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Community Voices: Growing up with USF

Charlie Guy



Image: University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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Former St. Petersburg city administrator and deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin is one of eight semifinalists chosen to replace outgoing Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock as the primary leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.


Many here today may be University of Florida St. Petersburg and/or USF grads …

… or may even have some other direct personal connection with Dr. Kanika Tomalin …

I have NONE of these advantages.

… having only lived in Old Southeast since 2003 …  75 years old and Growing Up With USF

… I can share with you that former President Betty Castor faced same issues …

in this Tampa Bay Times article:

… The names came into focus after a robust, hourlong meeting that questioned the regional chancellor’s role and whether the job calls for a person with academic credentials.

… some expressed concern that candidates didn’t display a strong understanding of the role of regional chancellor, a leader who oversees the campus but reports to the USF president based in Tampa.

… some were praised for their charisma and their ability to interact with others, but were seen as having weaker academic and research credentials.

One needs to first understand the USF of 1993!

Founded in 1956 AND by 1965 it had received full accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

AND St. Petersburg campus was founded at Bayboro Harbor.

1972: The College of Basic Studies acting as a community college within USF, instructing students in mandatory courses for the equivalent of two years, was dissolved.

College of Liberal Arts is split into four new colleges: the College of Arts & Letters, Social & Behavioral Sciences, Natural Sciences and Fine Arts.

1994: USF was then ranked 18th largest in terms of enrollment AND 8th largest urban university with an enrollment of over 40,000 students, 4 campuses & a medical school.


Tuesday Lois Nixon, a USF medical school professor and former chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority, nominated Castor because “she has firsthand experience in all aspects of academia and she’s an astute and savvy politician. She has the double-whammy skills that USF deserves and desperately needs. For too long USF has been boxed in, restricted by special interests,” Nixon said.Castor would have the stature and political skills to overcome those.”


But her candidacy had NOT been without controversy with many in the Tampa Bay community including of a segment of business leaders and others with college degrees including more than 200 USF professors, including most of the women’s studies department who signed a petition against her, saying Betty lacked academic qualifications for the job.

Chancellor Charles Reed, in recommending her to the regents to the regents, [HOWEVER] offered a long list of her qualifications: her long commitment to education, her dedication to high admission and graduation standards, her work ethic, her toughness and her relations with state and national leaders, including U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.

“USF, more than anything else, needs a strong leader for its future,” Reed said. “Betty Castor has a vision … for what USF can become. She has been a leader and a manager of a large enterprise. She knows how to bring people together of diverse backgrounds. She’s been a fair administrator and most of all, she knows how to set priorities.

“I think in the next few years this institution needs to have that vision, set some priorities and proceed to become an outstanding research university.”

Now are participating in the process to make a similar decision.

We have, however, the opportunity of reviewing the 29 years of USF’s fantastic results that were greatly enhanced when Betty Castor with all of her lack of academic qualifications brought her many new skills of leadership and vision.

From my last 20 months focused upon improving the connectivity & investment in the economic, health and social needs of our Southside St Peterburg’s historically marginalized community, I believe that USFSP can now make the same very positive decision not only for the school, but for all of St Pete with their selection of Kanika Tomalin.

Although only chatting with her several times, my fortunate discovery of her April 3, 2014 Bay Post Internet conversation answering the question of What do you think is the key to growing strong neighborhoods in South St. Pete?  will clearly demonstrate why I personally believe that she will make the same type difference for USFSP and all of St Petersburg:

Commerce is absolutely important to any community’s survivabilty, but we think it is only one component of what’s going to make South St. Pete work and be its best.

Equally important is nurturing neighborhoods by providing safety and quality of life with access to resources that define a neighborhood with ready access.   

We also believe we must invest in opportunity creation, which is very different from job creation. We’re talking about skills and training and education exposure that allows one to create their own opportunity. You give someone the opportunity and the right tools, and the job will take care of itself and you create natural demand that doesn’t have to be constantly subsidized. 

I believe as our City is now no longer physically, socially, educationally, and economically divided by the old red line of Central Ave., the South Side can also now have more fully enriched opportunities to further develop over the next 10 years greatly influenced by the team of a MAYOR and USFSP’s regional chancellor who BOTH have had their lifetimes shaped by their Southside St. Petersburg experiences.

Finally, and very selfishly, I truly believe that USF’s new regional approach will provide the structure, freedom, and the opportunity for Dr. Tomlin to focus more of her time upon her community vision of having USFSP becoming an even greater role in opportunity creator for the historic 22nd Street African American district, known as the Deuces.







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    Charlie Guy

    May 3, 2022at12:12 pm

    Yesterday our capacity filled room of citizens listening to a very well-designed set of questions by Caryn Nesmith, USF Director of Community Relations, were treated to a wonderfully paced CONVERSATION with Dr. Tomalin. Her responses provided a very revealing glimpse into her broad collection of key educational and highly appropriate previous work experiences. More powerful though was her sharing of personal life experiences of having grown up and raising her family in the Southside while becoming City’s Deputy Mayor and currently VP, Strategy & Chief Operating Office for Eckerds College.

    Her answers flowed freely without a need to check for a prepared answer. When the one question from the audience inquired as to how her role as the Regional Chancellor might help her to better meet her previously publicly shared vision for increased opportunity creation for the Southside…her reply was it was in fact the essence for seeking the job…but NOW for ALL of the City! She finished to standing and full-throated loud audience!

    Those of who had experienced first-hand or learned later in life of the very successful journey of Betty Castor, please trust us as we now will have the same opportunity when Dr. Kanika Tomalin becomes our USFSP Regional Chancellor!

    Spread the Word Please ….forward this article to all your friends!

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