ORLANDO, Fla. - University of Central Florida President Dale Whittaker is officially stepping down after less than a year in the position, pending approval of a settlement agreement yet to be determined.
Whittaker offered his resignation Tuesday in an attempt to rebuild trust after UCF school officials misused $38 million to build an academic building. UCF's board of trustees voted to accept the resignation at an emergency meeting Thursday after hearing public comments from students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.
Seven trustees voted to accept Whittaker's resignation, while three voted no.
In Whittaker's absence, the board of trustees voted to temporarily appoint Thad Seymour, UCF’s vice president for partnerships and chief innovation officer as acting short-term interim president. This comes ahead of the board's appointing a long-term interim president, who will need to then be approved by the Florida Board of Governors.
In a letter read publicly to the board of trustees at the meeting, Whittaker implored the Florida Legislature and Board of Governors to renew their relationships with UCF.
“My offer to resign represents the most significant step I can take to show that we are committed to this renewal,” the letter said.
Robert Garvy, who serves as chairman of the board, said Whittaker took "comprehensive" steps to correct "poor decisions of a prior administration."
Whittaker's resignation is the third to come as a result of the misappropriation of funds. The board of trustees' former chairman, Marcos Marchena, resigned as chairman Jan. 31 and then as a board member Feb. 14. Bill Merck, UCF's vice president and chief financial officer, resigned in September 2018.
Merck's resignation came after an investigation, launched by then-Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, found Merck took "full responsibility" for the misuse of money to build Trevor Colbourn Hall. The investigation's report also states Merck "consistently and openly acknowledged his role in the matter."
Both Whittaker and Marchena are "casualties" of the Board of Trustees' failure to communicate how seriously it was taking the issue with the Florida Legislature, according to Garvy.
Under new Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Cocoran is now the state's education commissioner. Many who offered public comments to the board decried the involvemnt of both the Board of Governors and the Florida Legislature in the investigative process and urged the board of trustees to vote regardless of more potential repercussions against UCF.
Trustee Bill Self was met with applause from the crowd when he said he intended to vote against Whittaker's resignation, as he is not beholden to the Board of Governors or the Florida Legislature. Self, as a faculty member, said much of UCF's current strife comes as a result of the Florida Legislature's failure to collaborate with the board of trustees.
“We could shine brighter if we could get over the politics,” Self said.
Self voted against accepting Whittaker's resignation.
For over an hour and a half, the public provided feedback about the resignation to the board in person, over the phone and via online response. Most were overwhelmingly in support of Whittaker, praising his character as an educator and leader.
Mike Morseberger, vice president for advancement at UCF, said Whittaker's resignation is indicative of the sacrifice he made for the school's greater good.
“He put the future of our students and university above his own,” Morseberger said.
Whittaker's wife, Mary, and daughter Erin also spoke during the meeting. Mary Whittaker said her husband has demonstrated strength and courage in the face of "the ghost of the administration past.”
Whittaker responded to a tweet posted by UCF this afternoon to thank the university for its support.
Nearly all members of the board of trustees said that UCF's loss will be another academic institution's gain.
"Sometimes the finest leadership decisions are those that entrust future leadership to others,” Garvy said.
The next step for the board is to appoint and seek approval for UCF's long-term interim president, who will serve as the university conducts another national presidential search, less than a year after its most recent one.
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