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USF announces new provost

Ralph Wilcox never makes hasty decisions.

He regularly culls the reams of reports stuffed in the boxes that line his office wall.

He’ll tell you he likes to analyze, assess and explore all the facets of a problem before he moves on it, and believes higher education should teach students to do the same.

Wilcox, who now serves as USF’s vice provost, said he will take that philosophy and a belief that a strong undergraduate program has a symbiotic relationship with top-notch research into his new appointment as the University’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

President Judy Genshaft announced Wednesday that Wilcox will take the place of departing Provost Renu Khator, who was named president and chancellor of the University of Houston on Monday.

“What I find most exciting about USF’s undergraduate program is we integrate research into the experience,” Wilcox said. “Research is associated with seeking new knowledge, challenging old assumptions and making inquiries, and those are the

hallmarks of an education that will give students an edge in the global marketplace.”

Wilcox will transition into the position over the next two months, and in January will officially begin a 2 1/2-year term that will carry through spring of 2010.

He has been working with USF since 2001, when he began to work on outlining the future plans of the University as a fellow with the American Council on Education.

He followed that with a year-long stint as vice president and campus executive officer at USF St. Petersburg before his appointment as vice provost in 2003.

During that time, he and others in the provost’s office and other departments worked closely with Khator to put USF on a trajectory that has catapulted it into the ranks of the 100 best research universities in the country.

“I don’t anticipate a radical departure from the path we’ve been on,” Wilcox said. “We continue to envision USF as a model institution of the new American research university, and we’re not going to deviate from that path.”

Wilcox steps into the position not only at a critical time for USF – on the cusp on implementing its new five-year strategic plan – but at a pivotal time for higher education in the state as well.

Florida ranks 50th in tuition and state funds per student, and university presidents and higher education leaders with the Board of Governors (BOG) have been clamoring for more state funding and the right to raise tuition.

As vice provost, Wilcox served as USF’s liaison with the BOG and worked with legislators on budgetary matters.

He said the economic climate for higher education presents significant challenges for recruiting and retaining faculty, but he plans to make the further development and improvement of faculty a cornerstone of his focus as provost.

“The great universities in this country and in this world have the best faculty,” Wilcox said. “They’ll attract the best students, ensure those students’ success, create new knowledge and discover innovative solutions to old problems.”

Sherman Dorn, head of USF’s faculty union, said he looked forward to working with Wilcox to boost faculty pay to rates competitive with elite research universities and increase the sabbatical enhancements given to professors for research.

“The longer faculty members stay at USF, the further behind they get in pay,” Dorn said. “There are a number of departments around campus that serve as farm leagues for northern universities.”

Dorn said top professors leaving for better-paying positions at other schools will derail USF’s aim for inclusion in the prestigious Association of American Universities, a focus of its five-year strategic plan.

USF spokesman Ken Gullette said because the University was at a critical point in the execution of the plan, which was rolled out in September, Genshaft wanted someone within the University who had an intimate knowledge of the plan to step into the provost’s role.

“We’re fortunate to have someone of Dr. Wilcox’s caliber at USF who can step into the provost position,” President Genshaft said in a press release.

Throughout the process of forming that plan, Wilcox dexterously took input from a host of departments and crafted collaborative plans, said Lee Arnold, who serves on USF’s Board of Trustees.

“Wilcox is a fantastic consensus builder and has superior experience and knowledge within our university system,” Arnold said. “We relied on him every step of the way during the creation of the strategic plan.”

USF will form a search committee in the spring of 2008 to find a provost to replace Wilcox when his term ends in 2010, Gullette said.

David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or oracleguidi@gmail.com.