Distinguished USF Professor Says Goodbye After 30 Years
Susan MacManus will remain a distinguished professor emerita and continue her research and media outreach
For the last 30 years, University of South Florida Distinguished Professor Susan MacManus, PhD, has been a fixture in Florida politics. She’s had a front row seat to some of the most significant political events in the state’s history – using that insight and knowledge to educate her students and people around the world. But now, the woman often called the “most-quoted political analyst in Florida” is saying goodbye to the university she’s called home for more than three decades.
“My time at USF has been wonderful,” MacManus said. “I’ve had the most remarkable opportunities to work with students and to get students involved in politics. More importantly, I think I’ve taught them to be good citizens and civic-minded—contributors to their communities. It’s been very rewarding.”
A self-proclaimed ‘country girl’, MacManus was born into a citrus family in Land ‘O Lakes, FL. Her grandfather was the first permanent settler of an area north of Tampa, now called Lutz. She says her family’s deep roots in the region have given her a unique perspective on how demographic and population changes impact politics – something she’s seen firsthand over the years as Florida has grown and evolved.
MacManus received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She returned to FSU to complete her PhD before beginning her career in academia at the University of Houston. It was there she got her first experience working with the media; an introduction that would end up shaping a huge part of her life.
MacManus held several faculty positions across the country before returning to Tampa Bay and accepting a position at USF in 1987. Back in her home state, she says her research and teaching grew, along with the number of media interviews she was being asked to participate in.
Having grown up in a politically divided family, MacManus is known in the media and in her classroom for her strict nonpartisan analysis, seeing both sides of every political issue. It’s that ‘middle-of-the-road’ examination combined with her ability to connect with an everyday audience that truly propelled her as a sought-after political analyst.
“I never in a million years thought that I would end up with a media aspect to my career,” she said. “But, I love teaching and being in the media in effect allows me to teach to a much broader audience. It’s very challenging because you have to try and reach people from all backgrounds and levels of knowledge of government. So, when I’m asked to give a comment, I see my role as very much teaching and explaining.”
Over the years, MacManus has taken part in thousands of media interviews for regional, national and international publications. Her analysis has been published by the New York Times, CNN, Fox News and countless others. Out of all the events she’s leant her insight to, she says it was the 2000 presidential election that continues to be the most memorable. She recalls doing interviews with dozens of different outlets for 36 hours straight and continued to provide a comprehensive breakdown for weeks following Election Day.
“My media work has afforded me the opportunity to go to national and state party conventions, presidential inaugurations, presidential debates and candidate debates at the state and local levels,” she said. “The opportunity to observe events in person has given me a different vantage point than simply seeing them from afar and has made me a much better teacher.”
Taking students to various political events so that they, too, might better understand the political process has been another joy for MacManus. She has been the faculty advisor to USF's chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society, for 27 years. The Chapter has won numerous national best chapter awards for conducting campus wide straw polls every election year, volunteering at state Democratic and Republican conventions and helping local TV stations gather data on election night.
"My work with Pi Sigma Alpha students has been the single most rewarding aspect of my teaching career," she said.
MacManus plans to continue her research and media work after she retires from USF. In fact, while she sees her retirement as a way to make room for the next-generation of political scientists at the university, she’s also looking forward to spending more time traveling and conducting her research. But, she says she will profoundly miss her students – a feeling that current and former students echo.
“She personally cares for each of her students and sees to it that you become the best possible version of yourself,” said Ella Biggins, a USF junior majoring in political science. “Her selflessness, dedication and political wisdom have profoundly impacted my life. She's simply the best there is.”
“Dr. MacManus is, without question, the professor that had the greatest impact on me during my time at USF, personally, academically and professionally,” said former student Anthony Cilluffo, now a research assistant at Pew Research Center in Washington D.C. “She invests so much in students that are willing to work hard and learn. She always shares her experiences and has great stories on just about every topic.”
MacManus says it’s that impact on her students that she will miss the most. She says seeing students succeed and watching them become engaged in the political process have been some of her biggest joys as an educator. But, even though she’ll be leaving the classroom, she definitely doesn’t plan to stop teaching.