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Monday, September 26, 2022

UF keeps No. 5 spot in public university ranking

The university maintains its top-five status for the second year

No need to reprint the banners: UF is still a top-five public university. 

The university has maintained its status as No. 5 national public university for the second year in a row, according to the U.S. News & World Report 2023 Best Colleges rankings released Sunday.

UF tied for the fifth spot with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — a university UF shared the position with last year. University of California at Santa Barbara previously held the No. 5 ranking with UF and UNC, falling off from the top-five group in the 2023 rankings.The U.S. News list follows a year where UF found itself at the center of numerous national and state headlines for alleged political influence on academic freedom and COVID-19 policies. The ranking may cause a breath of relief for some administrators at Tigert Hall, as some have been concerned about whether the university would hold on to its top-five standing. 

Before the results were certain, President Fuchs told The Alligator another spot in the top five would be pretty magical.

“It would be a reflection of all the hard work of everyone, from alumni to faculty to staff,” Fuchs said. “It makes the degrees we get more valuable because other universities notice those rankings.” 

In the overall rankings among national universities, which includes private institutions, UF’s standing did slightly waver — falling from No. 28 to No. 29.

Maintaining the No. 5 spot interrupts five straight years of UF’s climb up the public university rankings since entering the top 10. UF still remains the first and only Florida university to reach top-five status.

But for some, it isn’t a setback to the administration’s ambitions for UF’s national prestige.

“UF’s position in the rankings is reflective of our continual, rapid strengthening in teaching, learning and research performance — smaller class sizes, consistently high graduation and retention rates, and the increased value of each student’s degree after graduation,” Mori Hosseini, chair of the UF Board of Trustees, said in a UF press release. 

UF Provost Joe Glover highlighted the university’s efforts in technology advancement with the creation of the Artificial Intelligence Academic Initiative Center and the Malachowsky Hall for Data Science and Information Technology. 

He added the 2021 reduction of the faculty-student ratio to 17-to-1 was a major initiative to boost its standing. In 2012, the ratio was 21-to-1, Hosseini said at the State of the University address in August.

While UF didn’t move up in the rankings like recent years, Glover said it was important for the university to begin to solidify itself into the top five this year.

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“I think the fact that we've done it two years in a row is a good indicator that we have some handle on this,” Glover said. “We've achieved a certain level of excellence so the state is getting a certain return on its investment.”

Although he’d like to see UF rise in the rankings over the next few years, Glover said the competition gets more and more stiff among the top five.

UF has climbed nine spots in the public university rankings since 2017, according to the UF press release. Last year, its emergence at No. 5 was heavily publicized by the university as the culmination of a yearslong effort to make UF one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country. 

UF quickly found itself in the middle of the national debate over public education policies last year, which caused the university community to speculate that it could fall in the U.S. News rankings as a result.

Glover acknowledged that among the wide variety of U.S. News metrics, UF’s measure of reputation — determined by surveys of other university presidents, provosts and admission directors — lagged behind other top-five public universities.

“I think the fact that UF is ranked so highly is a testament to the fact that we're succeeding,” Glover said. “Sometimes what happens in the [political] environment is a little bit distracting, and I'm sure that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. But we just tried to stay focused on our job and the things we need to do.”

Last October, three political science professors were barred by the university from testifying in a lawsuit that challenged the implementation of Senate Bill 90 — a bill critics said discriminated against Black voters and was in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill live in a Fox News exclusive event, fueling allegations that the law was a purely partisan move.

A UF spokesperson told The New York Times that month “the university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.” 

The trio later filed a lawsuit, claiming the university violated their First Amendment rights. The saga played out publicly over national media as DeSantis positioned himself as a potential presidential hopeful focused on conservative values in sectors like education.

Aside from DeSantis’ polarizing “Parental Rights in Education” Act — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — the governor signed the “Stop WOKE” Act, which limits teaching some social concepts of systemic racism and discrimination in K-12 schools and universities.  

The ranking also comes at a time of leadership transition for the university, as it searches for a new president and UF Honors Program director.

UF’s advances in STEM and research — less prone to fiery headlines — likely helped the university stay on course.

The university announced in March the creation of the Artificial Intelligence Academic Initiative Center, which is aimed to promote data science and the integration of AI across majors. 

“It's a new technology that's going to enable all sorts of amazing technological developments that are going to change the way we live and do business,” Glover said. “We felt it was very important to get a leg up on this technology for the students and for the faculty.”

Glover also pointed to the HiPerGator 3.0 supercomputer, which Top500 — a top global list — ranked as the No. 22 supercomputer in the world. The machine is available to all students rather than only the engineering or computer science departments, Glover said.

In July, UF joined a group of 15 national public research universities to reach $1 billion in annual research spending. UF also received two No.1 rankings in 2022: from the U.S. News for its online bachelor’s degrees and from Heartland Forward for its “value of academic research in the private sector.”

Amid last year’s celebration, “Top Five” banners could be found all over campus  — and then across dorm-room walls after many were stolen. Rather than risk further theft of banners hung on campus, President Fuchs said he asked the university to be ready to give the students the option of purchasing them at the bookstore.

Alissa Gary contributed to this report.

Contact Christian at ccasale@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @vanityhack.

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Christian Casale

Christian is a fourth-year history major. In the past, he’s served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Valencia Voice. He now covers the University Administration for the Alligator. In his free time he likes reading and nodding along to Bruce Springsteen songs.


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