The search for the next St. Pete regional chancellor was condensed from 17 to nine finalists during a meeting conducted between executive search firm SP&A and the campus’ 17-member search committee Monday.
Candidates selected for interviews were chosen from three tiers, spanning from who the committee and search firm considered to be the most, moderately and least qualified for the position. Following individual reviews of each applicant’s academic, research and administrative profiles, the committee narrowed the pool of finalists.
Motivation to create the search committee began when Martin Tadlock, the current regional chancellor of the St. Pete campus, announced he was transitioning to a teaching position in the College of Education at the end of the spring 2022 semester.
Search committee members are tentatively planning to interview each of the candidates individually between 9 a.m. to noon on April 27 and 28, according to Managing Partner of SP&A search Alberto Pimentel. During the interviews, applicants will be asked about their commitment to the roles outlined in the position profile through a list of questions he said will soon be finalized by the search firm.
“We’re going to be doing this interviewing process primarily because we want to take advantage of the fact that the candidates are interested, and importantly, we want to take care of the fact that we still have students and others on campus that need leadership,” Pimentel said.
The first applicant accepted for an interview was Kanika Tomalin, vice president for strategy and chief operating officer at Eckerd College. While she doesn’t hold an extensive academic profile akin to many other finalists in the pool, Tomalin’s prior efforts to enhance community engagement on campus may provide her an unconventional advantage, according to St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership CEO Jason Matthis.
“If you’re thinking about relationships with the community and ability to execute plans efficiently, Kanika would be a great choice,” he said. “Having run the city of St. Petersburg as deputy mayor for eight years, her administrative skills … and political sensibility are pretty impressive.”
He later added that Tomalin has contributed to the formation of various partnerships between the St. Petersburg community and USF in the past, such as the foundation of USF St. Pete’s innovation district and stimulating engagement between the university and the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.
Bjong Yeigh, the second finalist selected by the committee, currently serves as the third chancellor of the University of Washington Bothell. As his university has previously undergone the consolidation process, Yeigh might hold the skills and experience necessary to manage communication and financial dealings between each of USF’s campuses, according to Associate Dean of the Judy Genshaft Honors College Thomas Smith.
Chosen for the third interview slot was Thomas Burns, who has served as provost of Belmont University since 2011. Dean and Senior Associate Vice President for USF Health Usha Menon said his experiences may aid him in managing USF’s administrative networks.
Andrew Hamilton, the fourth candidate selected, has served as the associate vice provost for Student Success and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro since 2019.
Sharing similar commitments to Hamilton in terms of expanding student success, Melissa Gruys was chosen for the fifth interview slot given her prior experience as dean of the School of Business at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
Sixth-selected candidate Carl Goodman could play a transformative role in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion among the student body given his experience in supporting historically underrepresented students as the associate provost of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, according to Smith.
A common concern shared by many members of the committee was that the applicants may misunderstand the unique nature of the roles associated with the current chancellor position at USF.
St. Pete Dean of Students Jacob Diaz said to prevent any confusion or conflict that may arise among applicants, the search firm should clearly outline that the candidate chosen will hold no direct authority in financial decision making on the St. Pete campus proceeding into following meetings.
Having advocated for the expansion of the STEM program and curriculum offerings during his time at the university, Menon said Robert Smith, the seventh candidate and Valdosta State University provost, could aid in stimulating the development of many of USF’s rapidly expanding areas of innovation, such as financial technology and health sciences.
The last two candidates selected for interviews, Christian Hardigree and Alan Shao, were chosen by the search committee for their non-traditional applicant profiles. Despite being a dean of hospitality and dean of corporate partnerships, respectively, holding unique qualifications could aid in broadening the university’s perspective, according to Matthis.
“Given that this is a very usual chancellor position, a non-traditional academic perspective would add a dynamic component to community building and adding energy to relationships,” he said. “Unique skills and capabilities would be really accentuated by an applicant with a more diverse range of experiences.”
Members are expected to come to a consensus on a final group of two or three applicants following their individual interviews with the candidates, according to Pimentel. Once informed of their acceptance, he said those selected will have one week to prepare before traveling to the St. Pete campus to interact with students, faculty and administration.