University administrators made an excellent choice Wednesday by naming Dr. Ralph Wilcox to succeed Renu Khator as provost of USF.
Colleagues describe Wilcox as a consensus builder, which is a necessary characteristic for an individual who must balance the different stakeholders of the administration. The provost will have to find solutions that benefit students, faculty and staff in a period of tremendous flux for USF, when the University is trying to shed its commuter-school image and break into the prestigious American Association of Universities.
Wilcox’s pedagogical philosophy, it seems, is just as concerned with student success at the University as with the intellectual success of students post-graduation, emphasizing the development of critical and analytical thought.
This is a sharp contrast to the current trends in education that seem to emphasize factual regurgitation for the four-year college experience, a trend which unfortunately neglects a skill that’s needed well beyond a pupil’s college days and is necessary to fuel the discourse that maintains a democratic republic such as the United States.
Drawing from his own undergraduate experience, for example, Wilcox said it was the “continuing intellectual discourse” and the notion of “challenging assumptions” that were influential in the way he feels education should be.
Wilcox, who like Khator makes himself accessible to students, has used his five-year tenure at USF to improve the quality of the student body by emphasizing selectiveness toward incoming freshmen.
Rather than maintain Gov. Charlie Crist’s position – that college must be accessible to all, including academic under-achievers – Wilcox’s work will ultimately help USF drop its reputation as the State University System (SUS) safety school where University of Florida and Florida State University rejects abound.
Consider that the average freshman SAT score increased 17 points this fall, and that more high-achieving freshmen – those in the top 20 percent of their high school class – are also attending USF this fall: 84 this fall compared to 71 in fall 2006.
And, though the freshman class enrollment decreased 5.4 percent this fall, Wilcox’s assessment and support of said decrease is positive for the University. Since budget cuts at the state level resulted in fewer course offerings and fuller classes, it is good USF did not boost total enrollment above last year’s pre-budget-cut numbers. A sustainable number of better-qualified and better-prepared students, therefore, is a logical shift in admissions policy in light of budgetary constraints.
Dr. Wilcox is not only an excellent fit for the open provost position, but most likely the best and most qualified candidate, given his previous work at USF and his longstanding connection to the University community. We at the Oracle look forward to Wilcox’s future work in his new position and anticipate that he will shape USF in a positive light.