Students at USF this year have the rare opportunity to participate in the search for the University’s next president.
University President, the Reverend Stephen A. Privett, S.J., announced plans to retire from his position at the end of his third and final term in a campus-wide email, last month. Privett will continue to serve as university president until a successor has been named and the presidential transition completed.
The search effort for USF’s 27th president is being led by two teams within the Board of Trustees: the Presidential Search Committee (PSC), which consists of only Trustees, and the Search Advisory Committee (SAC), which consists of Trustees and representatives from various constituencies on campus, like students and faculty.
Each constituency then has at least two or more listening sessions, where representatives of that constituency have the chance to voice their concerns and opinions to members of the SAC. The last student listening session was led by ASUSF President senior Johnny Chibnall, the undergraduate representative on the SAC.
“In the listening sessions, students discuss what they want to see in the next president of USF,” Chibnall said. “Students, if they choose to participate, have a great opportunity to talk about what they want to change at USF and what should not change.”
The information collected at the listening sessions is then added to the leadership requirements for potential candidates, and presented to the PSC, the group responsible for making the final decision in the presidential selection, said Teresa Win (‘85), a member of the Board of Trustees and the SAC.
“The feedback of students is extremely important to the Trustees because they will ultimately decide which candidate is right for the job,” Chibnall said. “From speaking with the Trustees myself, I know they value student voice because, after all, USF is a university for students.”
Search Committee Chair Charles “Chuck” Smith echoed Chibnall’s sentiments. “Students have a lot of leverage in the search because they are the most important product that we have to offer,” Smith said. “We are here for the students. We embrace the thinking of the students because — it’s what we’re all about!”
“It’s really the students who have their ears on the ground for what’s going to happen next. They pull us to the future,” added Win. “So, we are here to share what is known and what we have learned, but we are looking for you to show us where we have not been.”
Smith recalled the common themes from last week’s student listening session: “Students were very candid, very direct, and extremely thoughtful about what they expected from their leader, mainly, a quality education, a timely education, and an education that result[s] in finding a job.”
“A pretty hot issue is space,” added Win. “[Students] value the outdoor space that’s there, and also their living space, since it is so scarce on campus as well as in the city,” she said. “We heard that very loudly.”
According to Chibnall, other topics brought up were regarding Bon Appetit, athletics, and financial aid stability. “Two things that students unanimously agreed that should stay the same are our focus on Social Justice and Diversity,” he said.
The importance of being heard goes far beyond the present moment. “The next President of USF is in a great place to continue the work of making USF an even more recognizable and prestigious institution, so much so that we could be the first USF people think of — not University of South Florida or UCSF or SF State,” Chibnall said. “The feedback that a student gives could be the deciding factor in selecting a president that can continue to take USF to the next level.”
Student feedback plays a vital role in the greater USF community effort to find the best presidential candidate.
“The issues presented by the students build on the issues of faculty and staff,” said Smith. “Every group expressed their concerns and, though they were distinct depending on where they came from, there was a very consistent theme. The theme is we want to be bigger and better and great at — no doubt — being highly thought of with a good reputation in the academic community, but also at pursuing the Jesuit mission and using the mission to explore knowledge and education.”
As for finding the individual with the credentials to lead USF to this bigger, better place, the search is still in full swing.
After making a change to the by-laws of the Board of Trustees a number of years ago, this next president is being chosen from the widest range of applicants yet. “The individual we bring in may or may not be a Jesuit. They may be a layperson. They may be a woman or male. We don’t know — but we’re going to bring in the very best candidate into our organization,” Smith said.
Though the final say rests in the hands of PSC, who will select the best candidate based on a ranking scale system, Smith and Win stress the importance of this opportunity for students.
“I am disheartened that some graduating students do not see their participation as valuable in the process because the next President of USF affects them even after they graduate,” Chibnall said.
“If you’re a student and you’re here at this moment that we’re going through this process, it’s a rare opportunity to have an influence that will affect the future of the entire university,” Win said. The last time students were presented this opportunity was fifteen years ago, when Privett was selected as University President.