Screenshot of the UCF Presidential Search Committee Livestream.

On Monday, UCF’s Presidential Search Committee had 45 potential candidates to fill the role UCF interim President Thad Seymour Jr. has been keeping warm.

The committee, tasked with identifying finalists for the Board of Trustees to select from, left Tuesday’s meeting having narrowed the list of 45 to seven potential candidates.

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“This whole process has been very eye-opening, producing high-quality candidates who are equipped to build a future at UCF that addresses our opportunities and our challenges,” UCF Board of Trustees Chair Beverly Seay said in a Tuesday news release. “It will be a valuable exercise for us to bring these individuals to campus and to learn from them.”

On Thursday, the committee interviewed those seven candidates with the intention of narrowing the list to just a few.

Seay, who also serves as the chair to the search committee, opened Thursday’s meeting with comments directed to Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, the firm hired to assist the university in the search for its sixth president.

Seay complimented the firm on the “excellent work on recruiting an extremely talented applicant pool” and the “remarkable depth” of the applicants.

  • Barbara Boyan
    – Dean of the College of Engineering.
    – Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
    Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • David Brenner
    – Vice Chancellor, Health Sciences.
    – Distinguished Professor, Department of Medicine,
    University of California San Diego;
    – Adjunct Professor, Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
  • Amr Elnashai
    – Vice President/Vice Chancellor for Research and
    Technology Transfer, University of Houston.
  • Vistasp Karbhari
    – President, The University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Richard Larson
    – Executive Vice Chancellor, Vice Chancellor for Research,
    University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
  • Cato Laurencin
    – Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
    – Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.
    – Professor of Biomedical Engineering.
    – Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery.
    – Chief Executive Officer, The Connecticut Convergence
    Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering,
    University of Connecticut.
    – Director, The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Center for
    Biomedical, Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences.
  • Javier Reyes
    – Vice President for StartUp West Virginia;
    – Dean of the College of Business and Economics,
    West Virginia University.

“UCF’s Presidential Search Committee chose three finalists from a pool of seven who were interviewed on campus Thursday,” UCF spokesman Mark Schlueb wrote in a Thursday statement. “The candidates are world-renowned in their disciplines and strong academic leaders.”

Vistasp Karbhari, Cato Laurencin, and David Brenner were the three finalists.

Schlueb said if additional candidates are considered, the committee will meet with them after spring break for open forums and other meetings. 

“I was thrilled with the quality and the talent of the candidates we interviewed today,” Seay said in a Thursday news release.

Knight News received a tip to look deeper into Karbhari — the current president at the University of Texas at Arlington and the only president of a university on the list of applicants.

The University of Texas System investigated the Arlington campus’ online education recruiting and enrollment practices after an anonymous complaint was reported to the state auditor in January 2019, a UT System official confirmed on Saturday.

Karbhari announced his resignation from The University of Texas at Arlington on Wednesday, according to documents obtained by Knight News.

Karbhari told Knight News in a phone interview that he cares deeply about UTA and wanted to be transparent with the campus community.

He said the announcement to his campus was unrelated to the investigation — he said he needed to be honest with UTA because he is fully committed to the opportunity at UCF.

The University of Texas System spokeswoman Karen Adler said in a Saturday email Karbhari’s most recent performance evaluation was delayed due to “the direct relevance” the potential findings could have on the annual performance evaluations.

“The investigation commenced in March 2019,” Adler said. “In the meantime, the UT System prepared initial information for President Karbhari’s annual performance review, set for the summer of 2019, but because of the direct relevance of the Protiviti investigation, Dr. Karbhari’s evaluation was delayed until the final investigative report was complete.”

Adler said the final report was submitted to the UT System in October 2019.

Karbhari said the final investigation report was issued, the proper adjustments were made, but said the president is ultimately the one responsible.

“When something happens at a university, the management response is going to come from the president,” Karbhari said.

Records obtained by Knight News, courtesy of the University of Texas System.

Karbhari said when he was made aware of the list of seven candidates, he let his current university know, and that the timing of the resignation has absolutely no correlation to the UT Systems investigation.

“It has been a privilege to have worked with the finest faculty and staff at any university in the nation,” Karbhari wrote in a message to the UT Arlington community on Wednesday. “… Through all of this, we have remained true to our mission and values, enabling access to excellence and ensuring that students, and their success, always come first.”

Karbhari said he and his wife, Lisa, have been privileged to serve the UT Arlington community.

“Selecting the next president is the most important decision our Board of Trustees will make,” Seay wrote on the Presidential Search website. “In doing so, we will ensure our search is inclusive, collaborative and transparent and produces a diverse candidate pool that reflects the culture of our campus and community.”

During the Tuesday meeting, some committee members had questions regarding Karbhari and the research they did in preparation for the meeting.

“I believe the committee selected finalists who bring impressive experience and understand the university – our challenges and opportunities,” Seay said in the Thursday news release.

According to The Shorthorn — a student-run news organization at UTA —  the lawsuit was filed by former Vice President for Institutional Advancement Deborah Robinson. It claims Karbhari subjected Robinson to bullying and threats of termination, the article reads.

During his interview at UCF, Karbhari called the lawsuit baseless. He said lawsuits come up like this, but what is not reported is when they are dismissed.

The Shorthorn reported that following his resignation announcement on Wednesday, the UTA Faculty Senate carried a motion to indefinitely freeze searches for department deans and higher positions until a permanent university president is hired.

Knight News has requested public records of Karbhari’s performance records and documents pertaining to UT Arlington’s Faculty Senate that are pending.

UCF spokesman Chad Binette said the important benefit of an open search is the opportunity the campus community has to share thoughts and concerns about the candidates

“We welcome the input, and our search consultants also use the time before the next stage as a fact-finding period,” Binette said in a Saturday email. “The search consultants will share their findings at the Presidential Search Committee meeting on March 16.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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