The University of South Florida is preparing for another leadership change, after president Steve Currall announced Monday he is resigning on August 2, after just two years on the job.
Timothy Boaz, president of the USF Faculty Senate, said he was surprised to hear Currall announce he was stepping down due to health concerns, but acknowledged it has been a stressful couple of years.
“He’s had an immense amount of stuff to deal with since coming here,” said Boaz, who added that he was “sorry this has happened” and touted the positive working relationship he had with Currall.
Currall began his presidency in 2019 tasked with consolidating USF's three campuses, which he completed last summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While Boaz said there are still issues that need to be worked out, he said consolidation has so far been going well.
The pandemic’s effect on university operations and funding took a toll on Currall, and he cited that as one of the reasons the demands of his job were too straining on his health and family life.
Boaz commended Currall for his handling of the pandemic, particularly his decision to rely on the university’s staff of scientists and health experts, including USF Health dean Donna Petersen, whom Currall tapped to head a coronavirus task force, when making decisions about how to protect students and staff.
“I think the administration did a fabulous job,” Boaz said. “They made it clear they were going to rely on the science, and the results bore out that they did the right thing. I mean we had very few problems with cases in the university community and we’re well-positioned now going into fall, and we added a lot to our capacity in terms of online education, so that’s a real highlight in my view.”
As for low points, Boaz criticized Currall's communication over the possible development of the USF Forest Preserve and plans to phase out the undergraduate College of Education due to budget cuts, which was later reversed.
“Certainly I felt like those were unfortunate events and it would have been great if they could have been handled more appropriately,” Boaz said. “I think in both cases decisions were made before an adequate amount of discussion with the important stakeholders on those decisions, and it certainly would have been better if those would have been handled differently.”
Although Currall’s budget decisions were not always well received, Boaz said the university president spent an “unprecedented" amount of time working with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee on budget discussions. He said Currall and his administration met with them regularly since the beginning of the year and that talks were very “productive.”
Boaz said they had resolved next year’s budget and we’re shifting efforts to reexamine USF’s budget process.
“Which is something I feel like really needs to be addressed, and I felt like he [Currall] was really on board with that,” Boaz said. “I was very optimistic about how that would go, so, you know, I’m disappointed that this will probably cause some disruption of our progress on that front.”
READ MORE: Coverage of Steven Currall's tenure
Currall’s sudden departure leaves Provost Ralph Wilcox as acting president until the USF Board of Trustees votes on an interim. Then a selection process for Currall's successor will begin.
Boaz suspects the leadership changes could also slow progress on USF’s attempts to get invited into the Association of American Universities, a group of renown research institutions, and efforts to make U.S. News and World Reports’ top 25 public research universities.
He said whoever goes on to succeed Currall should prioritize those goals.
“I think we need to have a president who first of all understands our academic mission very well and can do what’s needed in order to facilitate the pursuit of research productivity, to put us in position to get to that status,” Boaz said, adding that the ability to make the most out of a limited budget should also play a role.
“One of the very important things that we will be looking for in a new president is their ability to impact that, both in terms of success in pursuing philanthropic sources of revenue but also strengthening our position in terms of working with our legislature on our budget issues.”
Boaz said he looks forward to continuing to work with Currall in his new role, as the president will stay on with USF as a faculty member in the Muma College of Business.