ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The Regional Chancellor of USF in St. Petersburg was forced to resign Monday due to several missteps as Hurricane Irma approached, but she won’t have to look for work anytime soon because she still gets to collect a paycheck as a tenured professor until May 2018.
USF President Judy Genshaft initially wanted to fire Regional Sophia Wisniewska for failing to evacuate the St. Pete campus dorms in a timely manner, and then fleeing to Atlanta for her own safety the day before Irma clobbered Pinellas County.
In a draft termination letter Genshaft never ended up sending to Wisniewska, she wrote, “Your conduct created an intolerable safety risk to our students and the USFSP community.”
Wisniewska defended her actions to Genshadft in a four-page letter, claiming that she decided Wednesday before the storm to evacuate on Thursday, but that Genshaft balked because it was premature based on weather reports.
“I exercised sound judgment at all times, led my team successfully, communicated continuously and, most importantly, put the safety of the students first,” Wisniewska wrote to Genshaft in an attempt to save her job.
Genshaft criticized Wisniewska for failing to act when later hurricane forecasts indicated Irma was turning our way. Wisniewska insisted on a legal opinion from USF lawyers before ordering the dorms in St. Pete to evacuate Saturday, the same day Wisniewska flew to Atlanta for her own safety in order to escape Irma’s wrath.
Genshaft was further infuriated to learn that Wisniewska left town without informing USF administrators in Tampa or, in her opinion, setting up an adequate chain of command to manage the storm response in her absence.
In an email Wisniewska sent to Genshaft from her safe haven in Atlanta at 11:18 p.m. Saturday night, she wrote, “Hi Judy, as I walked around the USF St. Pete campus I heard more birds chirping than students talking. The campus is very quiet…We at St. Petersburg are hoping that Irma will be very kind. Stay safe, Sophia.”
Genshaft was reportedly stunned and infuriated that Wisniewska had already flown to Georgia when she wrote that email implying she was patrolling the USF St. Pete campus.
USF sources in Tampa insist the Chancellor’s brokered resignation — and teaching pay that extends until next May — is the best possible outcome because as a tenured professor, Wisniewska could have hung onto a teaching job at USFSP as long as she wanted. This way, she’s gone in May and will never set foot on campus again because she will have other duties and online courses.
Genshaft isn’t publicly commenting but is expected to answer questions about the controversy at a public event Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, Interim Chancellor Martin Tadlock, who has taken over indefinitely as the top administrator at USFSP, insists students won’t notice the administrative transition.
Tadlock tells 8 On Your Side he won’t make the same mistakes as Wisniewska if another hurricane heads our way.
“I was in St. Petersburg for the last one, I live here,” Tadlock said. “I’m not going anywhere.”