Dr. Susan A. MacManus retires from USF

When Dr. Susan A. MacManus recently headed to the front of Room 128, in the Social Science Building on the University of South Florida campus — it was to deliver the final lecture of her 47-year teaching career.

Her regular students were there, but there were visitors, too — former students who wanted to be there to share the moment.

MacManus offered her thoughts about the coming Mid-Terms, and when she concluded, she announced: “That, my friends, is my last lecture ever,” with her voice cracking a bit.

One student immediately rushed forward to give MacManus a hug.

Dr. Susan A. MacManus, known nationally for her knowledge of Florida and national politics, stands near her home in Land O’ Lakes. (B.C.Manion)

Another declared: “You’re going to make me cry.”

Those gathered finished out the period eating pizza and cake, and picking up political buttons, reporters’ notebooks and additional trinkets MacManus had collected along the political trail.

Being a teacher was always part of the plan, said MacManus, who grew up in Land O’ Lakes.

“I knew very, very early that I was going to be a teacher. I loved school. I really enjoyed my teachers.

“Sanders (Memorial Elementary) had a lot of really good teachers,” MacManus said.

She graduated at 16 from Pasco High School and initially was a double major, in political science and physical education at Florida State University.

It didn’t take long, though, for MacManus to discover that politics were her true passion.

She graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in political science and went straight to the University of Michigan for a master’s degree. She was attracted to its Survey Research Center, and it was there she developed an interest in polling.

After that, she landed her first job as an instructor at Valencia Community College.

She was 21.

An early interest in government financing
While teaching at Valencia, she took advantage of a program that allowed her to be paid to go

back to school to expand her expertise. She went to FSU where she studied urban planning and political science, under Thomas Dye, who ultimately turned out to be her major professor and mentor.

After returning to Valencia, Dye called her out of the blue and offered her the chance to become his research assistant, allowing her to pursue her doctorate at FSU.

For her dissertation, MacManus examined the revenue patterns of cities and suburbs across the United States. She coded data for multiple decades for 600-plus cities and suburbs across the country.

“From the beginning, understanding the financing of state and local governments has been a terrific asset to me as a political scientist,” she said.

Her first big university job was at the University of Houston, she said. “It just was the right fit for me. The city was exploding.”

Dr. Susan A. MacManus has amassed a large collection of political buttons while covering the campaign trail as a political analyst. Some were on display during her recent retirement reception. (B.C. Manion)

Next, she was recruited by Cleveland State, in Cleveland, Ohio, which also was a good fit professionally and personally.

Her sister, Lou, and her brother, Cameron, were both practicing medicine there and both had young children — allowing MacManus to bond with her nieces and nephews from their infancy.

After four years in Cleveland, she returned to Land O’ Lakes.

“I had left home when I was 16,” she said. “Basically, I hadn’t been able to experience rich time with my parents.”

Coming back to the community where she grew up gave her a chance to work at USF, learn about the family’s citrus business, and to help her mom write two local history books about Lutz and Land O’ Lakes.

“I look back on it, and it all fits together,” she said.

Beyond her influence on students, MacManus also became widely known for her deep knowledge of Florida and national politics.

During the 1990s, she began providing political analysis for News Channel 8.

That started at the encouragement of Bill Ratliff, who had interviewed her for his political show and told her: “You ought to think about doing this. You’re good at it because you can talk to everyday people.”

MacManus replied: “Well, I’m a country girl, you know.”

She agreed to give it a try, if Ratliff would show her the ropes.

She went on to become part of the television station’s coverage team for national political conventions, presidential debates and inaugurations.

And, for decades, she has been a prolific speaker providing her insights to hundreds of civic groups, statewide associations, political and government groups.

Beyond that, she has frequently shared her knowledge in television, radio and newspaper interviews.

She also provided analysis of political conventions during the past two presidential elections, and coverage of the 2016 presidential election for The Laker/Lutz News.

Those experiences of providing political analysis for the media and speaking before myriad groups required her to stay informed, she said.

“It’s absolutely made me keep on top of things. It made me a far, far better teacher,” she said.

The connections she made were invaluable, too.

“I cannot tell you how many internships and jobs that my students have gotten as a consequence of people I have met, on both sides of the political aisle, at major political events,” she said. “You don’t get those kinds of opportunities for students, sitting in your office.”

Hashing out opposing views
MacManus believes her personal background prepared her for her future career.

“I grew up with differences of opinion about politics and lots of family bantering, especially at our large-extended family events.

“But, when it was time to eat and have fun, that was put aside.

