UCF President-elect Dale Whittaker discusses UCF Downtown, Parramore gentrification

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UCF President-elect Dale Whittaker met with student media outlets for the first time on Thursday to discuss a range of topics including how construction for UCF Downtown will affect surrounding neighborhoods.

During the presidential search, Whittaker said integrating downtown Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood with UCF Downtown needs to be done “the right way.” Editor-in-Chief of NSM Today Cristóbal Reyes asked Whittaker to expand on what that would look like.

“Gentrification can happen two ways: one is organically and the other is by displacement,” Whittaker said.

The average household income in the Holden-Parramore neighborhood is $17,100, according to Statistical Atlas, which collects and analyzes data from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau and various surveys. The federal poverty level is $12,752 for a single person and $25,283 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Statistical Atlas also says that 79 percent of the nearly 3,500 people who live in the Holden-Parramore neighborhood are black.

Whittaker said it’s important that the historical Parramore community is not displaced. He said a land trust that was announced earlier this month will establish property values to prevent rent from increasing faster than people’s wages.

The creation of workforce scaffolding programs could also help, Whittaker said. He said the programs could increase people’s hourly wage and path to a career incrementally.

“In fact right now, there are 40 people studying in our Center for Emerging Media for construction jobs that will take them from no employment or below minimum wage to very good wages on these construction projects we have right now,” he said.

Several prominent leadership positions will be filled during the upcoming months. UCF President John Hitt and UCF Police Chief Richard Beary will retire effective June 30, each having served in their position for 26 years and 11 years respectively. The Florida Board of Governors confirmed the selection of Dale Whittaker as UCF’s fifth president on March 29.

Whittaker praised the UCF Police Department and Beary’s leadership.

“The culture that [Beary] built of not punitive, but educative policing pervades that entire police force,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker said the search for the next police chief has already started. UCF is also searching for a new provost, a position Whittaker held since 2014. Whittaker said the provost search began hours before the panel.

Whittaker said he charged the search committee with finding someone who values economic mobility and discovery. He also plans to find a person who can navigate a large university and UCF’s medical school.

The search will continue during the summer and finalists will be brought in for interviews during the fall, Whittaker said.

Paola Guzman of UCF Knightly Latino asked Whittaker what new projects UCF will create to serve its Hispanic community.

Whittaker said he would like UCF to become the institution of choice for Latin Americans. He also said he would like to see UCF be an innovation hub to develop products for Latin America and North America.

In addition to becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution, Whittaker said UCF is about to become a minority-majority institution, meaning it will be made up of more people from underrepresented groups than majority groups.

Guzman also asked if there will be recruitment to strengthen relationships between Hispanic faculty and Hispanic students. Whittaker said there is a goal that every student will have a high-impact experience, which is “a direct relationship with a faculty member.”

Reyes asked Whittaker what he would do if UCF SGA President Joshua Boloña, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, was at risk of deportation.

Whittaker said he would sign a statement of support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, just like Hitt did in November 2016. He also said UCF is a public university that will follow the law.

Caroline Jackson of Knight News asked Whittaker what he would do to make UCF more inclusive for the LGBTQ community.

Whittaker said members of the LGBTQ community don’t have the same federal protection as other groups, such as women or racial minorities, so the community needs to be more visible and included at UCF.

Whittaker also discussed faculty growth and diversity, something he has promised to focus on.

Whittaker said he added 320 new faculty positions throughout his past four years as provost. He also said that UCF has the lowest student-faculty ratio since 2008. Whittaker said there are approximately 1,000 tenure-track faculty members at UCF, and he aims to increase the number to 12,000 by 2020.

In response to a question by Karla Rodriguez of UCF Knightly News, Whittaker said he would like to engage more with students. Whittaker mentioned the importance of social media but said it doesn’t replace face time with students.

“And it is not about photo ops and snaps; it’s really about listening and having the time to understand,” Whittaker said.

He also said the Burnett House, the official on-campus residence of UCF’s president, will be open more for student activities.

He said he learned integrity and wisdom from Hitt.

“ … When we find that one thing that just draws us and drives us, your energy is never depleted,” Whittaker said. “The mission of lifting lives is something that has always driven me.”