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Friday, October 21, 2011

UF president stands up to Rick Scott

From the Gainsville Sun

by Nick Crabbe

University of Florida President Bernie Machen didn’t mention Gov. Rick Scott by name, but mounted a defense Thursday of the liberal arts degrees being scrutinized by the governor.

Scott has questioned whether the state needs more anthropology majors in making the case that students should be directed to science, technology, engineering and math degrees. Machen told the UF Faculty Senate that he supported increasing enrollment in those disciplines but also recognized the value of the liberal arts.

“Students are interested in many different subjects when they come to college — physics, literature, agronomy, to name just a few,” he said. “Is it really the government’s role to steer them into one subject discipline over another?”

Using the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs as an example, Machen said that the liberal arts are key to promoting technological innovation. He quoted Jobs’ statement that Apple stands at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, and that technology married with liberal arts and the humanities “yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

“Suffice it to say that I will continue to support a strong liberal arts program at the university because it works, because it’s important to society,” Machen said.

Machen’s address comes as the governor has repeatedly criticized state universities in recent days. During an interview Wednesday on The Sky 97.3 FM, Scott said that he favors cutting costs at universities over the tuition increases that have been made in recent years.

“If you take most companies in the private sector, they’re not able to raise prices 8 percent, 3 percent, 15 percent a year. They can’t,” Scott said. “So I don’t understand why education has to continue to cost more money every year.”

Scott last week sent a series of questions to universities that included asking for information on their 50 highest-paid employees. He also posted the salary information of all university employees on a state website,

Machen said that the salary information was already publicly available online, but the new site will bring more scrutiny that will only get more intense.

“Everything is fair game, including salaries,” he said. “So don’t let it bother you. Our faculty salaries are known to be low compared to our peers. Our tuition is known to be very low compared to our peers, and we offer more financial aid than many universities of our type.”

He added later, “We can’t let the differences between the salaries of a neurosurgeon and someone in the classics become an issue among us, nor we can allow ourselves to break apart on other matters of importance to our academic collegiality.”

Machen’s comments preceded a Faculty Senate discussion on a review of UF’s doctoral programs, but the conversation veered back to some of the issues raised by the governor.

Anthropology professor Ken Sassaman also invoked Jobs in making the case for the value of the liberal arts. He said that he gets nervous about discussions of what fields will be needed in the future, using the demand for Arabic translators after Sept. 11 as an example of a job need that could not be foreseen.

“My point is we have to keep fighting the shortsightedness of anybody who doesn’t think that maintaining and creating diversity in an open academic, scholarly environment is the most productive way to sustain ourselves,” he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or

1 comment:

  1. Right on. My Mom had a friend who she looked up to and sometimes was embarassed that she didn't have the amount of education her friend had. her friend told her "Mary, there are fools who are educated and educated fools." She reassured my Mom that her lack of formal education didn't show because my Mom was well read and very smart. Rick Scott sounds like an educated fool. I was married young. I ended up a single mother of 5. I started taking classes 1 at a time and attended whatever Florida Junior College I lived near. I took a variety of subjects and am grateful for the many things I learned. In 1990 I graduated from Santa Fe in Gainesville with my ADN and a minor in liberal arts at age 44. All the different areas I studied over the years made me a more well-rounded person and an Rn who was able to use not just my professional skills and knowledge but also the knowledge I learned from my liberal arts classes. Go Gators and Go Mr. Machen. Thank you and all the wonderful teachers and professors I encountered during my life and training. Judy Brokaw Retired Rn.