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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Gator Nation will bid a farewell to its leader Kent Fuchs

UF president plans to step down from his position in 2023.

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UF President Kent Fuchs announced Wednesday morning that he will be resigning from his position to transition into a professor role. 

UF released the announcement for Fuchs’ resignation in a campus-wide email and video message. Fuchs, 67, intends to continue his presidential duties for the rest of the year and step down in 2023 once a new president is sworn in. He plans to return to his home department of electrical and computer engineering. 

“The overall reaction [to the announcement] is sadness because he has been such a great president,” Juan Nino, a member of UF Faculty Senate, said. “The tone that he has set is, to me, is just fantastic across the board, and it will be very tricky to replace him.” 

Throughout his eight-year presidency, Fuchs helped the university reach multiple goals furthering the school’s prestige. 

In 2017, UF entered the nation’s top 10 public universities. UF surpassed this old long-term goal Sept. 12, 2021 when the U.S. News and World Report announced UF as the No. 5 public school.

Furthermore, research spending, donor contributions and student applications have steadily climbed during Fuchs’ term, according to the announcement. 

Research spending increased by over $200 million from 2014 to 2020. Donor contributions are expected to be $1.2 billion over UF’s original goal for UF’s Go Greater philanthropic campaign. Student applications for Fall 2022 reached 60,000 — more than double the 29,000 that applied in Fall 2014, according to the statement.  

Gov. Ron DeSantis posted a tweet Wednesday afternoon congratulating Fuchs on a well-deserved retirement. DeSantis also thanked Fuchs for the accomplishment of the university rising to its top 5 ranking while keeping tuition costs low. 

The reputation of the university was certainly a main concern, but it was apparent that Fuchs prioritized fostering relationships with the student body and his colleagues as well, Nino said. 

“He is a much more welcoming president. I think he enjoys it a lot,” Nino said. 

Nino hopes the new president will maintain a good rapport with the students, faculty and state similar to Fuchs’ efforts. 

Fuchs is a very personable, transparent, honest person which is why he earnestly engages with the student body, David Bloom said, the UF Faculty Senate chair. He said these qualities make for a great president, in which Fuchs also seeks faculty input and really listens. 

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Fuchs' leadership is what enabled the administration to navigate the academic freedom issues so well, because he always listened and was very transparent about what he was doing, Bloom said. 

The search for Fuchs’ replacement is a process dictated by regulations the Board of Governors has set in place, Bloom said. They set guidelines for how the search committees are formed, and then these individuals begin the selection process, he said.

The committee finds a slate of candidates to be interviewed and the Board of Trustees will vote on the final candidate, Bloom said. Their decision is subject to the approval of the Board of Governors.

Bloom sensed Fuchs’ decision to step down for a while based on subtle comments he made over the last year. Even though it was not a huge surprise, it is always a jolt when you hear the news, he said.

UF is really a large enterprise, Bloom said, so it is important that whoever becomes the next president has strong leadership skills and experience with running a complex unit like UF. 

“The president, they wear a lot of hats, and that’s why it’s really impressive you spend eight years in this job that just takes hours each day being tugged in a lot of different directions,” Bloom said. 

Fuchs prioritized meeting with UF Student Body President Cooper Brown to share ideas and collaborate on issues that impacted the student body.

“I realized how special Dr. Fuchs was when meeting other Student Body Presidents in Florida and in the SEC, learning that they often struggle to schedule just one meeting with their President/Chancellor,” Brown wrote in an email.

Fuchs’ presidency saw many achievements but also found itself amid ongoing discord.

Three political science professors, followed by five additional professors spoke out against the school. They claimed UF limited their academic freedom and violated their First Amendment rights by denying them the ability to testify as expert witnesses in a case against the state. 

UF received backlash from members of Congress, faculty, students and the general public. The national attention caused UF’s accrediting body to open an investigation and the affected professors opened a lawsuit against the school. 

Fuchs and Provost Joe Glover appointed a task force Nov. 1, 2021 to review the university’s conflicts of interest policy as a way to mediate the intensifying circumstances. 

Four days later, Fuchs announced that he asked the university to reverse its decision to bar professors from testifying. The university agreed, and the professors were granted permission to participate in the lawsuits. 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a statement Wednesday addressing UF’s upcoming leadership change. 

“UF has benefited greatly under his leadership,” Wasserman Schultz wrote. “My hope is that in his final year, this president reasserts the academic freedom and integrity that will continue to fuel my alma mater’s scholarly excellence and achievements.”

Now the Gator Nation must wait to see who will be chosen to fill Fuchs’ big shoes. 

Contact Elena Barrera at ebarrera@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.

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Elena Barrera

Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.


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