Dr. Susan A. MacManus stands in front of a bus parked at the first 2016 presidential debate. The bus is touting CNN’s coverage of the 2016 race for president between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton. (File)

“That has been one of the greatest gifts I was given — for being an analyst — was growing up in that kind of environment. I don’t get to the point where I can’t talk to somebody because they think differently,” she said.

She praised her last crop of students at USF for being able to hold widely divergent views, while maintaining civility.

It’s an art, she fears, that’s being lost in society today.

Communication has changed, too.

“Candidates and parties, and everyone else, you have to go to multiple platforms,” MacManus said. “You cannot any longer rely upon one source of information.”

As she was winding up her final class, she paused to thank her students.

“I’ve learned far more from you than you’ve learned from me. Your generation is the most interesting one we’ve had, in a very long time,” she said.

“Thank you for being a wonderful, wonderful class,” MacManus said. “I couldn’t ask for a better end to my career than you all. Thank you.”

What people are saying about Dr. Susan A. MacManus
Dr. Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida, and Dr. Liana Fernandez Fox spoke during a retirement reception for Dr. Susan A. MacManus at the University Club of Tampa. During the event, sponsored by USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy, the women offered these comments — made by others — to honor MacManus:

  • “Besides my parents, no one has had as much impact on me as Dr. MacManus. She is an incredible teacher. She has a story about everything, and is so generously willing and giving of her time and knowledge to students who want to work.” — Anthony Cilluffo, former research assistant for MacManus and current research associate with the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C.
  • “Susan is as much of an institution in Florida politics, as ambitious candidates embarrassing themselves at the Possum Festival, or sipping Cuban coffee in Little Havana. Besides the sheer depth of her knowledge, she happens to be one of the nicest people on the political scene.” — Adam Smith, the Tampa Bay Times political editor
  • “The views of Susan MacManus have always been welcomed, eagerly sought — about both Florida politics and national politics. Susan is a gifted academic, whose work my own team has cited many times. What makes Susan even more special is her remarkable ability to translate her work, as well as her colleagues’ findings, for the benefit of the news media and the general public. A keen observer of the political scene for decades, Susan will, no doubt, be called upon frequently in retirement. We continue to need her voice.” — Dr. Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Some 2018 Mid-Term insights
Dr. Susan A. MacManus, distinguished professor of political science, offered these observations during her final lecture at the University of South Florida:

  • Lawyers will be busy.

“This is going to be a very litigious, contentious election. Lawyers are going make a lot of money this election cycle because you’re going to have a lot of voting rights’ issues being litigated.”

  • The ballot will be crowded.

“We’ve got everything under the sun, up for election this time.”

Besides U.S. Senate and Governor, Floridians will be choosing congressional representatives, state lawmakers and local elected officials. There’s 13 proposed constitutional amendments, too.

  • Lots of new faces will be on the political scene.

“We’re already seeing a record number of new people who have never run before filing to run for office in Florida, at every level.”

  • A coming Blue Wave?

“As an analyst, I’m not seeing it yet. It could happen, but it’s not there yet.”

  • Expect a close finish.

“The last four elections, two governors, two presidential — 1 percent margin of victory for the winner. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Susan’s Four Fs
Dr. Susan A. MacManus never got an F in anything, except for Home Ec, according to her sister, Lou MacManus, who spoke at Susan’s retirement reception at the University Club of Tampa, on the 38th floor of One Tampa City Center.

She said these are the four Fs that have been a constant in Susan’s life: Family, friends, faith and fun.

The reception reflected that. Some former students drove down from Gainesville. Another former student flew in from Washington D.C. Her best friend traveled from Michigan. Her cousins came from Land O’ Lakes. And, scores of others were there, too, to celebrate Susan’s accomplishments.

Lou ribbed her older sister, sharing little-known details about her — including Susan’s fascination for insects when she was young and her runner-up finish a Pasco County beauty pageant. (Actually just in the top 10, Susan says).

University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft praised Susan’s academic contributions.  Genshaft also noted: “I would venture to say that Susan is among the most sought-after political analysts in the country.”

The room was decorated with photographs of Susan pictured with prominent political figures, and all sorts of political buttons on display. There was even a polling booth, from the 2000 presidential election — the year of the infamous “hanging chad.”

Susan’s long-time friend, Dr. Liana Fernandez Fox, said the party was exactly Susan’s kind of celebratory gathering.

“We filled this room with family and friends, good friends — and, with mementoes of Susan’s fabulous and fun career, of educating students, voters and the media,” Fox said.

Published May 9, 2018

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