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Both finalists advance in USF presidential search

Mark Parker



Interim President Rhea Law was one of two finalists interviewed by the USF presidential search committee Friday. Screengrab.

The University of South Florida presidential search committee conducted extensive interviews with Interim President Rhea Law and retired Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley Friday, just three days after announcing their selection as finalists.

Following Friday’s interviewing session, the search committee decided who would advance to the next round of the process. After a brief deliberation, the committee held a vote through a show of hands.

Committee Chair Mike Griffin said Talley received a majority of votes to advance to the next stage, while Law was approved unanimously.

“We don’t obviously need every member to support candidate one and candidate two,” said Griffin. “So, based on the majority, that would rule to have both move forward.”

The committee, which featured a broadly representative panel of regional stakeholders, asked similar questions to both candidates. Talley went first, leaning heavily on his time spent working for Notre Dame and the University of Southern California, along with his extensive military background.

Talley said he wants to be the next president of USF because the school is winning in several areas. He believes the university is ready to reach the next level of success in many areas – and all it needs is the right leader.

“You have everything going for you,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to join that kind of team?”

Talley noted the importance of fundraising and said without resources, it is impossible to get anything done. After providing a safe learning and working environment, he said fundraising is the second most important function of a university president.

In addition to his experience raising money in academia, Talley said he was responsible for securing hundreds of millions of dollars annually during his time at IBM. As Chief of the Army Reserve, he managed an operating budget of $9 billion. Talley said many people think that was guaranteed money, but he still has battle scars from arguing with Department of Defense officials and members of Congress over budget appropriations.

“I’ve had to fight and scrap for every dollar I’ve ever had in every leadership position I’ve ever had,” he said. “And to be candid, I’m good at it.”

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley advanced through the USF presidential search committee’s interview. Screengrab.

Law said that as a metropolitan university, USF has opportunities in the community unavailable to many other colleges. She wants the university to capitalize and double-down on those partnerships and said those community bonds would propel the school to the next level.

Law noted she secured an $11 million donation during her first two weeks as interim president.

“But it’s not so much about fundraising – it’s about showing your relevance to the community,” she added. “It’s not so much asking for money from people – it’s about showing them what you have to offer and exciting them about the vision …”

Law said one of the visions that excites the community is the proposed on-campus stadium. She said many area business leaders want the community to recognize them as part of the project, and that is part of the excitement USF is creating throughout the region.

Law said an on-campus stadium could bring alumni and members of the St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses to the Tampa flagship. She said athletics are a great way to unite the school and community. While it’s important to balance sports and research financially, she said, successful athletic teams also generate money.

Law said conducting a national search for a new provost is one of her highest priorities. She explained the need for a provost to follow through on the school’s strategic plan and ensure the continued success of students and academic programs. Especially since her background is in law, business and organizing community efforts.

“I’m not an academic, and we’ve talked about that,” said the USF alumna. “I’m more a businessperson that just loves this place.”

Following the interviews, Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks said he was impressed with Talley’s resume and his service in public and private leadership roles. Dr. Tammy Allen noted that Talley described USF’s reputation as a regional school, and she believes he could present the university to a world stage.

Ken Jones, founder and CEO of Third Lake Partners, relayed that Talley’s cover letter was 29 pages long. He said he found that interesting and was impressed with what Talley has accomplished throughout his career.

Jose Valiente, chair of the USF Foundation’s board of directors, said it is easy to get lost in Talley’s accomplishments but pointed out those achievements were away from USF. He called Law a “known commodity” that has proven her ability to lead the university over the last seven months.

Jones said he could say the same things about Law as he did Talley, noting the 71 awards on her resume.

“Somebody that’s going to start on second base is a very, very good attribute,” he said. “All those different experiences here in Tampa Bay are really valuable and hard to duplicate.”

The next step in the search for a new president is campus visits, followed by an interview with the board of trustees and a final interview with the board of governors.




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