Judy Genshaft's experience with high-tech issues is called a "natural fit'' for helping raise USF's research standing.
By BARRY KLEIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2000
TAMPA -- As the search for a new University of South Florida president entered its final stage this week, university system Chancellor Adam Herbert still wasn't completely comfortable with any of his choices.
So he decided to see how Judy Genshaft, the candidate who was attracting most of his attention, would respond under pressure.
He ordered her to state specifically how she would raise USF to the next level of research institutions. He asked her what she would do if her athletic director tried to recruit academically marginal athletes, or if he came to her with a star player who had done something clearly inappropriate.
"She had all the right answers," Herbert said.
At 9:30 p.m. Thursday, barely 12 hours before he was scheduled to announce the name of USF's sixth president, he told Genshaft she had the job.
"I am humbled and honored," she said Friday after the state Board of Regents unanimously approved her appointment. "I am absolutely thrilled."
Genshaft, 52, has been the provost at the University at Albany, State University of New York, since 1997. She also is a psychologist, the mother of two small boys, a radio show host and a respected scholar.
She celebrated her new job Friday morning with champagne toasts in her Albany office.
Later, in a news conference conducted via speaker phone, she said her first priority would be to meet with leaders from USF's constituencies. But she also talked about ways to enhance the school's research profile, including new faculty and a more aggressive recruitment of top graduate students.
Genshaft will visit the Tampa campus on Monday. She is not scheduled to start full-time until July 1, though she hopes to be on board a few weeks earlier.
In the meantime, she said, she will happily commute between Albany and Tallahassee to represent USF in the legislative session.
Kathy Betancourt, the university's lobbyist, said that can't happen too soon.
"It's important to get her to this campus, but we really need to get her into the trenches in Tallahassee," she said. "The legislative delegation wants to meet her."
Gus Stavros, a co-chairman of USF's fundraising drive, is just as eager to get her on board his campaign.
"You need a president to make those calls to donors," he said. "I have no doubt she will be a huge help."
Genshaft will be paid $232,000 annually, plus perks that include free housing. Her salary is $5,000 more than that of predecessor Betty Castor, but $9,000 less than that paid Florida State University President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, who runs the university most comparable to USF.
The negotiation of those financial terms marked the end of a six-month search that Herbert characterized as "a long, sometimes exhausting, but more often exhilarating journey."
What it wasn't was smooth.
A citizens advisory committee that helped screen the candidates grumbled when they were told there were only seven semifinalists instead of the promised 10. Then two dropped out, including one of the few experienced presidents.
That prompted mutterings about the depth and quality of the candidate pool.
Genshaft, in fact, wasn't even among the three finalists recommended by the advisory committee. Their choices were Antoine Garibaldi, the provost at Howard University; Thomas George, the chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; and Sharon Brehm, the provost at Ohio University.
Genshaft made the cut only because regents Chairman Tom Petway insisted she was better than Brehm at economic development and fundraising.
In the end, Herbert said, Genshaft got the job because her background and experience is a better fit for USF at this stage in its history.
Herbert and the regents have made it clear that Genshaft's most important task will be finding ways to increase USF's research momentum. One of the focuses of that effort is the Interstate-4 corridor, which has attracted hundreds of high-technology companies in recent years.
"Dr. Genshaft understands issues related specifically to the microelectronics area, which is at the core of what we're trying to do in the I-4 corridor," Herbert said. "She is knowledgeable about biotechnology, which is a natural fit for this community and region." The Albany campus has strong programs in those areas.
Dennis Ross, chairman of the regents' selection committee, said he is not concerned that Genshaft may have to overcome perceptions that she was the best of a relatively weak field. He noted that the selection of Castor, whose five-year run received high marks when she resigned last fall, also had its share of critics.
"I have no doubt this community will rally around her," Ross said. "When they get to know her, they will like her very much."
Though those involved in the search lavished praise Friday for all three finalists, the race narrowed relatively quickly.
George was the first to fall out of contention, in part because of concerns about his ability to focus on specific goals and his effectiveness at managing budgets.
Garibaldi was a more serious candidate. But after Herbert returned from a visit to Albany, where he received unanimously strong reviews about Genshaft, she rose to the top of the list.
Herbert has acknowledged that he had difficulty achieving complete comfort with any of the candidates.
But external pressures also were driving the search.
The University of Florida is in the early stages of choosing a president, which would have made it difficult to reopen the process at USF since that would have put the two schools in competition.
The regents could have opted to keep interim USF President Richard Peck, who indicated he was willing to stay on.
But that would have been the third consecutive presidential search to have problems under Herbert; searches at the University of North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University had to be reopened after the candidate pool was deemed inadequate.
Herbert said none of those factors influenced his selection of Genshaft. He said if he wasn't "absolutely convinced" that she was the right candidate, he would have reopened the search, as he did in the two other instances.
Herbert said the only hole in Genshaft's background is her lack of experience with medical schools. The USF College of Medicine has experienced some bumps lately, including a controversy over an eye doctor's research and the dismantling of its plastic surgery program.
Martin Silbiger, dean of the college, said he wasn't concerned about Genshaft's lack of familiarity.
Silbiger, who met Genshaft during her USF interviews, said "she is a very quick study."
"Betty Castor didn't know anything about medical schools when she got here, and she did fine," Silbiger said. "It isn't that hard."
At the end of Friday's news conference, Ross broke in to notify Genshaft about a secret clause in her contract.
The USF football team, he said, must beat FSU's within five years. If they don't, he said, you lose your job.
Genshaft didn't blink.