State of the University: A Call to Seize the Opportunities Ahead

President Kent Fuchs
August 25, 2022

Thank you to the Faculty Senate for continuing the tradition of hosting the president’s annual State of the University address. Also, thank you to Vice President Curtis Reynolds and Business Affairs for sponsoring the reception after today’s meeting. I will be available throughout the reception for questions and discussion.

I want to express my gratitude to Board of Trustees Chair Mori Hosseini for traveling here and speaking in today’s Faculty Senate meeting. In my eight years at UF, the University of Florida has been blessed with exceptional trustees, and members of numerous boards, who voluntarily give of their time, expertise, and influence to make our university stronger.

As I finish what we expect will be the last semester of my time as university president, I am particularly grateful for the profound impact Mr. Hosseini has made on higher education across our state. He personally is the primary reason our state’s universities and colleges are all stronger today than they were 10 years ago.

Collectively, no other state has made the progress Florida has made across all its universities and colleges, and the primary driver for that progress, every year, has been Mori Hosseini. For example, before he was on UF’s board, Mr. Hosseini developed and worked with the legislature and governor to fund the state’s pre-eminence initiative, which was the beginning of UF’s dramatic rise in national rankings and recognition. Although it is not widely known, Mr. Hosseini and his wife are financial supporters of some of our state’s most needy K-12 students. I have had the privilege of meeting some of those former K-12 Hosseini scholars, who are now at UF and who would not otherwise have graduated from high school without support from Mr. and Mrs. Hosseini.

As Chair of our UF Board of Trustees, Mr. Hosseini holds not only me, but all of us as UF employees accountable for excelling in what we do and in particular what we lead. It is because of that accountability to excel and deliver that he has the trust of the elected officials and others who invest in our university.

Thank you to all of those that support UF; thank you to all our trustees and numerous other board members, and in particular, a heartfelt personal thank you to Mr. Hosseini for investing an unbelievable amount of time and personal capital for more than a decade in making our university stronger.

To everyone in the UF community, I hope this week’s start of the new academic year has brought you not only new students and new colleagues, but also renewed enthusiasm for your work. This semester I will complete eight years at UF, and I have never before observed as much energy and enthusiasm for the start of a new academic year and the opportunities before us.

Linda and I had fun last week helping new UF students move into their residence halls. We returned to our tradition from before COVID of also living in a residence hall the week before classes and sharing meals in the dining halls with new students. I will spare you the TikTok videos of students pushing me around campus in their luggage carts.

This past Tuesday night 6,600 new freshmen packed Exactech Arena for convocation and a group photo of the Class of 2026. These 6,600 new first-time-in-college students were chosen from over 65,000 students who applied to UF. Those 65,000 applications, for a class of 6,600 students, are 10,000 more than last year’s record number of applications. The admitted class has an average GPA and SAT, respectively, of 4.49 and 1407.

I’m pleased that although we have not increased the size of our entering class, despite dramatically more applications, we do have an increase in enrolled Pell students, from families with the greatest financial need, and an increase in African American students.

Since this address is hosted by the Faculty Senate, I also want to welcome all faculty members new to UF. We have 667 new faculty members this fall semester.

When I meet with new faculty, I share with them my aspiration and expectation. I acknowledge that my aspiration for them is unfair and maybe unreasonable, but it is an expectation.

I share with new faculty that when I first began my academic career as an assistant professor it was in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois nearly 40 years ago. The department at that time, as it is today, was ranked among the top-5 public and private electrical and computer engineering departments in the nation. I was frankly intimidated by the senior faculty. The department had a large number of National Academy members, and it was clear you had to be a fellow of your academic society if you were to be promoted to full professor, with the expectation that you would eventually be elected into the National Academy. My goal as a young faculty member was to try to be like the senior faculty, in terms of what they had achieved academically.

As university president, my message to new faculty is that they need to have higher aspirations and higher goals than I did nearly 40 years ago. As I recruit junior faculty or senior leaders, my goal for them is that they achieve more than we have achieved. My expectation is that in their career at UF they will be more internationally recognized and more accomplished and more effective in teaching, clinical work, and extension, and in all that they do than those of us already here.

Our stature as a university will grow, if we recruit those who will achieve more than those of us more senior.

Now that I have shared my unfair expectations and goals for new faculty, staff, and leaders, let me introduce some of our new university leaders.

My tradition is to introduce deans and senior leaders who are new to UF in the past year. If I call your name, please stand and remain standing. I ask the audience to hold your applause until all are standing.

