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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The advent of the Florida Tomorrow campaign is a great chance for UF to address its cash concerns - but only if done properly. Even though it looks innocent enough, this campaign has a dark side, primarily the fattening of UF's endowment.

An endowment is a college's version of a savings account. It is money that can be invested in various ventures to increase its value. The endowment is a rough measure of a college's prestige, as more money allows a university to do more things. It is no coincidence that Harvard University is America's richest university, with a piggybank nearing the ,30 billion mark, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

Over the past several years, UF's endowment has come just shy of the ,1 billion mark. By comparison, the University of California-Los Angeles has about ,2.9 billion, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor has about ,5.6 billion and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has about ,1.7 billion. Even UC-Davis has about ,1.3 billion.

If UF President Bernie Machen gets his way, the campaign will increase UF's endowment to more than ,2 billion, putting UF on par with other top schools. This is not bad in and of itself. After all, all that extra money can do a lot of good things for students and faculty.

But notice that the four state schools I just mentioned rank third, third, fifth and 11th, respectively, in U.S. News' public university rankings. UF is ranked 17th. Could this campaign be merely a front for a ratings boost?

Even though Machen has mentioned that this campaign is not directly aimed at UF's cash problem, it is also odd that he did not mention anything about paying off UF's multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

If UF raised ,1.5 billion, offsetting this year's plan to cut ,34 million from the budget would cost about 2 cents per dollar. It would address the issue of staffing enough classes for everyone. It would put a stop to UF's hiring freeze and provide more financial incentives for professors. But most of all, it would do all of these things without having to raise tuition or compromise Bright Futures.

In addition, getting the money for a big endowment is only half of the problem. The money from an endowment must be invested so it grows over time. If the money is squandered away in a matter of years, UF achieves nothing.

How Machen handles the campaign after five years pass will be a key aspect of his time at UF. Managing success is one of the best tests of leadership, and Machen will be tested a lot.

Just ask Billy Donovan, who led five NBA prospects and egos to a second national championship.

In all fairness, the campaign is oriented toward academics. The administration has tried going before a tax-unhappy Republican governor - a Florida State University alumnus, no less.

But before we spend five years trying to raise massive amounts of money, we must do it for the right reasons. We are THE University of Florida, so we must serve the best interests of students and teachers.

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Vincent Gagliano is a sophomore majoring in physics.

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