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    USF interim chief at St. Petersburg promises change

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 26, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- His official duties don't start until August, but the interim chief of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg met Tuesday with the mayor, a state senator and a member of the campus board.

    All that before he fielded questions from a group of more than 100 faculty, staff and students.

    And Ralph Wilcox made it clear that the interim in his title won't keep him from making changes.

    Wilcox, 48, said that when he was approached about the position, he said he had "no interest in positions that call on me to maintain the status quo."

    "Change will occur," Wilcox said. "Where that change will occur is unclear."

    Wilcox was responding to a question from Diana DeVore, office manager for the campus financial aid office, who was concerned that the removal of longtime campus chief Bill Heller might foreshadow wholesale changes.

    Wilcox added a word of reassurance. "Are other heads going to fall? Absolutely not."

    Tuesday was largely a day for Wilcox, a professor at the University of Memphis, to meet community leaders and campus members. Among others, he met with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, state Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, and Jeff Huenink, a member of the campus board.

    The meeting with faculty and staff also was a chance for USF president Judy Genshaft to offer reassurances to the campus community. Some of them have questioned Genshaft's trustworthiness in the wake of Heller's ouster.

    English instructor Keith White recalled Genshaft's talk of greater autonomy for the campus.

    "Yet," White said, "we have a leader who was much loved taken away from us. What kind of message does that send?"

    Student Government Executive Board member Brian Palik also questioned Genshaft.

    "It seems at this point there isn't a high level of trust with you," Palik said. "What are you going to do to rebuild that trust?"

    Genshaft said Palik's characterization was "not only insulting, but wrong."

    "You can choose to believe it or not," Genshaft added. "I do care about this campus."

    Genshaft also said it will be up to the campus leaders to come up with a list of selection committee members to choose a permanent campus chief.

    The committee might want to hire a search firm to identify candidates who might not otherwise apply, Genshaft said. A search firm "can keep that out of the Sunshine at least for a time," she said, referring to Florida's Sunshine Law. State officials have long complained that the law discourages candidates from applying because their applications become public.

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