TAMPA — Steve Currall officially became the University of South Florida’s seventh president Monday, beginning his first day by laying out his vision for the future.
“The presidency is a position of stewardship and service,” he wrote in an early-morning email to students, faculty and alumni.
“Service to you; to this outstanding university’s evolution as a global research institution; to the growing economic impact of the Tampa Bay region; and to the ideas of higher education that the USF community holds dear."
Currall, 60, made his first public appearance as president soon after, at about 8 a.m., meeting with local news media for photos and a brief interview at USF Tampa before setting out on a “listening tour” of the university’s three campuses.
“I’m thrilled to be a new member of the USF community,” he told a crowd of reporters outside the USF Alumni Center. He stood in front of a green-and-gold backdrop, sporting a matching tie.
Currall (pronounced ker-AL) had just walked over from the Lifsey House, which neighbors the Alumni Center and is just a short walk from the building his office is housed in north of Fowler Avenue.
The house was built in 1993 as a residence for USF presidents, but Currall’s predecessor, Judy Genshaft, opted to live off campus instead. That makes Currall and his wife, Cheyenne, who recently moved in, the first people to live in the 9,000-square-foot home in about two decades — and the first ever to live there full-time without a second residence.
Genshaft, 71, was not present Monday as Currall had breakfast with faculty in Tampa, then met with student government members in St. Petersburg and Sarasota. After 19 years as the face of USF, Monday marked her official passing of the torch.
Currall told reporters that Genshaft “laid a great foundation” for USF, noting recent accomplishments like achieving “preeminent” status from the state, gaining a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and being among the top 25 public universities for research.
He called Genshaft “professional, gracious, insightful,” and said she has made his transition into the presidency smooth.
“My mission now is to increase the slope of the trajectory of the university and take it forward,” Currall said.
He arrives as USF leaders work to consolidate the school’s three campuses under one accreditation, as required by the Florida Legislature last year. He said he sees it as his No. 1 job to “knit together” the locations, and that he will use his background in organizational behavior to do it.
At the breakfast, USF provost Ralph Wilcox introduced Currall to a room of predominantly male faculty members, calling his arrival the “beginning of a new era” for the university.
Currall then told professors he wants to work toward a “close partnership" with them. As he did during his interviews for the job in March, Currall said he wants to make USF mean to Tampa Bay what Sanford University means to Silicon Valley in California.
The message was well-received, said anthropology professor Charles Stanish, who was at the breakfast and served on the search committee that selected Currall as president.
“I was extremely concerned about getting an academic that understands the academic culture, and he does,” Stanish said. “He understands big, large, complex universities. He understands all the needs of multi-unit institutions."
Professors at the breakfast thought it was symbolic that Currall made meeting with faculty his first official order of business, Stanish said. They liked that he spent most of the morning listening rather than talking.
In the afternoon, Currall stopped at the Student Life Center at USF St. Petersburg to meet with student leaders. Student body president Jadzia “Jazzy” Duarte, a senior, gave him a tour of their offices and eventually led him to a meeting room where a message on a dry-erase board welcomed him.
“There must be huge decisions made around this table,” Currall said, beaming before the group and a crowd of reporters. “I’m just going to sit down here. What do we want to decide?”
The students laughed and talked with Currall about his move to Florida. Then they gave him a gift: A tassel identical to those given to incoming students at USF St. Petersburg convocation. He said he will hang it in his office.
“Do you mind if I do a very student thing and ask you for a group selfie?” asked student ambassador Henry Burrows, a 21-year-old senior. Currall agreed.
Once the picture was taken, Duarte, 21, turned to thank the president.
“Your first day, coming to our campus, we really appreciate it," she said.
Then Currall headed for Sarasota.