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USF Committee Selects 4 Presidential Finalists

Mar 18, 2019

The new president of the University of South Florida will come from four finalists named by a search committee Monday.

The candidates to replace Judy Genshaft are: Wanda Blanchett, the Interim Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Rutgers University – New Brunswick; Steven Currall, the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs, Southern Methodist University; Debasish "Deba" Dutta, former Chancellor at Rutgers University – New Brunswick; and Jeffrey Vitter, the former Chancellor at the University of Mississippi (biographies are located below).

The 15-member search committee met on the Tampa campus Monday, breaking down into smaller groups to discuss the more than thirty candidates who applied for the job.

Chairman Les Muma said the candidates were judged on a long list of qualifications – with time working at one of the 62 members of the Association of American Universities being extremely important.

"The four that came out had positive marks on the vast majority of those items that we wanted, like AAU experience, experience in multi-campus environments,” he said. “All the credentials that you want a good president to have are on that list and all of these (finalists) rank very well on all those items.”

A longtime goal of Genshaft – and USF – has been AAU membership. While the employer of Blanchett and Dutta, Rutgers – New Brunswick is an AAU member, SMU and Ole Miss are not. However, both Currall and Vitter have worked at other schools that are AAU members.

None of the finalists have ties to USF or any Florida school. There were no internal candidates, and only USF alum and former USF Trustee Scott Hopes, a Manatee County School district board member, had ties to the university.

During the course of the selection process, at least 34 names appeared on the list of candidates released by USF. Joyce McConnell, Provost of West Virginia University, removed her name from contention last week after being selected to be President at Colorado State University.

Kenneth Furton, Provost of Florida International University, also withdrew from consideration Monday morning.

The process picks up from here: candidates will be interviewed by the search committee on the Tampa campus Wednesday, and then take part in conversations with a committee member on all three USF campuses Thursday.

Finally, they’ll each be interviewed by the USF Board of Trustees Friday. Following that, trustees will vote on a new president. You can see the schedule of events that will lead to Friday's Board vote here.

Contract negotiations will then take place and the choice will need to be approved by the State University System Board of Governors next week.

Muma said that such speed in making a decision – only one week will pass between the deadline for applicants and the selection of a new president – is a necessary part of the process.

“Especially in the state of Florida or any state that has a sunshine rule, you’ve got to do it very quick because these (candidates) don’t want to go public until they know they have a shot at it, and once they go public, you’ve got to get it done,” he said.

Current President Judy Genshaft is retiring effective July 1 after 19 years leading USF.

Biographies

Wanda Blanchett has been interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Rutgers University – New Brunswick since January 2018. She also has the Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers since 2014. Her teaching and research focuses on race and equity in education, as well as special education.

Blanchett previously was associate dean at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and University of Colorado Denver and dean at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Blanchett has degrees from the University of Central Arkansas and Penn State University.

Steve Currall is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Southern Methodist University, a job he’s held since 2016.

Currall previously was dean at University of California, Davis, and vice chair of the board for the University of California system’s Global Health Institute. He’s also held leadership positions at University College London.

Currall has degrees from in psychology from Baylor University and London School of Economics and Political Science and in organizational behavior from Cornell University.

Debasish “Deba” Dutta currently serves as a professor of engineering at Rutgers University – New Brunswick. He was named Chancellor of the largest Rutgers campus in July 2017, but stepped down a year later, saying his vision for the job wasn’t “in alignment” with that of the university.

Dutta previously served as Associate Chair of mechanical engineering at University of Michigan, associate provost, dean and interim vice chancellor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and provost at Purdue University. He also worked at the National Science Foundation.

Dutta has engineering degrees from Jadavpur University in India, the University of Evansville and Purdue.

Jeffrey Vitter is a distinguished professor of computer and information science at the University of Mississippi. He was named chancellor of the school in October 2015.

USF search committee member Robert Frisin expressed concern Monday over Vitter, who stepped down as chancellor earlier this year over issues involving race and the Ole Miss' athletic program.

“We have alumni in this area from there (Mississippi) and there was a cause of concern, so if we bring him in, I want to make sure we really vet the research of that because athletic problems and issues and sensitivity is now at a new level and I’m very, very concerned about that,” said Frisin.

Muma said these worries are why background checks are being done on all the finalists by Greenwood/Asher & Associates, the consulting firm assisting USF.

"I had the opportunity to talk to this gentleman, and he has a lot of positive things to say about the university and the situation he was in and the reasons for it, but I think the right way to do it is to have the background checks done just to verify that we're fine before we move forward," said Muma.

Vitter previously served previously as dean at Duke University and Purdue and provost at Texas A&M University and University of Kansas. He has degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Duke and Stanford. His brother, David Vitter, was a U.S. Senator for Louisiana.