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USF announces a lone candidate for provost after scrapped search

A view of red flowering trees and a fountain on the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus.
A view from the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

After restarting the search for a new provost last November following campus visits and interviews with four finalists, the University of South Florida has named a new candidate to move forward in the process: Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Davis.

Mohapatra is also a professor in the department of computer science who previously served as the dean and vice provost of graduate studies and interim vice provost and chief information officer at UC Davis.

He will visit USF’s St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses on Tuesday and the Tampa campus on Wednesday, participating in town halls that also will be virtually streamed.

USF President Rhea Law has said the selection of a new provost would be one of her highest priorities. The provost is the university’s top academic officer, ranking just under the president.

Last fall, four candidates, including interim provost Eric Eisenberg, were dubbed finalists by an 18-member search committee and took part in campus interviews. The group also included the senior vice provost for academic planning and policy at the University of Texas at Arlington, the senior vice provost for faculty advancement and undergraduate affairs at Drexel University and the vice president of research and institutional official at Tulane University.

But a month later, Law moved Eisenberg to a newly created cabinet role for community partnerships, and said the search would start over until she found “the best possible fit with the right vision and experience.”

At a December board of trustees meeting, Law said a new group of candidates had applied. University officials did not immediately respond to a request for the number of applicants.

The same 18-member search committee met Jan. 5 and interviewed Mohapatra on Friday, before the announcement was made.

The flyer included information on the governor’s higher education budget proposals as well.

DeSantis proposes $100 million for “recruitment and retention of highly qualified faculty at state universities,” plus $15 million for faculty and student recruitment at New College of Florida, where he plans a conservative-led overhaul.

”We’re putting our money where our mouth is,“ he said.

The New College board meets today for the first time since the six appointments. DeSantis expressed confidence in the direction the new trustees are taking and said students who are upset about the changes should be able to transfer easily.

Ray Rodrigues, chancellor of the State University System, praised the governor and Legislature for supporting Florida’s public universities while other states have cut back.

”We believe in pursuing academic excellence and that is our goal,” Rodrigues said. “We reject indoctrination.”

Times Staff Writer Thomas C. Tobin contributed to this report. Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.

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