University of Central Florida Provost and Executive Vice President Dale Whittaker gets his turn in the hot seat Tuesday morning in the university’s search for its next president, set to be concluded Friday.

Whittaker, who has been with UCF for four years, joins three other finalists in the hunt to succeed retiring President John Hitt, along with University of Akron President Matthew Wilson, University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy, and Purdue University Executive Vice President Suresh Garimella.

Whittaker will have his turn in a UCF community open forum discussion at 11 a.m. on Tuesday at the student union [in the Pegasus Ballroom,] at which he’ll make a presentation and answer questions from the audience. Wilson had his forum last Friday, and Kennedy and Garimella will have theirs on Wednesday and Thursday.

The UCF Board of Trustees will then interview the finalists, review feedback from the campus visits, and select a president-elect on Friday. The Florida Board of Governors will vote on the selection March 28 or 29.

More than 30 people applied for the job, and only a dozen or less had credentials close to what the search committee hoped to see. There were no politicians in the applicant pool.

Hitt completed his 26th year as president last week. He intends to stay until June 30.

UCF trustee David Walsh, who chaired the search committee, described the group of finalists as outstanding.

“Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena charged us with leading a ‘comprehensive, transparent and inclusive’ search … and I am confident we delivered on his charge,” Walsh said in a news release issued by the university. “We represent students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, trustees, community leaders and the Florida Board of Governors. We hosted four listening sessions on campus and in the community to solicit feedback about the search. Our online survey generated more than 1,400 responses.”

More on the finalists:

– In addition to his leadership roles, Whittaker also is a professor of civil, environmental and construction engineering. He has been Hitt’s right-hand man the past four years. Prior to that, he held several leadership posts at Purdue and Texas A&M University, topped by a stint as Purdue’s acting vice president for student affairs. He received his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M, and his master’s degree and doctorate in engineering from Purdue.

– Wilson has been president of Akron for about 18 months, and interim president for a few months prior. He was credited with righting the ship there after the university lurched into financial problems. Wilson has a law degree from Temple University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah, and was a professor of law at Akron. He also had served as dean of the Akron School of Law and held several leadership positions in Temple’s Japan campus.

Kennedy has been president of North Dakota for almost two years. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degree from St. Johns University. Previously he served as the director of and professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Garimella is executive vice president for research and partnerships and the Goodson Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue. He has earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, a master’s degree from Ohio State University, and a bachelor’s degree from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, India. He has held other leadership positions at Purdue and the U.S. Department of State, including as a senior fellow for energy and climate partnership of the Americas at the Department of State.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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