The future of Health and Wellness under review

Tom Miller will serve as the interim vice president of Health and Wellness until the end of the calendar year. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Tom Miller was appointed  interim vice president of Health and Wellness upon Rita DeBate’s decision to step down last month.

To say the least, Miller hopes the position remains temporary.

“I am comfortable with leading and providing people with guidance,” Miller said. “I want to understand the work and see what help the department needs.

“But, I’m looking forward to the end of the year — when I won’t be doing this anymore.”

In this position, Miller will oversee departments such as Campus Recreation and Wellness, the Counseling Center, the Center for Student Well-Being, Student Health Services and Victim Advocacy.

Miller was in a similar position in 2013 when he was asked to be the interim vice president of Student Affairs. After hesitantly taking the temporary role, he was appointed five months later.

Miller said he feels “flattered” that Vice President of Student Success Paul Dosal has confidence in his administrative abilities. But at the end of the day, he said he feels “unqualified” for the position.

“I don’t have the body of knowledge that Dr. DeBate has,” Miller said. “She’s a public health expert who knows about well-being.”

But, Dosal would beg to differ.

“Tom [Miller] has unquestioned leadership and credentials that make him a natural fit for the position,” Dosal said. “He is a key member of my leadership team already so I was grateful that he was willing to step up and fill the position for the rest of the year.”

Some of Miller’s responsibilities include chairing the Student Persistence Committee, developing predictive tools for students who benefit from extra support and being an associate professor in the college of education.

Because of his inexperience, Miller said he does not want to overstep.

“I am not going to replace the judgment of the people in the department,” Miller said. “I am going to do my best to give them permission to be creative and resourceful. I am not a licensed psychologist so I can’t do Dr. [Scott] Strader’s job [as the director of the Counseling Center]. I am not a medical doctor so I can’t do Dr. [Joseph] Puccio’s job [as the director of Student Health Services].

“I am smart enough to know what I don’t know.”

However, Miller said he does know how to “make people feel cared for.”

He made it a goal to connect with every department head to ensure that everyone feels heard and supported.

“I’m glad I am somewhere where I can make a difference,” Miller said. “I used to say in my department meetings ‘I’m going to tell you that you matter, that you make a difference here. I’m going to keep saying it until you believe it.’”

With the change in leadership, Dosal said this is a good time to reflect on what has been done and what is needed to do. Specifically, through a strategic review process for the entire department.

This involves bringing in representatives from Keeling and Associates, which is an organization that works to improve the learning and outcomes for students and institutions. 

Dosal said Keeling and Associates will be on campus this month with the goal to be finished by Dec. 1.

Dosal said this is not because of any issues within the department. Instead, this will help consolidate Health and Wellness on USF’s three campuses — Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee — as well as provide more organization.

“We are not going into this strategic plan because of concerns but more so optimism for what we can do,” Dosal said.   

DeBate received some criticism through the program EthicsPoint, a web-based hotline that allows members of the USF community to report issues such as misconduct, abuse and fraud anonymously.

As recently reported in The Oracle, DeBate has been accused of being “verbally and mentally abusive to staff within her unit at all levels,” according to case number 601.

This is not new territory for Miller.

“When I took over the [vice president of Student Affairs] role in 2013, it was a similar circumstance with morale problems, but I am good at handling that,” Miller said.

Dosal said he does not have any comments about personnel issues within the department.

It is unknown at this point if the university is looking for an outside hire or someone already working for the university.

Given the circumstances, Miller said he hopes he can provide as much guidance as he can during the next few months.

“I didn’t long for this — I am not dancing in the streets,” Miller said. “I correct people when they congratulate me because this wasn’t my goal.

“I’ll do my best in this role, I want people to look forward to doing their work every day and I want to structure an environment that does that.”