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USF Provost Wilcox stepping down, USFSP Chancellor Tadlock reacts

Mark Parker

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Ralph Wilcox served as USF's provost for 15 years. Photo: USF.

The University of South Florida has lost another high-ranking administrator, as Interim President Rhea Law announced Monday that Executive Vice President and Provost Ralph Wilcox is stepping down from his role.

In an email addressed to members of the USF community, Law announced Wilcox informed her of his intention to relinquish his administrative duties next year due to a desire to spend more time with his family.

“Which he has certainly earned,” added Law.

Law stated Wilcox will continue to serve in his role for as long as is needed and assist the university as it transitions to a new provost for the first time in 15 years. The search for a new provost will begin with the spring semester, and Law said the goal is to select Dr. Wilcox’s successor soon after a new president is appointed.

University of South Florida St. Petersburg Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock told the Catalyst that Wilcox’s departure will bring a substantial adjustment felt across the entire university.

“He has been a part of this university for almost 20 years,” Tadlock reflected. “He’s been the driver of significant change at USF during that time.”

Wilcox has been an integral part of USF for almost two decades. As provost, Wilcox is the chief academic officer serving over 50,000 students across campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee. USF is a Carnegie-classified Doctoral University – Highest Research Activity (R1) and delivers 244 degree programs across 13 colleges. U.S. News and World Report ranks USF 46th nationally among public institutions and is its fastest-rising university, public or private.

“He’s been that driver behind those actions that needed to be taken to move the university into that top tier nationally,” said Tadlock. “So, there’s just a lot of history there in that one individual.”

Both Law and Tadlock said Wilcox was instrumental in USF’s designation as a Florida Emerging Preeminent University in 2016 and its subsequent designation as the state’s third Preeminent Research University just two years later. USF is Florida’s only metropolitan university to earn that distinction.

“We are deeply grateful to Provost Wilcox for his many contributions to USF’s outstanding momentum,” said Law in the letter. “Under Provost Wilcox’s leadership, USF’s academic enterprise has earned widespread recognition across the state, the nation and globally. His comprehensive approach to student success has made an impact on hundreds of thousands of students over the last decade.”

USFSP is also losing an administrator with close ties to the campus. Tadlock noted Wilcox spent a year on campus as the interim leader of USFSP.

“So, he has a fondness for this campus himself,” explained Tadlock. “A lot of individuals on this campus work with him regularly and interact with him regularly, and we have a really good relationship with him.

“I have a really good relationship with him.”

Tadlock added that he has a great deal of respect for anyone that takes on the role of provost, calling it one of the hardest – if not the hardest – positions in higher education. Tadlock said he knows that from experience and explained how the provost is responsible for all academic and student success across three campuses. The president has an external role in dealing with alumni, the community and political leadership. Managing day-to-day operations and the students and employees that make up the university largely falls on the provost.

“That’s the primary responsibility of the provost – to basically keep the university running and moving forward,” said Tadlock.

Wilcox’s announcement comes just three months after the sudden retirement of former President Steven Currall. Tadlock himself is relinquishing his role of regional chancellor in June. Rather than a detriment to the university, Tadlock calls this a real opportunity for USF.

He is quick to note that is not an indictment on the job administrators have been doing but said there are certain moments in a university’s history where an opportunity arises to set a new course or direction in certain ways that are important to the board and the community. He believes this is one of those opportunities.

When asked if he would consider the position if it were offered, Tadlock replied with an emphatic and succinct “no,” followed by a hearty laugh.

Tadlock believes there will be a national search to fill Wilcox’s role and said it is a decision for the new president. He stressed how the president and provost work hand-in-hand, and it depends on the needs and desires of the new president more than anyone else.

“We all have our opinions,” said Tadlock. “But it really comes down to what the president wants in that individual coming into that position.”

Tadlock said he expects a decision on the university’s new president to come in late winter or early spring.

In addition to increased diversity in enrollment and improved graduation rates during his tenure, Law called Wilcox and his team instrumental in the university’s success navigating through a global pandemic, “ensuring academic continuity and adaptability during these trying times while placing priority on access for students, faculty and staff and their continued success.”

“I wish to sincerely thank Dr. Wilcox for his extraordinary dedication to student success and academic excellence at USF,” Law wrote in closing. “We wish him the best in the next chapter of his intellectual and professional journey.”

At the end of his administrative tenure, Wilcox plans to remain with the university as a professor.

In his own letter to the USF community, Wilcox said serving as provost and executive vice president “has been the greatest privilege of my professional career.”

Wilcox believes the university has never been stronger and applauded student and faculty accomplishments before and during the recent consolidation.

“Our national and international stature is stronger than ever, which is a proud testament to the remarkably talented people at USF – our faculty, staff, leadership, students, alumni, donors and friends of the university.”

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