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Interim president drops in at Bayboro

The first visit to the St. Petersburg campus ends in less than an hour for the University of South Florida's interim leader.

By CRAIG PITTMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Richard Peck, interim University of South Florida president, promised last week to spend "approximately one day a week" conducting business at the university's St. Petersburg campus.

His first visit, which occurred Friday, was more "approximately" than "day." He arrived on campus a little before 2 p.m., driving up from a lengthy foundation meeting in Sarasota, and left just before 3 p.m., dashing out to meet with Mayor David Fischer.

Although Peck has committed to a day a week at Bayboro, he conceded that his promise does not bind the woman slated to replace him in July, Judy Genshaft. He said he hoped she would continue the practice.

"I'm playing John the Baptist for President Genshaft -- she's the one who will save us," Peck quipped, referring to the biblical story of the prophet who paved the way for the arrival of Jesus. "Of course, you know what happened to John the Baptist." (He was beheaded.)

Peck spent his Friday visit sitting in the office of Dean William Heller, discussing enrollment figures, telling stories and cracking jokes. He also scheduled weekly visits through the next month, during which he hopes to meet with campus leaders, professors and anyone else who wants his ear.

For Heller, Peck's brief visit was golden.

"This is something we've asked for for years," Heller said.

Boosters of the Bayboro campus have been pushing for a higher profile for the St. Petersburg arm of the school, some of them even arguing that it is time to break Bayboro off from the main campus and turn it into a separate university.

Peck's announcement last week was designed to satisfy those boosters and help derail the legislation sponsored by state Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Seminole, to turn the St. Petersburg campus and Sarasota's New College into separate universities.

Peck also promised to give the St. Petersburg dean more influence on spending and said he has asked the athletic department to play several home baseball games in St. Petersburg.

Peck spent Friday morning talking with members of the New College Foundation about the pitfalls of independence, such as a loss of accreditation. When the group broke for lunch, Peck, who had only an apple and a cup of Jell-O for breakfast, skipped it to make good on his promise to stop in at Bayboro.

His first order of business: a discussion with Heller about how to encourage more Pinellas County residents to take classes at the St. Petersburg campus rather than at the crowded Tampa campus.

They also chatted about ways to boost athletic opportunities for women, given the number of scholarships USF now hands out to male football players. Peck said rowing is one of three eligible sports both men and women can participate in, the others being rifle and archery.

Peck, a onetime standup comic and playwright, said he preferred to start a rowing crew because "it doesn't make sense to me to arm 100 angry women."

After taking care of business, Peck and Heller chatted about their families and the time each spent at the University of Alabama, Heller in the late 1970s and Peck in the early 1980s. Peck said he also ran an Italian restaurant, "the only one in Tuscaloosa."

Heller mentioned a popular Chinese restaurant from his days there, which prompted Peck to observe, "You know, you can run a Chinese restaurant for a month on a 50-pound bag of rice and a dead cat."

Then it was time for him to run over to City Hall. As Peck left, he confessed to Heller that he might have a ticket. Heller, with a smile, said that on-campus parking was a subject they might have to discuss at a future visit.

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