University of Central Florida narrows presidential search to 3
Photo courtesy University of Central Florida.

UCF University of Central Florida
One finalist is facing allegations of mistreating women.

The University of Central Florida has narrowed its search for the next president to three finalists including one who announced Wednesday he is resigning from the University of Texas at Arlington as controversy has arisen there over his treatment of women.

After interviewing seven semifinalists Thursday, the UCF presidential search committee settled on Vistasp Karbhari from the University of Texas at Arlington, Dr. David Brenner from the University of California San Diego, and Dr. Cato Laurencin from the University of Connecticut.

Vistasp Karbhari.

Karbhari posted an announcement from his office Wednesday saying he intends to step down as president in August. His message did not make any references to his candidacy at the University of Central Florida. Nor did it make any references to a recently-filed lawsuit from a former administrator alleging he threatened and bullied women on his staff. Instead his announcement focused on progress and achievements at the school during his tenure and his conclusion it was time to move on.

In a day-long meeting Thursday, the UCF presidential search committee questioned the seven semifinalists about strategic planning, shared governance, diversity and inclusion, athletics; and building relationships with students, government leaders, businesses, donors and the community.

“I was thrilled with the quality and the talent of the candidates we interviewed today,” UCF Board of Trustees Chair Beverly Seay, who also chairs the Search Committee, stated in a news release issued by the university. “I believe the committee selected finalists who bring impressive experience and understand the university – our challenges and opportunities.”

David Brenner.

UCF lauded the three finalists for being world-renowned in their disciplines and strong academic leaders. Two of them, Brenner and Laurencin, are members of national science academies, appointments that put them at the highest echelons of academic studies in their fields.

Karbhari has been president at UT-Arlington since 2013 and has overseen dramatic growth at that university, as it has risen to Texas’s third-largest in terms of enrollment, behind the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, and with the state’s best record for attracting and graduating minority students. During his tenure, UT-Arlington also emerged as a major research university, achieving Carnegie Research 1 status.

Yet news reports out of Texas detailing former vice president Deborah Robinson’s lawsuit against Karbhari and the school signal potential problems. Robinson and other women claim they were bullied and subsequently were fired after speaking up. On Wednesday, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the university’s faculty senate discussed those complaints during a closed-door meeting, and voted to send an undisclosed letter to the University of Texas system leadership about Karbhari.

Cato Laurencin.

Brenner is vice chancellor for health sciences and a distinguished professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego. There, he oversees the UC-San Diego School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He also is an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Laurencin is the CEO of the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering at the University of Connecticut. He also is director of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for Biomedical Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences, and a member of both the National Academy of Medicine and National Academy of Engineering.

UCF has been under Interim President Thad Seymour‘s leadership since previous President Dale Whittaker resigned in February 2019 amid investigations into the university’s spending scandal. Whittaker had served just eight months and resigned largely because of controversies that dated back 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.

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].


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