UCF community questions presidential candidate’s political past during open forum

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The search for UCF’s fifth president continued Wednesday as presidential candidate Mark Kennedy defended his six-year stint in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kennedy has been the president of the University of North Dakota since 2016 and served as a Republican delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2007, according to his curriculum vitae.

“I bring a full-spectrum view that begins from a political perspective,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy’s background in politics was at the forefront of some audience members’ minds. One crowd member challenged Kennedy’s views on stem-cell research, which she said he had been against in the past. She said that type of research has been used in a variety of programs at UCF such as the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. 

“I fully support UCF aggressively in pursuing all legal forms of research,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said working at George Washington University from 2012 to 2016 and Johns Hopkins University from 2011 to 2012 left him with a broad understanding of how academia works.

Associate Professor for the Department of Chemistry Frank Kujawa has worked at UCF for nearly five decades and been a part of the United Faculty of Florida union at UCF since 1976. He said he’s concerned about Kennedy’s view on faculty unions.

“I’ve heard [Kennedy] is hostile towards faculty governance,” Kujawa said.

Kujawa said he remembers a time before Whittaker held the provost position when those in charge tried to dictate salaries and working conditions, which he said led to a lack of faculty morale.

“I don’t want somebody to take us back to that,” Kujawa said.

Kujawa also brought up faculty concerns during UCF provost Dale Whittaker’s candidate forum on Tuesday.

Kennedy was also asked about his stance on the Deferred Act for Childhood Arrivals program; Two of UCF SGA’s presidential candidates Karen Caudillo and Joshua Boloña are recipients.

“I believe immigrants enrich our society,” Kennedy said. “America [is] stronger when welcoming the best and brightest from around the world to UCF.”

Kennedy said he wouldn’t get involved in political issues unless they affected UCF or if his intervention would make a difference in the outcome. 

More than 50 people gathered in the Pegasus Grand Ballroom in the Student Union on UCF’s main campus to hear Kennedy’s speech and the Q&A.

The conversation shifted from politics to helping UCF as Kennedy explained what he would do for the school such as X and X.

Bree Adamson, a senior copywriter for the UCF communications and marketing department, asked Kennedy how he planned to maintain the growing student population and maintain UCF’s “Scale x Excellence = Impact” motto.

The candidate also described how he would handle capacity issues at UCF by promoting online learning options without reducing the quality of classes or limiting enrollment numbers.

But Adamson said Kennedy’s response was unsatisfactory and didn’t go into enough detail on how he would maintain the second-largest university in the nation while ensuring quality education. 

“I wanted a clearer answer,” Adamson said.

She said Kennedy needs time to get to know UCF better but would have preferred a straightforward vision from him.

Though UCF graphic design major Melissa Vargas Ramirez is graduating this spring, she said she was at the forum because she wants the next president to keep improving the university. 

“I want UCF to keep improving and getting big and better,” Ramirez said. “[Kennedy] knows a lot about the business side, from what I can gather. I didn’t really understand much about what he wanted to do internally, but he did seem like an open book.”

Suresh Garimella, executive vice president for research and partnerships at Purdue University, is the last candidate to host an open forum, which is Thursday.

Matthew Wilson, the president of the University of Akron, and Dale Whittaker, the UCF provost and executive vice president, held their open forums Friday and Tuesday, respectively.

The UCF Board of Trustees will re-interview the four finalists and select a president-elect on Friday. The Florida Board of Governors will vote on the BOT’s selection on March 29.