University of South Florida is well underway, and the Presidential Search Committee has held the first of two public meetings scheduled for Monday morning.
Search committee chair Michael Griffin and Alberto Pimental of SP&A Executive Search chaired the meeting, with Pimental asking questions of the more than 200 stakeholders virtually in attendance. The purpose of the event was to gather and share feedback on the specific qualities the search committee should look for in the next president.
“This is the first of two widely advertised town halls, and I know Alberto and I have received a lot of good reviews,” Griffin said. “And know that every word written and spoken is essential to this process.”
Many of the comments focused on what the role of the president should encompass. The first suggestion was that the president represent USF in the most visible way possible to the surrounding communities. The speaker said the president should make those who support the university “feel special and included” and not only understand the fundraising process, but embrace and nurture it.
A USF faculty member said that while fundraising and communicating with various stakeholders is a vital role of the president, the top priority should be accessibility with students. Without naming names, he noted contrasting examples of previous presidents and their willingness to engage and interact with students and faculty in different places. He would like to see the new president consciously creating these opportunities while uniting the university and raising the morale of all stakeholders.
One area that also brought divergent views was on the political involvement of the next president. A professor would like to see a “real scholar” and not a politician. He wants someone who is focused on the academic endeavors at the heart of USF’s mission and has called this the “easy trap to fall into” seen at other universities across the state and nation.
Another speaker called Florida a “complicated state” and said that interacting with politicians would be “an absolute necessity of work”. He said it’s important to have someone knowledgeable in these interactions while focusing on the academic mission, and whoever gets hired will have to take on that challenge.
The next suggestion was that the next president has experience in running a city because they compared USF to a small town. He said that in addition to running the school, the president will have to manage his taxpayers – who are basically students and donors in this analogy. Additionally, he said the next leader needs to be aware of the school’s utilities, infrastructure, and how to properly budget for those areas.
A stakeholder at the St. Petersburg campus said the new president will need to be aware of the growing consolidation challenges that will continue for some time, especially on relocated campuses. She said there should be parity at all levels and distinct academic growth relative to the strengths of each campus. Regarding donors and fundraising, she said, the money should follow the academic environment of each campus, and mentioned the growth of doctoral education on all campuses as a particular focus.
One of the last community members to speak said the search committee should be commended for their thoughtful and deliberate process. She said it was evident that they were thinking a lot about the research and realizing the influence the position has on the Tampa Bay community, as well as the state. She said that so far she believed there was consensus that the next president should be “approachable, respectful, humble, but firm”.
She added that continued collaboration with Florida’s high-tech corridor is strongly encouraged and believes the next president should view USF’s products not as students but as a well-educated workforce and prepared. This distinction, she suggested, requires a completely different mindset.
At the end of the event, Griffin reminded attendees that there was another town hall on October 18 from 2 p.m. to 2 p.m. and that the online survey remained open. He said he was in the middle of listening sessions with various stakeholder groups from every college and campus, and looks forward to those comments.
“We’re going to take the time we need to make sure we get everyone’s feedback before we move forward,” Griffin said.
Pimental also encouraged the community to come forward and share the names of any candidates they think would be suitable. Stakeholders can respond to the online survey, which has garnered over 1,700 responses to date, here.