By Delaney Brown
For professor Deby Cassill, the former regional chancellor’s decision to evacuate students was not enough; Sophia Wisniewska should have stayed behind.
“Whenever there’s a potential catastrophe, a strong leader needs to stay and reassure their people. They need to be there to start rebuilding, if they have to,” says Cassill.
Cassill has served as an associate professor and associate chair of Biology at USF St. Petersburg since 2001. Faculty members call her and her department “the gorilla of the College of Arts and Sciences.”
Her research on animal behavior, specifically her work with fire ants, has garnered attention from national outlets and helped her to secure a tenured position.
In her time on campus, Cassill has seen five chancellors at the helm of the school. Over the years she’s also seen the way these five leaders have dealt with crisis in their own way.
“There was a hurricane that threatened St. Petersburg while Karen White served as regional chancellor,” said Cassill. Unlike Wisniewska, White didn’t evacuate. “Karen stayed in the Hilton until the storm passed. She also required her top team to stay behind to help assess the physical damages.”
For Cassill, the fact that Wisniewska evacuated to Atlanta is inexcusable. She felt that the chancellor’s decision was flippant given that even tenured faculty can be terminated for the abandonment of duties. In Cassill’s mind, Wisniewska needed to be in both constant electronic and physical contact with the school.
It’s for this reason Cassill was impressed with the response of USF system President Judy Genshaft. Cassill felt it was clear that Genshaft’s first concern was students.
“(Genshaft) showed great care for students,” said Cassill. “She made sure that the dorms and cafeterias stayed open in Tampa, and made provisions for students to be moved to the Sun Dome if necessary. Her thumb was constantly on the pulse of the campus.”
Despite her thoughts on Wisniewska’s evacuation, Cassill expressed a professional fondness for Sophia saying the former chancellor was incredibly student focused, and crucial in the creation of the identity of the St. Petersburg campus.
“I like that (Wisniewska) took her time; she hired a good firm to help us find our brand, and really put a focus on finding where the job opportunities for students were.”
In the end, though, Cassill agrees with Genshaft’s decision.
“It’s simple: the captain should go down with their ship.”
Above photo caption: In her time on campus, Deby Cassill has seen five chancellors at the helm of the school. Over the years she’s also seen the way these five leaders have dealt with crisis in their own way. Delaney Brown | The Crow’s Nest