Search committee decides presidential candidate finalists

USF Interim President Rhea Law and retired U.S. Army Lt. General Jeffrey Talley are moving forward in the search process and will be interviewed for the position Friday. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Tuesday’s Presidential Search Committee meeting narrowed the 18-candidate pool to two, with emphasis across the board to move forward with Interim President Rhea Law’s application.

Interviews will be held Friday for Law and retired U.S. Army Lt. General Jeffrey Talley. Candidates will be interviewed by the committee from 8:30-11:30 a.m. in Traditions Hall at the Gibbons Alumni Center, according to a Tuesday universitywide email from Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Mike Griffin.

Co-founder and managing partner of SP&A Executive Search Alberto Pimentel said the national search for prospects of the office accepted the applications of those with a background in academia, a successful track record of leadership and engagement with the community.

“The recruitment strategy was nationally focused and was rather extensive,” Pimentel said. “We looked at individuals coming out of R1 institutions, primarily dean’s, vice presidents of research, the provosts as well as the presidents.”

Back-and-forth discussion between committee members indicated Law and Talley stood out among the other applicants due to their mixed leadership over expansive organizations. The other candidates’ applications were either dismissed by committee members during the meeting or they received minimal discussion.

Despite meeting all of the criteria the committee had prioritized, Talley’s five-vote consideration for an interview was not met with the same unanimity as Law’s.

Many board members emphasized Law’s performance as interim president so far, cementing her standing as a legitimate candidate for permanency despite not having experience instructing students.

Pimentel said Law wants to lead and inspire a team to move USF toward accomplishing its goals. Law’s lack of experience in academics, however, doesn’t limit her leadership abilities, as she told Pimentel.

“She doesn’t fashion herself as an academic, but she does understand the need to surround herself with very strong academics in those in key roles in order to support the mission of the institution,” he said.

“She fashions herself more as the leader who puts the team together and then leads and inspires and then helps it empower those individuals to be able to do their job in order to be able to lift the institution to this next level.”

USF Board of Directors Chair Jose Valiente said Law’s candidacy makes sense because she’s now a familiar face at the university and Tampa community that won’t require a campaign of introductions.

“Even though academia is very important, we’re not expecting this person to teach a class,” he said. “Rhea is well known not only in the community, but inside the university, and in Tallahassee. She has done a spectacular job in the little time she has been here.”

Since stepping into the interim presidential role, Law has contributed to the university’s strategic planning process, ended the search to find future development options of the North Fletcher Property and has shown her support to build an on-campus stadium.

Pimentel said Law demonstrated interest in seeing the initiatives she began through, which contributed to her decision to apply for the permanent position.

“She feels that there’s been a lot of new initiatives that have been started in the last last number of months, and there’s an interest on her part to seeing those to fruition,” he said.

“She has really enjoyed the role and has seen not only the potential of the institution, but has seen how the campus as a whole … there’s been a resurgence of energy and interest in wanting to see the university do well.”

Having worked with Law in the past, Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris said her work ethic and commitment to the city outshines the qualifications of her competition.

“[Law is] innovative, very focused, very committed to the community and, most importantly to the university, understands the role that the university plays in providing economic prosperity to this community in this region,” he said.

Student Body President Julia Cunningham said Law’s desire to engage with students makes her a rare and promising candidate for the position.

“She wanted to go to a tailgate that Student Government was putting on just so she could hand out hotdogs and talk to students,” she said. “We’re going to be hard-pressed to find other applicants [that will do the same] and the fact that we’ve already seen Rhea perform this time and time again is incredible. She has my support.”

Extensive elaboration concerning Talley’s ability to serve as president was muffled by talks in support of Law and dismissal of the 16 other candidates.

Vice President of Florida Student Success Initiatives at the Helios Education Foundation Braulio Colón, who also expressed support for Law, said Talley’s comprehensive leadership background between running his own businesses and history as a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army makes him an important candidate to consider. Talley also has experience in teaching at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

“His background really does cover a broad spectrum of activities and levels of engagement,” he said. “While he’s done all these activities, he’s been able to maintain a high level, higher education landscape. [Since Talley was] a leader in our military, I think it’s worth having a discussion about.”

Board of Trustees member Derrick Brooks was the only other committee member to voice their thoughts on Talley. He considered him a good candidate to evaluate based on his different experiences.

“I looked at him as a diverse leadership style,” Board of Trustees member Derrick Brooks said. “I was intrigued by the things that he laid out, it’s obviously gotten my attention to want to discuss further with that.”

Additional reporting by Editor in Chief Alexandra Urban.

Story was updated March 2.