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Panel picks 4 finalists to lead USF St. Petersburg campus

The group includes former Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin. They will appear at town hall forums next week.
Students walk across the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, where a search committee is working to find a new regional chancellor.
Students walk across the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, where a search committee is working to find a new regional chancellor. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2017) ]
Published Apr. 28|Updated Apr. 28

A University of South Florida search committee on Thursday chose four finalists to be the next regional chancellor of the St. Petersburg campus.

Panel members initially selected the city’s former Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Wolf Yeigh, former chancellor of the University of Washington’s Bothell campus. They later picked two additional finalists: Christian Hardigree, founding dean of the school of hospitality at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Melissa Gruys, dean of the school of business at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

The final group was chosen from a shortlist of nine candidates and will participate in on-campus town halls next week. The names came into focus after a robust, hourlong meeting that questioned the regional chancellor’s role and whether the job calls for a person with academic credentials.

Fifty-six people applied to replace outgoing regional chancellor Martin Tadlock.

“My impression was that we really attracted a very good pool,” said Eric Eisenberg, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “All of them were uniquely good. Really, the challenge for us is figuring out what the best fit is.”

Some committee members expressed concern that candidates didn’t display a strong understanding of the role of regional chancellor, a leader who oversees the campus but reports to the USF president based in Tampa.

Committee members also questioned what qualities they were looking for in the candidates. Some candidates were praised for their charisma and their ability to interact with others, but were seen as having weaker academic and research credentials.

Tomalin, who has spent most of her career outside of academia, emerged with the second-highest number of votes. She is currently chief operating officer and vice president of strategy at Eckerd College.

Some on the committee praised her as “charismatic” and a strong advocate for the campus, but others questioned her lack of academic experience.

Yeigh was praised as a “seasoned administrator,” though some questioned whether he had “vision.”

Committee members saw Gruys as having a strong academic background. Hardigree was complimented for having creative ideas such as faculty internships and business residencies.

The town halls will be held Monday and Tuesday at 1-2 p.m. and 2:30-3:30 p.m. in the student center ballroom. The public is invited to attend and provide feedback before USF president Rhea Law interviews the candidates and selects one for the job.

In other news Thursday, Eisenberg was announced as interim provost while the university conducts a national search for its chief academic officer.

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