UCF President John Hitt announced his retirement Tuesday with the same style and grace he exhibited during his 25-year tenure.
Hitt told a standing-room-only crowd of UCF students, staff and community leaders that he was confident he was leaving at the right time.
“I’ve long believed that timing is important in life,” Hitt said in a statement he read at the Fairwinds Alumni Center. “Almost 26 years ago, the time was right for me to become UCF’s fourth president. Today, the time is right for me to retire.”
Starting March 1, 1992, Hitt transformed a commuter school into one of the largest universities in the country, shattering the traditional belief that such growth would lead to declines in quality.
In 2015, the Washington Post credited Hitt and UCF with helping to lead a “national insurgency that aims to demolish the popular belief that exclusivity is a virtue in higher education.”
“In terms of impact, integrity, and longevity, there’s never been a university president like John Hitt,” said Marcos Marchena, UCF Board of Trustees chairman. “There’s John – turn the page – and then everyone else.”
Marchena will lead a national search for the university’s fifth president. He promised “a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive search.”
He named Trustee David Walsh as search committee chairman and Trustee Beverly Seay as vice chair. He also appointed Trustee William Yeargin to the committee.
Marchena said the board will meet Thursday and he plans to name the entire search committee by Nov 15. He wants a new president approved by June 30.
Hitt, 76, will retire on June 30 but will continue as president emeritus to complete UCF’s $500 million Ignite fundraising campaign. Hitt and his wife of 55 years, Martha, thanked their colleagues for nearly 26 years of memories. His statement was interrupted as the audience gave him three standing ovations.
Hitt pointed to the creation of the UCF College of Medicine as his biggest accomplishment, saying many said it couldn’t be done. He also added that more than 100 new buildings have been constructed during his tenure.
“We’ve gone from earliest-survivalist mode to something more aesthetic and pleasing,” he said.
Hitt will not sit on the search committee but said his successor must have great communication skills, experience in academia and a thorough knowledge of UCF.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, “President Hitt has made a monumental impact on our community and under his leadership UCF has become our region’s biggest asset.”
“Central Florida’s most important accomplishments recently – from diversifying our economy, to clustering industries and education, to extending opportunities for minorities and our underserved by making education more accessible and affordable, to the creation of a new downtown campus – all have one thing in common, and that is UCF and President Hitt,” Dyer said.
Gordon Chavis, Jr., associate vice president of enrollment services, said he was “thankful for the legacy Hitt has left at UCF.”
Chavis said that when he arrived at UCF in 1991 only one in nine students wore a UCF T-shirt around campus.
“They wore T-shirts from other universities,” Chavis said. “It was not a first choice destination. Now you look around and so many students wear the UCF logo and are proud to be a part of this university. We are all saddened by the loss of President Hitt but will continue to build on his legacy.”