When Judy Genshaft took over as USF’s president in 2000, it had a six-year graduation rate of 38 percent.
Eighteen years later, that percentage is up to 70. Perhaps in correlation, USF was named by U.S. News & World Report as the nation’s 58th-best public university on Monday, the same day Genshaft announced her plans to step down as president.
Genshaft’s retirement won’t go into effect until July 1, 2019, she says.
The search to replace her, however, will begin next week.
“She took the university and made it a household name in a lot of places,” said Susan McManus, a former political science professor at USF. “Now, you look at the quality of applications, people want to come here.”
Dick Beard, a former chairman of USF’s Board of Trustees (BOT) from 2000-05, emphasized its importance for USF to maintain the momentum Genshaft has created by choosing the correct candidate to replace her.
To do so, Beard says the school must hire a high-quality search firm to find Genshaft’s replacement. He says doing so will be integral due to Florida’s open-record laws that USF falls under, which makes the search for public university presidents nearly-fully open to the public.
With searches so open, Beard says potential candidates could be hesitant to reach out to USF out of fear it could impact their position at their current job — which could be another university.
“The people USF really wants to go after; They need to do it in a manner that’s not going to run them off,” Beard said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t use the system as its now designed, but, it needs to be public.
“We do operate in the sunshine.”
Though Florida’s “sunshine laws” guarantee citizens the right to public records of governmental bodies, including state universities, there can be ways to help hide potential candidates until the last second.
Records obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education show that the University of Florida held meetings with then-potential presidential candidate Kent Fuchs in Orlando — over 100 miles away from the university’s main campus in Gainesville. While there, one of Mr. Fuchs’ hotel stays was booked as “Kent Peterson.”
Other times, Mr. Fuchs was identified in travel itineraries by only his initials, “KF.” The name of his meeting rooms inside Orlando’s Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria hotels were called “Alpha One.”
Fuchs went on to be hired by the university in 2015, where he currently serves as president.
“USF’s search needs to be open and USF needs to look at all available candidates they can,” Beard said. “The Board of Trustees needs to put together a committee and that committee needs to be generally open. I think USF is regarded so highly that there are not any limits into who might be interested in the job.”
The current chair of USF’s BOT, Brian Lamb, told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday that USF will announce its in-house search committee, which will include three trustees and a member of the Florida Board of Governors, by the end of the week.
Thereafter, Lamb said top candidates will visit campus in February and that the committee will make recommendations to other trustees in March. Come July of next year, he says he wants USF’s next president to begin on the first of the month, the same day Genshaft is set to retire.
In an email to The Oracle, a USF spokesman confirmed the BOT intends to hire an outside search firm to assist in the hiring process.
“My sense is that the transparency should be more when you’re down to the final few candidates, even with the outside agency,” Beard said. “That’s frankly how finding a real-good, professional, search firm will help in the process.”
Beard joined USF’s BOT the same year Genshaft took over as the university’s president. In her early years, Beard said a key to Genshaft’s success was formulating a strategic plan and sticking to it.
For the university to maintain its upward trajectory in rankings and graduation rates, Beard says USF’s next president needs to develop a strategic plan of their own.
“It’s a 24-hour job,” Beard said. “People in that job react to situations and lots of them make the wrong decisions. USF needs somebody patient, a strategic person who’s able to relook at USF’s goals and do a plan.
“That’s what Judy did and you see what it became.”
Additional reporting by Jesse Stokes