UCF begins search to replace longtime president

The University of Central Florida will have a presidential search committee in place by mid-November and will name a replacement for outgoing President John Hitt by June, trustees were told Thursday.

The UCF Board of Trustees also unanimously agreed to allow Hitt, who has served more than 25 years as the school's leader, to serve as president emeritus after he retires on June 30.

The search committee will be led by trustee David Walsh, and he will be joined by trustees Beverly Seay and William Yeargin.

In a meeting at the Orlando university, Marcos Marchena, chairman of the trustees, said the search committee will be filled out with faculty members, student representatives and other members of the university and Orlando communities.

Marchena said he expects the full committee to be appointed by Nov. 15.

The committee will work with a yet-to-be-selected executive search firm to develop a list of potential candidates to replace Hitt, who is the longest serving president in Florida's university system and announced his retirement Tuesday.

Marchena said the process should lead to an “unranked” list of three to five presidential candidates. The selected candidates will participate in a campus forum “so that our faculty, students and everyone else can come and meet” them, Marchena said.

The finalists will then appear before the Board of Trustees, which will select the next president, Marchena said.

He said the new president should be named before a June meeting of the university system's Board of Governors, which must confirm any selection. He added that a selection could happen earlier.

Answering questions from the trustees, Marchena said Florida's Sunshine Law will guide the process, which means at some point when a list of potential candidates is developed, it will be made public.

“In Florida, there is no way around it,” Marchena said. “And I don't intend to find a way around it.”

Marchena said he anticipates a “clean process” that leads to the “absolute best candidate.”

To help smooth the leadership transition, the Board of Trustees also approved a plan where Hitt will become president emeritus beginning July 1.

Marchena said retaining Hitt in a formal role will help continue his efforts in the school's “Ignite” fund-raising campaign, which aims to raise $500 million by 2019, as well as continuing to carry out the university's strategic plan.

Hitt, who earns an annual base salary of $516,000 as president, will be paid $300,000 in his emeritus role. The contract is for one year but can be renewed, Marchena said.

One provision in the agreement notes Hitt will establish his permanent home in Wisconsin after he retires and will carry out some of his duties by telecommuting. His travel back to Florida will be covered by the school.

In remarks to the trustees, Hitt focused on one of the major themes of his presidency, the growth of UCF from a commuter school to the nation's second-largest public research university.

Hitt said a record 66,183 students are enrolled at UCF for the fall semester, a 2.9 percent increase from last year. When Hitt came to the school in March 1992 there were a little more than 21,000 students.

Yet at the same time UCF has grown, Hitt has emphasized academic improvement. The university has a record enrollment of 88 National Merit Scholars in the new freshman class.
With 315 National Merit Scholars on campus, Hitt said that puts UCF among the top 10 public universities in attracting the high-achieving students.

Hitt also pointed to increased diversity of the student body, with minority students representing 46 percent of UCF's enrollment.


Information via the News Service of Florida