Since assuming the role of interim president of the University of South Florida in August, Rhea Law has repeatedly stated she had no intention of applying for the permanent position; on Wednesday, she expressed a change of heart.
On Aug. 2, the same day that former President Steve Currall’s tenure officially ended, the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) unanimously approved Law to temporarily fill his role. Chief among her new responsibilities was assisting the university in its search for a permanent president.
In December, Law told the Catalyst that following USF’s expected hire of a new president in mid-2022, she would continue to engage with the university and help the new president in any way possible. “Most importantly, I’ll be in search of my new adventure,” she said.
Following her letter of intent to Presidential Search Committee Chair Mike Griffin, that new adventure may be guiding the university through its next chapter as “OneUSF.”
“Over hundreds of hours – in conversations with students, faculty, staff, research, alumni, athletes and fans, donors, elected officials and community members – it has become clear that USF is at a turning point, one that requires new levels of focus, creativity, collaboration and care for our people,” wrote Law in her letter of intent.
“As such, today, I would like to officially express my interest in serving as USF’s eighth president. It would be a distinct honor to continue my service to this community, which has given so much to me.”
In addition to guiding the university as it searches for a new president, provost and regional chancellor for the St. Petersburg campus, Law has recently focused on securing funding for USFSP’s Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence. At a Pinellas Board of County Commissioners meeting Feb. 8, Law and Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock – who have worked in lockstep to make what they call a university “game-changer” a reality – announced the Florida House included $60 million of the $80 million project in the latest budget.
Following Law’s application to remain president, Tadlock praised Law for regularly making trips across the bay to partner with the St. Petersburg community and promote USFSP’s many impactful endeavors.
“Since President Law assumed her role, I have been impressed with her thoughtfulness, transparency and collaborative spirit,” said Tadlock. “I enjoy working with her and think she is doing a tremendous job during an important time in USF’s history.”
In the cover letter that accompanied her letter of intent, Law, a graduate of USF and Stetson Law, said she is a proud fifth-generation Floridian and passionate about the state’s success. Law has a decorated career as an attorney and served as the president and CEO of Fowler White Boggs, becoming the only woman to lead one of Florida’s 25 largest law firms.
Law is also a well-known commodity throughout area political and business circles due to her inclusion on a myriad of councils and boards. Currently, Law serves on the board of directors for Tampa Electric, Peoples Gas, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council’s executive committee.
In November, the Florida Council of 100 awarded Law the Governor’s Business Leader of the Year Award for her excellence in business, civic and philanthropic efforts.
When the USF BOT sought someone with the institutional knowledge and community connections to guide America’s fastest-rising university through consolidation, transformative projects and the loss of leadership – all while navigating a pandemic – BOT Chair Will Weatherford recommended Law.
In a statement following Law’s expressed desire to remain president, Weatherford applauded Law for her work at USF over the last six months.
“She (Law) is not only meeting all the goals we set for her, she has also brought the community together, as evidenced by how much support for her we hear on a daily basis,” he said.
“I believe she has earned the right to be a candidate and should be strongly considered.”
Law noted the “seemingly constant change” at USF over the last few years. She said rather than slowing the university’s momentum, the changes have only made USF stronger through collective empathy and optimism.
Moving forward, she said, it is now time for the university to invest in its people, ensuring faculty, staff and students have the tools they need to succeed within a new paradigm.
Law concluded by reiterating how integral of a role USF has played throughout her educational and professional life. She said the opportunity to continue giving back to the university and the Tampa Bay community would be the privilege of her life.
“This is our moment,” said Law in closing. “When we link arms and work together, anything is possible.”