Dear USF community,
I am thrilled to share that the Florida Board of Governors has confirmed my appointment as the eighth president of the University of South Florida. This is an extremely meaningful moment for me, and it signals the Board’s confidence in our university’s tremendous momentum.
When I was asked to serve as interim president nearly eight months ago, I pledged to create a smooth glide path for the next chapter of our university. I couldn’t have imagined how pivotal this chapter would be. In hundreds of conversations with students, faculty, staff, researchers, alumni, athletes and fans, donors, elected officials and community members, it has become clear that USF is at a turning point that requires new levels of focus, creativity, collaboration and care for our people.
I would like to share more of my vision, which was shared with the USF Presidential Search Committee and the USF Board of Trustees over the last few weeks, and ask for your continued engagement as we work to shape this new chapter.
Building strength with new leadership
As I said during my interview, one of my first priorities as president will be to accelerate the searches for several critical leadership positions at USF: Provost, Regional Chancellor at the USF St. Petersburg campus, VP for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and VP for Research and Innovation.
The search for our St. Petersburg Regional Chancellor has just begun, with a broadly representative search committee collecting feedback from stakeholders across our region. The position has been posted, and the team from SP&A Executive Search, led by Alberto Pimentel, is reaching out to potential candidates nationwide. Our hope is to have someone in place around the time Dr. Tadlock rejoins the faculty at the end of June.
Very soon we will announce plans for our national search for Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, which will also be led by a diverse search committee. This is one of the most important hires we will make over the next few years at USF. I am committed to finding a stellar individual who has “seen the mountain” of academic excellence, is excited about our potential, and who – perhaps most importantly – has the collaboration and communication skills to inspire our community and build lasting bridges across One USF.
We will also be searching for a permanent Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Vice President for Research and Innovation in the coming months.
Our people and students - the heart of everything we do
The past few years at USF have been steeped in constant change. Rather than slow us down, these changes have ushered in a collective empathy and optimism.
Now is the time for us to support our people, giving faculty, staff and students the tools they need to maximize success within this new paradigm. In partnership with our Office of Human Resources, led by Vice President Angie Sklenka, we have begun mapping out programs that will modernize our workforce and learning environments, provide more systems of support, help our people grow and provide more channels for transparency and feedback.
Creating a culture of inclusive excellence
In this spirit, we also have a responsibility to ensure that our culture is one of belonging and inclusive excellence, fostering diversity of thought, backgrounds and experiences.
Our world is changing rapidly. We have never been so connected, and yet there is still immense opportunity to better understand and learn from one another both within the university and the communities we serve. USF can be a catalyst for that understanding: a place where freedom of ideas, expression and academic inquiry flourishes.
Even as we search for our new Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we are committed to fostering these values as a part of everything we say and do. In the coming weeks, I will engage a group of community leaders who can help advise us on our strategies and share more of our success stories with the community – as one important step forward.
Building an infrastructure for innovation
USF’s capacity for growth and evolution has been a strength, allowing us to reach milestones once reserved for universities much older than ours. While impressive, this growth has outpaced some of our infrastructure. As we work toward the ambitious goals outlined in our new strategic plan, now is the time to fortify our foundation with sustainable systems and tools.
This is why I tasked Interim Vice President for Financial Strategy Rich Sobieray with creating a new transparent budget model. This model – and the inclusive process we are using to create it – will enable efficiencies, give our leaders the ability to plan for changing needs, modernize cross-university systems and reveal opportunities for collaboration. This process has already begun, with a committee engaging every unit and college on campus about their goals, needs and vision.
Having a more sound financial base will allow us to invest for growth and innovation across our enterprise, including academics, research, athletics and community partnerships.
As I said to our search committee and trustees, I believe that our athletic enterprise is critical to our future, not only for our student-athletes, but for building community and school spirit.
I am excited by the progress we are making on our on-campus stadium planning, led by Athletics Director and Vice President Michael Kelly and Senior Vice President Jay Stroman. With a preferred site now identified, we can take the next steps of due diligence, which will help inform our funding strategy and philanthropic campaign.
We’re already on our way. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated a stadium kick-off gift of $5 million from longtime benefactors Frank and Carol Morsani. This is just the beginning of this new endeavor, which will transform our campus for generations to come.
Telling our story
As I have spent the last seven months engaging with our community, something that I’ve heard repeatedly is our need for more cohesive communications internally and externally. USF has a compelling story and exciting future – and we want the world to know.
Our University Communications and Marketing department, led by Vice President Kim Hill, has been hard at work, and we need your help. Earlier this week, UCM launched an internal communications survey to garner your feedback so we can give you the information you need, when and where you need it. These channels include our Inside USF newsletter, podcast, MyUSF, e-mail messages, social media and others.
Additionally, in the coming months the USF community will be asked to participate in a broader brand research study to help us articulate our unique value proposition. While USF has conducted various brand studies in the past, we are using this opportunity to truly hone our positioning and messaging strategy so that we can speak with one voice, while still allowing for distinctiveness across our units, colleges and campuses.
These insights will feed into our ongoing marketing and communications efforts, aimed at galvanizing USF stakeholders and increasing USF’s national reputation.
Our path forward
I have a passion for simplifying the complex and thinking analytically about new ways of operating. As your president, I am looking forward to helping us build an environment that accelerates the spirit of innovation that is a hallmark of USF, to which each one of you contributes.
Each of the areas highlighted above has been identified in the new USF Strategic Plan – which is USF’s glide path, leveraging our distinctive multi-campus locations within a thriving metropolitan area. There is so much potential, and we are just getting started.
USF has been a part of my entire educational and professional life since the beginning – when I began work as a research project administrator in the USF Office of Sponsored Research. To be able to give back to this university and to this community is truly the privilege of my life.
This is our moment. When we link arms and work together, anything is possible.
Rhea F. Law
President, University of South Florida