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UCF Provost Dale Whittaker picked as next president

Saying that University of Central Florida Provost Dale Whittaker not only represents keeping the school on its trajectory but also is the best candidate, the school’s board of trustees unanimously voted Friday to nominate him as the next UCF president.

Whittaker, provost and executive vice president at UCF for the past three and a half years, was selected from a field of four finalists Friday in a whirlwind four-month search to pick the successor to UCF President John Hitt, who retires in June after 26 years leading the university.

The trustees, who interviewed the four finalists earlier Friday, deliberated and debated for about three hours. But there was never much doubt expressed by any of them that they saw Whittaker as their choice. For all practical purposes the debate dismissed discussion of two, leaving a choice of Whittaker or Suresh Garimella, vice president of research at Purdue University.

The faculty representative to the board William Self spoke highly of Whittaker. The student representative Nick Larkins spoke highly of Whittaker. Board Chairman Marcos Marchena spoke highly of Whittaker. And ultimately, so did all the other trustees.

“All things being equal I think [success] would lean toward promoting from within. And as I said earlier, I don’t see them as equal. I see Dale as a step ahead,” said Trustee John Sprouls, executive vice president for Universal Parks & Resorts.

Whittaker was chosen over Garimella, University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy, and University of Akron President Matthew Wilson. All four have been visiting on campus for the past week, meeting with the university community at large, and in other settings. They had been culled from a list of eight semi-finalists, who were drawn from about 40 applicants who vied for the post after Hitt announced his retirement last October.

The Florida Board of Governors will have the final say on whether to formally hire Whittaker at its next board meeting. However, Marchena said he would start right away negotiating an executive contract.

Whittaker, 56, has served as the university’s provost – the number two position – since the fall of 2014. He came to UCF from Purdue – the same school as his final competitor for the UCF presidency. He is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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