A week after the announcement that the University of South Florida president was stepping down, the chair of the school’s board of trustees has recommended that Rhea Law, an attorney with longstanding ties to the university, be named interim president.
Law, 70, is a USF alumna and was a founding member of the university’s board of trustees. She was its first and only female chair.
The full board will meet to approve the recommendation Aug. 2, the day President Steve Currall’s resignation takes effect.
Law, 70, will not apply as a candidate for the permanent president position once a search begins, according to a news release.
In a letter to the university community, board chair and former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford cited Law’s ties in the area as a boon to the USF community.
“USF is always moving forward,” Weatherford wrote. “That is why I am recommending an interim president who can inspire confidence while listening to and advocating for our students, faculty, staff and community; who has the leadership skills to help us pragmatically move forward on key issues; who respects the critical role of our faculty; who understands and can help advance our strong research enterprise and clinical expertise, and who has the relationships across our region and our state to garner even more support for USF.”
Law graduated from USF in 1977 with a degree in management and later a law degree from Stetson University.
She was formerly CEO of Fowler White Boggs, a Florida law firm, and led its merger with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, according to the news release. She’s served in numerous leadership roles across the region, including with the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Stetson University College of Law’s board and Moffitt Cancer Center’s board of advisors.
Law also served on previous USF presidential search committees that found both Currall and his predecessor, Judy Genshaft.
Law thanked Currall in a statement for his contributions and said she was ready to help write USF’s next chapter.
In an interview Monday, Law said her first order of business will be to meet with and hear from stakeholders both within and outside the university, including students, faculty and community partners. She plans to start making calls before next Monday.
“The most important thing to me is to make sure the University of South Florida does not lose any momentum, but rather it continues to accelerate,” she said. “...I want to empower and support and make sure the university continues succeeding.”
The recommendation of Law for interim has drawn praise from community leaders and state legislators.
Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls — who along with state Sen. Jeff Brandes has called upon USF administrators to quickly boost enrollment at its St. Petersburg campus — tweeted that Law was a “powerhouse pick.”
Sprowls has previously called Law a mentor, saying in 2016 that was a reason he joined her law firm, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, after leaving the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office.
Craig Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, said in a statement that Law is “undoubtedly the right person” to step in as interim president, saying she will provide steady guidance and a seamless transition.
“We have witnessed firsthand Rhea’s commitment to USF as well as to talent development and economic development initiatives in our region,” Richard said in the statement.
Martin Tadlock, regional vice chancellor for the St. Petersburg campus, said there is much work to be done during the interim period, including filling three vacant vice president positions.
Faculty senate president Tim Boaz said he hopes the interim is someone who “keeps the train on the tracks” and can advocate for the university.
“We still have some things left we’re trying to deal with,” he said. “The pandemic’s not over. Finances are always an issue.”
Law began working at the university in the Office of Sponsored Research in 1968, when research efforts were still young and the university was in its nascent days under its first president.
“Research was not as highly supported as it is now, nor was it seen as important,” she said. “But since that was my very job, I was pretty adamant about supporting research. And look what a powerhouse the university has become, from our humble beginnings back then to what it’s doing today.”
She credits the university for her own start in life, but also for the success of the Tampa Bay region, from economic development to creating new research and knowledge.
“We grow together and prosper together,” she said.
Law said she’ll try to learn what challenges lie ahead in the coming days while talking with stakeholders.
“I need the people in the community, the people within the university to come together and really support this great institution,” she said. “If we get everyone in support and moving in the same direction, there’s nothing we can’t do.”
If the board of trustees approves the recommendation of Law as interim, the selection would still need to be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors on Aug. 31.