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Monday, November 21, 2011

The University of Florida lets Rick Scott know what is what


by John Moran

Rather than simply respond to Gov. Rick Scott's questions, the University of Florida decided to rewrite the test.

Scott sent a letter last month to UF and the state's 10 other public institutions requesting responses to 17 sets of questions, which the governor said would be used in developing his plan for higher education. UF issued its response late last week, about 750 pages of material that included some of the data sought by Scott.

In a 27-page narrative that begins the document, UF describes its "unique mission" in the state of being a "comprehensive research land-grant university of national and international scope."

It then poses its own question -- What should the state expect of such a university? -- as well as provides four sets of answers.

UF should graduate future business and civic leaders in a timely and cost-effective manner, produce the nation's next generation of intellectual property, swiftly move that intellectual property to commercial use and leverage its expertise to address major state needs, according to the response.

The response subsequently makes the case that UF has worked to fulfill those goals.

"By virtue of State investment spanning a century, combined with billions of private and non-state dollars of research investment, the University of Florida has become one of the nation's most powerful and effective institutions of higher education ... For over one hundred years, it has exercised its mission as the State's land-grant institution to materially improve the health and economic well-being of Floridians in every one of the State's 67 counties," the response states.

The response mirrors a memo that UF President Bernie Machen sent Sept. 22 to Scott, three weeks before the governor sent his letters to state universities. UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said that UF's response is an effort to provide pertinent information to help the governor broadly understand the university and the issues it faces going forward.

"We certainly attempted to answer the questions within the context of what goes on here at the University of Florida," she said.

UF delivered the response Thursday, two days after a deadline Scott set in his letter. Lane Wright, a spokesman for the governor, said last week that Scott understood that it would require some work for universities to compile the information. Missing the deadline was not expected to make a huge difference, he said, but might set back the evaluation of the information.

"The governor is looking at everything that comes in," he said. "Everything is on the table."

Scott has yet to outline his higher education plan, but has promoted discussion of reforms championed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry including changes to tenure. Scott posted the salaries of university employees on a state website and sought information on the universities' 50 highest-paid employees, including the courses that they teach. UF's response lacks that information.

Scott also has questioned the need for more anthropology majors in arguing that students should be directed to science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM disciplines. UF's response includes the number of degrees that UF has awarded in STEM and other critical fields -- including anthropology.

The response includes a study done on UF's economic impact, a report on its research output and placement information on graduates, although that information varies by discipline. It ends by noting that 2012 marks the 150th of the Morrill Act, the legislation that created the nation's system of public land-grant universities.

"Under this act, the University of Florida entered into service to the entire State and pledged to improve the health, well-being, and prospects of all Floridians and the State in which they live through research, education, and outreach. It is a pledge that endures," the response concludes.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or For more stories on the University of Florida, visit

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