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Steven Currall Talks Leadership Style, Expectations As USF President

Steven Currall is settling in as the President of the University of South Florida. Currall, 60, officially became the university’s seventh president on July 1.

Currall talked to WUSF’s University Beat in one of his first extended interviews with any Tampa Bay area reporter. 

Last week, we heard about his preparations and early goals and priorities. This week, we covered his management style and what people can expect from him.

“I see this as a great stewardship opportunity. And what I'm going to be able to accomplish in the next several years are very much a function of what President (Judy) Genshaft has accomplished,” Currall said, referring to his predecessor, who retired after 19 years leading USF.

“It's a relay race, so I’ve been handed the baton now. She ran very well, 19 years; I will now run for hopefully many, many more years here. And then someday, I will hand off the baton to someone else,” he said. “My job is to help envision the future of the university, help inspire people to be effective in their jobs, and to be a tireless advocate for the university. So I'll be working night and day for USF.”

Currall, who comes to USF from Southern Methodist University where he was Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs for three years, also has experience as a psychological scientist. He thinks that will play into his leadership style.

Steven Currall talks to the media.
Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Currall talks to the media on the Tampa campus on his first day as USF President, July 1.

“Well, it comes in handy,” he said with a laugh. “Every organization is different and every team is different. But I hope to be able to use that background to understand my colleagues and help us understand how to organize ourselves and arrange for rewards and ways to retain great faculty and administrators in a way that's aligned with the strategic vision of the university.”

“I have also a background in teaching and negotiation and conflict management, so sometimes that comes in handy when we have to try to incorporate many perspectives from many different people across campus and reach a decision.”

That includes the 13 members of the USF Board of Trustees – admittedly, much smaller than the 42-member board to whom he had to answer at SMU.

“It's a great board, but a much larger group. So I'm very excited here about reporting to a relatively smaller group of Trustees and it's a great group of people here at USF on that Board of Trustees, so I'm really eager to work with them,” he said.

He’ll also be working with state lawmakers on USF’s priorities.

“I've met Governor (Ron) DeSantis, I've spoken to a number of legislators, some of them have called me and welcome me and congratulated me.  I see that as a fundamental part of my job to really engage with them and to share with them my excitement for USF,” said Currall. “This is an amazing campus. It's the fastest rising public university in the country, if we look at US News and World Report rankings since 2013. And so I'm just thrilled to be able to tell that story and to advocate for this trajectory that we have.”

Currall said he doesn’t feel pressure to make any major changes or moves early in his tenure.

“My job is to help the USF community make the right decisions for the university in the long run. Sometimes those are group decisions: it might be my top leadership team, it might be decisions that the Board of Trustees has to make, sometimes the decisions that I have to make personally,” he said. “But I don't think it's wise for a leader to try to do something simply symbolic as a way to establish authority. I think the more mature approach is really just always to be thinking about what's in the best interest of the university.”

“I try to make decisions that will be received well and be seen as thoughtful and aligned with the strategic vision of the university,” added Currall.

He also doesn’t think he'll be under Genshaft's shadow. Unlike other previous retired university presidents, she doesn’t have a formal role at USF after her retirement.

“Judy has her special style that has been very successful,” he said. “There are lots of different styles that leaders can have to be successful, I will try to be true to myself and my own style, and I think that I expect that that will work out very well. That has worked well in previous institutions where I've been always just trying to do what's best for the university, always trying to think about the long-term interest of the university, and I find over time that I've been able to gain respect of my colleagues. And so I very much hope that'll happen here at USF as well.”

Currall also hopes his position at USF will be his last.

“I would love to spend 10 years or longer at USF. My wife and I have moved to Tampa – we think it's a wonderful community,” said Currall, who added that they’ve moved into the Lifsey House on USF’s Tampa campus, making them the first couple to live full-time in the President’s House since it was built in 1993.

“It's going to be a great place for us to have as our residence, but even more importantly, a great place for us to showcase USF and to bring visitors and leaders and alumni and donors to the house and to use that as a platform for us to tell the story about the future of USF.”

man walking outside
Credit USF Communications and Marketing
On July 1, Steven Currall made the first short walk as USF President from his new home in the Lifsey House on the Tampa campus to his office in the Patel Center.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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