Whether UF President Kent Fuchs was posing for selfies with students and Gators mascot Albert in Plaza of the Americas or choosing to live in a residence hall during move-in week, he’s made it his business to solidify a rapport with the university community.
Fuchs has served as the university’s president since 2015. He succeeded former president Bernie Machen, who was also known to walk around campus and interact with students during his tenure.
He’s worked to keep up Machen’s tradition in more ways than one — typically through his pranks.
“That’s the kind of thing we’ve done in the past, just to have fun and engage the campus as a community,” Fuchs said.
One way Fuchs has established his fun-guy persona is through April Fools’ Day. On April 1, 2015, Fuchs swapped positions with then-Gators football coach Jim McElwain, taking photos with players on the field while McElwain wore academic robes in Fuchs’ office chair.
The next year, Fuchs facetiously announced UF and FSU would merge, creating five elaborate announcement videos detailing exactly where the new UFFSU campus would be built — he had FSU President John Thrasher in on it, too. The stunt cost nearly $9,000 — almost two undergraduate students’ tuition for one semester.
This year may be Fuchs’ last presidential prank, coming after his resignation announcement in January.
Along with the university breaking into the top five in his tenure, Fuchs has spearheaded the initiative to expand access to AI across campus and led a $4 billion “Go Greater” fundraising campaign, according to the office of the president’s website.
He plans to return to teaching in the electrical engineering department once his successor is selected by early 2023, according to a UF press release.
“I’ll have to work hard, and I’ll have a much smaller office,” Fuchs said. “But it’ll be fun.”
Fuchs’ original plan for his final prank was going to be an announcement that every entryway on campus must be enshrined with a photo of him on the door. The prank was complete with photos and videos of staff fulfilling the fake campus renovation. But it never came to fruition as the Russian invasion of Ukraine created a need for a more serious tone from UF leadership.
“I was going to get so much hate mail,” Fuchs told The Alligator, chuckling. “It was going to be the best.”
Instead, Fuchs delayed April Fools until Sept. 7, when he announced over Twitter a rock-naming competition. The student to make up the best name and history for the rock, which is in the center of the sidewalk on the east side of Tigert Hall, will win tickets to sit in the presidential suite during the South Carolina football game Nov. 12.
“This whole idea is mine,” Fuchs said. “I'm very proud of it.”
The idea came to mind when Fuchs passed the rock on the way from the parking lot to his office, he said. Because of construction on the west side of the building, he was forced to take an alternative route around the east side.
“For most of the year, there was no landscaping,” Fuchs said. “Just a big, ugly rock. A very ugly rock.”
Fuchs imagined that maybe previous presidents were buried under the rock. Or it was actually a meteorite. After checking with the university historians and libraries, he found that nobody knew what it was or why the rock was there.
“It just sits there. Nobody knows,” Fuchs said. “So I said, ‘I’m going to have some fun.’”
Fuchs received 170 submissions as of Sept. 9, he said. The competition ran until Sept. 16, at which point administrators narrowed down the submissions and sent the best options to the president. Then, Fuchs will pick a winner, who will be announced by Sept. 19.
Aside from replacing April Fools, the rock is also a symbol of Fuchs’ desire to “embrace the university and have fun,” he said.
During Fall move-in, Fuchs and his wife slept in the freshman dorms, an annual tradition that had been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just after Thanksgiving, Fuchs also participated in the lighting of the Holiday Gator, a luminescent gator-dragon hybrid sculpture positioned in front of the University Auditorium during the holidays.
Morgan Spoonhour, a 23-year-old UF alum, said she remembers Fuchs trying — and failing — to twirl batons with the Gators Marching Band during a band camp practice. He moved instead to the cymbals, where he marched across the field playing with the rest of the band.
“It was really funny because it’s quite difficult,” Spoonhour said.
Spoonhour also recalls speaking with Fuchs about his retirement from the presidency during a Gator lighting ceremony, she said.
“He’s so nice,” Spoonhour said. “And even when you interact with him at an event, it’s not like he’s trying to rush through everything.”
When 19-year-old UF accounting sophomore Emily Lu met Fuchs her freshman year, she said she couldn’t believe she was meeting her idol — in an ironic way.
While they shook hands, Fuchs looked past Lu’s shoulder and smiled, assuming a photo of them was being taken, Lu said — but there was no camera. The two laughed about the misunderstanding, but Lu thought it reflected a deeper weight Fuchs carried constantly being asked for photos.
“He’s kind of like a microcelebrity,” she said. “I was like, ‘oh my god, oh my god, it’s Kent Fuchs!’”
Looking ahead to the upcoming year, Fuchs advised his successor to be themselves and create their own traditions to connect to the school community.
“Just embrace it and lean into it and enjoy it,” Fuchs said. “If you don’t enjoy everything that’s happening, it can be pretty crazy.”
Contact Alissa at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.
Alissa Gary is a journalism freshman and university administration reporter at The Alligator. Aside from writing, she loves spending time with her cats, catching up on Jeopardy, and seeing the latest movies.