For a brief time Tuesday night, officials at the University of South Florida faced pushback from one of the two candidates chosen to interview for the president’s job on Friday.
Hours after the university’s presidential search committee decided to take a closer look at Jeffrey W. Talley, he released a statement to the Tampa Bay Times saying the school’s search process appeared “confused and non-transparent” and he was withdrawing his application. He indicated it appeared odd that the search had narrowed so quickly to just two candidates before any interviews were conducted.
By Wednesday morning, however, Talley said he had decided not to withdraw after speaking to the search committee chairperson and the consultant helping USF with the search.
The development marked another intriguing twist in the university’s search for its eighth president.
Talley and USF interim president Rhea Law were named Tuesday as the only two candidates to advance in a process that has attracted 18 formal applicants plus an undisclosed number of people being privately vetted by a search consultant.
Talley, 62, was chief and commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve from 2012 to 2016. He also previously worked as a department chairperson at Southern Methodist University and has held other positions in higher education. In addition, he was a vice president at IBM.
In a follow-up email to the Times on Wednesday, Talley wrote his “initial impression was confusion regarding the overall search process.” He then said in a Wednesday phone interview that he based that impression on a Times article that described him as a “finalist” with Law.
“Although I had been notified by the search firm that I was selected to interview, it was in the context that I would be part of a larger and broader group,” he wrote in the email. “After additional discussions with the search firm and receiving a personal call from the Chair of USF’s Presidential Search committee, I was better able to understand how the search committee objectively reached the decision of two semi-finalists.”
In the interview Wednesday, he said he learned from those conversations that if neither he nor Law meet the committee’s expectations, they may restart the search.
“They really do want to get the best hire for the university,” Talley said.
At their meeting Tuesday morning, members of USF’s presidential search committee went through the list of applicants, with the stated goal on their agenda to select a slate of semifinalists. They ended up with a list of two, first choosing Law, who had received an outpouring of support from the USF community, according to the consultant. A short time later, the committee added Talley for serious consideration.
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The consultant, Alberto Pimentel, said nearly all of the privately vetted candidates had decided not to apply after seeing that Law put herself in contention for the job last week after leading the university on an interim basis since August.
Pimentel suggested a third candidate, the dean of Yale University’s School of Public Health, but that person did not receive serious consideration.
Before they selected the two, search committee chairperson Mike Griffin told fellow members that they could recruit more candidates if the panel felt they did not find anyone qualified in the pool of 18.
Griffin said Law and Talley would be invited to interview Friday and spend time on USF’s campuses.
In a message to the USF community late Tuesday, Griffin outlined next steps in the process. He said the committee “may recommend candidates” for further evaluation and interview by the university’s board of trustees. After that, “any finalists” would be invited to participate in town hall events at each USF campus, “followed by an interview with (the trustees).”
The message suggested the possibility that a wider group of candidates could materialize. But it was unclear how that would happen based on Tuesday’s search committee discussion.
Talley said Wednesday he looks forward to interviewing with the committee on Friday and hopes they find him a good fit. He also said he hopes he’s invited back to meet with faculty and students. If chosen for the job, he said, he would work to change the perception of USF from that of a regional school to one with a national profile.
“First and foremost, I’m an academic,” Talley said. “My background and experiences give me a unique perspective to help USF.”