TAMPA — University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, who in her 18 years at the school’s helm has steered the research powerhouse along a swift upward trajectory into a new era of ‘preeminence,’ will announce her retirement at a 2 p.m. press conference today.
The university, confirming earlier reports, announced her plans Monday morning, citing "an unparalleled stretch of recent achievements" for the school and its president.
Also on Monday, USF’s board of trustees will hold a conference call at 5:15 p.m., suggesting the panel will move quickly to find a replacement. Genshaft’s retirement will take effect July 1, 2019, the university said.
She will leave on a high note, and at a pivotal time for the USF System, now achieving at record-breaking academic levels and poised to consolidate its three universities into one, a way of anchoring USF’s rising star more firmly across the Tampa Bay region.
Genshaft, 70, has been as relentless a cheerleader as ever for her beloved Bulls in recent years as she has celebrated both USF’s $1 billion fundraising campaign and its ascent into the ranks of the state’s ‘preeminent’ universities, earning a coveted — and lucrative — spot alongside the University of Florida and Florida State.
She has led USF to refine its focus, working to graduate its diverse pool of students more quickly and bolster its reputation in research and medicine, with a state-of-the-art medical school now rising in downtown Tampa.
Under her watch, traditional dorms have taken root, helping USF outgrow its commuter school image. Research funding and patents have boomed, with annual research expenditures over $568 million putting USF on a national playing field and making it a key player in the Tampa Bay region.
And each freshman class keeps growing stronger. USF’s six-year graduation rate of 70 percent is a far cry from the 38 percent rate when Genshaft arrived, back when USF was unofficially dubbed "U Stay Forever."
Genshaft has weathered her share of controversies, such as her decision to fire tenured computer science professor Sami Al-Arian in 2003, drawing international debate about academic freedom as he was accused of terrorist activities, indicted by federal prosecutors and later deported.
She also clashed with defenders of USF St. Petersburg, who accused Tampa administrators of starving the separately accredited school of money and freedom, and even said Genshaft ousted those who were not sufficiently loyal.
USF likely will launch a national search for a new leader, who will inherit Genshaft’s remaining goals, such as reducing the student-to-faculty ratio, elevating USF football and landing USF a spot among the nation’s best institutions in the Association of American Universities.
Genshaft is expected to stay on as USF’s leader through the end of the fiscal year, retiring in July 2019. A letter from her to the campus community is to be sent out Monday morning.
"She’s going to leave a legacy that will be very hard to follow," said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who on Sunday evening had, like many, heard the rapidly spreading news, though he hadn’t spoken to Genshaft directly. "An incredible legacy, an incredible woman."
Several state, local and university officials reached by the Times on Sunday had heard of Genshaft’s impending announcement, but said that she had personally asked them to keep the news quiet until she had the chance to tell students herself.
Genshaft arrived at USF after a national search in 2000, on the heels of another powerful and long-serving female leader, Betty Castor. She was previously vice president of Academic Affairs at the University of Albany in New York. In her long tenure at USF, she became one of the highest-paid university presidents in the nation, with her current contract paying up to $925,000, given her performance.
Genshaft, who was celebrating Rosh Hashanah on Sunday, did not return a call for comment.
Times staff writer Paul Guzzo and Times correspondent William March contributed to this report. Contact Claire McNeill at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321.