The USF president’s significance is similar to that of the Queen of England. They are both figureheads of their respective institutions, meant to be living embodiments of their institutions’ aims and values. Though they are both important and prominent to their constituencies, they are not heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the people they lead. If the president is the queen, then the USF provost is the prime minister. USF has been looking for it’s next “prime minister” since April 2020 and the search has been narrowed down to just four candidates.
A total of 16 forum-style discussions were held over a span of approximately two weeks, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 5, so that students, faculty, and other USF stakeholders could meet the final four provost candidates and offer feedback on their candidacy.
All four candidates have experience holding positions at the university administration level. Candidate 2 — candidates will not be named in order to protect the security of their current jobs — is currently serving as a provost at a different Bay Area college while Candidate 1 is serving as a dean of engineering at a university.
Sonja Martin Poole, president of the USF Faculty Association (USFFA), which represents full-time faculty at USF, was one of three union leaders present at the provost forums. “We’re looking for someone who has some experience with the collective bargaining environment [and] is not treating unions as though they are an obstacle, but rather an opportunity to be better,” Poole said. “We would like to ensure that the president takes into account that the next provost is someone who can work with us, who is open to new ideas.”
Candidate 1 hopes to do just that. “I am a firm believer in shared governance and in empowering the faculty, colleges, schools, and administrative units to make their own decisions and establish their own initiatives,” Candidate 1 wrote in their cover letter — the Foghorn was unable to provide a reporter to attend Candidate 1’s forum. In the cover letter they added that they believe that the role of the provost is to serve stakeholders and facilitate holistic success for the University.
Candidate 3 previously worked at USF. During their open forum session, Candidate 3 said, “I love USF’s mission and I’ve had extraordinary experiences with the faculty, staff, and students at USF. I’ve been able to stay in contact with a lot of former colleagues, a lot of former students.” They mentioned that it took an “extraordinary reason” for them to leave their previous position at the University, as USF had been central to them and their family’s lives.
Candidate 3 also expressed joy in seeing former colleagues at their open forum session. “I’m really excited to see so many familiar faces and to meet new folks, and to think about what — together — we can work on to help USF move into the future,” the third candidate said.
One of Candidate 3’s former colleagues, Star Plaxton Moore, director of community engaged learning at the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, was present at the forum. “In any situation where someone’s applying for a position at an institution that they previously worked for, there’s some advantage in just kind of knowing how systems work,” Plaxton Moore said. “Knowing a bit about the culture of the organization, having relationships — existing relationships with people you know — there’s already sort of a level of trust.”
Additionally, Plaxton Moore said that Candidate 2, the only female-identifying candidate, articulated the value and importance of assisting staff who are parents. “She talked about how at her current institution, they were really attentive to the realities of working parents during COVID,” Plaxton Moore said, who is a mother herself. Plaxton Moore also mentioned Candidate 2’s lived experience as a woman of color, and said, “it would be amazing to have someone in leadership who’s paying attention to those kinds of things that might not otherwise be noticed or prioritized.”
Former ASUSF President Hector Bustos favored Candidate 2. “There is only one candidate who identifies as a woman, and we need a woman as a provost. She is also a person of color, and that’s what I want to see,” Bustos said. “We have more than enough white men at the top of the University and, as we’ve seen, it’s not working out for us. After sitting in those sessions, I really do feel as if [Candidate 2], in particular, should be our next provost.” In addition to this, Bustos said he believes that USF needs a provost who has experience working with low-income students, students of color, first-generation students, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and that Candidate 2 has worked with people from all of these backgrounds.
Jada Commodore, president of the Culturally Focused Club Council, wants the next provost to be someone who will consider the needs of students and staff when making decisions. “I want this person who comes into the situation to be on that side with staff and faculty and understand [what] staff and faculty advocate for. I want them to be a student advocate and they have to show that that’s what they care about because the return on investment will be immeasurable,” Commodore said.
Candidate 4, who has experience working as a vice president of human resources, positioned themself as an advocate for acceptance. The candidate stated that USF’s commitment to its community is what drew them towards the position. Being from a racially and culturally diverse background themself, as well as a refugee, they explained that “everything I am about is about diversity, equity, inclusion and advancing a world in which we respect the rights and dignity of all people, and we advance sustainable and inclusive prosperity for everyone.”
George Fuller, a special education doctorate student at USF, was “highly impressed” with Candidate 4. He attended forum sessions of all four candidates and asked every candidate what they would do to make students with disabilities feel more welcome and included at the University. Fuller said he felt that Candidate 4 had a great response to his question regarding addressing students with disabilities. “He just said, ‘No, we are family. We are all together.’” Fuller explained that although some of the other candidates also mentioned inclusion, it seemed obligatory. “People look at it like we have to do it. It was compliant. It wasn’t welcoming.”
Fuller is a student with disabilities himself and has a service dog. “There has been more than one instructor that insisted I sit in one place where [my dog] wouldn’t bother people. There’s a propensity — especially in our capitalist world where we have to be productive — we look at a disabled person and immediately say, ‘You can’t do the job so you’re less. You can’t perform as well,’ and that stigma carries over what’s known as ableism. It carries over to the classroom here at USF,” Fuller said.
Current ASUSF President John Iosefo, the only student on the provost search committee, mentioned that he was thankful and excited for the opportunity. “I was honestly a bit surprised when I got the invite from Father Fitzgerald to serve on the committee, but super thankful because the provost has such an influence on a student’s life,” Iosefo said.
Iosefo said he “definitely felt pressure to speak up” among the committee because he asked himself “‘If not you, then who? Who else is privileged enough to be in those spaces to contribute?’”
With the open forums coming to an end last week, it is now up to the provost search committee to use survey feedback from forum attendees to write up a final report which they will soon present to University President Paul Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will ultimately select the new provost based on the committee’s recommendations.
Paavani Lella is a freshman biology major and a Deputy News Editor at the Foghorn. She’s previously covered campus life and the administration. She can be reached at email@example.com