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Genshaft Discusses Her Time As USF President

Jun 19, 2019

We’re into the final days of Judy Genshaft’s tenure as president of the University of South Florida.

I sat down recently for a two-part interview with Genshaft, who will retire July 1 after leading USF for 19 years. In the first part, we discussed her successes. In this part, she reflected some more, including on some of the low points of her administration.

“Well, you know, the presidency and leadership positions are filled with highs and lows – I often say presidency is like a roller coaster ride, and you just have to ride that through and make sure that you never lose focus on your goals,” she said.

“You have to make very, very tough decisions. But when you do, I've always based it on the values of the institution of the University of South Florida and higher education values, and also something that I believe in as well and making the right decision so that it’s not only intellectually right, but in my gut, I feel you know what – this is the right decision.”

As for what she thinks her legacy will be, Genshaft had a few things she singled out.

“Well, I just want to know, hopefully, that I've made a significant, positive difference in my leadership role with the University of South Florida and the whole Tampa Bay community,” she said. “I know that we have built up all three campus sites tremendously. We've put $1.75 billion into new construction to help student success, to faculty infrastructure, and in staff infrastructure that will make a difference for their careers and to better their lives.”

“I just want to continue to see students graduate with pride and be happy,” she said.

I also asked for Genshaft’s “first thoughts” on subjects that many say defined her presidency:

  • USF consolidation – “Best for the students. I love it.”
  • USF’s preeminent status – “I love it. It we reached all heights and all the metrics that are required for preeminence.”
  • USF Athletics – “USF athletics is on the move (and is going) to rise and get better and better.”
  • Research – “We are ‘wow!’ We started with $100-150 million when I started in research expenditures and now we're up to $560 million every year. We bring economic value to our region, our state, the nation; we are really presenting new discoveries and new innovations.”
  • Florida Polytechnic University, which was once USF Lakeland and USF Polytechnic before state lawmakers, most prominently, former Senator J.D. Alexander, led a controversial move to break it away – “Be well and prosper.”
  • Former USF professor Sami Al-Arian, whom Genshaft and the USF Board of Trustees fired in 2001 because of concerns over campus safety due to his possible ties to The Palestine Islamic Jihad. He was later charged by the federal government, acquitted on half the charges and deadlocked on the others. After he struck a plea deal, he was deported to Turkey – “Sami Al-Arian is where he should be.”
  • USF branch campuses, the State Legislature-approved way USF St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee will be formally recognized under consolidation – “It’s part of consolidation. And I am very much looking forward to students taking advantage of new programs, new opportunities, I think it is the right way of moving.”

My last question for Genshaft was simple: when she took the job in 2000, did she envision retiring 19 years later as the leader of a preeminent university?

“If you look at my inaugural speech, I used the words ‘preeminent institution.’ I'm not sure I envisioned it quite the way it is right now, which is to me, phenomenally successful,” she said. “But I had that vision that we could really make a difference here, and we could really actualize the potential that I saw at the university – we've come a long way.”

I will be joining host Robin Sussingham and fellow WUSF News reporter Steve Newborn for a discussion of Genshaft’s legacy on Florida Matters on Tuesday, June 25 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 30 at 7:30 a.m.

I’ll also have an interview with incoming USF System President Steven Currall on University Beat on Wednesday, July 3 at 7:45 a.m. and 5:44 p.m.