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Energy, stamina propel candidate in her quest

Judy Genshaft is known as the "Eveready battery" for packing her days full of activity and professional endeavors.

By ADAM C. SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000


ALBANY, N.Y. -- Saying Judy Genshaft has a Type A personality is like saying Sammy Sosa can hit a baseball.

Her colleagues say it's exhausting just to watch the woman who might become the next president of the University of South Florida. They call her the "Eveready battery" of the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Last Thursday was typical. Her day started at 4:30 a.m. with a 45-minute workout with her cross-country ski machine and free weights. Then she sat down to answer e-mails and handle "briefcase work" before joining her husband and two young sons for breakfast.

Then into the office for an 8 a.m. conference call meeting for Junior Achievement, on whose board she sits. Then a quick zip in her Lexus to the public radio station to tape her nationally syndicated radio show.

All this by 9 a.m.

"She has this superhuman level of energy, and it includes mental and intellectual energy as well as raw physical stamina," said Sheila Mahan, assistant vice president for enrollment and planning for the University at Albany, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

Genshaft, 52, is one of three finalists for the USF presidency, with the Board of Regents scheduled to make its selection Friday. It would be a big jump for a provost, or chief academic officer, at a university half the size of USF. But faculty and administrators at the University at Albany say they've long expected Genshaft to assume the presidency of a big university.

"She's very ambitious and well-respected," said Louis Roberts, a classics professor who heads the university's faculty senate, the body most likely to butt heads with a provost. "She's very charismatic in the sense that she's able to connect with all sorts of constituencies. She's certainly ready to be president."

The daughter of an Ohio meatpacking magnate, Genshaft has been on an upward academic trajectory since graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Madison at the height of 1960s turmoil. Rising through the academic ranks, she said, she always retained her family's work ethic and commitment to improve the community.

"I've always gravitated toward administration because I like helping institutions transform themselves. I'm very goal-oriented, and I like making things happen through groups," she said, sitting in an immaculate office bedecked with a combination of exotic artwork collected throughout the world and paintings by her kids.

She sees USF as a great fit. Like the University at Albany, it has several campuses and diverse student populations. And like the University at Albany, USF seems to be on the move. Both schools, for instance, are emerging as significant research institutions.

"I have to be at a research institution. It's in my blood. It's part of my value system, and I really prefer large, complex institutions," she said. "You are on the cutting edge of what is new."

A provost is responsible for a university's core academic mission and is typically viewed as running the day-to-day operations. But ever-polished and politically savvy, Genshaft is hardly the little-seen academic bureaucrat.

She co-hosts a radio show on higher education that's syndicated to dozens of stations across the country. In the Albany area, she serves on many boards, from arts to child abuse to business groups. She has also been actively involved in fundraising at the university, a duty typically reserved mainly for presidents.

"She's very personable, always well-dressed, and knows how to schmooze. In some ways, frankly, she might be better as a president than as a provost," said Vince Aceto, an information science professor who just finished a term on the SUNY senate.

Nearly a dozen administrators and professors who work closely with Genshaft uniformly gave her rave reviews, citing her consensus-building style, energy and intellectual enthusiasm. Consistently, they mention her ability to connect with the outside community.

A few faculty members with limited direct contact with Genshaft were less enthusiastic, noting that gauging any provost's performance is tough without knowing which initiatives truly come from her and which come from the president. During her five years as Albany's chief academic administrator, Genshaft has faced few high-profile controversies to test her under fire.

Al Higgins, an associate sociology professor with 30 years at the university, was asked about Genshaft's vision and leadership.

"She may be very competent," he said after a brief pause, "but I can't say I recall seeing any stirring leadership from her. The question is, do we need an administrator that provides stirring leadership or do we just want a very non-controversial, very acceptable academic administrator."

Genshaft has handled challenges. She dealt with severe budget constraints a few years back without antagonizing many people. And under her watch, an English department beset with bitter infighting among various factions was effectively taken into receivership and revamped.

In 1969, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in social work and psychology. That was a time when tear gas frequent wafted over campus. She was at Kent State University working toward her master's in school psychology when four student protesters were killed by National Guardsman. In 1975 she received her doctorate in counseling psychology from Kent State.

Genshaft was not part of the protest movement, however. "I was too busy studying and working," she said.

She started teaching school psychology at Ohio State University in 1976 and in the next 16 years steadily rose through Ohio State's administrative ranks, serving variously as acting associate provost, head of the university senate and finally chairperson of the department of educational services and research.

She moved to the University at Albany in 1992 to become dean of the school of education and professor of school psychology. When the university's vice president for academic affairs was elevated to president in 1995, Genshaft was named interim vice president for academic affairs. Two years and a national search later, she was given the job along with the title of provost.

As a researcher, Genshaft has written extensively for various journals on such issues as mathematical anxiety among young women and assessment of intellectual abilities. She has co-edited three books, Serving Gifted and Talented Students: A Resource for School Personnel in 1995; Contemporary Intellectual Assessment: Theories, Tests and Issues; and Understanding the Gifted Adolescent: Educational, Developmental, and Multicultural Issues.

She is married to Steven Greenbaum, a marketing consultant, and they have two sons, ages 6 and 3. Greenbaum works out of their home and handles most of the daily parenting tasks such as getting the kids ready for school.

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