  • Melissa Curry, interim vice president of UF Human Resources
  • John Gums, interim dean of the College of Pharmacy
  • Andra Johnson, UF/IFAS Dean of Extension and Director of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service
  • James J. Kelly Jr., interim CEO of UF Health Shands
  • Marsha McGriff, chief diversity officer
  • Steve Orlando, interim vice president of strategic communications
  • Beth Virnig, dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions
  • Marta Wayne, dean of the UF International Center and associate provost
  • And the current Dean of Students, who will begin her new position later this semester, Heather White, vice president of student life

Please join me in welcoming this fantastic group of new leaders.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to all new department chairs, directors and everyone at the university who this past year took on a new leadership role. Thank you so much for your leadership and your service.

My message for my final State of the University address is really a call to action. As much progress as UF has made in recent years, I believe the next five to ten years will be some of the best years ever in terms of opportunities for UF and for our faculty, staff, and students. My message is simply that we seize these opportunities.

I’ll share a few of those opportunities before us and then conclude with thoughts on celebrating our university values.

The first opportunity has to do with our core mission of research and scholarship. Our nation’s economic security depends on U.S. leadership in research and scholarship. One significant opportunity for UF in the next five years is the bipartisan support for increasing federal funding for university research, from NIH, NSF, and numerous other agencies. This increase in funding is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for UF and our faculty members who depend on federal research investments.

I’m exceedingly proud that our faculty and research staff crossed the $1 billion threshold in research expenditures in fiscal year 22, joining only 15 public universities in that billion-dollar class.

Annual Federal grant dollars to UF have increased 38 percent from 2015 to 2020. However, UF falls short, compared with our aspirational peers, in funding levels per faculty member. With federal research funding opportunities increasing, we need to seize the opportunity. UF needs to have federal funding per faculty member that doesn’t just match, but exceeds, our aspirational peers.

Please know that scholarly impact and productivity truly are making dramatic progress across campus, due to the work of faculty members, researchers and support staff. For example, the total number of faculty citations grew 82 percent between 2015 and 2020. The total number of articles in major journals published by UF faculty grew 35 percent and major faculty honors grew 30 percent. These are dramatic increases. However, the citations, publications, and research funding per faculty member are behind our aspirational peers. I urge us to seize the opportunity.

This leads me to our second opportunity, which is our physical infrastructure.

We have substantially remade our campus physical infrastructure and grown our footprint in the past eight years. We’ve already added 2.8 million square feet of new facilities. And, we have an additional 1 million square feet of construction underway or authorized for construction. The cranes and construction you currently see on campus, and what you will see in the next year, represent an additional $1.5 billion investment in new and upgraded facilities. Never before has our university experienced such an investment in our facilities, positioning us for many decades of living, learning, teaching, research, and clinical excellence. This too represents an opportunity for us to seize, as we are no longer limited by inadequate facilities.

Our investment and opportunities extend well beyond our physical campus here in Gainesville. For example, consider UF Online. UF’s online undergraduate degree program was funded by the State of Florida eight years ago. It now has over 5,000 UF undergraduate degree-seeking students and is tied for the #1 ranking among all universities nationwide, both private and public, as the very best undergraduate on-line degree program in the nation. A particular shoutout to all those who teach, advise, and lead UF Online. Many congratulations to all the colleges and departments who offer on-line undergraduate degrees. Again, the opportunities for the future in this area are truly limitless.

In addition to the on-line space, there are now new opportunities for us to seize in locations across our state. For example, earlier this year we joined forces with Scripps Florida to create UF Scripps Biomedical Research in Jupiter, a development that brings together UF with the globally known research powerhouse that is Scripps. Relatedly, UF Health is now inking an agreement with Jupiter Medical Center to provide healthcare delivery, research and education in Palm Beach and Martin Counties. This will provide a pathway for scientific discoveries that emerge from UF Scripps, The Max Planck Institute, and Florida Atlantic University to be further developed in state-of-the-art facilities.

Also, earlier this week the Palm Beach County Commission voted to transfer land to UF in downtown West Palm Beach, along with land from the City of West Palm Beach and a private donor, all for the creation of a downtown graduate campus in West Palm Beach focusing on financial services and related innovative areas across several of our colleges. The State of Florida has provided $100 million and we will soon announce that we have raised an additional $100 million from donors to launch the West Palm Beach graduate campus.

