The search for the next president of the University of South Florida is well underway, and the presidential search committee hosted the first of two scheduled town hall meetings Monday morning.
Chair of the search committee Michael Griffin, and Alberto Pimental of SP&A Executive Search, led the meeting, with Pimental posing questions to the over 200 stakeholders that virtually attended. The event’s focus was to gather and share input into the specific qualities the search committee should look for in the next president.
“This is the first of two broadly advertised town halls, and I know that Alberto and I have received a lot of good feedback,” said Griffin. “And know that every word written and spoken is critical to this process.”
Many of the comments focused on what the role of the president should encompass. The first suggestion was that the president represents USF in the most visible way possible to the surrounding communities. The speaker said the president should make those who support the university “feel special and included” and not only understand the fundraising process but embrace and cultivate it.
A USF faculty member said that while fundraising and communication with various stakeholders is a vital role of the president, the top priority should be accessibility with students. Without mentioning names, he noted contrasting examples of previous presidents and their willingness to engage and interact with students and faculty at different locations. He would like to see the new president consciously create these opportunities while uniting the university and increasing the morale of all stakeholders.
An area that also brought differing opinions was on the next president’s political involvement. One professor would like to see a “true academic” and not a politician. He wants someone focused on academic endeavors central to USF’s mission and called that an “easy trap to fall into” seen at other universities around the state and country.
Another speaker called Florida a “complicated state” and said that interacting with politicians will be “an absolute necessity of the job.” He said it is important to have someone skilled at those interactions while also focusing on the academic mission, and whoever is hired will have to meet that challenge.
The following suggestion was that the next president has experience running a city, as they compared USF to a small city. He said in addition to managing the school, the president will have to manage its taxpayers – which are essentially the students and donors in that analogy. In addition, he said the next leader must be cognizant of the school’s utilities, infrastructure, and how to properly budget those areas.
A stakeholder from the St. Petersburg campus said the new president will have to be mindful of consolidation growing pains that will continue for some time – particularly on the branch campuses. She said there should be parity at all levels and distinctive academic growth relative to the strengths of each campus. When it comes to donors and fundraising, she said, the money should follow the academic environment of each campus, and mentioned growing doctoral education on all campuses as a particular focus.
One of the final community members to speak said the search committee should be commended for its thoughtful and deliberate process. She said it was obvious that they are giving the search a lot of thought and realize the influence the position has on the Tampa Bay community, as well as the state. She said that so far, she believes there is a consensus that the next president should be “approachable, respectful, humble, but firm.”
She added that continued collaboration with the Florida high-tech corridor is strongly encouraged and believes the next president should view USF’s products not as students but as a well-educated and prepared workforce. That distinction, she suggested, requires a completely different mindset.
At the conclusion of the event, Griffin reminded attendees that there is another town hall meeting Oct. 18, from 2-3 p.m., and that the online survey remains open. He said he is in the middle of listening sessions with various stakeholder groups from each college and all campuses, and looks forward to that feedback.
“We’re going to take the time we need to make sure we get everyone’s feedback before we move forward,” said Griffin.
Pimental also encouraged the community to come forward and share the names of any candidates they feel would be a good fit. Stakeholders can take the online survey, which has garnered over 1,700 responses thus far, here.