Steven Currall joined USF’s administration as system president one year ago on July 1. Over the course of 12 months, Currall has had some notable accomplishments and experiences at the university along with facing challenges associated with consolidating three campuses and leading the university through a pandemic.
From moving the university up in elite rankings to consolidating the entire university while having to be on the frontlines of decision making during a global crisis, Currall’s first year as president has been full of new achievements and challenges.
Currall was unanimously elected by the Board of Trustees to succeed Judy Genshaft after her 19-year reign as president.
Formerly, Currall came from Southern Methodist University (SMU) where he was the provost and vice president of academic affairs. Prior to his position at SMU, Currall had experience at various other universities, including the University of California, Davis, the University College London and London Business School.
While he was not inaugurated as the seventh system president until Nov. 14, 2019, the time leading up to that date was not wasted.
The first 100 days he held office, he made it his mission to meet students, faculty and staff at all three USF campuses through a listening tour, as well as touring different facilities associated with USF throughout the Tampa Bay area.
As his first few months in office seemed to be going smoothly, Currall was faced with a challenge no former USF president ever has dealt with before: a global pandemic.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak led to the university closing after spring break, and plans for adapting to online education and plans to reopen have been being discussed since the decision in March.
Not only were classes being discussed, but so was graduation. Currall had to make the decision to postpone all graduations until it is safe to hold a gathering of that magnitude.
Town hall meetings have been hosted by Currall to answer student questions and as well as inform the USF population of what the plans for reopening are.
For the time being, a “flexible hybrid” has been the plan set in place for fall reopening as the administration of USF keeps Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in mind for bringing a large number of people back onto all three campuses.
“We’re also mindful of considerations around adding influenza-type illnesses and tracking those as well because they are related to COVID-19 in terms of their causes and symptoms and so on, so we’re really mindful of that in terms of prevention and mitigation as well,” Currall said.
Changes to the fall schedule will be announced in July as the administration finalizes the class schedules and how the virus will affect students, faculty and staff.
In a livestreamed interview via DCE Productions on June 24 with Moez Limayem, the dean of the Muma College of Business, Currall addressed questions about how COVID-19 has impacted his goals for USF.
“In some ways, the COVID-19 experience has not really affected our goals and aspirations as an institution,” Currall said. “We aspire to become a top 25 research university and eventually be eligible for membership in the Association of American Universities which is the top 65 research universities in America. We actually have not changed our aspirations and in fact we have been quite intentional about not changing the aspirations. Our tactics and our plans have adjusted.”
Limayem asked Currall what lessons he has learned throughout the experience of COVID-19, and Currall addressed the contingency model with a variety of scenarios, which he said is the correct model to be followed over a linear model.
“One of the lessons we have learned is to be comfortable with this fluidity and with the contingency nature of our planning in the face of COVID-19,” Currall said.
Besides working on a universitywide response to COVID-19, Currall spoke up about systemic racism and social injustice following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests around the nation.
As a commitment to overcoming systemic racism, Currall said he will work toward enhancing faculty and management diversity, analyzing pay equity for faculty and staff to eliminate race-based or gender-based salary disparities as well as bridging the gap in student success.
“We will continue to reflect deeply on recent tragic events around the country and the unrest we’re witnessing in our own communities and we will take action,” Currall said in a systemwide email June 8. “In these challenging times, USF can provide leadership and opportunity, demonstrating an active commitment to creating a civil, humane and compassionate society in which racism is not tolerated.”
Alongside USF Vice President of Institutional Equity Haywood Brown, Currall said they will investigate on how the university addresses systemic racism.
“Under Dr. Brown’s leadership, we will develop programs to ensure that our faculty, staff and students become more culturally aware and intelligent about how race impacts attitudes and behaviors,” Currall said.
Recently, Currall also addressed recent sexual assault allegations made against former and current USF students. He released a statement Wednesday affirming that “these cases are under review by the university offices that are best positioned and trained to respond.”
“Our Office of Student Success will be reaching out to fraternity and sorority leaders, Student Government and other student groups to reaffirm our expectations and our goal to have campuses free of sexual violence,” Currall said.
“The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity (DIEO) will be in contact with our Greek Life system to collaborate on developing, designing and carrying out a climate assessment. I have also been engaged with Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly and he is committed to continuing to seek proactive measures and training opportunities with student-athletes, coaches and staff.”
In light of the recent allegations, Currall also said the university will be reexamining processes and outreach initiatives when responding to allegations of sexual violence.
“I have asked for a review of our internal processes to reinforce what we are doing well and identify where we can improve,” Currall said. Our policies and procedures must reflect our values, which start with the belief that all members of our community should be treated with respect so they may learn and work in a safe and comfortable environment.”
Despite various challenges, Currall led USF into new milestones as president over the past year.
At the time of his inauguration, Currall spoke of his plans and goals for USF, and since then has boosted USF’s rankings in many different categories.
USF placed in the top 50 in U.S. News & World Report in September 2019, taking the No. 44 spot for public university rankings after placing 58th in 2018.
Ranking No. 1 against all other state universities, USF was named the leader in performance-based funding metrics in 2020.
New facilities for higher education were finished and opened during Currall’s first year in office.
The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa was finally finished this year, after five years of construction.
Currall, along with USF faculty and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor cut the ribbon to commemorate the opening of the building on Dec. 8, 2019.
“Resources available here will shape the minds of future doctors and empower our students to tap their full potential,” Castor said in a January Oracle article.
The opening of the building led to Currall also speaking of how it will aid in the medical field and education.
“This college is so much more than a shiny new building,” Currall said in a January Oracle article. “It serves as an anchor of the impressive Water Street region. This Morsani College of Medicine is a human capital magnet that will attract world-class physicians, researchers and students to carry out trailblazing discoveries and deliver creative health education.”
With expanding education and academic success as a goal of Currall’s for USF, he was able to welcome the most academically successful freshmen class USF has ever seen according to Freeman.
Consisting of 3,773 students, the most scholarly and largest freshman class was admitted into USF in 2019, according to university spokesperson Adam Freeman. The average ACT score was 8.9 points higher than the state average and the average SAT score was 209 points higher than the national average.
The first-year student body, with 100 students who ranked in the top two students academically out of their high school class, held an average GPA of 4.13 and consisted of 34 National Merit Scholars.
For the 2019-2020 academic year, approximately 51,000 students made up the USF student body population, and in the 2020-2021 academic year, all three campuses will be united as one for the first time in the university’s history.
The USF consolidation plan was approved on June 21, 2020 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A task force, “Principles of Community”, was created by Currall to come up with a one-page document of the university’s ideals, goals, priorities and visions.
“My hope is that those principles will reinforce a campus climate of mutual support among faculty, staff and students,” Currall said. “The principles will also help further facilitate our shared strategy, mission, vision and goals for ONE USF, Geographically Distributed.”
Through consolidation, the Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses will operate under a single-accredited university that will follow all of the same leadership, guidelines and curriculum.
All students who attend USF, no matter what campus they attend or live at, will have access to all the resources each location has to offer.
As Currall enters his second year as USF president, he is faced with making tough executive decisions regarding the health and safety of all who will step foot on the university’s campus, which he never anticipated as a part of his job, while meeting the university’s needs.
However, from the beginning, Currall said he will always be laboring to better USF and assist in the university’s needs.
“Five minutes after waking up I am working,” Currall said in a March 2019 Oracle article. “If I am awake, I will be working for USF.”