UCF provost to focus on faculty growth if awarded presidency

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UCF presidential finalist Dale Whittaker says growing the university’s faculty would be his main focus if chosen as the next president.

Whittaker is the only internal candidate for the next UCF president and has been the school’s provost since 2014. During a UCF presidential finalist open forum on Tuesday, he recalled an interview with UCF President John C. Hitt when he applied for the position.

Hitt asked him how he would make UCF better, Whittaker said.

“I said there are three things I would think about, and one dominates all of them and that is to build the faculty … [it] builds scholarly output, it changes the student-faculty ratio, it builds research and it builds graduate education,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker said he told Hitt the two other ways to make UCF better are to engage deans for fundraising and “bring the faculty and the classroom into the formula for student success,” although he did not give specifics.

Whittaker said these points became a part of UCF’s Collective Impact, a strategic plan published in 2016 focusing on the university’s next 20 years; Whittaker was a contributor to the plan. 

Members of UCF’s faculty questioned Whittaker on the student-faculty ratio, encouraging students’ intellectual growth and how UCF’s assets, such as UCF Downtown, should be handled under a new president.

UCF chemistry professor Frank Kujawa asked Whittaker how he would address the issue of students lacking comprehension, critical thinking and basic reasoning skills; It’s a problem Kujawa — who has worked as a chemistry professor since 1969 and is the longest-serving faculty member — said he’s discussed with other faculty members who also think it needs to be addressed.

Whittaker said a provost would handle that issue, and that he’d hire the best in the country.

Speaking as the provost, Whittaker said whatever deficits students may suffer from would require the administration and faculty to “develop supports … to achieve their goal because they obviously have other talents that got them here.”

He did not elaborate on the specifics of his plan, but said he’d rather answer the question “philosophically.”

The forum, held in the Pegasus Ballroom in the Student Union, is the second of four forums. Each features a prepared presentation by a candidate and then a Q&A with the audience.

Whittaker said working in his family’s business informs his work ethic and leadership approach. He said he worked as a trucker and handyman dealing with fertilizer and farming chemicals until he decided to go to college in 1979.

Whittaker earned his Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M in agricultural engineering and his master’s and doctorate from Purdue University in the same field before coming to UCF, according to his curriculum vitae.

The other two forums are also held in the Pegasus Ballroom in the Student Union on UCF’s main campus from 11 a.m. to noon.

  • Mark Kennedy will present Wednesday.
  • Suresh Garimella will present Thursday.