Although she once occupied the top post at one of the world’s largest universities, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee’s new vice president is getting used to the smaller digs.
Karen Holbrook, the former president of Ohio State, was tapped by University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft to help steer USFSM while the school looks for a new leader. Former regional chancellor Sandra Stone announced her resignation from the position on March 8.
Holbrook has been there less than a month, but she is already thinking big.
“We aren’t just another small school,” said Holbrook, whose official title is vice president-senior adviser to the USF system president. “I don’t want anyone to ever think of us as a community college.”
Terry Osborn, previously the regional vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, is the interim regional chancellor while the university searches for a new regional chancellor.
As the first woman president at Ohio State, Holbrook boosted the school’s academic profile by ramping up admission requirements. She took on underage drinking and rioting, drawing boos at Buckeyes football games, according to the Columbus Dispatch. She oversaw a faculty of thousands.
Now, her domain is the small commuter campus, largely contained to one building on Tamiami Trail.
Holbrook retired from Ohio State in 2007 and moved with her husband to Longboat Key. She was lured out of retirement by Genshaft, and she became the senior vice president for global affairs and international research. March 23 was her first day at USFSM and she is well aware of the struggles the school faces.
Fundraising has been at a standstill at USFSM for several years, and the development coordinator role has been open since August. Since 2011, the school has set goals of raising roughly $18.2 million, but during that time has only raised $7.1 million, including deferred gifts.
Holbrook said the development coordinator role will not be filled until the system names a new regional chancellor, but raising more funds was critical during the interlude. She said the two main priorities were raising funds for a Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) building and developing the school’s new NCAA Division 1 women’s rowing program.
Byron Shinn, chairman of USFSM’s campus board of trustees, said Holbrook brings a sense of accountability.
“In the first week she identified items we saw at a top level way, but she identified in a much deeper way with more development on implementation,” Shinn said. “She was talking about how to communicate better with the business community, how to improve and enhance enrollment, how to coordinate internally between deans.”
Holbrook, 74, said her main focus while helping steer the ship at USFSM is to help the school find its identity. She said the two other schools in the USF system have forged a name for themselves, but USFSM is still looking for what defines it.
“You’ve got a flagship global research university (in Tampa), you’ve got a small school that’s almost like a small liberal arts school over in St. Pete, and then you’ve got our school that is not quite sure what it is yet,” Holbrook said. “And I hope that part of what we do during this year is get a good moniker for our university.”