USF extends presidential search timeline

In trying to figure out what to look for in its next president, search committee members wax nostalgic for former president Judy Genshaft.
USF's presidential search committee includes, from left, Jose Valiente, Mike Griffin, Alberto Pimentel and Oscar Horton, shown in a meeting on Oct. 22. The committee announced Friday it would extend its timeline.
USF's presidential search committee includes, from left, Jose Valiente, Mike Griffin, Alberto Pimentel and Oscar Horton, shown in a meeting on Oct. 22. The committee announced Friday it would extend its timeline. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times (2021) ]
Published Oct. 22, 2021|Updated Oct. 22, 2021

The search committee to find the University of South Florida’s next president announced Friday it will slow down the process as it figures out what it seeks in its next hire.

Last month, Alberto Pimentel, head of SP&A Executive Search, the firm working with the committee, said they intended for the school’s Board of Trustees to begin interviewing candidates by November and have a president in place by January.

But after a stakeholder survey yielded more than 1900 responses, Pimentel said the committee now intends to begin interviews in March.

“We slowed it down for a good reason,” Pimentel said Friday.

Pimentel and the committee discussed themes that emerged from the responses and from nearly three dozen listening sessions with campus stakeholders.

People wanted a president who could secure funding, rub elbows with state legislators, repair “damaged” relationships that were “ignored or marginalized” outside the university and potentially build a new leadership team within the university, he said.

Faculty and staff, Pimentel said, told him morale was low. Some questioned the university’s academic priorities, while others questioned why joining the American Association of Universities was a long-stated priority and how the university planned to achieve it.

Others brought up the university’s commitment to sustainability, particularly when the university recently gauged interest from developers in a preserve adjacent to the campus.

Pimentel asked committee members what they wished to see in a new leader.

Debbie Sembler, a former USF trustee, said the university needed “a cheerleader,” an academic with “personality” and “style.”

Tammy Allen, a USF professor, said the person would need “political acumen” and the ability to “read the room.”

Pimentel said while some expressed a preference for an academic, the majority of those in listening sessions said it didn’t matter as much as that the person was “a leader.”

John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, warned that perhaps the committee should temper its expectations.

“We’re building an individual that may not exist,” he said. “This is a tall order. ... It may be unrealistic.”

While Pimentel said he had begun making calls, no names will be released until prospects officially become candidates.

One name, however, came up repeatedly during the meeting: former president Judy Genshaft.

Jose Valiente, chair of USF Foundation Board of Directors, said it would be important to find a candidate like Genshaft, who could hit the ground running and be visible in the community.

“You were in the community and Judy was there. You attended events and Judy was there. ... She came in and brought (USF) into the community.”

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Genshaft was president of USF for nearly 20 years before retiring in 2019. Her successor, Steve Currall, announced in July he was stepping down two years into his term. Rhea Law, a Tampa attorney praised by committee members for her community outreach, has served as interim president.

“Students didn’t even know President Genshaft had left when they heard about President Currall resigning,” student body president Julia Cunningham said. “I know Judy Genshaft was kind of idolized by our students.”

Lisa Carlton, a former state legislator, wondered how someone from outside the area might assimilate, though she noted “the right person is the right person,” regardless of where they currently live.

“We cannot move backward,” Griffin said. “We don’t have the luxury of giving an individual two years to learn about everything.”

The committee will draft a position profile to send to prospects within the next week and begin advertising shortly after.