UCF distinguished professor feels the impact of UCF community

Larry Barton speaks on stage at a pre-COVID financial advisor meeting. UCF offered Barton a position as a University Distinguished Professor in 2017, after years of teaching.

A UCF alumnus, Joshua Goodridge, volunteered for an improv opportunity in the summer of 2015 - unaware that he was about to meet a future colleague as well as a good friend. 

When Goodridge - who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor of fine arts and a general business degree - arrived at the improv scenario, he saw only a few theater students. The remainder of the attendees were members of the President’s Leadership Council, and among them, was Larry Barton, who, at the time, was brought in by UCF every so often to lead workshops and lectures on crisis management.  

Barton began to do these activities that simulate crisis situations and give lectures on how to handle these situations at UCF in 2013. He said after a few years of giving lectures at UCF, the university offered him a position as a University Distinguished Professor in 2017. Barton gives counsel to the university about student safety and crisis management on campus.

Goodridge said that Barton introduced an activity during this workshop, instructing the actors that they are to pretend to be students in a cult and are attempting to cause trouble on campus. 

“And so he then proceeds to give us an example of how to do it. And I am surprised at how good this man is, at acting like a mentally challenged kind of crazy person,” Goodridge said. “And he talks about how he's done studies in jails and in psych wards and stuff. And I'm just mad impressed, I'm so impressed that this older white guy is just so good at what he does.”

Goodridge said that at lunch break, Barton approached him, telling him that he was really the only person who understood what he was saying. Barton then gave him his email and suggested that they work together in the future.

Since then, Barton and Goodridge have flown all over the country doing similar workshops where Goodridge acts out the scenarios Barton teaches about. 

Barton is honored to be part of the UCF community. 

“I mean, people love to celebrate, you know, the second-largest university in the country. I'm less impressed by that than I am by the people at UCF. I've just never encountered such diversity of people, of thought, creativity and so much cutting edge research that goes on,” Barton said. 

He said that a couple of universities approached him to fill the same role, but he was attracted to UCF because of the researchers, faculty and staff who were devoted to their students. He felt like it was a place where he could make a difference. 

Goodridge said Barton’s impact on UCF has been beneficial because he teaches about prevention. He said that it is important that it starts here with college students who may eventually become heads of big companies and put what Barton has taught them about crisis management to use.

Goodridge said he has had the opportunity to show companies a perspective outside of their own. 

“And it's really great being an African American male to be able to hop into some of these rooms with some of these corporate execs, who are white males most of the time and give them a different perspective on how life is for people like me and some of their employees. So we do a lot of really great work,” Goodridge said. 

Barton started his career in crisis management at a young age as a faculty member at Boston College before being appointed to Harvard Business School at 27 years old, where he would often lecture. He said it was here that his interest in crisis management began to take over.

“But really at Harvard, I began to become extremely enamored with the issues of crisis. Why do horrible things happen to organizations? And that can be a company, it can be a nonprofit, via a society, but how do you govern? How do you communicate? How do you try to recover from any kind of catastrophe?” Barton said.

One day, Barton received a call from the CEO of Motorola, who wanted his help after the company was accused of having its phones cause brain cancer, Barton said. This began his journey into crisis management, and eventually, he left Motorola after five years with the knowledge that he wanted to make crisis management his career. 

“We were making diodes, which is a key ingredient for landmines. I was mortified. I was the young executive at this company, but I basically had to speak up,” Barton said. “And I've never written about this or talked about this, but I had to speak up and say, why are we making this ingredient that's being used to maim civilians globally?”

Barton made his return to academia, and between working at Motorola and starting at UCF in 2013, he was president of The American College. 

Deborah Beidel, a colleague of Barton’s and UCF Trustee Chair, said Barton’s international perspective on crisis and crisis management is special and has benefited UCF. She said he teaches a lot about cultural differences regarding how people communicate when a traumatic event is occurring. 

“We still face challenges when there are upsetting things that happen, like have happened this summer with the death of George Floyd and other people,” Beidel said. “And the unrest that typically follows that, having someone like him with his perspective and years of experience, helping us go forward at the university level is very important.” 

Barton said that the most eye-opening experience of his at UCF so far has been the professionalism of UCF’s Police Department. He said the mindfulness and concern for students that UCFPD displays is rare on other college campuses. 

“I think many people don't necessarily always look at our university police with the same degree of respect that they might for others, and I've just never encountered a police force that truly tries to be guardians of safety for students,” Barton said. 

Goodridge said that people are sometimes intimidated by Barton because of his accomplishments, but they shouldn't be. 

Goodridge said, “Anyone who may run into him will learn pretty quickly that he's that energetic and positive."

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