UCF President John Hitt will retire in 2018

University wants new president confirmed by June 30

ORLANDO, Fla. – University of Central Florida President John C. Hitt announced his retirement Tuesday after 25 years of leading the school.

A news conference was held at 2 p.m. at the Fairwinds Alumni Center on Gemini Boulevard, where Hitt was thanked for his leadership to the sound of thunderous applause.

“If this goes on much longer I’ll never get through this speech," Hitt joked as the clapping died down.

Hitt said that although he feels now is the right time for him to retire, he will continue to serve as president Americus and have a role in fundraising and partnership efforts for the university.

“There’s that general sense of timing; 25 years is a long time for anyone to stay in a leadership position,” Hitt said.

He credited hard work, great luck and the willingness to take risks for his longer-than-average tenure. He also said he's confident in his decision to step down.

“Well, I feel good. I feel like I’m doing something I recognize must be done and I hope I’m doing it with some style and grace," Hitt said.

His greatest accomplishment, he said, was opening the UCF College of Medicine in 2006, even though initially, "Almost no one gave us a chance."

Aesthetically, he said the school has transformed and expanded exponentially since he and his wife, Martha, arrived in 1992. He estimates about 100 new buildings have been added in that time all while sticking to first president Charles Millican's original concentric circle design.

“I would say we’ve gone from the early survivalist mode to something more aesthetically pleasing,” Hitt said.

His last day as the school's fourth president will be June 30.

Between now and then, Hitt plans to tie up loose ends on any projects that are in the works and make sure the next president has anything he or she will need to accomplish whatever tasks still need to be done.

UCF Board of Trustees chairman Marcos Marchena will lead the effort to find the university's fifth president. He said trustees, students, alumni, faculty and staff will sit on a search committee, which will be established by Nov. 15.

Marchena said the goal is to have a new president confirmed by June 30.

“I view this search as an opportunity to continue the trajectory of one of the country’s greatest university presidents. John, one more time, thank you for your service,” Marchena said.

Hitt described the ideal candidate as someone who's familiar with the world of higher education.

"You've gotta have someone with a deep knowledge of academe. This is a large university, becoming larger; complex becoming more complex; demanding becoming more demanding. So you need someone who really arrives with a very thorough of the institution more generally and capable of quickly getting a comprehensive knowledge of UCF," Hitt said.

He said he's certain the university will find a capable leader to take his place. Although he wouldn't discuss any potential candidates for the position, he was asked if Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer could possibly fill the role since he's expressed interest in the past.

Hitt said he doesn't think now is the time for a politician to serve as the school's president and the university would benefit most from someone who could help propel UCF to "a more well known and respected graduate and research university."

"Again, if we were to say, 'Well this is the time for a political, politically experienced candidate,' I can think of no one I'd recommend ahead of Mayor Dyer. He's an outstanding individual. I don't happen to believe this is the time for a political candidate. Luckily I'm not involved in the choice," Hitt said.

According to a news release from the school, Hitt’s leadership took UCF from a sleepy commuter school to one of the largest universities in the country.

The average GPA of incoming freshmen this fall was a school record of 4.05. The percentage of UCF students who are minorities has increased from 15 percent in 1992 to 46 percent in 2017.

U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges of 2018 guide ranks UCF among the nation’s most innovative universities, along with Harvard, Stanford and Duke. 

“Walt Disney and John Hitt have done more to transform Central Florida into a vibrant, dynamic place than any two people," Gov. Jeb Bush said years ago.

A statement from Hitt was released on UCF's website:

"I've long believed that timing is important in life. 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. With the firm belief that the future is bright for UCF, I will step down as president effective June 30, 2018.

"I make this decision in good health and of my choosing. The time is right for this decision because I’ve never felt better about UCF.

"This is a special moment in time for the university: we are hiring hundreds of talented new faculty; attracting the highest-achieving students in our history; and making impacts in Orlando, the state, and nation.

"I am proud of our reputation as one of the biggest and best universities in the country. Through our size and constant pursuit of excellence, UCF changes the lives of our students … and our students change the world.

"Making this decision now provides the best opportunity for our momentum to continue. I know that our leadership team, including our trustees, vice presidents, and deans, will continue turning big dreams into reality.

"UCF Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena will convene a search committee that will include trustees and representatives from the faculty, staff, student body, alumni, the Florida Board of Governors, and the Central Florida community.

"We will soon share additional information about the presidential search process.

"Since 1992, Martha and I have been honored to work alongside many exceptional people. Being at UCF has been one of the greatest joys of our lives.

"When we first visited campus, we had a powerful feeling that UCF was a special place. We could never have imagined then how special it would become.

"Thank you to everyone who has made our remarkable university what it is today. Martha and I are forever grateful for your support."

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