USF’s most prominent alumnus returns to campus to share his unique perspective as the nation’s drug czar.
By Mary Beth Erskine
TAMPA, Fla. (May 12, 2010) – Amidst the festive atmosphere of commencement weekend -- the ultimate celebration of student success -- USF’s Criminology Department welcomed back one of its own, and undoubtedly, its most professionally successful alumnus.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), appeared at a town hall meeting in the Marshall Student Center one year to the day that he was sworn in as the nation’s sixth drug czar, just days before the announcement of the Obama administration’s new National Drug Control Strategy, and a day before receiving at commencement one of USF’s most significant tributes – an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
Before a collegial audience dressed in business suits and police uniforms – faculty and students from the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences and members of local law enforcement and the criminal justice system – Kerlikowske shared his unique national-level perspective on controlling the country’s growing substance abuse problem that would be detailed in the soon-to-be-released strategy.
Kerlikowske noted that he had attracted attention early in his position as ONDCP director by recognizing the limits of law enforcement alone in addressing the issue, calling off the “war” on drugs, and supporting a new approach. “When you approach the drug issue as a ‘war,’ your tools are limited,” he told the USF audience. “I think the country is ready for a different conversation about drugs than we have had in the past.”
Emphasizing that the nation’s drug problem is as much a public-health issue as it is a law-enforcement issue, Kerlikowske said that, “The greatest challenge we face right now is breaking down the silos between prevention, treatment and criminal justice. Once we start working collaboratively via innovative partnerships and invest more in treatment and prevention, we will be more effective and more successful.”
“Gil was one exceptional police chief in some tough cities, so he has full understanding of the range of issues associated with drug abuse,” said USF Professor Emeritus Leonard Territo. Proud and pleased to be reunited in person with his former student, Territo was Kerlikowske’s professor for the first time when the director was an 18-year old student at St. Petersburg Junior College. Territo was also Kerlikowske’s instructor when he was as an undergraduate criminology major at USF and his major professor when Kerlikowske was studying for his master’s degree.
“Gil understands that there are multiple camps, and he understands the value of rehabilitation. Like the majority of police chiefs are today, he’s well-educated and sophisticated. But make no doubt about it – he’s a cop,” Territo added, referring to a story told by USF Associate Criminology Professor Lorie Fridell in introducing her long-time colleague and friend, Kerlikowske. Fridell related how Kerlikowske, while police chief in Buffalo, N.Y., was out walking with his wife while off-duty and single-handedly apprehended a purse snatcher by commandeering a snow plow and giving chase – indicating his “hands-on” approach to police administration.
In addition to Fridell’s introduction, Kerlikowske’s remarks and question-and-answer discussion were preceded by Associate Dean of the USF Graduate School Richard Pollenz. In honor of both Kerlikowske’s professional accomplishments and service as a role model for present and future students and scholars, Pollenz presented Kerlikowske with the Graduate School’s first Graduate School Celebratory Alumni award.
“The Graduate School’s motto is ‘Growing Global Leaders One Student at a Time,’ and Mr. Kerlikowske certainly epitomizes that mission,” said Pollenz.
Kerlikowske said that working full-time as a police officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department, he was not able to attend either of his own commencement ceremonies. “Therefore, I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” he said regarding the ceremony at which he would receive USF’s Honorary Doctorate.
“Throughout his career, Gil Kerlikowske has been recognized as an innovator in policy and as a person who has elevated the profession in terms of practice, standards and values,” said Criminology Professor and Department Chair Thomas Mieczkowski. “Chief Kerlikowske is a progressive thinker who has emphasized the role of community service and collaboration in policing. His accomplishments exemplify the mission of the college, the Department of Criminology, and the university of improving the lives of people through teaching, research and service, and are a source of pride for USF.”
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.