Dale Whittaker, UCF’s provost of more than three years, has been named the university’s fifth president by a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees.
President John Hitt will retire after 26 years of leading the university on June 30.
“Dale brings to his new role a deep understanding of UCF’s culture and strategic goals,” said Marcus Marchena, the board’s chairman.
Whittaker’s appointment is not official until the Florida Board of Governors votes to confirm the selection on March 29.
The board interviewed the final four presidential candidates Friday, asking them questions on topics such as the importance of athletics, their short and long term visions for UCF, and the issue of diversity of thought on college campuses.
Along with Whittaker, Suresh Garimella, an executive vice president at Purdue University; Mark Kennedy, president of the University of North Dakota and a former congressman; and Matthew Wilson, president of the University of Akron, were all questioned for 75 minutes in the Fairwinds Alumni Center.
After interviewing the candidates, the board deliberated and debated pros and cons of each, narrowing the field down to Whittaker and Garimella.
For the board, it was ultimately a choice between an outsider with a fresh perspective or an insider with knowledge of the university. Trustee John Sproul declared the presidential race one that Whittaker would always be ahead in.
During the board’s deliberation, SGA president and board member Nick Larkins praised Whittaker’s connection with students.
“The genuine human spirit [Whittaker] has is really unique,” Larkins said.
Robert Garvy, the board’s vice chairman, said during the discussion that he believes Whittaker will make a long-term commitment to UCF.
Before coming to UCF in 2014, Whittaker served as the vice provost at Purdue University and worked in academia for 30 years. He has three degrees, including a doctorate in agricultural engineering.
“I feel like my entire career has really prepared me for today,” Whittaker said at a press conference following the decision.
The board’s unanimous vote completed a search process that began in December. The Presidential Search Committee, headed by trustee David Walsh, led the search, selecting finalists from 34 candidates who submitted materials.
“We called early on for a comprehensive, inclusive and transparent search, and we have accomplished that,” Marchena said.
Marchena said he wishes there had been more diversity in the candidate pool, but that he was thrilled by the finalists’ quality.
“We had four really talented candidates bringing different backgrounds and experiences and differing perspectives about the future of UCF,” he said.
Trustees emphasized that they don’t expect Whittaker to be the next Hitt or fill his shoes.
“I have never seen Dr. Whittaker as the next Dr. Hitt. I have always seen him as his own leader with his own style,” trustee Alex Martins said.
In a letter to Whittaker, Hitt expressed congratulations and advice.
“Since your arrival in 2014, I have relied upon your intellect, counsel and friendship,” he wrote. “As you will soon know, the UCF presidency is a challenging job. But it’s also the most rewarding you’ll ever have.”
At the press conference, Whittaker, who described his new position as the best job in the country, was received by a standing ovation from a crowd of mainly UCF faculty and staff.
“Dr. Whittaker, I can say without question that out of all the candidates we interviewed, you are the only person I trust to lead this powerhouse at the center of my hometown,” Larkins said at the conference.
The Board of Governors will interview Whittaker and vote on whether to confirm him as UCF’s next president in Jacksonville on March 29.