University of Missouri Chancellor Alexander Cartwright is the provisional choice to be president of the University of Central Florida.
The UCF Board of Trustees voted unanimously Friday to forward Cartwright’s name to the Florida Board of Governors, which will vote on Wednesday.
It is not yet known when Cartwright would begin his role as UCF president if confirmed. However, trustees said they were anxious for him to begin his role as soon as possible in light of COVID-19’s effect on universities across the country.
During a press conference after the vote, Cartwright first recognized the MU community.
"It’s made quite an impact on us to be part of the Mizzou family," he said. "That is what made us really consider whether we should consider something (else). It needed to be something that was special."
He went on to say that UCF’s position as a metropolitan university was of particular interest to him.
Cartwright also said during the press conference that the president and the provost, who have been among those leading the university’s response to COVID-19, would continue to act in the best interest of the students, faculty and staff.
In a statement via spokesman Christian Basi, UM System President Mun Choi congratulated Cartwright on the selection while voicing confidence in the Columbia campus’ ability to transition its leadership.
"I have every confidence in our strong and talented leadership team at Mizzou, as well as our tremendous faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends," Choi said. "We will continue to not only bring solutions to our current public health crisis, but also continue our pursuit of excellence in student success, research and engagement for the state of Missouri."
The trustees voted after hearing the results of a background check, some of which remains to be completed, and a discussion that took in excess of two hours.
The university, located in Orlando, added Cartwright to the list of finalists for the position on Wednesday.
He joined Cato Laurencin, chief executive officer of Connecticut Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering at University of Connecticut, and David Brenner, vice chancellor for health and sciences at University of California, San Diego. However, Brenner withdrew his candidacy shortly after an online forum on Wednesday.
Trustees called Laurencin and Cartwright both exceptional candidates, but ultimately opted for Cartwright due to his administrative experience both at the University of Missouri and State University of New York (SUNY) before that.
"It really comes down to fit," trustee Alex Martins said. "For me, fit for what we need at this university at this time is a CEO, a leader, someone who can relate to every segment of our institution. For me, Dr. Cartwright is a perfect fit."
Trustees also noted Cartwright’s personal history would help him to relate to many of the university’s 70,000 students, a significant portion of whom transfer to UCF from community colleges.
Cartwright moved to Iowa from the Bahamas after finishing high school. He then earned his GED, attended a community college and later transferred to University of Iowa.
"He’s very open about his community college background very early in his career," trustee Danny Gaekwad said. "(This) gives him a fantastic empathy."
Cartwright was appointed chancellor in May 2017 and began work in August 2017, almost two years after R. Bowen Loftin resigned in 2015 during the Concerned Student 1950 protests.
When UM System Mun Choi announced Cartwright’s selection, he said he was looking for a long-term commitment to MU.
"I was looking for a chancellor who would serve in this role for five, 10, 15 years and use this opportunity, not as a stepping stone, but to move the university forward with both short-term, immediate plans, but also long-term plans to grow the university," Choi said.
During an interview with the trustees before the vote, Cartwright cited his experience handling state-level budget cuts early in his term as chancellor as an asset.
More than one-fifth of Florida’s state budget comes from taxes on tourism, which are expected to shrink dramatically as Florida closes some of its beaches to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
In Cartwright’s first year at MU, he said he was forced to cut $50 million from the university’s budget. He also cited his experience fostering relationships with state legislators on budget matters.
"We are always thinking about what is that benefit to the state what is the benefit to the society in general and having those conversations," he told trustees.
Cartwright’s experience leading the University of Missouri in the wake of the Concerned Student 1950 protests was also cited in his favor by Alberto Pimentel, a search consultant who ran background checks on each of the candidates.
Pimental told the board that "the university had undergone a tremendous amount of trauma and relationships had been strained at all levels," referring to minority communities, legislators and alumni alike.
Pimental spoke with University of Missouri faculty members and others associated with the university. He said "they talked about how he mended those relationships."
The decision comes as MU is working through a switch to online learning as it deals with the coronavirus outbreak.
All university employees were ordered to begin staying at home and most facilities on campus are closed.