Former President Dale Whittaker said he was pressured to resign by a Florida legislator, an interview by the Orlando Sentinel reveals.
Whittaker told the Orlando Sentinel, that state Rep. Tom Leek pressured him to resign during a meeting with him shortly before stepping down.
The meeting took place four days before Whittaker was set to testify in front of a Florida House committee chaired by Leek, according to an Orlando Sentinel article.
Records released by UCF indicate that UCF management wanted Whittaker to continue as president, judging by a statement from one of UCF’s vice presidents.
Michael Morsberger, vice president for advancement and CEO of the UCF Foundation, asked Whittaker in a text message if he would be willing to stay if his resignation was somehow not accepted.
“Until they say ‘you’re fired’ or you say ‘I’m done,’ this circus is not over,” Morsberger wrote in the message. “Do you still want the job?!. I sure hope the answer is yes.”
Morsberger also indicated that he at least supported student “protests” in behalf of Whittaker.
“If the protests and anger that has already begun on campus continues, I would expect a huge rally outside the BOT special meeting,” Morsberger wrote. “This could change votes. Media coverage of students chanting your name would get press attention nationally. Politicians will have no choice but to take note.”
Whittaker explained his conversation with Leek during their meeting in February.
Whittaker said when he told Leek that he was committed to fixing UCF’s problems and wanted to mend fences with the Legislature, Leek said “‘I don’t see a future of UCF with you in it,’” according to the Sentinel article.
Leek denied making this statement.
Whittaker continued about Leek’s response.
“And then he said, ‘I care about you and your future,’” Whittaker told the Orlando Sentinel. “‘We can find a glide path for you to gracefully exit, but you have to commit to resigning now.’”
Whittaker said he was surprised by Leek’s statement and thought the “threat” was inappropriate, according to the Sentinel article.
Leek, however, said that any suggestion that Whittaker was forced or pressured to resign would be a “mischaracterization,” according to the Sentinel article.
“The man’s president of a university,” Leek said – according to the Sentinel article. “If he can’t handle sitting in the office with the representative from Daytona Beach telling him it’s going to be a tough path forward he might be overmatched by the job.”
Whittaker’s take on what happened seems to explain what he told Board of Trustees members in a letter; that he hoped his departure would end “punitive measures” from Florida lawmakers.
Whittaker also alluded to that in his resignation letter.
“My reason for doing this is so the relationship between UCF and the Legislature can be renewed,” Whittaker said.
Whittaker now lives in a cabin on Madeline Island, in northern Wisconsin, and is looking forward to becoming president at another university, according to the Orlando Sentinel article.