‘The sky’s the limit:’ Interim President Rhea Law sees bright future for USF

Former BOT vice chair Rhea Law said she looks forward to serving as interim president and preparing a pathway for her replacement to succeed as head of the university. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/USF

Editor in Chief of The Oracle Leda Alvim sat down virtually with Interim USF President Rhea Law to discuss her new role as head of the university, her goals moving forward and who she hopes will take her place permanently to lead USF.

How has the past few weeks been in this new role?

Well, it’s been very busy. We have a lot of the issues that are ongoing right now, but we have such tremendous promise and opportunity. And so all I can say is, go Bulls.

What went through your mind the moment you accepted the job of interim president? What went through your mind when making such a huge decision?

Well, my first thought when asked is, “Am I the best person to do this?” Because USF deserves to have the very best that we can put forth. 

I guess I’m blessed that [Board of Trustees Chair] Will Weatherford had enough faith and the Board of Trustees unanimously selected me. So I’m honored, I’m truly humbled. And I will just try my hardest to do what we need to do to keep up our trajectory, to keep up our momentum, and really bring the university to the highest level that we possibly can.

With all your previous leadership roles, have you ever thought you would be taking such a big role of leading a university? 

It would never have even crossed my mind.

What are some of the goals you have while being the interim president until a permanent president is found? What are some priorities you hope to have during your time in office?

Well, my focus is on enabling those that are here in the university so that they can absolutely do their very best work. My focus is on preparing for the new president, whoever he or she might be, to create a glide path so that when they get here to the university, they can hit the ground running and be able to immediately move forward. A lot of my thoughts now are around preparing the glide path.

What are some of your hopes and expectations for the fall semester?

Well, my hope is … that there will be a dramatic decrease [in COVID-19 infections], and that that will come sooner as opposed to later in COVID infections. And if that’s true, we can quickly return to a normal student experience. 

Our classes are prepared to proceed, our graduations are prepared to proceed along the lines that they were originally proposed with some modifications. We’re looking to make this a wonderful experience for our students … and an opportunity for future growth in research and other activities. We’re looking for athletes to be able to return to a regular schedule, and we’re looking to celebrate the fact that we’re back together again. I mean, it’s been a while and I think it’s joyous when we can finally pull everybody together and celebrate the educational process.

Within your leadership, what would you say are some values that describe you?

Well, I’m very collaborative, and that’s been a trait of mine, no matter what business or organization I might be a part of. And I think hopefully, that will be beneficial to the university community as a whole as we start to move together. I think that the whole is much better than the sum of the parts. If we act in concert with each other, we win, and I like to win.

What are some of the pressing issues that you would like to address during this time in office?

There’s a lot of things that were already in the works and I will just continue to move those initiatives forward. I am not here to change direction, or to make any abrupt changes, but rather, those things that need to be pushed forward, we can’t just stop and wait for a permanent president, we have to be able to move forward efficiently and effectively and put those plans in place and make sure that we don’t lose anything in the transition.

What are some of the things you’ve learned from the challenges posed by COVID-19 that you attributed to your life?

I would say that one of the things that I have seen through COVID is how resilient we are. We can move quickly, we can be efficient, we can pivot quickly, we can be innovative, we can identify solutions to problems that we might not have thought of otherwise. But COVID has taught us that, and that’s a lesson that we can take forward and use it in the things that we seek to do in the future and the goals that we set for ourselves.

What message would you send to the incoming freshmen that are being on campus for the first time as well as other classes that have never stepped foot on campus?

Welcome to USF. We care about you, we want you to have the educational experience that will benefit you moving forward in your life. We look forward to having more interpersonal connections, instead of buying masks, but we’re going to wait for that until it’s safe. And once it’s safe, we will all celebrate together.

As we go into the search for a new president, what qualities do you hope that he or she would have?

I’m looking for somebody who’s excited about USF. Somebody who really sees the potential, who wants to roll up their sleeves, come to this university and really focus on what we can do together. I think the sky’s the limit. We are an urban university, we have all of the components [and] we have a supportive community. It’s time to move, it’s time to show the fact that we can be at the very top of the educational game.