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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Genshaft's remarkable gift to USF

OCTAVIO JONES | Times USF Trustee Jordan Zimmerman, left, honors outgoing University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft and her husband Steven Greenbaum during the surprise announcement donating $20 million to build a new honors college that will bear her name on Wednesday, May 22, 2019.
Published May 24

Judy Genshaft already had secured an enduring legacy as she prepares to retire as the longest-serving president of the University of South Florida. But her parting gift of $20 million to build a new honors college is a stunning act of generosity that captures her trademark communion of academics and philanthropy. A landmark home for the honors college will be a remarkable reminder of Genshaft's love for USF and her unwavering efforts to transform it into a top-tier research university.

The donation, announced Wednesday during a highly anticipated ceremony on the main campus in Tampa, brings an appropriate bang to the end of her tenure as Genshaft, 71, prepares to retire July 1 after 19 years as president. USF trustees chairman Jordan Zimmerman aptly described the significance: "She is lifting the trajectory still of this university as she goes into retirement."

Genshaft said it was a "personal calling" to support the honors college, given that she had elevated the institution from an "honors program" soon after taking the president's job in July 2000. She and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, will help fund the $47 million, five-story building, which at 80,000 square feet will include space for events, offices and student collaboration, as well as art and music rooms. The building is expected to be completed within the next few years and will be located in the heart of the Tampa campus along USF Maple Drive.

This is hardly the first contribution made by Genshaft, whose $1 million annual compensation package makes her one of the highest-paid university presidents in the nation, and her husband. The couple has donated to university health, graduate school and athletic programs. Hundreds of honors students have traveled abroad to work and study thanks to their scholarship programs.

Genshaft's father founded a meat-packing company in Ohio, and while a complete picture of her wealth is not clear, Genshaft said Wednesday it was the couple's "good fortune to be able to give back to the university." Today, about 2,200 students from various academic disciplines are in the honors college. With a new home to attract talented students, that figure is expected to grow to more than 3,000 in the next five years. Genshaft explained her reasoning behind the gift. "We have to elevate things here," she said, "and let students know that USF is a place to try and make a difference in the world."

Genshaft certainly has made a difference in her time at the university. She oversaw dramatic strides in academics, research and fundraising, culminating in USF's success over the last year in being awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the prestigious national honor society, and in joining the University of Florida and Florida State University as top-tier preeminent research universities in Florida.

Genshaft hit speed bumps along the way, but overall she guided the university with vision and energy and positioned it well for the future. In that sense, she joins several former presidents - John Allen, John Lott Brown and Betty Castor - whose sense of mission left an indelible mark, and who enabled the university to grow by continually punching above its weight.

Genshaft has already lifted USF's academic profile and transformed it into a regional economic force. Her family's gift will build on those accomplishments and serve as an inspiration for giving back.

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