I want to give a special shoutout to our clinical faculty and staff as UF Health continues to expand not only in South Florida, and not only in Gainesville, but also in Jacksonville and other locations in our state. UF Health is building a second tower at UF Health North in Jacksonville, expanding UF Health East and opening several new hybrid emergency/urgent care centers. In addition, the UF College of Veterinary Medicine this spring opened a new veterinary hospital at Ocala’s World Equestrian Center.

The third opportunity ahead for UF is philanthropy.

The Go Greater campaign formally draws to a close in December, but we will celebrate its success in mid-October. As of this week, the campaign has raised $4.3 billion, surpassing its original goal of $3 billion. As you might expect, the final number will be even higher than $4.3 billion, as we are in discussions regarding additional nine figure gifts.

We will share in October some amazing news about the campaign that I am not allowed to disclose now. However, Tom Mitchell, our vice president for advancement, did give me permission to reveal that this past year, in the midst of the pandemic and challenges in the global economy, UF rose to third in the nation among all public universities in cash and cash equivalent gifts, raising $684 million in fiscal year 2022, which is behind only UCLA and UC-Berkeley. In October we will announce the total new gifts and commitments for fiscal year 2022, which as you can imagine will be what I consider a stunning achievement, due to the generosity of alumni and friends of UF. It was just in fiscal year 2014 that we first raised $300 million in new gifts and commitments. The philanthropy to UF has more than doubled in the past eight years.

I am particularly pleased that our alumni participation rate has also grown significantly. Eight years ago it was 11 percent and this past year, for the first time ever, it was 20 percent. We now rank among the top-5 public universities in alumni participation, the percentage of alumni who give back to the university in a given year.

Philanthropy to UF is almost always focused on specific new programs and initiatives, such as endowed chairs, professorships, undergraduate and graduate student financial aid, new programs and new facilities. Thus, it doesn’t help the general budget, but it does enable important new programs and initiatives.

In addition to allowing us to create new programs and facilities, philanthropic success also influences public and peer perception and vice versa, which is why the universities perceived as the best also tend to be the ones that are most successful in terms of philanthropy. I urge our colleges, departments and the overall university to seize this opportunity to continue to dramatically grow philanthropy and to thereby bolster our reputation.

This brings me to my fourth opportunity: Growing support from the State of Florida.

Thanks to the Florida House, Florida Senate, and Governor, the state has provided the resources for us to increase the size of our core teaching and research faculty by 600 in the past eight years. This is more than any other university in the nation. In fact, when we look across all our faculty, including clinical and extension faculty, we have gained more than a 1,000 full-time faculty in new positions in the past eight years.

As we continue to demonstrate success and a significant return on investment, the State of Florida is poised to make even more dramatic investments in UF, an opportunity I urge us to seize.

In terms of overall revenues and expenditures, UF is the size of a Fortune 500 company. Our total combined annual revenues and expenditures in the past eight years have grown by over $3 billion, an increase of 60 percent. This growth is only the beginning and, again, I urge us to seize the opportunity.

Let me conclude with a call to action related to UF’s core values.

We have designated next week as “UF Core Values Week.” Colleges and units are marking the week in many different ways, and you’re likely to see banners around campus and mentions in social media feeds.

As background, in 2020, a Values Council was appointed, composed of faculty, staff, students and alumni. After input from alumni and from all across the university, the council presented six “core values” to the Board of Trustees. Those values are simply… Excellence … Discovery & Innovation … Inclusion … Freedom & Civility … Community … and Stewardship. As we seize the opportunities that I have shared today, my hope is that we will do so with these core values at top of mind and deed.

Just one more call to action before I conclude: I’m frequently asked as I approach my own transition back to professor what I feel was our most important university accomplishment. My answer is that over the past eight years, every one of our 16 colleges has gained measurably in stature and excellence. When I think of the next eight years, my belief is that accelerating these gains must be our central goal: Every one of our colleges, and every one of our academic departments and schools, can and must gain in reputation, stature and excellence. Every member of the UF can and should participate in this goal.

Last week I attended the all-day faculty retreat for my home academic department of electrical and computer engineering. Many of the presentations and discussions throughout the day focused precisely on this question of what the department needs to do, and what we faculty need to do, to rise in reputation, stature and excellence. I urge every academic department and program to do the same.

I look forward to contributing whatever I can to this outcome not as a university president, but as a professor. It has been a privilege to serve as UF’s president these eight years. I look forward to continuing to serve this fall and then, once a new leader is selected and appointed by the Board of Trustees, to turning over the keys to the President’s Office to the 13th … very fortunate … President of the University of Florida. Thank you.