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USF confirms Rhea Law as interim president, lays plans for national search

The Tampa lawyer and long-time USF supporter takes over for outgoing president Steve Currall.
The University of South Florida board of trustees meets remotely on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, to vote on an interim president to replace outgoing president Steve Currall. The board appointed Tampa lawyer Rhea Law to the post. In this image from a livestream, Law is pictured in the far left column in the middle row, wearing blue.
The University of South Florida board of trustees meets remotely on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, to vote on an interim president to replace outgoing president Steve Currall. The board appointed Tampa lawyer Rhea Law to the post. In this image from a livestream, Law is pictured in the far left column in the middle row, wearing blue. [ University of South Florida ]
Published Aug. 2
Updated Aug. 2

The University of South Florida’s board of trustees voted Monday to confirm Tampa lawyer Rhea Law as interim president of the school, replacing outgoing president Steve Currall.

While the decision won’t be formally approved until a state Board of Governors vote on Aug. 31, Law’s term begins today, which is Currall’s last day on the job. She will serve until the next president takes office following a national search.

With little discussion in their first full meeting since Currall announced July 19 he was stepping down, board members also approved the terms of his departure just two years into his tenure.

The contract states that Currall will receive his base salary of $575,000 in addition to $230,000 in deferred compensation and $269,500 in unpaid performance compensation over the next 15 months, when he is on professional development leave. Gerard Solis, the university’s general counsel, said Currall is not required to return to the university but is entitled to as a tenured professor in the Muma College of Business.

Under a separation agreement signed last month by Currall and the university, USF said it would consider granting him “president emeritus” status. But after a brief discussion Monday, the trustees left that detail up in the air. It was not included in the terms they voted to approve.

“We’re very grateful to Dr. Currall and his service to the university,” said Will Weatherford, the board’s chairperson. “It was a very challenging time that he led us through.”

Weatherford cited the changes in university operations wrought by the pandemic, the school’s often-contentious effort to consolidate it’s three main campuses and budget challenges. But he added, “there’s a new chapter ahead for the University of South Florida.”

The trustees then voted unanimously to name Law, 71, as the leader who will shepherd USF through this unexpected transition. A USF graduate and a founding member of the board of trustees, she has retained strong ties to the university throughout her career.

She will receive the same salary as Currall in the name of salary equity, Solis said. She also will be eligible for 20 percent in deferred compensation and performance-based pay, and will receive a $12,000 car allowance and $84,000 in housing stipends (or $7,000 a month) in lieu of living in Lifesy House, the on-campus president’s residence where Currall opted to live. Law opted to waive a $100,000 relocation fee.

Under state law, Currall and Law each will receive no more than $200,000 in university funds. The balance of their compensation will come from the USF Foundation, a nonprofit funded by university donors.

Currall, 62, has cited the physical and mental demands of the job as his reasons for stepping down, which he said took a toll on his health and family. Solis said Weatherford directed that Law’s pay package reflect those factors.

“The job has not gotten any smaller or less complex,” Solis said. “In fact, it’s probably gotten more on both of those.”

Long-time trustee John Ramil called Law “a proven leader.”

Weatherford, who recommended Law, praised her work ethic, leadership in the community and her “love for USF.”

Law said she was honored at being chosen for the post.

“It really allows me to give back to an institution that has given so much to me,” she said. “I have seen the university grow and evolve into the dynamic powerhouse of knowledge, innovation and impact that it currently is. ... The most exciting part is we’re just getting started.”

Rhea Law at a meeting of Tampa Bay Partnership in 2017.
Rhea Law at a meeting of Tampa Bay Partnership in 2017.

Law said she does not see herself changing the university’s direction. Rather, she plans to “create a solid foundation” for the next president, she said. “I have no doubt our best days are yet ahead of us.”

Weatherford said a committee led by the trustees’ vice chairperson Mike Griffin will begin looking for a firm to begin a national search.

The committee will include regional chancellors Martin Tadlock of the St. Petersburg campus and Karen Holbrook of the Sarasota-Manatee campus, interim vice president of institutional equity Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, chief human resources officer Angela Sklenka and a faculty representative. It’s task will be to find a firm that recognizes USF’s connection to Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, its location as an urban grant university, its values for diversity and inclusion and “efficiency and competitive pricing.”

“We’re not in a rush to complete this, but we’re not slowing down,” Weatherford said.

Law began working for the university in 1968 under its first president and graduated in 1977 with a degree in management. She went on to be CEO of Fowler White Boggs, a Florida law firm, and led its merger with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

In addition to being a founding member of the USF board of trustees, she later became its first and only female chairperson.

Law has also served in numerous leadership roles across the community, chairing the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council, the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Bay Partnership. In addition, she has served on various boards including Stetson University College of Law, MacDill Support Council and Moffitt Cancer Center.

She participated in the last two presidential search committees at USF, including the one that identified Currall as a candidate for the job in 2019.