1ON1: Presidential Edition
Dale Whittaker: John, how do you reply if a student or a parent asks, “Why would I choose UCF over another university?”
John C. Hitt: Of course there are many great reasons why a student would choose UCF over a host of other institutions: the breadth of programs we have, the depth of learning that can come out of having all that, the scope to our knowledge and efforts. But I guess I’d have to say that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend UCF over all other institutions without some careful thought.
One of the great things about American higher education is the tremendous variety of institutions we have. And as great as UCF is, I doubt it’s great for everybody. And I would hope that we could remain professional enough to act on that fact if we saw an instance where there was a learning-style issue or something that a young person might not be taking adequately into account. Now, I sure hope that we get plenty of the students who match up well with UCF. That would be what we’ve seen for the 50-plus years of our existence, but I wouldn’t say that it would always be the case.
DW: To your point, I find when students take campus visits, they know if a place is right for them or not. They feel it in the culture, and in the buildings, and in the people they meet. They know where they fit in. I think from a diversity of points of view, UCF has so many ways for people to feel connected. No matter who you are, you will probably find a group of people like you, where you can draw energy and comfort. I also know that you will probably have a best friend who is totally different from you — one who may eat different things or grew up in a different way and who will grow you and stretch you in ways you didn’t imagine.
JCH: A very powerful early life lesson.
DW: If you were starting college today, what would you do differently?
JCH: I’d go to more classes! Martha [Hitt] can tell you that I once walked into a great American history class and was greeted by the faculty member whom I thought the world of. He looked at me and asked, “Well, Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
DW: I would do exactly the opposite, John. I was so focused on school. And I spent so much time [studying] that I didn’t spend the time making friends and meeting other people around me in the way that I would if I went back. It’s such a great opportunity. I would loosen up a little bit.
JCH: What’s your favorite UCF tradition?
DW: What I love about UCF is that these students are still creating traditions. And they aren’t bound by 100-year-old traditions. But I’ve got to say my favorite so far is Spirit Splash. Just everybody coming together and the energy and the fun.
How about you?
JCH: I couldn’t agree more strongly with you. You see freshmen, seniors, some staffers and alumni — a good cross section of the UCF community — just having a blast, and it’s a lot of fun.
DW: It’s when the community really seems to come together.
JCH: What’s it going to take to get you to jump in and be part of that grand event?
DW: Probably a good shove.
JCH: What is the real value of higher education, and why would anyone go to all of the trouble and expense to earn a degree?
DW: I think the real value is the people that you meet, the way that others challenge the way that you think from their own experiences. It’s not just the learning of skills. Learning how to think is the real value of higher education. And I think that it’s that credential of knowing that you’ve persevered, you’ve been tested and you’ve learned in a disciplined way to think. What do you think?
JCH: Well, I would agree. Another question that gets tacked on is this one: “Is it worth it? Is a degree, is higher education worth it?” And my response to that is: Try ignorance. If you’re not sure that that degree is worth the money you’ve paid, try ignorance.
Dale, you’re in an interesting position now. You’re starting what I hope will be a very long and very successful presidency. What are your key goals for that presidency at this point?
DW: I would say my first goal is excellence, and I do believe, John, that there’s a possibility that we’ll be Florida’s preeminent university for this century. And it may be soon, or it may take longer, but I believe it’s almost inevitable as long as we do a good job of constantly improving, constantly focusing on the students, and on learning from the quality of our ideas.
My second goal would be continuing to keep a focus on value — making sure that we’re affordable — so we find and nurture talented students.
And my last goal is not only to continue but also to accelerate the partnership culture and commitment. It’s done so much for this university, and I think there’s so much more opportunity in our future.
How are you going to stay involved with UCF?
JCH: For the next year, I’m going to be working quarter time, based from our new home in Wisconsin. I’ll be working on trying to close out what I believe will be the very successful $500 million IGNITE campaign. I think it will be a great way to close out my professional career here at UCF because I’ll be working with some of the people whom I’ve grown to really appreciate and admire over the years. So I’ll be trying to raise some money. Who knows what else might present itself, but that’s the number one target.
DW: Well, I know one other thing that might present itself, and I would ask you directly: If Dale Whittaker comes up on your caller ID, are you going to answer it?
JCH: Of course.
DW: Good, because I will be seeking more of your friendship and advice.
JCH: Well, you’re welcome for anything you want to ask for, but I don’t think you need a lot of help from me, Dale. You’re well-prepared.