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USF board elects Rhea Law as the university’s next president

Veronica Brezina

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Rhea Law has been appointed as the permanent president of the University of South Florida. Photo courtesy of usf.edu.

Interim President Rhea Law was in the driver’s seat for seven months during a time of turmoil when the University of South Florida faced budgetary issues and challenges from the pandemic, which Law is continuing to conquer – and now she is expected to take the reins of USF in the permanent position. 

On Tuesday, USF’s board of trustees unanimously approved Law as its next president-elect after the board interviewed her and retired Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley for the top post.  

“So let’s get back to work,” Law said, nearly in tears, just moments after the board unanimously approved her appointment. 

Law’s appointment and her contract need to be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors. 

USF Board of Trustees Chair Will Weatherford commended Law on her leadership, listing off accomplishments from initiating a new strategic plan and heading the best legislative session USF has ever had to date. 

“We know she can do that [lead USF] because she’s been doing it,” Weatherford said.

“The comments were universal – you’ve earned this. When you and I first spoke, this was not the expectation or intention, but sometimes in life, you have to be flexible,” said Weatherford, who appointed Law to the interim position, and explained how Law wasn’t initially seeking to apply for the permanent position. 

“Rhea Law knows the University of South Florida through and through. You talk about what defines the greatness of USF, you think of Rhea Law,” said Mike Griffin, trustee and chair of the search committee. “Just like USF, Rhea is scrappy. She works hard. A lot of folks have counted her out, they count us out, but to their own peril.”

Law, a USF alumna who became a lawyer in Tampa, will start the new role on July 1 with a potential five-year contract. The monetary amount of her base salary is yet to be determined. 

Law has served as interim president since August when Steve Currall stepped down after serving a brief two years. 

In early March, the search committee ultimately selected Law and Talley as the top two presidential candidates. 

“I’m sure there are a number of people asking why I am doing this at this point in my life. I will tell you this has been the honor of my life. USF means a great deal to me because it gave me my foundation. And when asked to serve as interim president, I was quick to say yes because I felt like I needed to give back,” Law said during the question-and-answer panel of the meeting. “I quickly started to focus on the initiatives to move the ball and create that glide path for the next president, but I got really excited about the opportunities and even those things that look like challenges that turn into opportunities because they create change.” 

She highlighted how the consolidation of the three campuses was a major and critical undertaking.

“We were all one university and then years later, split apart. And now coming back together, all the campuses are seeing benefits of that consolidation. They are seeing we are so much stronger as a whole than we ever were apart,” Law said, providing an example of how the Sarasota-Manatee campus was known for a hospitality program that the other campuses didn’t have until the consolidation. 

She also discussed how the legislature invested in USF this year to meet the university’s audacious goals in its strategic plan. While she spoke of the achievements, she addressed the ongoing challenges. 

“We need to focus on our finances. One of our biggest issues in front of us was that we did not have a transparent and predictable process, so we’ve put in place that type of analysis and we are beginning to walk through it, but we have a lot of work to do in that regard,” Law said, adding how USF could identify where to save costs and dedicate funds for innovation and infrastructure. 

The university is also embarking on its search for a new provost, a regional chancellor for St. Petersburg and a vice president for equity, diversity and inclusion – all pivotal positions, Law said.  

Law also answered the question on retaining the top caliber of talent and students by stating the university is currently engaging with a company on the commercialization of its patents, and it is creating a research and training institute. 

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