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Meet the 11 applicants (so far) for USF president

A university search committee will give them a look, but the frontrunners are more likely to be candidates who surface later.
A search committee at the University of South Florida is expected to start interviewing candidates for president by March.
A search committee at the University of South Florida is expected to start interviewing candidates for president by March. [ URSO, CHRIS | Times (2019) ]
Published Feb. 11|Updated Feb. 11

The University of South Florida has released the names and resumes of 11 applicants to be the school’s next president, a group with ambitious ideas and a diverse range of experience.

They come from around the world, some from higher education and others from the private sector. But none of them are likely to be frontrunners as the USF presidential search committee looks nationwide for a successor to former president Steve Currall.

The university’s search consultant indicated as much earlier this month, telling committee members that he’s been in touch with 50 potential “targets” for the job, many of them upper-level university leaders. The candidates mostly likely to be the best fit are those who don’t officially apply right away and wait to be recruited, said Alberto Pimentel, head of SP&A Executive Search.

“That first batch of individuals that apply don’t always meet all the criteria you’re looking for,” he said. “But they are candidates, so I need you to take a look at them.”

USF's presidential search committee met for the second time on Oct. 22, 2021. From left are search committee member Jose Valiente, committee chair Mike Griffin, search firm leader Alberto Pimentel and committee member Oscar Horton.
USF's presidential search committee met for the second time on Oct. 22, 2021. From left are search committee member Jose Valiente, committee chair Mike Griffin, search firm leader Alberto Pimentel and committee member Oscar Horton. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times (2021) ]

The group of 11 includes Shahnaz Abdullah, a professor in the Accounting and Finance Department at Alabama A&M University and a former finance chairperson at Claflin University. Her 39-page cover letter came with a model she developed to transform economic growth for the region. She said as president she would add programs focusing on public service, with the idea that they would help governments operate more efficiently and achieve better results internationally.

Richard Bishirjian, another applicant, is president of the American Academy of Distance Learning and founder of Yorktown University, an online liberal arts institution. In his cover letter, he wrote that he appreciated USF’s programs in instructional design and would be “delighted to be considered” for the president’s job. He pointed out his age, 79, but noted that others — including President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former President Donald Trump — have engaged in vigorous work in their later years.

The materials provided by USF did not include a cover letter for Robert Davis. But, according to his resume, he is a retired chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, a Yale Law School lecturer and a former Stetson University Law School professor.

Another applicant, Charalabos Doumanidis, is the Marie Curie Chair and deputy provost at CDIC University College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland. His 67-page resume details other positions at MIT, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Tufts University and others.

For Kelan Farrell-Smith, his “first, second and only” goal as president would be to get USF into a Power 5 football conference. “Although it might seem like an immature way of looking at things to some academics, sports matters a ton when it comes to exposure, perception, and recruiting,” he wrote. Farrell-Smith is a consultant for Redwood Fund, former student affairs representative and assistant to the director of admissions at Claremont University, and a former GRE lecturer for The Princeton Review, a company that helps students with college admission.

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Robert Laurine is former vice chancellor and chief information officer for the University System of Georgia. He said he spearheaded COVID-19 planning efforts for the system. His training includes certification from Harvard University and he is a professor at George Washington University and a consultant based in Stuart.

Tim Murray pointed to work as an adjunct professor at Susquehanna University during the pandemic. “These experiences along with my passion for coaching and mentoring have led me to the decision to pursue a leadership role in academia,” he wrote. According to his resume, he’s also chief executive officer of Cardinal Virtues Consulting in Virginia and the former CEO of “a multi-billion-dollar corporation” called Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) in Bahrain.

Vanya Quinones is provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Pace University and former associate provost for Hunter College of the City University of New York. “I aim to continue my work at an urban academic institution that values the diversity of its students and measures their success in the degree to which they increase the social mobility of their graduates,” she wrote.

Penny Reynolds said her interest in the job “comes as a result of a deep appreciation for University of South Florida’s rich legacy, history, and tradition as a global leader in educating students.” Reynolds is an instructor at Georgia State University and senior policy advisor at Albany State University. She formerly worked as legal counsel to the Georgia governor, a mediator for the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Office of Dispute Resolution, and CEO of the JP Foundation, an education-related nonprofit.

Jennifer Schaeffer is vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Athabasca University in Canada and a former vice president at Morgan Stanley. She wrote that she would embrace and celebrate USF as a place where students have the flexibility to take courses in person or online, and its role as “America’s fastest-rising university.”

Mark Schweitzer said USF’s next president “needs to have high energy and enthusiasm, and be politically experienced and sophisticated.” As vice president for health affairs and dean of the medical school at Wayne State University in Detroit, he said he speaks weekly with government officials to nurture strong relationships. He noted that Michigan’s state house, much like Florida’s, “is mostly Republican, while our local elected leadership is mostly Democratic.”

Under a bill making its way through the Florida Legislature this year, these early applicants would be kept secret from the public. Supporters of the measure say it would encourage more top-flight candidates to apply, while opponents say it would erode transparency and leave presidential searches vulnerable to political maneuvering.

The USF presidential search committee expects to start interviewing candidates by March.

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