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Thursday, April 25, 2024

UF President Ben Sasse warns faculty of necessary advances in State of the University Address

Sasse delivered his first State of the University Address Thursday

Republican U.S. Sen Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, applauds President Kent Fuchs at the Board of Trustees meeting to discuss his candidacy at Emerson Alumni Hall Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022.
Republican U.S. Sen Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, applauds President Kent Fuchs at the Board of Trustees meeting to discuss his candidacy at Emerson Alumni Hall Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022.

Standing at a lectern in the Reitz Union Rion Ballroom, UF President Ben Sasse addressed an audience of dozens of UF faculty and staff members, mirroring his strategic plan for the university and detailing proposed changes to core curriculum, tenure review and the expansion of off-campus opportunities.

He began his address Thursday afternoon by thanking the community of Gainesville for welcoming him and applauding the university’s high standing.

“Part of why I said yes to joining y’all’s team is because of how impressive your last 10-12 years of effort have been,” Sasse said to the crowd. “There really is no precedent of anybody ever having gone number 29 to number 19.”

Sasse also acknowledged the difficulties UF overcame in holding a high ranking despite the challenge of being in a smaller city. Living in a smaller town brings concerns of locating long-term jobs, he said.

“Lots of people don’t think they want to move to a place that isn’t one of the top 20 or 30 metros in America,” Sasse said.

Sasse also addressed the investments the university receives from taxpayers, the money UF contributes to incoming students and how students often receive scholarships from the state, namely the Bright Futures scholarship.

“You get paid to be an undergraduate at the University of Florida,” he said. “Unlike everybody else in the top 30, we lose money on every student.”

Sasse went on to warn the audience about the pace of technological change. With these fast-moving advances, he believes UF and its processes must move more quickly than before.

“We’re not ready for the pace of what’s happened over the course of the last decade. That means today’s graduates are even less ready for what comes in the next decade because the pace of change continues to accelerate,” Sasse said.

Part of Sasse’s solution includes expanding educational opportunities off campus and taking advantage of potential benefits stemming from new technology, he said.

He named UF’s College of Medicine in Jacksonville as a site of interest for internships and employment for graduate students and pressed the need for more access to and facility of study abroad opportunities.

“We should have the programmatic flexibility that more of our students could leave early if they wanted to,” Sasse said. “Some of what the new technologies are going to enable for our students is thinking about how you could have more cohorting, more accountability, more synchronicity, more thickness and at the same time only occasionally have to have co-locality.”

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The president introduced several topics that he plans to further address during his time at UF. 

In addition to reworking programs and expanding opportunities to keep up with changes in technology, Sasse said he wants to rework core curriculum. General education requirements should be structured around what isn’t taught in a given major, he said.

“If you’re a STEM major, maybe there is a more humanities and liberal arts-focused set of core requirements,” he said. “If you’re a humanities and liberal arts major, there ought to be some STEM and quantification obligations.”

Sasse also stressed the importance of clarifying the expectations of different tracks of faculty at UF to create a more equitable environment for those who work at the university. 

“Even inside our academic model, we don’t have a lot of clarity about what the different tracks look like, what the different expectations are,” he said. “That creates tension and dissatisfaction inside our institution. But I think much more broadly, it creates a big liability for us in a world where the public doesn’t believe in tenure.”

Sasse ended his speech with his goal of tackling the issue of “quiet retirement” among UF faculty and staff — detenuring inefficient staff in some instances.

“[We need] to look at some of the institutional review obligations, which is a function that almost all universities that are our peers have," Sasse said. "We don't really have institutional review.”

Contact Bailey at bdiem@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @BaileyDiem.

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Bailey Diem

Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major and a metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.


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