After 18 years in charge of the University of South Florida System, President Judy Genshaft announced her retirement Monday.
“It’s really important to see the university reach all these heights and to move forward,” she said at a news conference on the Tampa campus.
“It’s a very, very, very difficult decision – USF is a part of us, it’s a part of our family,” she said, telling reporters and USF leaders and staff in attendance that she had been talking over the plans with her husband and two sons since May of this year.
“Intellectually, it’s the right decision, it’s the right time," she said. "Emotionally, I’m a washrag, I’m a puddle.”
"You always want to leave when things are on a high, and it was my choice, and I believe it's best for the institution, and my family and I think, maybe we can get a day off here and there to travel," Genshaft said with a laugh.
Earlier in the day, she sent an email to USF students, faculty and staff announcing her decision.
“My family and I believe that this is the right time for me to step down from my post as President, effective July 1, 2019. It has been the honor of my professional career to be part of this journey since the year 2000,” she said in the email.
In both that message and her press conference, Genshaft pointed to a series of recent accomplishments, including USF being designated by the state as a preeminent research university and completing a $1 billion fundraising campaign.
The announcement also came the same day that U.S. News & World Report ranked USF as No. 58 among public universities nationwide, up 10 spots from last year.
Genshaft’s announcement follows recent moves by two other longtime state university presidents, John Hitt of the University of Central Florida and John Delaney of the University of North Florida, to leave their posts. With Hitt’s retirement, Genshaft became the longest serving President in the State University System of 13 public universities.
Genshaft, who turned 70 earlier this year, is USF’s longest serving President, having replaced former president Betty Castor in 2000. Genshaft previously served as vice president of Academic Affairs at the University of Albany.
During Genshaft’s tenure, USF saw great expansion and improvements, with the total student enrollment across the USF System growing by 40 percent from 35,728 in 2000 to 50,755 this year.
In addition, the four-year graduation rate has jumped from 20 percent to 60 percent, while research expenditures have tripled from $172 million to a record $568 million.
Genshaft's $1.2 million salary in the 2016-17 fiscal year, which included a $500,000 one-time retention stipend, ranked seventh highest among 251 public university presidents, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Genshaft just delivered her 18th "State of USF" address this past Wednesday, where she gave no indication of her plans, instead unveiling a new logo for USF academics and speaking about the ongoing consolidation process that will bring the university's three campuses under one umbrella.
State law requires that process be completed by June 30, 2020. Since the USF Board of Trustees needs to have a plan adopted and turned in to the Florida Board of Governors by March 15, 2019, Genshaft doesn't think her departure will affect things.
“It’s the law, so it is going to happen. Second, it’s the right thing to do, it’s right for the students and it’s right for the faculty and staff,” Genshaft said, later adding, “It won't be easy because any kind of change always causes some anxiety, but it will be well on its pathway by then, so I really believe that there won't be any missing steps.”
She reminded people that she has ten months left on her contract, along with a list of annual goals the USF Board of Trustees gave her just a week ago – goals that she plans to accomplish.
“I would like to raise $100 million, I would like to reach higher research expenditures than we are now reaching right now,” she said. “We have a lot of goals ahead of us.”
State and local politicians were quick to weigh in with praise for Genshaft.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the daughter of Genshaft's predecessor, Betty Castor, released a statement Monday afternoon.
“USF President Judy Genshaft has helped take the University of South Florida to the next level. Under her leadership, USF has risen to one of the top-tier public research universities in the country. The Tampa Bay area has evolved into one of the most dynamic communities for health innovation in America largely due to USF Health research, students and faculty.
"The diversity of the student body is one of USF’s strengths and President Genshaft’s commitment to Upward Bound, Latino scholarships and access to college has paid dividends. I will miss her approachable style and commitment to our community, and wish her, Steve and her sons well on behalf of a grateful community.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman praised Genshaft on Twitter.
She has been a great partner to me and the entire business community. Leaving at the top of her game. Thanks Judy for believing in what this City and USF could be. #USF A letter from Judy Genshaft: ‘The right time for me to step down.’ https://t.co/WpWmR3ckKY— Bob Buckhorn (@BobBuckhorn) September 10, 2018
"Genshaft has worked tirelessly to execute her vision for the university. I wish her a happy and healthy retirement and trust that her successor will build on the progress in Tampa while also providing steady leadership and resources to the crown jewel that is USF St. Pete." https://t.co/nEpZxtrwyV— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) September 10, 2018
“She has been a great partner to me and the entire business community. Leaving at the top of her game. Thanks Judy for believing in what this City and USF could be,” said Buckhorn.
"Genshaft has worked tirelessly to execute her vision for the university. I wish her a happy and healthy retirement and trust that her successor will build on the progress in Tampa while also providing steady leadership and resources to the crown jewel that is USF St. Pete,” said Kriseman.
“We have a standing order around our Senate office – whatever Judy wants, Judy gets,” Sen. Bill Nelson said during a Monday news conference. “She has been one of the most effective university presidents I have ever seen.”
Others voiced their opinions of Genshaft.
“I’m a little bit sad for us,” said Joel Momberg, CEO of the USF Foundation. “But we’re set on a trajectory that she’s put us on that I feel much more secure, and so does everybody else around the university.”
Momberg also praised Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, for their financial contributions to the university.
“She doesn’t talk about it too often, but she’s one of the few presidents that I know of in the country that has given the kinds of gifts that she has – over $5 million,” Momberg said. “She gives scholarships to students to travel abroad so they can have that experience. She’s always looking for what will make life better for the individual students.”
“She put student success number one and looked at everything we do and every decision we make though that lens,” said John Ramil, longtime USF Trustee and former president/CEO of TECO Energy. “But I’ll also remember her determination, overcoming whatever roadblocks came up; she just had the will and tenacity to drive through that and move USF forward.”
“I’ll remember her attitude toward students,” said Trustee Stephanie Goforth, President of the West Florida Region for Northern Trust. “I have walked the campus with her and seen students come up to her and she always has time for them. So I think when we look towards our next leader, that’s going to be so important – how do they relate with the students?”
Ramil and Goforth later met with fellow trustees on a conference call to set a timeline for the process to select a new president.
After a lengthy series of compliments were exchanged by Trustees and Genshaft, Board Chair Brian Lamb said he expects a “thoughtful and inclusive” national search that will follow Florida Board of Governors regulations.
Lamb, a graduate of USF and executive vice president of Fifth Third Bancorp, plans to name a search committee by the end of the day Friday. He said that group will be a diverse one, made up of faculty, students, alumni and other stakeholders, including representatives of all three USF campuses.
The committee must be chaired by a USF Trustee and include at least one state BOG member.
Lamb aims to have a search firm hired to assist in the process in the next seven to ten business days. He wants the search committee to meet a number of times in the fourth quarter of this year and have what he called a “robust” interview process in the first quarter of 2019, including on-campus interviews.
Recommendations would be presented to USF Trustees in March of next year. Once a candidate is picked and approved by the USF BOT, he or she would also need the approval of the Florida BOG as well. The goal is to have a new President ready to take the reins July 1, when Genshaft’s retirement goes into effect.
As for Genshaft, her thoughts on her successor are simple.
"I just hope that the person that comes in has the kind of passion and dedication to this institution that I’ve had, and that it continues to deserve," she said.
Information from Daylina Miller and the News Service of Florida contributed to this story.