The Sami Al-Arian affair wasn’t the only controversy USF President Judy Genshaft had to face during the summer.
Genshaft caught the ire of some students and faculty on USF’s St. Petersburg campus in June when she forced well-liked Campus Executive Officer Bill Heller from his post after 10 years.
But at the end of June, Genshaft seemed to smooth the waters when she visited the shore-side campus. While announcing Ralph Wilcox as the interim CEO, Genshaft told an audience of more than 100 faculty and students that a 15 to 18- member council would be formed in August or September to find Heller’s replacement.
That committee has not yet been named, and some people on the St. Petersburg campus have had their displeasure with Genshaft renewed.
Cassie Hawkins, student body president for the campus, said Genshaft visited last week and announced that she had hired an outside consulting firm to search for the replacement CEO.
Hawkins said this latest action has left the campus “skeptical of her intentions.” She said it’s difficult to determine Genshaft’s motives.
“She has come down to kind of explain her actions, and we’re not sure how to take that,” Hawkins said. “But it seems like she’s trying to usurp (the council’s authority). We’re not sure whether the council is going to be a token council.”
Hawkins said despite the fact that in June Genshaft said she wanted to stay out of the search process, she has changed some of the council nominations. She said part of the reason Genshaft gave for her actions was that she “had to make a fast decision.”
Hawkins said she wonders what Genshaft is really thinking.
“She left that decision to us, and then she went ahead and made it for us,” Hawkins said. “To say one thing and do another, that kind of baffles us as to what her motives are.”
One of the rumors that was whispered in the corridors following Heller’s departure was that Genshaft made the move to keep USF-St. Petersburg from earning separate accreditation and autonomy from the Tampa campus, which has been a long-term goal. The university has emphatically denied that allegation.
Hawkins said that thought is still somewhat in mind.
“One could see it that way certainly,” Hawkins said. “That’s one of the reasons why we we’re unsure of her motives. (But) she has told us that was not her intention.”
Michael Reich, media relations director for USF, said he disagrees with Hawkins’ assertions, and that the hiring of an outside firm is an effort by the president to help in the search process.
“She’s not interfering with the process, she’s supporting the process,” Reich said.
Reich said the consultant, who Hawkins described as a “head hunter,” has helped place presidents at major universities, including some in Florida. He said the consultation is meant only to aid the search council.
“This doesn’t take away any authority of the search committee,” Reich said. “The consultant is merely a tool the committee can use throughout the process.”
Reich said several candidates will be offered by the consulting firm to the council. The council will recommend probably three finalists, from which Genshaft will choose one.
Reich said Genshaft is committed to USF-St. Petersburg’s autonomy and thus feels they need to decide quickly.
“We want a new leader in place,” Reich said.
Hawkins said she appreciated Genshaft’s visit to try to explain her actions. She said, however, some people in St. Petersburg continue to question the president’s actions in the removal of Heller.
“We certainly didn’t like how she did it. It seemed unprofessional and quite sneaky,” Hawkins said. “But we have to move on.”
She said for this latest disagreement, the St. Petersburg campus Student Government has voted to draft a petition to deliver to Genshaft. The petition will protest council changes and the hiring of the outside firm.
“She’s interfering in a process she said she wouldn’t interfere with,” Hawkins said.