Who should be USF’s next president? ‘It’s going to take a multifaceted individual.’

With University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft retiring July 1, a search committee is trying to decide on the qualities her successor should have.
Published November 23
Updated November 27

After 18 years under a leader as energetic and celebrated as Judy Genshaft, it's difficult to imagine what the University of South Florida might look like headed by someone else.

In fact, the idea of cloning the outgoing president ahead of her coming retirement next summer has become a running joke among many who wonder about the fate of the university once she's gone.

"She is a change agent, she is a believer," trustee Jordan Zimmerman said at a recent board meeting, delivering Genshaft's glowing performance review. "I don't know how you replace that."

Neither does anyone else, fully. But on Thursday, a search committee charged with figuring it out will take the first major step toward doing so, finalizing a job description to be used in a nationwide search for Genshaft's successor.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: USF trustees will move quickly to replace president Judy Genshaft

The listing will be reviewed Dec. 4 by USF's board of trustees, whose chairman, Brian Lamb, assembled the committee last month. The search process will move quickly then, with officials set to select the university's seventh president on March 5 from a list of finalists recommended by the committee. Genshaft steps down July 1.

In his charge to the search team, Lamb asked that their work be "attentive to the views of all USF communities." Members continue to seek input from those who make up the sprawling university system, through informal conversations, public listening sessions on each of USF's three campuses and an online survey set to close soon.

The goal is to gather enough perspective to create a complete picture of what the growing and changing USF community needs in its next leader, especially on the heels of gaining “preeminent” status from the state and as the system consolidates its three institutions under one accreditation by 2020.

"When the decision comes down, I think everybody will be able to legitimately say they played a role in it," trustee Les Muma, who chairs the search committee, said in an interview this week.

"Ninety percent of what we are hearing we already had in our minds, but the other 10 percent is invaluable."

He pointed out that the search committee is made up of 15 people from varying corners of the USF system. Businessman George Morgan, for example, heads the USF Foundation board of directors. Shaquille Kent is an international student from Trinidad and Tobago serving as vice president of the student body.

There are alumni and researchers, among others, like former USF basketball player Anddrikk Frazier and Rhea Law, the committee's vice chairwoman who served on a similar board to find Genshaft in 2000.

"It's a good blend of everybody on all campuses," Muma said, calling the committee "strong and diverse."

Members first met Oct. 18, taking turns sharing ideas about what qualities the new president should bring to USF, proving the size of the hole Genshaft will leave. Community involvement and dedication to student success were common themes during the discussion, as was the university's goal to join the prestigious Association of American Universities.

"This is a complex machine to deal with," said USF trustee Bryon Shinn. "We are already at a very high level and we're trying to push it to another, so it's going to take a multifaceted individual."

The biggest priority for faculty is that the person has a background in education or research, anthropology professor Charles Stanish said after others suggested USF interview business people and politicians for the job. Hiring anyone but an academic would be an "unmitigated disaster," longtime USF history professor Ray Arsenault added in a later interview.

"It would be insulting, frankly, to people who have devoted their lives to the life of the mind (because) the heart and soul of the university is its intellectual enterprise," said Arsenault, president of the faculty senate at USF St. Petersburg. "We're not just selling widgets or soap here."

PHOTOS: USF President Judy Genshaft through the years

Still, the new president should have business savvy and work to promote USF's many patents toward commercialization both here and abroad, said Law, a founding member of USF's board of trustees. And he or she should also be comfortable working with Florida lawmakers, said USF Foundation board member and former trustee Debbie Sembler.

Longevity is important, too, said trustee Stephanie Goforth. Someone shouldn't look at USF as a stepping stone, she said, adding: "We have had the benefit of a very, very long, fruitful relationship with our president, and we want somebody who is going to be here."

Students hope for someone as invested in them as Genshaft seems to be, said Kent, the student body vice president. But USF's next leader should be thinking, too, about those who haven't even enrolled yet, making sure the university balances growth with accessibility for college prospects living in Tampa Bay, Braulio Colon added.

"We are a dynamic, growing region, and USF is the key producer of baccalaureate degrees in our area," said Colon, chair-elect of USF's Alumni Association board of directors. "So the question that the next president is going to have to answer is 'How much do we grow? How fast? And what is the level of commitment to access in the region?'"

Everyone has ideas, and more are still coming. This is just the beginning, Muma said. Still, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that Genshaft's spot will be hard to fill.

"We've got to (get) as close as we can to mimicking the personality of what we have or it's going to be a shock," he told committee members. "I don't know how you quantify that, but you'll know it when you see it, I think."

(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct title of Braulio Colon. An incorrect title was used in an earlier version.)

Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.

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