UCF provost helped spark historic changes
Terry Hickey leaves the job with many triumphs, including a new medical school
As President John Hitt's second-in-command for the past seven years, Hickey's job as provost was to figure out how to make real the grand vision for the university held by the president and trustees, even in the face of big state budget cuts.
Among Hickey's triumphs: winning state approval for a medical school some argued would never get off the ground, then helping raise millions in private dollars to get it built.
Hickey is retiring after a career in teaching and administration spanning more than three decades, but he won't be cutting his UCF ties altogether. He has been awarded emeritus status, meaning he could still be called on to advise the university in the future.
Here's what Hickey had to say about some of the challenges he's faced during his tenure as provost — a centuries-old academic title meaning "chief" — and executive vice president at UCF.
What brought you to UCF?
When I was looking at jobs at the time, I knew it was likely the last stop in my academic career. I had been at the University of Alabama at Birmingham at a time of rapid growth, not in the number of students but in research stature. It had an entrepreneurial environment built on interdisciplinary values: If you could imagine something and figure out a way to pay for it, you could do it. But not all universities are organized that way, I found.
So you saw the potential for that type of approach at UCF?
Here was a place where interdisciplinary cooperation was already in place. It had a dynamic environment and was actively looking for ways to form partnerships in the community. You'll never hear someone here say something is impossible. It might be very difficult, but not impossible. Ambition is in the DNA of the institution.
When we proposed a medical school, people laughed at us. Some gave us a 5 percent chance of success. That just fueled the fire for us. Persistence and determination got us through it. The lesson: Don't give up.
Elaborate on your job, since some may not be familiar with what a provost does.
The job of the provost is to help the president reach the goals of the institution. It includes everything from academic programs to the budget. But it's been said that presidential dreams can result in provostal nightmares. It's a big job. That's why provosts tend to leave when a new president is chosen. But this job has been a good fit for me. I'm an operations guy. I don't mind working in the shadows. Not only did I work well with our president, we genuinely like each other. Dr. Hitt's record speaks for itself, but it started with Charlie Millican, our first president. The original dream was Charlie's. The secret of our success has been consistency of purpose on the part of the presidents throughout our history. Dr. Hitt, for 18 years, has been extremely successful building on the foundation of those who came before him.
When it comes to academics, what has been your focus?
Access is one. I was a first-generation college student. I came out of a high school where few went to college. But I worked hard and got financial aid to go to college. Dr. Hitt comes from a similar environment. So access to a college education if very important to us. Higher education can make all the difference in the world to someone.
When you took the job, you told people you planned to stay six or seven years.
And I did. It's time to do something else now, time to get out of the way. I started working as a kid, mowing lawns. So I've been working for 55 years. I'm going to take some time to unwind. That includes some tennis. I'm taking up a fitness program — it's Navy Seals-type training. I haven't read for pleasure in years, so I'm looking forward to getting back to that. There was just so much to read connected to the job, no time. I've been approached to do some consulting. But for now, I'll be taking some time to figure out what comes next.
Getting to the point of having to do layoffs. I would have loved to have not had to do that. The last three years of budget-cutting have been tough. But not a week goes by that someone doesn't say thank you. I think we did better than a lot of other institutions.
What are you taking with you?
Well, they're letting me keep my e-mail address.
Luis Zaragoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5718.