Law officially inaugurated as USF’s eight president in ceremony

President Rhea Law outlined a three-part strategic plan for academic growth across each of USF’s campuses. ORACLE PHOTO/ULIANA LEARNED

President Rhea Law was inducted as USF’s eighth president during her investiture ceremony on Thursday. During her address to attendees, Law emphasized the importance of USF’s growth, as well as what it has achieved in recent years and the role of community in facilitating such success.

“We’ve transformed from a small commuter school into a Research I institution — the highest designation a university can receive for its research productivity — with three unique and thriving campuses … we’ve received widespread national recognition for graduating underrepresented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher-income students,” she said.

“As you can see, USF is a university on the rise. Over the past decade, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings. We’ve reached these milestones, not because we need the accolades, but because we’re motivated by challenge.”

Her inauguration, which was hosted at the Yuengling Center, was held from 1-2:30 p.m. and hosted both online and in-person options for staff, students and members of the general public.

Ceremony proceedings were presided over by Interim Provost and executive vice president Eric Eisenberg and witnessed a variety of different speakers, including chancellor of the State University System of Florida Raymond Rodrigues, President of the Faculty Senate Jenifer Jasinski Schneider and Chair of the Board of Trustees Will Weatherford.

Ken Whitten, a representative of the Idlewild Baptist Church and Law’s pastor, was personally invited to deliver her invocation speech and begin the ceremony with a prayer. Describing his admiration for Law’s commitment to her relationships with her husband, the university and her church, Whitten said Law’s willingness to serve USF resembles a passage from the book of Psalms.

“The Psalms said unless the Lord watches over a city, those who protect him wake up every day in vain. And that’s true not only for a city, that’s true not only for our homes but it’s also true for university. And so as we begin the inauguration of Rhea Law, the eighth president of that university knowing that the number eight means beginning again, we pray this will be the beginning of something great,” he said.

“Great for our president and your family. Great for this administration, faculty, staff or students. And yes, even great for our community. We thank you for the privilege of this today and we pray for your favor and blessing on this university.”

Law officially assumed her position on March 30, 2022 after being confirmed by the USF Board of Governors, but the inauguration represented her ceremonial appointment to the presidency. Noting her various involvements and commitments in the USF community, Student Government President Nithin Palyam said during his speech that what differentiates Law from prior presidents is her experience as a Bull.

A Tampa native, Law graduated with her bachelor’s degree in management from USF in 1977, during which she served as the university research project administrator for the Office of Sponsored Research, according to the Office of the President website.

The Office of the President website added that she later returned to USF following her legal career to serve as one of the founding members of the USF Board of Trustees, spending 5 years as vice chair and 4 years as the first and only female chair.

For Palyam, Law’s induction represents a continuance of the legacies she has already left upon the university. Having stepped up during a time of great need for the university, in which pandemic related stressors were at an all-time high, Palyam said Law has proven her capability to lead USF’s student body time and time again.

“I believe this is just the beginning because she has a lot more to accomplish. All these experiences she gained have equipped her with the tools she needs to excel in this position. And I have no doubt that she will, because she possesses a unique quality that no other president in the past had, which is her Bull pride,” he said.

“She was a student and employee and ally and a trustee at this university, and now she is the president. All these roles have allowed her to understand what is important to the success of this university. It also allowed her to understand what is needed at every level to keep growing as a community.”

During her address to ceremony attendees, Law outlined her visions for improving the university, including an on-campus stadium, making USF a leading research university and restructuring four different areas for academic growth.

Health sciences, the first area of focus, is something Law said must continue to grow in size given USF’s relationship with Tampa General Hospital as well as community partnerships made between the Morsani College of Medicine and other healthcare organizations in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Expanding resources for global and national security, environmental and oceanographic sciences and art programs is an objective Law said would be beneficial for promoting specialized research and community partnerships.

Students, faculty and staff should also see new facilities on campus, such as the Judy Genshaft Honors College and the Health and Wellness Center, as areas of growth and opportunity for the USF community to engage in, according to Law.

USF’s future does not only rely upon its ability to achieve the projects and objectives Law has set out as a president, but rather, she said, the support of the school she has served for so long.

“In closing, I say this to everyone in this room – this, too, is your home. This university belongs to you and will be better because of you. Together, we can be anything we want to be, and when we link arms, there is nothing we cannot achieve,” she said.

“It is the privilege of my life to serve as the University of South Florida’s eighth president and to give back to a community that has given so much to me over the years.”