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USF Faculty Senate Voices Concerns Over Reopening; Trustees Name Presidential Search Committee

Filled USF Classroom
Laura Lyon for University of South Florida
Professor Chantale Bégin teachers a biology class in three separate locations simultaneously: The MSC Ballroom, the Oval Theatre, and online via Microsoft Teams, keeping a class of approximately 300 students socially distanced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are extremely disappointed that decisions to modify our approach are no longer being guided by science and data,” USF Faculty Senate President Timothy Boaz said.

Fall classes started Monday, and leadership at the University of South Florida is hearing about COVID-19 concerns from some faculty members.

At Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting on the Tampa campus, USF Faculty Senate President Timothy Boaz said early feedback shows students are doing “pretty good” complying with the university’s “expectations” that they wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.

However, Boaz said he has heard that many courses are being taught in packed classrooms with “no capacity” for physical distancing.

Those concerns are compounded by worries about vaccinations.

“Well over 90% of the faculty at USF are vaccinated, or at least that's our best estimate based on the survey that was done. But we do not know how many of our students are vaccinated,” he said.

Boaz added the Faculty Senate feels university officials have moved away from what he called last year's “highly effective” plan — based on guidance from USF Health — that limited the number of cases on campus through online and hybrid classes.

It’s a decision Boaz said worries faculty during the spike of coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant.

“Based on the provisions of that plan, we would not be fully opening for business at this time, and most instruction would be moved online during this recent surge, but this plan has been tossed out the window,” he said.

“We are extremely disappointed that decisions to modify our approach are no longer being guided by science and data,” Boaz added. “And finally, and most disturbing, is the fact that our approach no longer has the health and wellbeing of our students, staff and faculty as its top priority."

Board of Trustee Chair Will Weatherford disagreed, saying that the board treats the health of students and faculty as “the most important thing.”

"We have to be cognizant of what the legal constraints are,” he said, pointing to how state universities are limited by the state as to what kind of mitigation efforts they can use.

“We have to lead by example, both with regard to wearing masks and getting vaccinated,” Weatherford continued. “And we have to show a little bit of grace to each other in the process, knowing that not everybody views this the same way."

Earlier this month, an advisory council of faculty at the 12 members of the State University System requested that each of the schools be allowed to create their own mitigation plans.

In addition, Boaz said the USF Faculty Senate recently adopted a resolution saying the university should mandate vaccines and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on masks.

However, since the state won't let universities implement such mandates, he said the Senate issued another resolution asking USF to allow more flexibility regarding online classes and improve social distancing in classrooms.

The Trustees also announced a 15-member Search Committee that will lead a national search for USF's next president.

Members of the committee include:

  • Chair Michael E. Griffin, USF Board of Trustees 
  • Vice Chair Melissa Seixas, State President – Duke Energy Florida, USF Board of Trustees 
  • Tammy Allen, USF Distinguished University Professor, Industrial-Organizational Psychology 
  • Derrick Brooks, EVP Corporate & Community Development, Vinik Sports Group; Motivational Speaker; NFL Hall of Famer; Board Member, Kforce, Inc.; President and Founder, Derrick Brooks Charities 
  • Lisa Carlton, USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Advisory Board  
  • Braulio Colón, Vice President, Florida Student Success Initiatives, Helios Education Foundation 
  • John Couris, President and CEO, Tampa General Hospital 
  • Julia Cunningham, USF student, USF Board of Trustees 
  • Oscar J. Horton, President and CEO of Sun State International, USF Board of Trustees
  • Patrick Hwu, MD, President and CEO, Moffitt Cancer Center  
  • Ken Jones, Founder and CEO of TL Capital and Third Lake Partners, SUS BOG  
  • Mark T. Mondello, CEO, Jabil Inc. 
  • Sylvia Wilson Thomas, Ph.D., USF Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering, Fellow – American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, Senior Member, National Academy of Inventors 
  • Debbie Nye Sembler, USF St. Petersburg Campus Advisory Board  
  • Jose E. Valiente, Chair, USF Foundation Board of Directors, Retired Partner at Clifton Larson Allen, LLP 

“The search committee will soon reach out to key stakeholder groups to define the position profile in alignment with USF’s mission and strategic aspirations; help market the position; and screen and interview the most qualified candidates, including providing opportunities for non-search committee members to interact with the finalists and provide feedback to the committee,” Weatherford said in a letter to USF students, faculty, and staff.

The committee will recommend an unranked list of finalists for a vote by trustees.

The board also selected a firm, SP&A Executive Search, led by Alberto Pimentel, to assist the committee.

The firm, which beat out four other candidates, recently led similar presidential searches for the University of Central Florida and Florida State University.

All meetings of the committee will be open to the public.

Former USF President Steven Currall stepped down on Aug. 2, just two years after he succeeded Judy Genshaft. USF alum and former trustee chair Rhea Law is serving as interim president.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.