Ken Lawson applies for UCF President
Ken Lawson is going all-out for VISIT FLORIDA.

ken lawson
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity director is among 45 candidates for the job.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson has applied for University of Central Florida President, making him one of 45 candidates for that position.

Lawson’s application and resume appeared in the stack of the most recent 23 released Tuesday morning by the UCF presidential search committee at the start of its meeting. The stack includes most of the serious candidates for the next leader of Florida’s largest university in terms of student enrollment.

Besides Lawson, resumes were posted Tuesday from three sitting presidents or chancellors of other universities, along with 10 provosts, vice presidents, or vice chancellors.

The 23 latest applicants far outweigh the first 22 in terms of the type of experience and credentials that usually lead to the chief executive office of a major university. Among the applications released prior to Tuesday, there were a half dozen from sitting vice presidents of universities elsewhere, but most were from applicants with almost no significant university or management experience.

UCF has been under Interim President Thad Seymour‘s leadership since previous President Dale Whittaker resigned in February, 2019 amidst investigations into the university’s spending scandal. Whittaker had served just eight months and resigned largely due to controversies that had dated to the tenure of his predecessor, President John Hitt, who had served for 26 years before retiring in 2018. Seymour took himself out of the running for the permanent presidency.

The UCF presidential search committee on Tuesday is reviewing the candidates. Candidate interviews are set to start Thursday at UCF’s Student Union.

Lawson was Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick to be the state’s top economic opportunity officer after he had served for two years as the president of VISIT FLORIDA and six years as secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations.

Among the other candidates are University of Texas at Arlington President Vistasp Karbhari, U.S. Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences President Richard Thomas and Ross University Chancellor William Owen.

Among other candidates are UCF College of Business Dean Paul Jarley; Florida International University Provost Bill Hardgrave; two vice presidents of Auburn University, Provost Kenneth Furton and Vice President for Research James Weyhenmeyer; University of California at San Diego Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences David Brenner; University of Arkansas Provost James Coleman; University of Maine at Farmington Provost Eric Brown; and U.S. Naval War College Provost Lewis Duncan.

Scott Powers

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 [email protected]


  • Cindy

    March 3, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    This search committee has significant bias issues, especially when one of the members mentioned he known Vistasp Karbhari for over 20 yrs. He should have left that out from everyone else or not commented on the individual because of that fact. What’s even worse is he is involved in a lawsuit! And it becomes even more odd the other university President Richard Thomas didn’t move foward. Who knows if this person is involved in a lawsuit but they are both university presidents, why wouldn’t ucf move this individual foward. It seems like it’s fixed by search committee members pushing their friends foward which will result in another scandal at UCF!.

  • Cindy

    March 3, 2020 at 8:16 pm

    My biggest issue with everything is why even move a candidate that anyone can Google and read about a lawsuit on top of what was discussed. There has been enough scandal at UCF related to ethics.

    Google these people, its amazing what some of these individuals have accomplished! Especially the CEOs and some of the research background candidates and no lawsuit comes up in google; unlike Vistasp Karbhari and his lawsuit which can be found through Google!!! Instead the university search committee supports their unethical friends to get other position. What a waste of our tax dollars! Especially when tuition for my child is so expensive.

    I just wish there was an audit of the conflict of interest of some in the search committee members and some of the side discussions that were mentioned during the televised meeting that search committee members were talking to individuals on the side. Side discussions with applicants is an HR no no where in work.

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