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We Need to Talk About USF, Part 2

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Buckle up. Dr. Matt comes with the love and care needed for USF to fix their problems. But, first they need to admit there’s a problem.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 20 UConn at USF Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

[Dr. Matthew Morrison come in with a guest post to give his perspective on what has happened to USF. Here’s Part 1 by Dr. Karla Mastracchio and Part 3 by Jamie.]

I’ve spent a good amount of time over the last week debating how I wanted to say what I’m about to say. I’m not interested in dunking on people, or calling USF employees clowns on the internet. I’m not interested in ruffling feathers or cutting off people in the USF community. I’m not interested in being the Resident Alumni Asshole. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice when I complain about something. and then USF students and alumni who’ve been affected by the problems I describe feel as if they can share their stories with me in my Twitter DMs, but it’s not fun making people upset.

I’d love nothing more than several visits to USF games a year and celebrating along with the alumni, the students, the staff, the administration, and the Board of Trustees as we clinch a Playoff Berth after a thrashing of C. Florida. I love the USF community with all my heart, and I crave that culture with all my soul. But unconditional love is dangerous, and you cannot truly love something without making the decision to reject excuses and embrace discomfort.

So I am embracing discomfort and saying what needs to be said, in order to save USF from itself. As I debated and contemplated what how wanted to speak truth to power, I kept coming back to the same thought: “the time for niceties is over, and the University of South Florida needs an intervention.”

Hi Rocky, it’s me, your good friend Matt Morrison. Triple Bull. You might not like some of the things I’ve said on The Daily Stampede blog or on Twitter. But I am one of the few people that stuck around long enough to expend the energy to complain. Yes, one of the few, not one of the many. And those of us who have stuck around would like you to come in and hear what we have to say, because we love you. Truly.

But it’s time for an intervention. Rocky, in order for me to help you, you need to understand why this matters to me so much. When I was a kid, I was a massive introvert. Most people who know me now know would be shocked, but it’s true. So much so that one of my football teammates in high school – someone who knew me for 3 years at that point – asked me to say something because he didn’t know what my voice sounded like.

The first time I felt I truly belonged was as a Nuclear Electronics Technician in the U.S. Navy. I love to joke boot camp loosened me up, because I came out of my shell and because an “extroverted introvert.” I knew I wanted to do my six years and then use my GI Bill benefits to go to college. I knew I was not a career sailor. What I didn’t know was how hard it was going to be for me to integrate back into society.

USF was not my first school, and I was miserable at said school. The staff could not care less about my veteran status. Most of my SMART Transcript credits were rejected because they made no effort to correlate my Nuclear Electronics Technician “A” School and Nuclear Power School credits to university course credit. I spent a year taking courses covering material I already knew. I didn’t fit in at all.

I had a teacher say “veterans never make it through Computer Science, so you should switch majors before it’s too late.” I knew I was well on my way to a fate that meets too many veterans when they come home. Did you know over 80% of veterans who go back to college after serving in Afghanistan or Iraq drop out within 12 months? Most of them drop out not because of poor performance, but because of the feeling of loneliness. And I was lonely and angry.

So I started asking around about what schools were actually good for veterans. People threw about all the big name schools, including my current employer, Notre Dame. But after they threw out the “big names”, do you know what almost every man and woman said to me? “You know what I would do given the chance to do it over again... I would go to the University of South Florida. They have the best Student Veterans group in the United States.”

I visited USF for the first time, not long after visiting some of those other “big name” schools. Like many others, I had to warm up to the idea of going to USF. I even made a joke that I cringe at now: “How do they call themselves South Florida when Tampa is in the northern half of the state?” But people who I trusted told me over and over to give you a chance, Rocky. And they were wise. I fell in love with the campus. With my grades and background, I was offered a Green and Gold Scholarship, and they made a genuine effort to transfer my SMART credits. It turned out I could transfer to USF – a higher ranked school in Computer Engineering – get my entire school paid for, and graduate a full 18 months earlier.

When I was wrapping up my visit, a friend handed me a ticket and said “you need to come to the football game tonight! Big game.” Honestly, I had stopped following college football, so I had no idea if USF was any good, but what else did I have to do? Plus, I knew I’d get to see what the university culture was like. My previous school almost prided itself on not having that kind of culture, so I was acutely aware of the drawbacks of a lethargic culture. (Bear this in mind, because we will revisit this.)

