UCF community calls for diversity in next president at public forum

UCF political science student Karen Caudillo discusses the need for UCF's next president to be inclusive. Presidential Search Listening Session, Jan. 10, 2018. Photo by Layla Ferris.

Students and faculty alike made it known at Wednesday afternoon’s Presidential Search Listening Session that the next president of UCF must prioritize diversity.

The second of four Presidential Search Listening Sessions held by the Presidential Search Committee was held in the Cape Florida Ballroom in the Student Union on UCF’s main campus.

“What stood out to me loud and clear was a desire for a president who obviously has a strong, sincere authentic commitment to diversity,” committee member Falecia Williams said.

Nine of the 15 committee members listened as the UCF community suggested what qualities UCF’s next leader needs.

The first listening session of the day featured only two speakers. However, 13 members of the community took to the microphone late Wednesday to discuss issues concerning diversity, student body representation, technology and sustainability at the second forum.

Another avenue the committee is using to gather feedback from the public is an online survey. The survey has been taken by more than 1,300 people so far, and the responses should be made public by the beginning of next week, Assistant Vice President of News and Information Chad Binette said.

“We’re thrilled with the online response so far,” Binette said.

UCF student Elliana Dix speaks at the second Presidential Search Listening Session. Presidential Search Listening Session, Jan. 10, 2018. Photo by Layla Ferris.

However, UCF political science student Elliana Dix said she would like to see more student involvement in the search process and feels that student involvement isn’t being taken seriously.

“I personally think that one student [on the committee] and a survey going out through students’ emails is an awfully poor representation of what students feel and think about this university and this process,” Dix, 22, said.

However, Eloy Hernandez, a UCF chemistry professor, thanked the committee for the transparency displayed throughout the process. Hernandez said he was happy with the level of representation on the board.

Though Hernandez said he wants another mechanism for getting feedback from faculty besides the online survey and listening sessions.

Eloy Hernandez, a UCF chemistry professor, speaks at the public forum. Presidential Search Listening Session, Jan. 10, 2018. Photo by Layla Ferris.

Karen Caudillo, a junior at UCF studying political science, took to the microphone three separate occasions to discuss issues ranging from racial inclusivity to climate change she said the president should care about.

Caudillo said the next president should genuinely care about all students.

“He should really want to make sure that we’re creating dialogue that isn’t being heard and that he’s [the next president] willing to have his door open to people,” Caudillo said.

She also said she would like to see more students of color represented on the committee and more people of color as faculty.

“Walking through the hall I see all these picture frames and none of them look like me,” Caudillo said.

Edwanna Andrews, the director of Social Justice and Advocacy at UCF, echoed the need for a diverse faculty.

Andrews said the most recent Florida Equity Report, which measures the equity of enrollment, athletics and employment, shows UCF is losing black faculty at great numbers.

UCF experienced a decrease in the number of tenured black faculty members, which regressed to the same number UCF had in the fall of 2011, according to the Florida Educational Equity Act 2017 Report that uses information from the 2015-16 data year.

Black faculty members make up 4.6 percent of the tenured faculty, according to the report.

“I would strongly encourage the committee to take a deep look at those equity reports and hopefully generate some questions to see and determine if our next president has a demonstrated background of being a true champion of diversity when it comes to an inclusive faculty,” Andrews said.

Some of the Presidential Search Committee members prepare before the forum. Presidential Search Listening Session, Jan. 10, 2018. Photo by Layla Ferris.

Caudillo also noted the necessity of having a president who prioritizes sustainability and environmental issues.

“Without a leader who realizes the implications of where our state is gonna be in the next 30, 50 years, it’s going to play a vital part on whether or not we can sustain ourselves as human race here in Florida,” Caudillo said.

Although Scott Launier taught four classes Wednesday, he said he attended both the Presidential Search Committee meeting that morning and the listening session that afternoon.

Launier, an associate instructor of writing and and rhetroric at UCF and president of United Faculty of Florida, said he wants a president who is open to creating more dialogue with faculty in order to create better teaching conditions that will lead to more time to spend with students and result in better learning experiences.

Williams also said the need for “UCF’s next president to reconcile the desire for a strong research component while paying very careful attention to the student experience and how we connect students and faculty together” was an element of the forum that stood out to her.

Speaker of the UCF SGA Senate Josh Boloña stressed the importance of maintaining a student-oriented vision throughout the next presidency.

Bolona said funding that stems from UCF’s research is important to keep the university thriving.

“But I also don’t want us to take a route where we believe in putting all our resources to this research and hoping it trickles down to the student experience,” he said.

UCF Professor Emeritus Ron Phillips discusses the value of a technologically advanced president. Presidential Search Listening Session, Jan. 10, 2018. Photo by Layla Ferris.

The meeting closed with final words by UCF Professor Emeritus Ron Phillips about the importance of technology.

“We need to have someone that understands the technology fields in Central Florida,” Phillips, a faculty member for 47 years, said. “I think we oughta think about the next dude that runs this outfit, does he have an understanding and have some appreciation for that kind of technology field?

“He doesn’t have to be a geek, but it would always help.”

Committee member Beverly Seay interjected after Phillips claimed no member of the Presidential Search Committee was in a high-technology field in Central Florida.

Seay explained that she is not only the chair of the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science, but also built a high-tech business and engaged in several technological projects throughout her career before closing the meeting with a wish.

“Hopefully the next ‘dude’ could maybe be a woman.”