University of Florida St. Petersburg has emerged from the pandemic with solid enrollment and much to be proud of; however, there is also concern stemming from high profile departures and consolidation affecting admissions.
Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock gave an impassioned update on the university to city council on Thursday amid recent turmoil at USF. President Steve Currall was also invited to speak, but abruptly announced his pending resignation on Monday. Tadlock said that he found out the same day.
Tadlock said that USFSP takes pride in being St. Petersburg’s university, and there are three pillars that represent that distinctiveness. The first is innovative research, that Tadlock said you will not find on the other two USF campuses or in other parts of Florida. The university allows for undergraduate students to participate in that research along side faculty at a high level.
The campus also takes pride in its inclusiveness. Tadlock told councilmember that student government has posted signs around campus reminding students and faculty of that fact. “You belong here,” exclaim the posters. “All races and ethnicities, all religions, all countries of origin, all gender orientations, all abilities and disabilities, all spoken languages and all ages.” Tadlock said he would add one that is not yet listed – all political viewpoints.
“We do not indoctrinate students,” he said. “I’m making that very clear.”
The third pillar for the waterfront campus, he said, is a dedication to sustainability and environmental protection, “because that is the future of the community.”
Tadlock said the university is focused on its students and that retention and graduation rates increase every year, due to consistently getting better at adding the support that students need, even as students come to the university for many different reasons and from many different backgrounds.
Enrollment for first time college students for the summer and fall is currently at 768. Last year, the number was down to 421. The 768 students take the university back to where numbers were before consolidation three years ago, which Tadlock said was the goal. Transfers are also up 31%, and the number of graduates has increased to 470 from 320 a year ago.
Perhaps the biggest point of pride for Tadlock was the university welcoming five National Merit Scholars to campus. In its 50-year history, the USFSP has never had a single Merit Scholar. Tadlock said that he met with them all, and promised great things that the university would do to support them in the hopes that they will attract friends, relatives and their network to the campus.
Tadlock also happily announced that the university’s budget is balanced.
“You won’t hear that from other universities,” he said. “You got to applaud that, folks.”
Tadlock said that USFSP weathered the global pandemic and two hurricanes in the last 12 months fairly well, but there is much work to be done. He also said consolidation has continued to bring challenges and is a work in progress. He added that there is no set endpoint for that process.
“We’re resilient and we’re successful on this campus more than we’ve ever been, because we look out for each other,” said Tadlock, pausing as he became emotional. “And we’re all united in our commitment to our students, that comes first.”
Tadlock was adamant that being intertwined with the community and embracing a distinct culture is the glue that holds USFSP together.
“Every great university has a distinct culture,” he said. “We know what ours is, and we’re not going to give it up.”
Tadlock, who in January announced his plans to step down as regional chancellor at the end of the year, took the opportunity to announce that outgoing President Steve Currall asked him to stay in the position until June 30, 2022. This would allow a year of dedicated time to allow for people on campus and in the community to participate in the search to find a new leader.
“No decision has been made yet, but the conversation has happened, and we are talking,” said Tadlock.
In addition to Currall stepping down from the top spot in the university system, USFSP also has a new interim vice-chancellor as the search continues to fill that position.
Councilmembers were unanimous in their support and appreciation for Tadlock, along with their desire for him to stay and provide a continuity of stable leadership.
“You have given such a comprehensive list of things to be proud of,” said councilwoman Gina Driscoll. “We’re so proud that the university has weathered so many storms, literally and figuratively, over the last couple years. It’s truly an honor to know you, you have been our stable force there.”