Officials say the accomplishments of the five semifinalists are being overlooked by critics.
The people who will select the next University of South Florida president said Tuesday they are satisfied with the quality of their five semifinalists and have no intention of reopening the search.
"I don't understand how someone can say these people aren't qualified," said university system Chancellor Adam Herbert, who spent several hours Tuesday watching a Board of Regents selection committee question three of the candidates. The other two will have their final interviews today.
"These are all excellent candidates," said committee chairman Dennis Ross.
In recent weeks, several members of an advisory committee that interviewed the same presidential aspirants said they were disappointed with the depth and quality of the candidate pool, which includes only one sitting president.
They were expecting up to 10 semifinalists and got only seven. Then two dropped out, including one of the few experienced presidents still in contention.
Adding to the fire was a St. Petersburg Times editorial that called the list of candidates "disappointing," and urged that the search be reopened. Several regents criticized the editorial Tuesday, calling it an insult to the candidates.
Before Tuesday's interviews began, Ross warned that if the search were started over, it probably would be delayed for several months to avoid conflicts with the selection of a new president at the University of Florida.
Herbert said running the two searches simultaneously would not be in USF's best interests.
"That's why I wanted to have the USF search done before the other one started," he said.
But by day's end, that scenario had been discarded.
Herbert noted that each of the five semifinalists for USF's top job have been faculty members and administrators at major research universities. Each has achieved national recognition for scholarly achievement, and all have worked in multicampus systems similar to USF's, he said.
"Those who question the success of the search up to this point have not been looking at these accomplishments," Herbert said.
The five semifinalists are Tom Tighe, the provost at USF; Thomas George, chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; Judy L. Genshaft, the provost at the University at Albany, State University of New York; Antoine Garibaldi, provost at Howard University; and Sharon S. Brehm, the provost at Ohio University.
Tighe, George and Genshaft interviewed Tuesday; Garibaldi and Brehm are in the hot seat today.
After they are done, the regents committee will review a report from the advisory committee. Then they expect to cut the field, probably to three or fewer finalists.
Herbert will visit the campuses of each of the finalists, where he will talk to dozens of people who have worked with or for each of the candidates. His goal, he said, is try to determine which is the best fit for USF.
In his interview Tuesday, Tighe said there are three key building blocks for USF _ attracting more and better graduate students, allowing more faculty to concentrate purely on research and expanding woefully deficient laboratory facilities.
"We must focus our energies on areas where we already are strong," said Tighe, USF's chief academic officer since 1995. He said that includes the health sciences, marine science and semiconductor research.
George, a chemist and physicist by way of Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was asked if he was tough enough to lead a major urban institution.
"I've had to make a lot of hard decisions," said George, who also was asked his opinion of Gov. Jeb Bush's proposal to eliminate race-based admissions in Florida universities.
"I'm impressed with it," he said. "I think it's a very bold plan."
Genshaft, a psychologist who was a finalist last year for the presidency of Louisiana State University, said she was attracted to USF by its metropolitan setting.
"I think schools like this are the future of higher education," she said.