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St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman calls out USF for clouded president search — again

Though USF has already selected Steve Currall as its new president, Kriseman still takes issue with the school’s process for finding him.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman over the weekend marked his third time publicly criticizing the University of South Florida for lacking transparency through its search for a new president. [Times, 2017]
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman over the weekend marked his third time publicly criticizing the University of South Florida for lacking transparency through its search for a new president. [Times, 2017]
Published Apr. 2, 2019
Updated Apr. 2, 2019

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter over the weekend to criticize the University of South Florida’s search for a new president, which wrapped up last month with the selection of Steve Currall.

The post marked at least the third time the mayor has used the social media platform to complain about how USF conducted the search, which officials throughout Tampa Bay have said lacked the transparency promised by university leaders.

Kriseman’s tweet on March 30 was in response to an editorial published by the Orlando Sentinel days earlier. It said the University of Central Florida, which is in the midst of its own presidential search, should “avoid USF’s transparency games.”

MORE: USF says its search for a new president is open to the public. Is it?

USF dodged state public records laws, the newspaper went on to say. And therefore, the appointment of Currall as president is “clouded by the school’s obsession with secrecy.”

Kriseman agrees with the editorial, he said in an interview Tuesday. That’s why he wrote the tweet: “UCF should, in fact, do better than USF when conducting its presidential search."

USF officials “talked a lot, especially in the beginning, about how transparent and open the search process was going to be," Kriseman added in the Tuesday interview. But, in his eyes, that’s not how it unfolded.

The mayor said his office had trouble getting the university to release public records related to the search, which was facilitated by a private consulting firm. He wanted to know more information about the candidates, but USF refused to release the full list of names until the week Currall was picked.

“It didn’t feel right,” Kriseman said. He voiced similar concerns in tweets on Feb. 19 and Feb. 26.

In a statement provided in response to the Tampa Bay Times’ request for comment about Kriseman’s tweet, USF spokesman Adam Freeman did not address it directly.

The six-month search was “thorough,” he said, adding: "The board of trustees and the search committee maintained their commitment to a process that followed Florida Board of Governor regulations and Florida statutes.”

Kriseman also pointed out in his most recent tweet that three of the state’s four large public universities — the University of Florida, Florida State University and now USF — are being managed by white men older than 60. UCF should be different, he said.

“Every university should pick the most qualified person to lead their school," the mayor said. “I just think it would be unfortunate ... if there’s no diversity among the leadership of those four.”

Despite the way USF recruited and ultimately chose Currall, Kriseman said he looks forward to working with him once he takes his new post in July. The tweet was never aimed directly at the new president, the mayor said.

“It certainly was not a criticism of ... the choice that they made,” he added. “But I certainly have criticized the process to get to that choice, and I don’t regret anything I’ve said because I do think the process was flawed."

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.