And that is how we met, Rocky. On September 28, 2007. I know you remember that day. #18 USF 21, #5 West Virginia 13. Do you know what I did that night when I got back to my hotel? I called my mom and said, “I know I have 3 more school visits, but I found my school. I’m home.”

The next week, I flew to Lubbock. Texas Tech didn’t stand a chance. I went through the motions, trying my best to be fair to the other schools. But my mind was made up. I was a Bull. I became a huge USF fan, and we traveled together to several games.

Remember when were there when USF beat Florida State? Or when USF beat Notre Dame. I met some of my best friends at games, and joined the Beef Studs and Babes. When I was a graduate teacher, I became an advisor to the Beef Studs. On a whim, we traveled to Notre Dame to go the Big East softball tournament the year the team made the Women’s College World Series. Remember that 19-hour drive, Rocky? We were in love.

But that is also when I started seeing the cracks in the foundation. And I wasn’t alone. It turns out that you’ve allowed a toxic culture to permeate through everything. Athletics. Academics. The Alumni Association. The satellite campuses. The Board of Trustees. You can barely throw a rock in Tampa and not hit someone who hasn’t been hurt by the culture that you’ve ignored. Every time I spoke up, there was a veritable army of people who couldn’t wait to agree with me and share their stories. The USF community has a lot of people who want you to be successful, Rocky. But they are withholding their checkbooks because they don’t trust you to do right by them.

The rank-and-file USF community does not trust you. Let’s go back to this who mascot thing... Remember when they tried to give you a facelift, Rocky? Remember how much you hated it? Well, many USF alumni, students, staff, and faculty hated what they did to you. But what hurt the most was not the awkward makeover, but the tone-deaf roll out. Remember “Ambition over Tradition?”

And remember that “Mean Tweets” video? The reason we got so upset is because then-VP of Communications Joe Hice lied and claimed a bunch of quotes were from USF alumni and students, when they were from the comments section of a blog post about logo design.

The symbolism could not be clearer: the USF administration literally could not care less about anything we think. And you burned millions of dollars that could have helped veterans like me. Or people from underrepresented groups. Considering over 40% of USF students attend on Pell Grants, that was an egregious waste of time and resources. And relationships were destroyed in the process.

And that’s your fault, Rocky. Whether you like it or not.

Let’s circle back to my current employer, Notre Dame. I’ve been told point blank that I am a “good mix” for the University. My dad is an alumnus, so I’ve seen their culture my whole life. But my perspective as a veteran and as a University of South Florida alumni was valuable because I see things differently. I am empowered by the University administration to speak my mind in a professional manner without fear of retribution or retaliation. If I feel that way at Notre Dame – a Catholic institution that’s been around since 1842 that prides itself on tradition like few other schools – why doesn’t anyone feel that way at USF?

The reality is that Notre Dame is working to avoid the lethargy that has taken hold at USF. The weeds of indifference and toxicity are thriving and killing off any flowers that bloom in USF’s meadows. Remember when I told you people talk to me about the University’s culture? Many of them are straight-up afraid to tell you how they feel. They fear retribution and excommunication from games and alumni events. Again, I don’t want to make people angry, Rocky. But it’s high time you need to roll up your sleeves and cut this cancerous blight from our beloved school.

Because you are the only one who can. But you need help. That is why the hiring of the new USF President is an important step for you, and couldn’t happen at a more opportune time. College conference realignment is in full swing again, and you need to let people know why USF should matter to others the way it matters to me. Despite everything I just said, you have a lot going for you.

You house the National Academy of Inventors, and are regularly rank in the Top 10 in U.S. patents granted. Remember that patent we got together, Rocky? Those were good times.

You have a highly-regarded medical school and the Moffitt Cancer Center is world renowned. You save lives in ways few other schools can. You are the #1 school for U.S. Veterans, per Military Times (for the record, their ranking is the only one that matters to veterans.) You know what veterans are?

Future leaders. CEOs. State representatives and senators. Governors. Federal Representatives and Senators. Presidents. And they all still want to be part of what you are selling, despite what has happened. But you need to empower them.

Now.

You are a Florida Preeminent Institution, and rank in the Top 45 nationally in research expenditures. Your most recent public numbers say USF has a $700 million endowment, compared to C. Florida’s $155 million endowment. USF has an endowment that larger than 5 SEC schools, including Louisiana State ($546m).

