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USF taps Florida’s first chief science officer to lead marine science college

Thomas Frazer will continue in his role with the state, according to the university. He has been tasked with steering Florida’s efforts to cut down on blue-green algae.
Thomas Frazer, Florida's first chief science officer, will take over as dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida.
Thomas Frazer, Florida's first chief science officer, will take over as dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 11, 2020|Updated Jun. 12, 2020

Florida’s chief science officer will become the dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science starting in August, the school announced Thursday.

Thomas Frazer has been tasked with steering the state’s efforts to cut down on blue-green algae. In its statement, the university said it recruited him. A spokeswoman for USF said he will continue serving as the state’s chief science officer while also leading the school.

The university referred questions of how Frazer’s duties will be split to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which said his salary will be paid entirely by the college while the state agency covers expenses related to travel or logistics from his role as chief science officer. The school spokeswoman, Althea Paul, said Frazer’s USF salary will be $260,000 along with a $60,000 dean stipend.

Frazer was quoted in the USF statement Thursday saying the college is “uniquely positioned to become a global leader in the ocean sciences arena.”

He previously worked in academia at the University of Florida, directing the School of Natural Resources and Environment. The creation of his position with the state, along with the role of a chief resilience officer, was championed by environmentalists who saw it as a sign the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis was placing an emphasis on science. He has led the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, which advises environmental officials on policies to reduce blooms of bacteria — boosted by urban and agricultural runoff — that have plagued Florida waterways.

Related: Florida’s climate change efforts ‘disjointed,’ former state resilience officer found

The state’s first chief resilience officer, Julia Nesheiwat, left her position earlier this year to become a homeland security advisor to President Donald Trump. That role has not been filled, and its long-term future remains uncertain. Many of her responsibilities were moved to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.

In his application last year, Frazer wrote: “My interest in this job stems, in large part, from a deep-rooted concern for sustainable interactions between humans and the environment in which they live.”

More than 30 people applied.

USF, in its statement, touted Frazer’s past leadership roles and noted his work on water issues, including an Oil Spill Research Strategy Review Panel under the Environmental Protection Agency. USF scientists have been deeply involved with projects to understand the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

He replaces Jackie Dixon, who had taken over the college in 2011. Frazer holds a degree in marine fisheries from Humboldt State University, a master’s degree in fisheries and aquatic sciences from the University of Florida and a doctorate degree in biological sciences from the University of California, Santa Barbara, according to USF.

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Related: Five things to know about blue-green algae

“He brings decades of commitment to studying environmental issues in both marine and freshwater systems,” said Ralph Wilcox, university provost and executive vice president. “As a national and international leader in his field, Frazer is a dedicated advocate for oceanographic and climate science.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a Department of Environmental Protection statement about Frazer’s compensation.


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