University of Missouri chancellor joins UCF presidential candidates, another withdraws

Alexander Cartwright joins field, David Brenner of UC-San Diego withdraws.

After weeks of struggling to attract impressive presidential candidates, the University of Central Florida revealed a new applicant Wednesday morning, University of Missouri Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, who was then interviewed and named as a finalist.

Then UCF announced that another of its finalists for the job, Dr. David Brenner from the University of California San Diego, withdrew his candidacy Wednesday.

So UCF’s search is back to just two finalists, now Cartwright and Dr. Cato Laurencin from the University of Connecticut.

Cartwright’s candidacy was announced Wednesday morning. The UCF presidential search committee quickly arranged and conducted an interview with him, via video link Wednesday.

That panel continues its efforts to fill a president’s office that has been filled by Interim President Thad Seymour for more than a year.

Two weeks ago, UCF narrowed a group of 45 applicants to three finalists: Laurencin, Brenner, and Vistasp Karbhari, president of the University of Texas at Arlington. Karbhari, however, was embroiled in current controversies in Texas and withdrew.

While Laurencin is a senior executive at the University of Connecticut, he is not a president, a chancellor, or even within the next levels of university administration, executive vice president, provost, or vice president for research. He is chief executive officer of that university’s Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering

After Karbhari’s withdrawal, UCF’s search committee announced it would open to new candidates.

Cartwright has been chancellor — equivalent to president — at the University of Missouri only since August 2017. Before that, he had been provost and executive vice chancellor of the State University of New York system for three years.

A native of The Bahamas, Cartwright is an internationally-recognized researcher and scholar in the area of optical sensors, an area of major research and academics at the University of Central Florida. He holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Iowa and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

UCF has been under Seymour’s leadership since previous President Dale Whittaker resigned in February 2019 amid investigations into a university spending scandal. Whittaker served just eight months and resigned largely because of 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.

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].


  • MJ Soileau

    March 18, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    The tone of this article does a great disservice to two truly outstanding scholars, administrators, and educators, Drs. Brenner and Laurencin. Your lead “After weeks of struggling to attract impressive presidential candidates,” does a great disservice to the two absolutely spectacular candidate that went through the process, met the original deadline, and put their names and reputation on the line in applying.

    Dr. Laurencin is a member of both the National Academies of Medicine and Engineering. He is past VP for Medicine at UCON. Look him up for goodness sake! Better yet, meet the guy, talk to the guy, etc. National Academy membership is the stratosphere of scholars!

    I am an optics person and Dr. Cartwright’s PhD adviser (now deceased) was a close personal friend of mine. (I’m told he mention my name in his interview this morning. I had a class to give so I did not tune in.) He is indeed a solid scholar and if selected I am sure that our faculty will vote for his tenure in CREOL, the College of Optics and Photonics if he desires it. He certainly brings strengths a candidate pool that had two absolutely outstanding candidates (Both members of the National Academy of Medicine and Dr. Laurencin is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering.)

    Now we only have two, since I just heard that Dr. Brenner has withdrawn. What a shame!

  • C Alan Cox

    March 18, 2020 at 9:53 pm

    @Dr.Soileau: Although I appreciate your heavy emphasis on amplifying the scientific accomplishments of the remaining candidates, I would caution that it not become the only factor in selecting a candidate to be the next president of a large and growing public institution as diverse as UCF. Dr. Cartwright is currently leading an AAU Member Institution that has a law school, medical school, vet school, engineering school, etc. for nearly three years [and having been a Provost and other leadership positions at another AAU institution]. Dr. Laurencin does have an impressive resume [CV], but it appears a bit thin in running the various departments in a very large public university outside of medicine and related disciplines. The “leadership factor” seems to be equally, if not more important, than solely research/academic achievement alone. After all, your last President was incapable of keeping the ship from running ashore in under a year. Universities have become very complicated businesses and one might want to choose someone that has been there, done that versus academic membership. Importantly, I would certainly hope that Dr. Cartwright would be a welcome tenured member of your department as well [if he was chosen]. Good luck with your future president.

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