But Rocky, that last point is a bit of Fool’s Gold. The reality is that you are about to get flanked by UCF, a school with an endowment that is less than that of Miami Dade Community College. A school that can’t get out of its own way, is repeatedly rocked by scandal, and deliberately cultivated a culture of troll bots. UCF has only received invitations from conferences that were desperate and had few options, despite years of winning and bowl appearances.

You know what UCF has though? A faculty and staff who care about their students and alumni... well, sometimes. Remember my comment about people sending messages to me? Many of them said they actually enjoy dealing with certain aspects of UCF’s culture.

For example, for years the sororities would schedule rush events during football games. Many fraternity members would not go to the games in solidarity with the sororities. I can’t even begin to convey how that would never happen at other schools. Ever. And yet it happened under your watch for a decade. And even worse, you let Athletics take the blame for a university issue.

You looked the other way as indifferent administrators burned bridges in the community for 14 years. You looked the other way as the Alumni Association actively drove away literally thousands of alumni who wanted to donate money. And you looked the other way as a toxic culture grew. We love to mock UCF for their problems, but those things happen when toxicity lingers for decades. You know that embezzlement case you are going through right now? Where $12.8 million was embezzled and sent to an entertainment website? These things happen when you look the other way.

UCF’s problems are your becoming problems, Rocky. Mocking UCF right now is like laughing at people in the lifeboats from the deck of the Titanic. Fortunately, it’s not too late. But you need to get the hire of the next President right. And you need to understand why people in the USF community care so much about this hire.

I know you love Judy Genshaft. Judy was nothing but nice to me, so I get why you feel that way. Her purses were really cool. But the prevailing belief among the USF alumni and staff is that she ruled with an iron fist, and motivated good and talented people to flee in droves. Administrators at the satellite schools feared her, and basically sought to survive and keep their jobs. That is the perception, whether you like it or not.

And let’s not get started on Currall... Actually, let’s discuss this because how people perceived him matters. By all accounts, he was indifferent and refused to seek consensus on anything. This leadership style manifested itself in the botched closing of the College of Education. USF seemingly had no idea how dependent local schools were on our alumni to teach the next generation of students. You know, the next generation of USF alumni? The next generation of USF donors? Why did you choose to tell them off, Rocky? That makes no sense.

Here is what you will need in the next USF President:

  • You need a leader who will rebuild USF’s relationship with the Tampa community, and view the university’s culture critically and truthfully.
  • You need a leader who will be present, and not only when they are needed.
  • You need a leader who will bear responsibility for driving the culture. USF has not had that for more than a decade. Alumni will not care that you know until they know that you care.
  • You need a leader who will care about the alumni who live more than 50 miles away from campus, because almost every alumnus who lives outside that radius believes you either don’t care or resent them for moving away. That is the prevailing view, whether you want to believe it or not. (And yes, I am well qualified to make that claim.)
  • You need a leader who is not afraid to tell people to take a hike if they are not willing to clean things up, and will empower those who are genuinely interested in restoring USF to the place I fell in love with. This will be a painful process, but is it less painful that getting money embezzled and funneled to adult websites?
  • You need a leader who will track down disaffected alumni, faculty, and staff, and get their feedback. They will need to see them as individuals, not as the enemy.
  • You need a leader who will hire a “good mix” of alumni who are passionate about the institution and outsiders who will keep us honest and infuse our culture with good ideas. And you need to actually pay people who do things for the university. You’d be surprised how many people I’ve talked to who said “I did X for the university for free.” That is not a good way to treat people, especially those willing to go the extra mile.
  • You need a leader who will actually care how the USF Foundation and Alumni Association interact with our alumnae. Whether you like it or not, those organizations are not viewed favorably, and they are one of your “front porches” to the institution.
  • Just like that, you need people who will genuinely invest in USF Athletics. Not in money, per se, although that will not hurt. I mean in caring about whether they have the emotional support to do their jobs. The USF community loves Michael Kelly by and large, but he is only one man. Our plan cannot be “hope Jeff Scott gets us to the Playoff.”

What USF needs is an administrative version of Coach Jose Fernandez. He has the highest “Q rating” of almost anyone at the university. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who is as well respected at USF, took over a bad situation, has had his opportunities to leave and stuck around, and has made the university a better place. If you find someone like him, then the university will become a better place.

We love you, Rocky, but I needed to speak my truth. You need help. But we’re here for you.

And Go Bulls.