Photo by Megan Turner.

UCF’s Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting on Friday with one topic to discuss — will COVID-19 affect UCF’s search for its sixth president?

Despite UCF’s transition to remote instruction due to the pandemic — and the push for on-campus students to return to permanent residences — Board Chair Beverly Seay said the university is going through a difficult time but the timeline remains the same.


The Board of Trustees is slated to have the sole finalist selected by Friday, and the individual will be on his or her way — onto the path of UCF’s presidency — with one short stop at the Florida Board of Governors for a final interview on March 25.

“This is really an extraordinary time,” Seay said. “When we first began the search, we committed to being open and transparent, recruiting the very best candidates for the role and that’s why we’re holding this discussion today.”

Seay said the committee has a competitive pool of highly qualified candidates and said virtual methods of communication will be utilized for some parts of the new candidate interviews in light of COVID-19.

“We must make decisions that are best for the future of our university, even if we are unsure of how things will unfold in the next weeks or months,” she said. 

Alberto Pimentel — the representative from Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, the firm hired to assist in the search — said the two candidates remaining are prepared to move forward with the process, despite the circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

He said the two remaining finalists are on campus for in-person campus tours and additional conversations with board members. The top three finalists were announced on March 5, but one candidate withdrew his name from the running on March 9. 

“We are currently working aggressively to recruit an additional candidate — he’s an individual we’ve been hoarding for many, many weeks now,” Pimentel said. “He is a high visibility individual, he’s not a candidate as of yet, we are seriously trying to engage him in full consideration of this opportunity — we will keep you posted as our progress moves forward.” 

Pimentel said he is confident the individual will be able to be included in the candidate pool at some point. 

“He is not a declared candidate, we are still in the recruitment process,” Pimentel said on Friday. “We will know more by Sunday whether or not he will be progressing with us on this journey.”

Knight News requested information regarding Pimentel’s comments, but UCF spokesman Chad Binette said no additional applicants had been added to the pool. 

Binette followed up in a Sunday email and said the mystery candidate currently works in higher education.

The mystery candidate did not sit well with the UCF Student Government Senate — in a formal letter sent to the Board of Trustees on Saturday, the senate expressed its disappointment in the Board of Trustees in picking UCF’s next president without additional in-person student involvement. 

“The Board’s plan to implement ‘virtual open forums’ is not sufficient as technology can oftentimes be faulty,” the letter reads. “Furthermore, this move eliminates any credible argument that scheduling the selection during this tumultuous time was a lapse in judgment on the part of the Board.”

UCF SG Senate President Fritz Farrow shared the letter in various UCF student Facebook groups, stating that UCF intends to pick its sixth president while the university is in its first week of remote instruction due to COVID-19. 

“Today, 30 Student Body Senators sent a letter to the Board of Trustees calling for transparency and forthrightness and asked them to postpone the selection until students return,” Farrow wrote in the post.

UCF Student Body President Kyler Gray said on Sunday that students have been at the forefront of selecting UCF’s next president, and student input has been acknowledged from the start of the search. 

“The Board of Governors is in full support of us continuing the selection, given the unpredictable nature of the current COVID-19 pandemic,” Gray said. “There will be other alternatives to ensure transparency in this process, such as an online open forum, and a small gathering of student leaders, such as Senators, to allow them to put forth their input. While I understand that some feel student input isn’t being adequately heard, the University and Board have done its best given the current climate of the state and world.” 

Gray said the Board of Trustees will continue to promote transparency through the process and said any student with concerns can forward them to the Board of Trustees using the “Contact the Board” form.

Not a single Board of Trustees member was physically in attendance at the emergency teleconference meeting on Friday, though the President’s Boardroom in Millican Hall at UCF’s main campus was reserved for it.

All but two members of the UCF Board of Trustees called into an emergency teleconference meeting on Friday to discuss the Presidential Search and impact of COVID-19. Trustee Harold Mills and John Sprouls were not present on the call.

Pimentel also checked into the Friday meeting by phone.

Trustee Ken Bradley asked Seay over the conference call if the faculty will be able to interact with candidates through the virtual methods. 

Gray built on Bradley’s question, asking more specifically about the impact on students and how the directive to stay off-campus could limit an opportunity to participate in the search.

Seay said the goal of the virtual format is to have the UCF community submit questions electronically, and for the committee or board to relay those questions to the candidate for them to answer. 

“We’re going to get a real test of our electronic abilities,” Seay said.

Trustee and Faculty Chair William Self said it’s vital the chancellor of the State University System is on board with the Presidential Search continuing to progress through virtual means. 

“I think this is critical that we move forward and I’m glad that we have,” Self said. “I’m glad to hear that’s where we’re moving in the direction of this meeting.”

Seay said the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, Marshall Criser III, proposed the idea to her regarding the virtual format continuation of the Presidential Search during an in-person meeting on Wednesday.  

She said the Wednesday meeting came after the Board of Governors announced all State Universities with students on spring break should direct students to remain off-campus for at least two weeks.

Bradley said any additional candidate the search firm will likely be exceptional but reiterated the strength of the candidates in the running. 

“I just want to speak to the quality of the two candidates that we know we have,” Bradley said. “This is an incredible pool, I just want to thank everyone who has brought us to this point.” 

Moving forward, the committee will convene for the first time since meeting on March 5 when it was announced the two current finalists include physicians — Harvard-educated Dr. Cato Laurencin and Yale-educated Dr. David Brenner.

  • Dr. Cato Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D.
    – 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.
  • Dr. David Brenner, M.D.
    – Vice Chancellor, Health Sciences.
    – Distinguished Professor, Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego;
    – Adjunct Professor, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

The Presidential Search Committee will meet on Monday at 9 a.m. at FAIRWINDS Alumni Center to review the two remaining finalists, reconsider candidates in the pool, and consider any new candidates who may apply.

Monday will be when the individual Pimentel said he “had been hoarding for many, many weeks now” — the mystery candidate — will have to be introduced, if he is to become a candidate. The meeting will be available during real-time via livestream.

Tuesday is reserved for the mystery candidate — or the candidate that will fill the vacancy in the Top 3 finalists — who Pimentel said “is in the pool but has not been advanced,” presumably for protection from Florida’s broad public record laws.

The individual will tour the campus and meet with the Board of Trustees for one-on-one board member meetings.

Pimentel said Dr. Cato Laurencin arrived on campus Thursday and departed Saturday, and said Dr. David Brenner arrived Saturday and departs Sunday. 

Wednesday and Thursday are the two days reserved for open forums, which Pimentel said the staff is still in the process of setting up. 

Each finalist will conduct virtual open forums and also meet separately with small groups of students and faculty virtually, according to a UCF news release. Open forums will be livestreamed and available online to allow for feedback.

The Board of Trustees will meet on Friday at 8:30 a.m. for videoconference interviews with each finalist, and by Friday evening the BOT will select UCF’s sixth president. The interviews will only be livestreamed and broadcast in real-time. 

The Board of Governors is expected to interview and vote on the Board of Trustees’ appointment in a livestream meeting on March 25.

“It’s been a really great opportunity talking to this quality of talent and listening to their experiences and their enthusiasm for the University of Central Florida and what they can do for us,” Seay said. “I really look forward to you having the opportunity to meet with them to have the same level of excitement that I do about them.”