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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

At the beginning of the fall, all it took was two clicks from UF's home page to call up your favorite UF trustee and ask him or her your burning question. But not today.

UF's Board of Trustees, the university's highest governing body, used to provide phone numbers for each trustee - except for the Student Body president - on its Web site.

But since September 2007, questions have gone through Brian Beach, the board's liaison, and Beach has forwarded them to the trustees.

Beach said he took the phone numbers off the Web site because trustees were receiving disruptive phone calls at home in the middle of the night.

But only four out of the 12 phone numbers formerly listed were home phone numbers.

He said the sudden influx of calls might have been due to the Tasering of a UF student by University Police Department officers at a campus speech.

Beach said the system was also changed because he knows when the trustees are reachable, so he can direct questions to the trustees who are available and can provide the best answers.

The site currently lists one UF phone number and address, which connects to Beach's secretary for board activities, he said.

If someone wants to e-mail materials to the board, he said he offers his e-mail address and then forwards the message to the trustees.

He said he never screens the questions.

"I don't look at something and say, 'Oh, that's not worthy of trustee contact,'" he said. "That's never going to happen."

Although Beach and the trustees stand by the new system, three of Florida's public universities provide direct contact information for their trustees and six others list a group e-mail address.

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Only one other Florida college, New College of Florida, does not provide any contact information on its board's Web site.

Beach said he didn't feel that listing the trustees' e-mail addresses was necessary, and he hasn't heard any complaints.

Dianna Morgan, the board's chairwoman, said she hasn't heard any concerns either, and she said she feels the board is still adequately available.

"I certainly feel like given the communication I've received in the last few weeks that there is ample access," Morgan said.

Between the impending budget cuts and the Students for a Democratic Society's hunger strike, she said she responded to about 20 letters and e-mails last week.

Morgan's home number was one of the four listed before the change, and she said she remembers two nights in particular when she received calls every hour until about 4 a.m.

She said calls to a trustee's business could be just as disruptive because they interrupt the trustees' jobs.

"We love our work at the university, but we do recognize that we all have other responsibilities in life," she said.

Cynthia O'Connell, another trustee, works as senior vice president of a public relations firm. O'Connell said she used to receive unexpected calls at her office about UF business, which made it difficult to balance her work duties.

She said the new system is more efficient because Beach can direct questions to her when she's available.

She still receives the same number of questions a week - anywhere from two to 10 depending on the time of year, she said.

"Anybody who's needed to talk to me has had no trouble finding me," she said. "I don't feel like we're isolated."

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