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USF community gives input in presidential search during town hall

The first Presidential Search Town Hall solicited comments from the community on what they hope to see in the next university president. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

After a slow start to the first Presidential Search Town Hall on Monday, USF stakeholders, including faculty, staff, students and interested community members, mentioned accessibility and the ability to manage “problematic issues” as some of the qualities the next university president should have.

Attendees focused their questions and comments on topics such the USF Forest Preserve, consolidation and maintaining preeminence during the 50-minute discussion held on Microsoft Teams and hosted by Trustee and Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Mike Griffin and Alberto Pimentel, co-founder of SP&A Executive Search, the firm selected for the search.

Pimentel said the responses collected from the universitywide presidential search survey and town halls will be used to educate the search firm on what the community wants in the next president and help create the advertisements and position profile that will be shared with prospective candidates.

“The information you share with us will be used in a variety of different ways, we’re not keeping track of who says what but we are keeping track of the content that is shared with us,” Pimentel said.

“The interaction today is quite important to our ability to complete these tasks. So again, we encourage you to be as open and direct with us as possible, know that we are going to be listening very carefully, and we’re hoping that this would be a very fruitful conversation.”

Around 190 people from the USF community attended the meeting, only 15 of which spoke.

Joanne Sullivan, director of Community Relations for the Leadership and Innovation Forum of Tampa Bay, emphasized the role of the president as a leader who opens doors and builds relationships with donors to further support the university’s endeavors. She said the president should embrace and cultivate the fundraising process.

“One of the things I think we need to be very mindful of is that the president represents USF in the most visible way to the communities that are involved,” Sullivan said.

“Our president should be someone who is willing to extend himself or herself, especially to make those who support the university feel special and included. A president is not just the CEO of the university, he’s the chief development officer.”

The way the next president will interact and embrace the community should also play a significant role in the search process. Listening to the community’s concerns and demands should be a top priority, according to doctoral candidate Stephen Hesterberg.

As one of the organizers of the save USF Forest Preserve, Hesterberg said the previous administration “was simply just not listening to the students, faculty and staff on issues that they really care about.” For the university’s next president, he said they should be more accessible and welcoming to receiving input from the community on important matters.

“I think things like climate change, and being a leader in sustainability are something that the university should take a primary role in, and will engage and draw in talent to make USF continue to be preeminent,” Hesterberg said.

“Things like the USF Forest Preserve is something that can be a visible stance that the next president takes on committing to sustainability, and I would like to see that addressed in a productive way.”

Interim Dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Cihan Cobanoglu said the next president should be accessible to the USF community and be actively present instead of being behind closed doors.

“I have seen contrasting examples that one president, for example, without giving any names, was always present, communicating with students, faculty, staff on many different occasions, consciously creating these opportunities,” Cobanoglu said.

“This is one of the things that I would love to see in our next president, to be accessible by all in the university internally, and of course that also is valid for this community [across all three campuses].”

The issue of consolidation and preeminence was also brought up during the town hall. Sullivan said the administration should look into ways to create opportunities for USF that are “inherited in the preeminence designation.”

Representing the St. Pete campus, Donna Knudsen, campus assistant dean of Graduate Studies, said consolidation should also be considered and one of the next president’s priorities as its effects are still felt across branch campuses.

“One of the things that the new president would have to be mindful of is that we’re going to be continuing to experience consolidation growing pains for quite some time,” she said. “Particularly on branch campuses where we’re still kind of coming into the idea of centralized operations.”

Concerns over how the previous administration handled challenging times and made decisions about the university’s operations, including the College of Education blowout and the debate around the USF Preserve, were brought up.

Jennifer Schneider, Faculty Senate vice president, said the next president should be someone who is willing to take on “problematic issues” and pursue them.

The same issues should be the president’s main priority as the university works to become an AAU institution, according to Schneider.

“We’re not AAU. We have internal issues that prevent us from excelling to that level,” Schneider said. “It’s not about the faculty, we have amazing faculty and we have amazing students.

“There are some structural issues that need to be addressed and I think that’s what the new president will need to come for.”

Moving forward, Griffin said the committee will continue to seek input from university stakeholders through a town hall Oct. 18, from 2-3 p.m., and the universitywide survey. He said the committee will make sure to get everyone’s feedback before the presidential search moves forward.

“We will continue to have opportunities to engage where I’m in the middle of listening sessions, as I mentioned, with various stakeholder groups, including within each college on all campuses, and look forward to that feedback,” Griffin said.

“This was the first of two broadly advertised town halls and I know that Alberto and I have received a lot of good feedback and know that every word written and spoken is critical to this process.”