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Provost: quality, not quantity

On the second floor of the Administration Building inside a comfortable, broad-windowed office resides a man who said he places the quality of USF’s education above all else. Ralph Wilcox holds the titles of provost and senior vice president of USF, but considers himself a servant of the student body.

“I fully recognize that my primary role is to serve the needs of our students and our faculty,” he said.

Since his promotion from the Vice Provost’s office in January, Wilcox has concerned himself with improving the quality of the education students receive at USF.

“My challenge is to ensure that we have the programs in place, the faculty in place, the learning experience in place to best meet the needs of our students to allow them to graduate in a timely fashion,” he said.

It is not a small task. Because of unprecedented budget cuts in recent months, the University is financially strained and faced with an ever-growing student body. Wilcox, however, is steadfast in his mission to preserve the standards of education.

“One thing I will not compromise on is quality of education,” he said.

Wilcox is familiar with quality education: He holds three degrees from three universities in three different countries. He graduated with honors from the University of Exeter in England, where he was born and spent most of his early life. At Washington State University, Wilcox earned a master’s degree before attending the University of Alberta in Canada to earn his doctorate.

“Twenty-five years ago, if anyone had told me that I would be sitting in the Provost’s Office serving as chief academic officer of the ninth largest public university in the United States, I would have probably laughed at them,” he said.

Wilcox has served as an administrator at metropolitan research universities in New York, Houston, Memphis and now Tampa. He brings 25 years of post-doctoral education experience to USF.

Wilcox said that the education system in England showed him the importance of interaction between students and professors, an area that receives little emphasis in Florida.

“The ratio between faculty and students in [Florida’s] state university system is the worst of any state,” he said.

His solution: raise the admission standards of USF and admit only as many students as the University can afford to educate.

“We need to focus on quality. I hear too much rhetoric at times related directly to access, to opening the doors wide to students, in some way implying that all graduates of Florida high schools are somehow entitled to higher education,” he said.

Wilcox was quick to add that he is not suggesting an elitist approach to the state university system.

“The point is, those students that enter the university system in Florida are deserving of a world-class higher education,” he said.

Part of the responsibility of acquiring a quality education falls on the student body, Wilcox said. He would like to see students demand more of themselves and the faculty that serves them by engaging in a more active university experience.

“My message is one of challenge to the student body: Demand quality,” he said.

Students at USF have been quick to respond. Like many of her classmates, senior psychology student Leanna Martino was not aware of USF’s new provost, but she is willing to answer his challenge.

“I would like to see more funding to offer specialized classes each semester,” she said. She was also concerned about the possibility of summer courses’ reduction or elimination because of budget cuts.

Other students flat out disagree.

“No matter what he says, if you bust your a– in high school, you should be able to go to college,” said Lillian Artyamsoal, a freshman majoring in biomedical science. “It’s going to deny people the opportunity to go to a university.”

Regardless of the method, Wilcox said he is intent on increasing the worth of USF graduates.

“At the end of the day, it’s the value of the USF degree that is so very important,” he said.