Interim President Rhea Law made it clear in her Friday interview with the presidential search committee that her qualification for the office is founded upon the construction and momentum she has already generated to execute the goals of the university’s five-year strategic plan.
The plan was a product of a hand-picked committee curated by Law and was approved in December.
“I came in [as interim president], put together a committee and they worked so hard and came up with what I think is the roadmap to the future,” Law said.
“That’s the bedrock where we are as an educational institution, it’s our job to make sure that we get students what they need, tools, the education, the support, the encouragement across support, the connections and networking, all those things are important for them to be successful.”
With five years to complete five broad and expansive goals such as building a strong financial base and cultivating local partnerships, Law cited the ambitious agenda as evidence of her vision to help USF grow if the committee selects her as president.
USF’s communal engagement with the Tampa Bay area is an important component to successfully realizing the university’s potential, according to Law.
Developing more partnerships with companies like Tampa General Hospital would increase USF’s relevancy across the nation by providing economic benefit to the region and learning opportunities for students, she said.
“I think that our strength and unity is because we are a metropolitan university and we have greater opportunities than many of our brothers and sisters as U.S. universities across the state,” Law said.
“For that reason, we need to capitalize on that. We need to double down on that because as we forge partnerships with them, the better off we’re going to be.”
Understanding the quality of relationships Law has already made with prominent members of the Tampa community like Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris, committee member Jose Valiente said she is someone whose worth can already be measured.
“Rhea is a known commodity,” Valiente said in the post-interview committee discussion. “We know everything about her, there’s no question. There’s no learning curve. [Law is] a proven leader.”
Finding additional sources of revenue and promoting fundraising will be no challenge for herself as president, according to Law. Getting donors to contribute money to the university is the same as getting investors in on a business project, she said.
“We can’t always rely on the state with the money that we need to move forward. We will succeed by our partnerships, our research by our ability to be relevant to our communities in our state.
“It’s really showing the relevance that unity is showing your value,” Law said. “It’s not so much asking for money from people. It’s showing them what you have to offer about the vision and having them say ‘I want to be part of that.’”
This will equip the university with resources that will elevate the opportunities for students and have the community congruently invested in USF, according to Law.
In addition to more direct avenues of funding, Law believes that further developing the university’s athletic program will bring more sponsors and attention to the school. The interim president said that it is no secret that schools with winning sports programs attract more business and top-tier recruits.
Committee member Braulio Colón believes Law’s consciousnesses of USF’s finances demonstrate a compelling example of her fiscal responsibility.
“She mentioned the financial health of this university multiple times in other responses so that indicates she’s paying very close attention to the business side of our university,” Colón said during the committee discussion.
Having expanded her former law firm’s diversity to award-winning proportions, Law is confident in her ability to cultivate leadership representative of the university’s diverse population.
Law believes this includes listening to members of the community and utilizing the varying perspectives that cultural and ethnic differences supply the university with.
When confronted with a question about what she would do to ensure there is an optimized work environment for the faculty, Law went on a digression about her protecting the USF Forest Preserve, never answering the question.
Under a Law administration, the search for a strong provost would be prioritized to make up for her absence of a background in academia. Although Law is confident in her leadership, she concedes that her absence of experience in academia demands a strong provost that can assist her academic oversight.
“I’m not an academic and we’ve talked about that. I’m more of a business person that just loves this place,” Law said.
“We need a very, very strong provost. One that really can help us as we’re going through this process of our strategic plan to get us to, to really up our academic programs and figure out how we can do the very best.”
The future provost will be expected to conceptualize academic plans to aid USF’s quest to become a top-25 public university and increase graduation rates, as desired in the strategic plan, according to Law.
In closing remarks to the committee, Law said that no matter the result, the past seven months have provided her with immense joy and would take on any challenge to serve the community she loves.
“I don’t look at it as a job but this is something that needs to be done,” she said. “I’m willing to do this.”