Home Campus in Crisis Tumult at the top: Leadership changes at USFSP over the years
Tumult at the top: Leadership changes at USFSP over the years

Tumult at the top: Leadership changes at USFSP over the years

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This report is based on the work of university historian and former librarian James Anthony Schnur. Information from USFSP websites and the Tampa Bay Times was also used.


Margaret Sullivan

Bill Heller had been dean and chief executive of the St. Petersburg campus for a decade when he got a jolt.

His boss, USF President Judy Genshaft, wanted him to resign.

Without a full public explanation, the longest serving leader in St. Petersburg campus history was demoted to professor in 2002 and a caretaker was named to replace him.

Some senior faculty members and St. Petersburg civic leaders were stunned. Miffed, the City Council shelved a plan to lease a downtown arena and theater complex to the university.

“I have some really great reservations about doing business with USF at this point,” said council member Virginia Littrell.

Bill Heller

Heller, then 66, recovered nicely. He remained on campus as a professor, served four years in the state House of Representatives and then five years as dean of the College of Education before retiring from that post in December.

At the St. Petersburg campus, however, a pattern of turnover at the top continued.

Since 1968, 14 people have led the campus with titles like dean, chief executive, interim chancellor and chancellor. Seven of them have served during Genshaft’s 17 years as USF president.

First to lead the then-tiny campus was Lester Tuttle, who held the title of dean of USF Bayboro.

About 630 students, all upperclassmen, took classes in liberal arts, education, business administration and engineering in buildings that once housed the U.S. Maritime Service Training Station on an 11-acre finger of land where the College of Marine Science is today.

When Tuttle departed in mid-1976, David Ryder Kenerson became interim dean. A former business professor and hospital administrator, Kenerson served as USF and the city began negotiating an expansion of the campus. He returned to teaching in February 1979.

John Hinz followed Kenerson as dean. During his seven years in the post, the campus expanded to include the buildings that are now called Davis and Bayboro halls and the state authorized a doctoral program in marine science. A scholar of American literature, Hinz resumed teaching when his stint as dean ended in July 1985.

For the next year, the campus was led by Interim Dean Samuel Y. Fustukjian, a librarian and native of Lebanon. He eventually transferred to the Tampa campus to become director of the USF system libraries.

Lowell E. Davis was dean for three eventful years starting in August 1986. The campus endowment grew from $600,000 to $2.2 million during his tenure, and Davis initiated plans to expand the footprint of the campus and improve its course offerings. He died of a stroke in August 1989. Davis Hall is named for him.

Karen Spear, an assistant dean under Davis, became acting dean upon his death. She departedin June 1990 to become dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. 

The coordinator of the College of Education, Winston T. Bridges, followed Spear as interim dean until August 1992, then served as the campus’ chief academic officer until he retired in 2003.

Then came Heller, who served in the top campus post as dean and then as vice president/chief executive officer. During his 10 years, the campus moved toward greater autonomy while strengthening ties with the city of St. Petersburg. The Nelson Poynter Memorial Library opened in 1996, and in 2002 the Legislature officially named the school the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Karen White

When Heller was ousted in 2002, Ralph Wilcox replaced him as interim vice president and chief executive officer for a year. A professor at the University of Memphis, Wilcox had just completed a year in Genshaft’s office on a fellowship.

The next campus leader was Karen White, who served as chief executive officer and then regional chancellor from July 2003 till December 2008. On her watch, Residence Hall One and the parking garage were built, and in June 2006 USFSP won accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Two years later, however, the university was stunned to learn it had been put on probation by the accrediting association for failure to comply with two standards that involve measuring student progress.

When White resigned to become an adviser to President Genshaft, she was replaced by Margaret Sullivan, a former administrator at Georgia State University who was considered an expert in higher education accreditation.

Sullivan helped the university return to full accreditation and served as regional chancellor until August 2012. Under her watch, the university acquired the former Dali Museum building, which became Harbor Hall, broke ground for the University Student Center and expanded the building that now houses the Student Life Center.

Bill Hogarth

In August 2012, William T. “Bill” Hogarth, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and former dean of the College of Marine Science, was named interim chancellor.

After a national search, Sophia Wisniewska became regional chancellor in July 2013 and served for four years until Genshaft forced her to resign on Sept. 18.

In her place is Interim Chancellor Martin Tadlock, who came to USFSP 14 months ago as regional vice chancellor for academic affairs.

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