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Currall, 60, comes to USF from Southern Methodist University in Texas where he was Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs for three years.
In one of his first extended interviews with a Tampa Bay area reporter, Currall told WUSF’s University Beat he was preparing for the job, even before he officially took over for Judy Genshaft, who retired after 19 years leading USF.
“It’s been a whirlwind time of a lot of transitions and a lot of planning, but I feel like I’ve already been engaged with the USF community, with the (USF) Board of Trustees, with the (State University System) Board of Governors for quite some time now, for the last really two months,” said Currall.
He also credited Genshaft for her easing the transition.
“She’s been generous, she’s been gracious, she’s been wise. And I’ve just really benefited, I am benefiting from her advice and her thoughts about the university and the future,” he said.
Currall has already visited USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee several times, including visits to each campus on his first day on the job, as well as the downtown Tampa construction site of the new USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute building on his second day.
That’s only the start of his journey.
“One of my top priorities in the first several months of the job is really to get out of my office and listen and to engage with our faculty, staff, students and alumni across all three campuses and imagine and envision the future of the university,” said Currall.
He calls the plan a “listening tour” that will take him to every academic unit and every administrative unit.
“I’ve found it in my previous experience to be very beneficial to get out and visit folks in their work setting and in their organizations, and essentially to learn from them and listen to them, but also to share a little bit about myself and my aspirations and my dreams and my goals for the university and how we can coalesce around this refreshed vision for the next 10 years of USF,” he said.
Currall has also already been in touch with local business leaders, as well as governmental leaders at the local, regional and state level.
“I just met Tampa Mayor Jane Castor the other day and enjoyed that, as well as engaged with the business community,” said Currall. “I have a long history in my career of engaging with the business community and trying to position the university as a catalyst for regional economic development.”
As for other goals, the ongoing consolidation of the three USF campuses’ accreditation under one umbrella is also at the top of the list.
“There’s lots of momentum that we’ve already made in terms of consolidation,” said Currall. “We’ve been briefing the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors about our very systematic plan to work towards summer of 2020 (the state-imposed deadline to have one accreditation).”
“This will be the third university that I’ve worked at that has multiple campuses, so I’ve had experience in coalescing campuses around a shared vision. And I hope to do that here at USF,” said Currall.
“I’ll be in engaged in discussions with USF St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee about how we can maximize the alignment between their programs and the future vision of the university, so I’m very hopeful and very excited about that.”
Another priority – Currall calls it a personal one – is maintaining USF’s preeminent status when the performance metrics of all three campuses are combined.
“We are deeply committed to maintaining preeminence, and so we again will craft a vision with our colleagues in St. Petersburg, and at Sarasota-Manatee in terms of how we can do that,” said Currall. “That has been a hard-won accomplishment by President Genshaft and Provost (Ralph) Wilcox and all the other faculty and administrators and students to reach that level.
“So we’re very committed to maintaining that, and I think we will, I think it’ll involve some explorations about how we can organize ourselves in a way that’s very efficient and effective. But that is a great accomplishment that we are fully committed to retaining,” he added.
And Currall wants to do one thing Judy Genshaft tried to do for years – get USF a long-desired invitation into the Association of American Universities (AAU), the top 62 research universities in North America.
“That’s a big, bold, courageous aspiration that USF has, and I’m absolutely thrilled and committed to that,” he said. “This is one of the things that I find most exciting about being a new member of the USF community – trying to help us move forward in these very courageous goals.”
Currall also has served as dean of the graduate school of management at AAU member University of California, Davis, and as the chancellor’s senior advisor for strategic projects and initiatives, as well as vice chair of the board for the University of California system’s Global Health Institute.
He’s held leadership positions at University College London and worked at AAU institutions Rice University, the University of Chicago and Cornell University.
In next week’s second part of University Beat’s interview with Currall, he talks about his management style and how his background as a psychological scientist plays into that, as well as the pressure he feels in succeeding Genshaft.
“Judy has a special style that has been very successful,” he said. “I will try to be true to myself and my own style…that has worked well in previous institutions where I’ve been always just trying to do what’s best for the university.”
You can hear that interview Wednesday, July 10, at 7:45 a.m. and 5:44 p.m.