The University of South Florida sent two welcome messages this week in naming Anthony Rolle as the new dean of its College of Education. Coming only months after an ill-fated bid to close the college’s undergraduate program, the decision reflects a newfound commitment to training the next generation of teachers, particularly those who work in the Tampa Bay area. And the appointment of a USF veteran and recognized leader offers stability for the college and USF’s partners alike. USF needs to provide Rolle the resources he needs to serve this profession and the growing region.
USF announced Tuesday that Rolle, a former professor and department chair at the school, will lead the college beginning in August. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Divya Kumar reported, the dean’s position was almost eliminated when the university said last year that it planned to phase out its undergraduate education programs and turn the college into a school. The plan sparked a backlash from faculty, students, local school district superintendents and others, prompting the university to preserve some undergraduate programs and keep the college intact.
Rolle will lead the college’s 2,200 students and 130 faculty members spread across USF’s three campuses. In announcing the appointment, USF President Steve Currall hailed Rolle, who taught at USF from 2010 to 2014, for his academic and professional experience. Rolle is finishing a four-year appointment as inaugural dean at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Education and Professional Studies. He also served as a faculty member and a department chair at the University of Houston. USF provost Ralph Wilcox said Rolle’s expertise in K-12 finances will help students as they prepare to work in local school districts.
Rolle’s selection is a fresh, exciting start for students, the institution and the university’s community partners. While USF may have had some legitimate reasons to consider closing the college’s undergraduate program, the dramatic proposal was a surprise to many key stakeholders last year. Area school districts also particularly stood to lose, as USF’s undergraduate program provided a quarter or more of new teachers to school systems across Tampa Bay. As the largest employers within their counties, the school districts should be kept fully in the loop about any changes in the marketplace that affect them.
Rolle said he planned to continue the regularly scheduled meetings between USF leaders and area school superintendents. That sustained engagement will help to restore mutual confidence, and it will provide an environment for the new dean to build valuable civic relationships. Rolle also said he planned to focus on issues of access and equity, major hurdles facing many students in a diverse region with modest incomes.
The college appears headed in a much better direction than it was months ago, and Rolle’s appointment is an opportunity to build on a vision for educational excellence. The university will have to demonstrate through actions, though, that it learned from its own public relations disaster that communication is essential for such a major regional institution. A new dean with a reputation for strong faculty support, who knows the local landscape and who has so many families and employers banking on his success is a good start to this new chapter. Now the university must deliver on these higher expectations.
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