At the first UF Eye Opener Discovery Breakfast of the academic year on Sept. 10, UF President Bernie Machen gave a variety of updates on the general state of the institution, including addressing UF’s stagnant rank in the most recent U.S. News and World Report list. Here’s a list of the highlights.
- On-campus assaults: Machen praised the efforts of university and local officials and volunteers to secure campus after four assaults were reported in less than two weeks. “The reassuring part of this dilemma is the different parts of our community coming together,” he said. “I’ve never seen this level of cooperation.”
- Integrating UF with the community: Machen said the East Campus branch, located on Waldo Road, has been a success so far. So much so that he said UF just finished buying more land in the area — a tract that used to be a mobile home lot. It will become an extension of the East Campus.
- Innovation Square: The university-guided tech startup hub revolving around the old Alachua General Hospital building is becoming a model out-of-staters are traveling to see. The idea was met with initial skepticism from some local leaders, he said, but it is paying off. “I’m feeling good about the whole Innovation Square concept,” he said.
- Shey property donation: Machen said the recent Shey estate donation, 657 acres including a 12,000-square-foot house and private art collection, has been met with much enthusiasm. He said people are already calling and asking to hold weddings and conferences at the venue — which is still inhabited by its donors. “Slow down,” he said, laughing. “In time, it will be an incredible resource for the university and probably the whole community as well.”
- Campus facilities: The Marston Science Library renovations are complete, transforming the basement into a student study center. The changes were made in response to student feedback, he said. “They don’t like to study in their apartments,” he said. “They like to come to campus to study.” The current President’s House will remain open as a meeting and event venue once the construction on the new house, on Village Drive across from the law school, is complete. Machen said Heavener Hall — prominently located at the intersection of 13th Street and University Avenue — is nearly complete, but the Reitz Union is still a progressing construction zone. “It’s somewhat of a mess,” he said.
- Preeminence faculty hiring: Machen said UF has funds to hire 120 top-level faculty members as part of the university’s preeminence initiative to climb national rankings. So far, it has hired 50, and he said the hiring spree has been turning heads. “The reason it’s catching so much attention is that we’re taking people from other universities,” he said.
- Preeminence ranking: Recently released U.S. News and World Report rankings on the 2015 Best Public Universities list indicate that UF remained static at No. 14. The rankings may not be an accurate assessment of actual school quality, Machen said, but they still inform choices of high-school graduates. “Young people looking to make decisions look at U.S. News and World Report,” he said. “So we can run, but we can’t hide.”