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    Already tested, USF president is inaugurated today

    Judy Genshaft, who has deftly handled one challenge after another, will be installed as part of a $130,000 weeklong celebration.

    By BARRY KLEIN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


    TAMPA -- In her first seven months as president of the University of South Florida, Judy Genshaft has hired or promoted six top administrators, fired a women's basketball coach accused of racism, and so far, at least, protected the school's regional campuses from rapacious lawmakers.

    Today, she will be inaugurated.

    It's an odd tradition in academia: A new president gets thrown into the rough waters of leading a university, then, a half-year later, is formally installed.

    But it's a big deal for USF, which is spending at least $130,000 on the weeklong celebration, most of it privately raised. That includes $250 to paint five acres of campus grass a more attractive shade of green.

    The university hosted a dinner in Genshaft's honor Thursday night, with 1,100 guests paying $65 each for a seat.

    Her installation ceremony is 1:30 p.m. today at the Sun Dome in Tampa. Representatives from more than 70 universities will participate, as will three former USF presidents.

    "I am really psyched," says Genshaft, 53, who gets excited about almost everything to do with her job, which is good given the challenges she has faced since taking over July 5.

    There was the legislative assault on the university's St. Petersburg branch, which she hopes she solved by offering that campus a level of autonomy her predecessors refused to even consider.

    She inherited the basketball mess, which has led to several lawsuits, national publicity about racial discrimination at USF and, most recently, the coach's firing.

    "Big universities have big issues," says Genshaft, who is getting high marks from friends and opponents for the way she has handled things so far.

    "She is a pragmatist who grasps the reality of a situation very quickly," says state Sen. Jim Sebesta, who helped craft the compromise on the regional campus imbroglio.

    "She is turning (USF) on a dime, which people said couldn't be done," says St. Petersburg Junior College President Carl Kuttler, who has been critical of Genshaft's predecessors.

    That doesn't mean there isn't some grumbling.

    Some people think Genshaft, who earns $232,000 annually, needs to start focusing her energies on the Tampa campus rather than on the branches.

    Jonathan L. Alpert, the attorney for the eight women basketball players who are suing the school, says the new president booted a great opportunity.

    "Every time something got started that had a possibility of correcting the situation, it was stopped," Alpert says. He pointed to Genshaft's decision to limit an internal investigation so that it dealt less with the players' charges and more with USF's policies for handling discrimination complaints.

    Genshaft calls that decision entirely appropriate and says it led to substantive changes in the women's basketball program and in university procedures.

    But as always, she prefers not to dwell on the negative. She says there are too many new challenges ahead.

    She has to hire a provost. She has to find money to beef up the university's graduate programs. She has to identify which academic disciplines best fit the university's mission -- and, hence, deserve additional resources -- and which may need to be cut loose.

    "I said when I got here that we were going to have to focus," Genshaft says. "The university can't continue to do everything for everyone."

    Any statement about limits seems ironic coming from Genshaft, whose energy levels border on the ridiculous.

    During her fight to keep lawmakers from dismembering USF, Genshaft spoke to dozens of civic groups, including the Westshore Alliance, the Bradenton Kiwanis, the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, even the Tampa Bay Surgical Society.

    Meanwhile, she met with lawmakers and other university presidents about proposed changes in higher education governance, presided over four commencements, participated in numerous fundraising events, attended most of USF's home football and basketball games, and by the way, helped her husband and two children move from New York to Tampa Palms.

    Lee Arnold, chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership, says Genshaft's efforts are being noticed in the business community.

    "She is a great listener and a good communicator, which really helps," Arnold says. He is especially impressed with her knack for remembering the names of people she meets, and details about what they do.

    Such touches also score well with students. Genshaft lunches once a month with groups of about 20 students, who are not shy about airing gripes and concerns.

    "She is very genuine," says Tyvi Small, USF's student government president. "She seems really concerned about what students are thinking."

    Genshaft, a psychologist by training, describes her management style as "collaborative and consultative." She will, however, provide clear direction.

    The key, she says, is to stay focused on what is important.

    That means finding money to expand financial assistance for top graduate students, an essential element for a growing research institution.

    It means raising faculty pay, increasing diversity and building a strong leadership team.

    It also means developing a stronger identity for the 36,000-student university, which, at 45 years of age, is one of the youngest major universities in the United States.

    That task will fall heavily on Michael Rierson, who agreed last week to leave the University of Miami to become USF's vice president for university advancement.

    He says it was impossible to resist Genshaft's excitement and verve. "She convinced me she was the right person in the right place at the right time," says Rierson, who says it was clear her top administrators have bought into her vision of USF as a national-caliber research institution.

    To Genshaft, that's a simple matter of building on existing strengths.

    "It won't be a problem," she says.

    Judy L. Genshaft AGE: 53.

    POSITION: USF president.

    BACKGROUND:A psychologist by training, Genshaft was the provost/vice president for academic affairs at University at Albany, State University of New York. She also was dean of the SUNY Albany school of education, and an acting associate dean and department chairman at Ohio State University.

    STRENGTHS:Extensive fundraising experience; a track record for nurturing economic development; experience with public schools; experience at urban, research-oriented institutions.

    Recent coverage

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    A campus compromise (February 17, 2001)

    Be honest about problems at USF (January 27, 2001)

    Report: Griffin actions proper (January 24, 2001)

    College system leader resigns (January 6, 2001)

    USF basketball coach fired in controversy (December 15, 2000)

    USF still has big mess to clean up (December 15, 2000)

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