College of Education Faculty Oral Histories

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Dr. Steve Permuth

LB: That triggers a thought. I remember we were in our beginning stages of distance education. I know it got off to a roaring start, but how did it progress?

SP: It got off to a roaring start, but then I think there were appropriate questions concerning funding for those programs from above. From above does not necessarily mean from the provost or the president of USF, but it does mean the state of Florida, which in my view is terribly under funding the College. We’ve done some good things and I think one of the good things is again being able to get technology to a lot of our faculty. As distance education has evolved, questions about what is good about it and what is bad about it have not been clearly answered. We need empirical sources that say it’s better than not. I still think we’re kind of just touching the water a little bit. I just think there is a lot of national research which is contradictory about what’s good and what’s not.

By the way, I’ve gone a step back because I don’t want to forget your good work in kinesiology and the kinds of materials in distance education, the technology utilization that you did. I think one of the strengths of the College although it may not recognize it as strongly as it should is in fact physical education and wellness studies. I think we are learning from a lot of very nice faculty members who are now helping the College do things like get healthy, focus on our own values, and making sure we get in shape. I’m one of those who will shortly be going through another one of those how to lose weight programs. I don’t minimize that, I really think that’s a valued part of the College and a part of the University that sometimes is under-valued. I think it’s really valuable.

LB: In your role as the dean of the College of Education, I know you were competing with other deans for funding within the limited funds that the University received and so forth, how do you find that battle? I’m sure you won some and….

SP: I think I lost more than I won. Battles which are part of the norm cultural also derived from the fact that a provost has lots of people seeking dollars, let alone a college of education dean. What I had the most difficulty doing was dealing with what I would call a history of doing something and then trying to change it, for example graduate assistantships. The College lacked then and lacks then now the higher level of graduate assistance support that other colleges, namely Arts and Sciences, have compared to the College of Education is uneven. Well the reason for that in many ways is historic. When the College of Education was exceedingly smaller, the College of Arts and Sciences really dominated the campus and the number of graduate assistants was established. The College of Education is now the second largest college on the campus and we really are short of graduate assistance. But there’s the history of doing it a certain way and in a university there is this pension for continuing in the same way, if we don’t see a compelling reason to do it differently. That’s one of those things I’ve lost and did not do particularly well.

Where I think we did well was really looking at the caliber of faculty. There was not one single time when I felt I needed full economic support to garner a quality junior or senior faculty member; that I did not feel comfortable going to the provost, and one time to the president, to secure funds that they would not provide it. I was very pleased with that. I was very pleased with the level of faculty we brought in. The battle grounds are neutral and when you build a new building and you come over and say, “I need this,” you get this kind of “you need this too.” My commentary is, “do not give me a beautiful foundation without the ability of making the inside beautiful as well.” Although some of it was realized, parts of the College of Education are not the picture of what we had planned. If you recall, we had planned kind of an open playground in front of the College for kids to be around with flowing water and art being available, where kids could do things, kind of a mini theatre and where we have the inside back of the College of Education which are just stairs now, those were going to be very nice tables. We were going to have eateries, people coming in to serve food, but you know some of the dreams don’t come the way they’re supposed to.

The other thing that I think, you know to be proud of, are enterprises like the Stavros Center. Gus and Frances Stavros’ generosity with the really good leadership of Dick Puglisi has resulted in a national model for centers of economic education. How well the College continues to be a focus center of education of the future is dependent on not becoming isolated. It really needs to looks to the business community through its alumni association with the Stavros Center as an example. We’re doing better. I think Dean Kennedy has done a very good job of reaching out to the legislature and trying to establish who we are and what we are and where we can be. I’m very pleased. I think the College is on really solid footing.

LB: There was an effort I recall the South Florida County Superintendents’ Council that was inactive at the time you came, but you were able to get them together to meet and share common concerns and so forth.

SP: Yes.

LB: How many meetings did we have, I can’t remember?

SP: During my tenure as dean which was three years we had six meetings and those were generally good meetings. What is also apparent though in time is that in Florida superintendents in many ways saw themselves more as relating to the president of a university than they did the dean of a college. You could tell at certain meetings as time went on and this is just human nature, that some superintendents wouldn’t come so and an assistant would, then directors of programs and the desire to provide a meeting place of the leaders of the districts seemingly washed away because of time commitments. You couldn’t get people there under a full sense of their work load. In Ohio, we had something called the Superintendents Round Table that covered the same area as Hillsborough County which has one superintendent, I was dealing with 35 people. The ability of doing things in certain areas is easier than in others. However, I think there are continued efforts to try and bring that group or a semblance of it together and I think hopefully those efforts will continue.

LB: I’ve asked everyone I’ve interviewed in the history, whether they had a particular interesting or perhaps humorous story that they could relate based on their experiences here at USF. Most people say I can tell one if I don’t mention names.

SP: I’ll allude to what I said before, going into seek a major finance of scholarships for students from a Power Ball winner.

LB: A former student?

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