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Thursday, June 20, 2024

UF Faculty Senate approves new AI degree, 2027-2028 academic calendar

President Ben Sasse arrived unexpectedly to address senators

<p>Faculty senators listen as UF Faculty Senate President Amanda Phalin addresses those in attendance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.  </p>

Faculty senators listen as UF Faculty Senate President Amanda Phalin addresses those in attendance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.

The UF Faculty Senate voted Thursday to approve the creation of a new master’s degree under the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and the university’s 2027-2028 academic calendar — both now subject to approval by the Florida Board of Trustees. UF President Ben Sasse later unexpectedly joined to speak and field questions from the senators.

UF Faculty Senate Chair Amanda Phalin opened the meeting by observing a 15-second moment of silence for victims of the Michigan State University shooting Monday. In response to this attack and recent campus events, she encouraged faculty members to report suspicious behavior to the University Police Department. 

“We want to make sure that everybody feels safe,” Phalin said. 

Following her report, Phalin announced a change to the Florida Board of Governors' post-tenure review regulation. A section of the regulation related to House Bill 7 was removed. 

Commonly known as the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, the Florida bill was initially passed in July. The act limits public K-12 and university professionals’ abilities to teach students about concepts that appear to fall under the discipline of critical race theory, including race and racism. 

Discriminatory language Phalin felt indirectly targeted older academic professionals was removed from the regulation. One phrase, addressing “tenured faculty with the most longevity and rank,” was part of this group.  

“People who have been at the institution longer are older people,” Phalin said. “We don’t like age discrimination.”

Phalin continued by acknowledging Sasse’s early absence at the meeting, citing scheduling conflicts as the reason. 

Initially proposed in December, the master’s of science degree will be coupled with a major in artificial intelligence systems under the College of Engineering’s Department of Engineering Education. 

After being presented Thursday, it was approved by a unanimous vote from attending senators. The degree will have an effective starting date of this Fall, according to the official memorandum. 

The new degree has been in the planning process since as early as 2019, with its pre-proposal being approved in September 2019. Prior to being presented as a voting item Thursday by Tom Kelleher, graduate school associate dean for academic affairs, it has seen several curriculum edits and adjustments. 

Angela Lindner, associate provost for undergraduate affairs, presented the 2027-2028 academic calendar, which passed with only three votes in opposition. 

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Featuring a 38-day gap between the Fall and Spring semesters, this proposed calendar largely differs from its predecessors due to its larger break period. The approved 2026-2027 academic calendar has a 30-day gap between the Fall and Spring semesters, in comparison. 

The change in the number of days between the Summer and Fall semesters is one of the central pivot points of the calendar, Lindner said.  

About an hour and a half into the meeting, to the surprise of both Phalin and UF senators, Sasse made an unexpected appearance. 

The newly appointed UF president began his term Feb. 6. Upon his arrival at Thursday’s meeting, he addressed the UF Faculty Senate with a summary of his current campus experience. 

“I’m getting fully immersed in the physical wonderland that is this place and looking forward to learning from all of you,” Sasse said. 

He provided senators with a look into what he defined as the substantive issues he remains worried about for the university — how he aims to resolve those issues in the early stages of his presidency. A few key topics he discussed included the university’s budgeting practices and geographic opportunities. 

Sasse elaborated on his concerns by considering UF’s recently developed West Palm Beach campus, urging senators to think with a degree of skepticism before expanding the university. 

It’s important to first consider what programming can’t be offered in Gainesville that would make it necessary for UF to expand into other areas of the state, he said. 

“I don’t think we have a great process right now of thinking through all of the geographic opportunities before us,” he said. “We should be beyond Gainesville… but we ought to be here first.” 

Sasse announced UF’s latest collaboration with the city of Jacksonville — the opening of a new graduate campus — on Feb. 7. 

Sasse built upon the increasing demand UF has observed from undergraduate applicants, describing it as a rapidly growing statistic that demonstrates the value of the university. 

As UF students receive an especially high educational value given the average price they pay to attend, the university struggles to capitalize on its excellence, he said. 

“This is a radically underpriced institution,” Sasse said. “When you think about some of the challenges about how you fund this place… right now we’re pretty resource-constrained.” 

The Faculty Senate will meet next March 23.

Contact Halima at Follow her on Twitter @HalimaAttah.

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Halima Attah

Halima Attah is a first-year journalism student and university reporter for The Alligator. When she’s not writing, you can probably find her thrifting on Depop or listening to her carefully curated Spotify playlists.

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