Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Pictured Above: President Steve Currall announced his retirement on Monday. He hopes that his departure will allow him to spend more time with his wife, Cheyenne Currall (left), and his father.

Image courtesy of USF

By Annalise Anderson

Since USF was founded in 1956, seven presidents have led the school as it evolved from a shaky start-up to an institution that proudly calls itself a preeminent research university.

But none of the presidents had a tenure as brief as Steve Currall’s.

President Currall announced Monday that he is stepping down from his position on Aug. 2, just two years after assuming the presidency.

In his surprising announcement, Currall called the last two years “a challenging and intense journey,” navigating hurdles like consolidation, the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and fluctuating state budgets.

Currall wrote that health and family reasons are cause for his retirement from the presidency.

“On a personal level, the demands of the president’s role are immense. The intensity of the past two years has put a strain on my health and my family,” Currall wrote. “Therefore, after thoughtful reflection, I have decided to retire from the USF presidency to ensure that I preserve my health, as well as to spend more time with my wife, Cheyenne, and my 91-year-old father.”

While the Board of Trustees commences its search for new leadership, Provost Ralph Wilcox will serve as acting president until the board names someone to the interim position.

Though brief, Currall’s tenure was a tumultuous one. Several moves made by Currall’s administration caused contention among the USF community.   

** Most recently, Cecil E. Howard, USF’s associate vice president for diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity, resigned after hotly rebuking Currall’s reconfiguration of the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity, calling it a “racially biased move.”

** Last fall, the stunning announcement to close and reconfigure the College of Education left many students, faculty and local school superintendents fuming. Nearly three months after the announcement, Currall’s administration reversed the decision and declared that the College of Education would remain at the university.

** In April, the university sent inquiries to developers for building on the USF Forest Preserve without consulting faculty and students who rely on the 769 acres of protected land for research and outdoor learning. USF has since received eight proposals for its development.

** Confusion over a substantial budget deficit outlined by Currall and the way administration has handled it prompted fiery criticism from some faculty leaders. In May, USF Faculty Senate President Tim Boaz confirmed that faculty considered a vote of no confidence in Currall’s administration.

Despite past tensions, Boaz admits Currall’s leadership wasn’t always problematic.

“I’m surprised and disappointed to see him resign the position,” Boaz told The Crow’s Nest. “It was a really challenging year – so unusual in terms of things we had to deal with. He (Currall) did a number of things well. I think he would agree that some things did not go so well.  All in all, I would have been happy to see him continue.”

** Throughout his presidency, Currall drew criticism from the St. Petersburg campus and its political allies for the way his administration treated the campus in the planning and implementation of consolidation.

Some of the criticism came from the Pinellas County legislators who initiated consolidation in 2018 in the belief that St. Petersburg and its students would benefit.

One of those legislators, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, became an outspoken critic of Currall’s administration and the Board of Trustees.

On Monday, Brandes told the Tampa Bay Times that Currall’s departure is “a positive step for the university … It will help attract better talent, more resources, and help the university move forward.”

Brandes did not respond to requests for comment from The Crow’s Nest.

Around the country, the job of college president has become a life in a pressure cooker, with the daunting challenges of budgeting and fundraising while dealing with the demands of students, faculty, alumni and athletic boosters.

According to the American Council on Education, college presidents serve an average of 6.5 years, which is down from seven years in 2011 and 8.5 years in 2006.

Currall’s predecessor, Judy Genshaft, served for 19 years before retiring in 2019. The five presidents who preceded her each served for at least five years.

Board of Trustees Chair Will Weatherford sent an email to faculty and staff praising Currall for his leadership in helping USF achieve successes in its national recognition, philanthropic efforts, construction of new on-campus facilities and the development of a strategic plan to make USF one of the nation’s top 25 public universities.

“Though we have only worked together for a short period of time, I have been impressed by his tireless work ethic and passion for the transformative role of higher education,” Weatherford wrote. “On behalf of USF and the Tampa Bay community, I extend my sincere gratitude to President Currall and Dr. Cheyenne Currall for sharing the past two years with us. We wish them well and are delighted they will remain members of the USF family.”

Currall will have the option to return to the Muma College of Business as a tenured faculty member after taking what he called “much needed rest.”

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