Leaving a College Fine-Tuned

USF College of the Arts Dean Ron Jones heads to Memphis to be president of the Memphis College of Art.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Apr. 25, 2011) – In these last days before leaving, USF College of The Arts Dean Ron Jones has taken to finding the occasional moment to sit and reflect on his 13 years of service in the concert hall of his last major accomplishment, the new School of Music. 


The University of South Florida’s longest serving dean has presided over three different names for his beloved college.  When he arrived it was the College of Fine Arts, then changed to the College of Visual and Performing Arts.  The name changes have followed a more enduring transformation to the highly-respected arts college.


“What we have now is a faculty made up of outstanding artists and scholars,” said Jones.  “They are producing in their fields at a level of significance equal to that of every other college in the university.  I knew we had made it when a cellist, Scott Kluksdahl (professor of music), was awarded Outstanding Researcher of the Year.  With that honor I knew the university had accepted the standard we set for excellence and academic achievement in an area that is very different from the science and the humanities – but truly as significant.  I had a role in driving that change to the new research culture here and it’s something I’m proud of.”


Jones is reluctant to take credit for the new building he somewhat reluctantly leaves behind – a project in the works since 1982. He says it took lots of luck and stars crossing at the right times in the right places.  A gift for a required feasibility study appeared to drop out of the sky at the exact moment it was needed when Drs. Lew and Enid Barness offered a gift that could be used to get it done.  That gift and USF Assistant Vice President for Government Relations Kathy Betancourt’s help in getting then-Governor Jeb Bush’s approval of the plan for the new building – after a first-round rejection – were pivotal. And, of course the commitment of the Board of Trustees and USF President Judy Genshaft moved the project forward. And, in a strange twist, the bad economy also helped the project.


“The building started out smaller, but as the economy worsened, the price per square foot kept dropping and we got a lot more than we thought we’d have to settle for. There’s a big difference between the size and quality of the original building design and the incredible one we have today.” 


Having worked with the building’s architect in the past, Jones insisted on architect Michael Howard’s involvement and knew he wouldn’t have to worry with that expert’s skill and experience in the mix. 


“He’s someone who knows how to work with acoustics professionals and gave us something that has received tremendous praise from every corner and that will endure,” Jones said.  “Then we also had great cooperation and collaboration with USF’s Facilities Management staff.  Ray Gonzalez and J.T. McCaffrey were the right people at the right time to handle all the changing dynamics.  Every step of the way was amazing, all the way to becoming an all-Steinway school.” 


That’s where serendipity moved in once again.


Genshaft saw a program about all-Steinway schools, called Jones as soon as it was over and then proceeded to make it happen. 


“That’s something I never dared to hope for.  It was hard enough jumping through all the hoops just to get the building built.  But no one is happier to see the school reach that goal.”


With too many happy moments to remember them all, Jones can point to a highlight he got to experience every year, the big pre-commencement party when all the College of The Arts students, their  families and significant others and the faculty come together to celebrate. Each unit – art, architecture, dance, music and theatre – does one presentation for the audience.  It’s a standing-room-only event in Theatre I that touches his heart.


“It’s a summation.  It reminded me each time that we must never forget the reason we’re here, for the students.  We always invite outstanding alumni to attend and we get to see what the college has done with and for these truly talented and gifted individuals.  It blows me away every time.


“People on the outside think the arts are all the same,” Jones added.  “But they’re very, very different in attitude, sensibility, background, philosophical outlook.  Like a family with different personalities, the arts have much in common but it’s the differences that make this a rich and exciting world.”


In addition to the faculty and students in the college, Jones will also miss the supportive atmosphere he shared with his fellow deans at USF.  “You can’t imagine a more incredible group of people, so supportive of each other.  They do not hesitate to criticize, challenge or disagree but it’s never personal, always professional and USF is lucky to have such a committed group of deans working together to make things better here.  I will miss that.”


In his new position as president of the Memphis College of Art, he will do what all presidents do.  “My main charge is to raise money and help poor kids obtain the education they wouldn’t otherwise have.”


The slender gentleman from Virginia and Arizona with his signature bowtie, unruffled manner and dry wit will be missed by all.  But Jones, whose last day is April 29, is offering an open invitation to visit him in Memphis with the promise of barbecue and maybe even a ticket to Graceland.


“In his time at USF, Dean Jones has left an enduring impact on the college and, while we wish him and his wife Carol well in the much deserved and exciting ‘next chapter’ of their professional lives, their leadership will be sorely missed both at the university and in the broader community,” said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox.


Wilcox points to Jones’ efforts in expanding degree offerings and other strategic focus, including a Ph.D. in music education, a B.F.A. in dance performance and art studio, a B.A. in dance studies, music studies, art studio and art history, together with a B.S. in music education, to integrating the School of Architecture and Community Design.   


“He thoughtfully steered the college into closer alignment with the university’s bold strategic direction as a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success, and in the process, USF’s College of The Arts has become an emerging force and the envy of many across the State,” Wilcox said.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.