Coal miner’s daughter named UCF provost first woman, African American in that role

A coal miner's daughter who started her career as a public school teacher, Elizabeth Dooley has been tapped as provost at the University of Central Florida — the first African American and first woman in the school’s 50-year history.

Dooley, 61, has served as the interim provost since April, shortly after trustees selected her predecessor, Dale Whittaker, to succeed John Hitt as the university’s president.

The university’s announcement on Wednesday of her promotion to the provost, an academic-centered role, comes as the university is trying to attract more faculty members of color.

“I am deeply honored and humbled that President Whittaker, faculty, staff and students have put their faith in me to serve as provost at the greatest university in the world,” Dooley said, according to a news release. “The extraordinary support I have received as interim provost has been amazing, and I look forward to continuing to work each day to help achieve our university’s goal of becoming America’s 21st-century preeminent university.”

She credited her parents for giving her a lifelong love of learning, according to the release.

Dooley previously served as vice provost for teaching and learning and the dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies at UCF.

Some advocates for diversity said they saw Dooley’s promotion as a promising sign, if not a cure-all. In 2016, nearly three-quarters of fully tenured faculty members were white, the Orlando Sentinel reported. At that time, UCF had just two black female professors.

“I believe Liz being picked or selected to serve as provost shows the university’s commitment to diversity extends not just to the faculty, but to the highest levels of the administration as well,” said Peter Delfyett, a biracial professor in the College of Optics and Photonics.

Delfyett said he’s seen a greater focus on recruiting professors of color at UCF since Whittaker became provost in 2015.

“I think there’s a keen desire to have faculty that’s more representative of the student body,” he said.

Having a woman of color in such a high-ranking position at a university is “very unusual,” said Ansley Abraham, who oversees a program at the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board dedicated to producing more faculty members from underrepresented groups.

Universities have done a poor job of hiring faculty members of color, and there simply aren’t enough of them in Ph.D programs, Abraham said. While appointing an African American woman as provost isn’t a magic ticket to recruiting faculty members of color, it could signal that diversity is important to the university, he said.

“Do I think it has potential to do a lot of good?” he said. “The answer is that yes, it does.”

Prior to coming to UCF in 2015, Dooley spent about 25 years at West Virginia University, where she was the associate provost for undergraduate academic affairs, the founding dean of the University College and interim dean of the College of Education and Human Services. Dooley also was the department chair of Curriculum Instruction/Literacy Studies and Special Education, as well as the director of numerous university programs.

Dooley earned a doctorate of education and a master of arts in special education from West Virginia. She also has a bachelor of arts degree from Alderson Broaddus College, also in West Virginia.