Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Q & A

New chief of Board of Governors likes challenges

Sheila M. McDevitt is a native of St. Petersburg.

Sheila M. McDevitt is a native of St. Petersburg.

TAMPA — Leading the state universities' governing board during a time of major budget cuts and power struggles with the Legislature is not a task for the faint of heart.

Enter Sheila McDevitt, a longtime corporate lawyer with a blunt tongue and an appetite for challenges.

"I'm pretty decisive," says McDevitt, who retired last summer as general counsel for TECO Energy.

She'll have plenty of challenges in the next two years. McDevitt, 61, was elected recently by her peers to serve as chairwoman of the Board of Governors, the 17-member group that oversees Florida's public universities.

She takes over at a time when the constitutionally created board is locked in a legal battle with legislators over tuition-setting authority. When universities are losing so much in state funding, they're losing top faculty members to states with less financial uncertainty. When the board's power over state universities is being challenged by lawmakers and even some university leaders.

You're taking over during a difficult period. What's at the top of your priority list?

One is to begin having meetings with the governor's office, the outgoing and incoming (House) speakers and (Senate) presidents and the education chairs in both chambers. … The question is, what can we do to make this group of universities work together better. The system approach during this time of lean resources is more important than ever. Because when you have no money and one university with clout goes out and gets something for themselves, it means it's taking away from other universities.

I also want to resolve, or begin to resolve, how we can develop a formula for appropriate and predictable funding.

You spent a lot of time in Tallahassee this past session, and it was obviously a stressful time for the board. What did you learn?

The leadership is more "What I say goes" than when I worked in the Legislature 30 years ago. But as you get away from the leadership, people's views are different. … A consistent view is they don't understand why individual presidents are trying to go out and get more for themselves when the system as a whole is promoting something else. It's confusing for us as a board; it's confusing for the people who provide the resources to the universities; and it's confusing for the smaller universities with less clout.

What do you want to see happen with the tuition lawsuit? Settle? Keep pushing?

I'm not interested in "winning a lawsuit." I want to begin these conversations and see if we can get to a place where we can agree. What you want to do is reach an accord where everyone is at least slightly miserable or slightly happy. Usually that means both sides got something. But you can't get everything you want.

How concerned are you about the budget cuts facing universities, and this ongoing loss of top faculty members to other states?

I'm very concerned. Those kinds of faculty, like the USF robotics professor, are what elevate schools and put them on the national radar. I don't like to see it. But I don't know what the answer is.

We're looking at state funding and tuition, but we also need to look at what universities get from their foundations and what other private help universities can get. We are in a situation no different than nonprofits that rely on state money and now are getting less of it and so they have to look more at private funding.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.

Fast facts

Sheila McDevitt

Professional: Retired general counsel for TECO Energy. Worked for various Florida and Georgia legislative agencies and committees, 1967-70. Executive assistant to Florida Sen. David H. McClain, 1970-78. Served on transition team for Gov. Bob Martinez, 1986. Served on the federal judicial advisory commission created by former Sen. Connie Mack, 1989-93.

Personal: Born and raised in St. Petersburg, she now lives in North Redington Beach. Father Frank D. McDevitt was a city attorney for St. Petersburg. Grandfather Patrick John "P.J." McDevitt was the co-founder and first elected mayor of Pinellas Park.

Education: Bachelor's, FSU, 1968; law degree, FSU, 1978.

Public service: Board of Governors, 2003-present; Saint Leo College trustee; Hillsborough County Bar Foundation board member; board of trustees, Lowry Park Zoological Society.

New chief of Board of Governors likes challenges 07/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 17, 2008 8:10am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Who took a knee? How each NFL team responded to Donald Trump's tweets about anthem protests


    NFL players, coaches and owners across the league reacted in various ways on Sunday to remarks from President Donald Trump speaking about NFL players who have protested during the national anthem.

    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both kneeled during the national anthem in protest before Sunday's game at the Vikings. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  2. Florida State out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2011


    Florida State's first 0-2 start since 1989 has led to another low.

  3. From care center to purgatory to 'hellhole': How 11 frail elders died after Irma


    As she got ready to say goodbye to her mother at the Hollywood Hills nursing home, Rose Wyda's heart was sick. Hurricane Irma had been gone for nearly 48 hours, but the trail of shattered trees and broken, hissing power lines the storm left behind was still dangerously apparent. And the nursing home was part of the …

  4. Bucs' Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson kneel during national anthem


    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both kneeled during the national anthem in protest before Sunday's game at the Vikings, two days after President Donald Trump made critical remarks about NFL …

    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both kneeled during the national anthem in protest before Sunday's game at the Vikings. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. Authorities ID man killed in Clearwater Beach boating crash; Girl, 4, still in critical condition


    An Altamonte Springs man died and a 4-year-old girl remains in critical condition Sunday morning after their personal watercraft collided with a boat in the Intracoastal Waterway near Clearwater Beach just before 5 p.m.