UF's Future Course: 
Quality and Productivity

Gainesville Sun, Sunday, January 3, 1999

As part of the Sun's year-long Celebrate 2000 project, we begin a series of Sunday guest columns today that will explore the future of our community and our society.

Today's guest column, by President John Lombardi, discusses the future growth and development of the University of Florida. -- Editor

President, University of Florida

Millennial moments, coming inexorably but infrequently, inspire lofty projections into the future, as if the boundary between centuries marked an important moment in human events.

While we historians like millennial markers, we know that the course of events pays almost no notice to the arbitrary divisions of the calendar. Although many will focus their millennial attention on the larger issues of national and world affairs, we who see the University of Florida at the center of our universe have a more focused perspective on the future.

This university's course, set many years ago and continuing in varied form today, will remain steady, directed, and focused on characteristics of enduring value: quality and productivity.

Time and opportunity, shifts in technology and economic transformation will create opportunities and change in our university, but nothing in the foreseeable future will modify the core commitment to quality and productivity.

The characteristics of our student body will continue to evolve. We will stabilize undergraduate enrollment and grow graduate student enrollment until we reach the size set for us at about 47,000 students.

If the state requires more access to this university, we could, with night classes and other adjustments, grow to perhaps 50,000 students. For now, the Master Plan constrains our undergraduate growth.

Yesterday men outnumbered women and we had few minority students. Today just over half our students are women and our minority students approach 20%.

In the early years of the next millennium we will recruit an ever more diverse and representative student population of undergraduates and graduates. The faculty and staff who work with these students also change in composition.

More women, more minorities join the university and succeed at ever higher rates. These changes, welcome as they are, nonetheless, move all too slowly in many areas. Our graduate student initiative will help remedy some of the national scarcity of minority faculty through specific and effective recruitment and retention.

Our undergraduates, of unsurpassed quality, need interdisciplinary and advanced programs. Many will graduate with both Bachelor's and Master's degrees, and we will create many opportunities for their involvement in the faculty research enterprise.

As our graduate students increase in numbers so too will their need for creative interdisciplinary programs that engage complex research problems in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, and professions. Because we are one of the three most complex and academically diverse universities in the nation, we have the faculty and expertise to build whatever interdisciplinary programs tomorrow's research challenges bring.

Molecular biology and genetics already require an interdisciplinary approach that addresses not only scientific issues but also social, political and moral questions.

Electronic technology, the darling of the late 20th century, offers new tools and capabilities to universities. We will continue to improve our computerized student support system, already the best in the nation.

Yesterday, our students struggled to find classes and sections and many took far too long to graduate. Today, most of our students use our networked student information system to stay on track to their degrees, find all the required courses they need, and graduate on time. Tomorrow, the rapid deployment of technology in our classrooms will enrich and enhance the tools that our faculty and students use. We will see new ways for faculty to teach and students to learn as we adapt to what will be an ever-expanding universe of electronic communication.

While we will adapt the technology to extend some of our programs world wide, our principal effort remains focused on the teaching, research, and service of our faculty on the Gainesville campus and throughout the state of Florida.

Distance education will project the University of Florida to new constituencies, delivering opportunity to many students we cannot now reach.

Technology enhances, modifies, and enriches our instructional and research opportunities, but it will not replace the residential university or dispense with the value of classes, student colleagues, or faculty-student engagement.

Like many other profound technological innovations (including the invention of moveable type and the ubiquitous book), the new electronic networks simply expand the university's capabilities. Technology enables high productivity and creates new tools, but it does not substitute for the engaged learning that comes from an active campus life combined with a challenging academic curriculum.

Research, the hallmark of an exceptional university, will continue to grow and the commitment of our faculty, staff, and students to creating the knowledge required for our states and nation's success will increase.

The proportion of the resources required to sustain this university will continue to shift. As state dollars remain relatively stable and tuition rises slowly, the proportion of this university's budget that must come from other sources will increase.

Yesterday, the University of Florida saw perhaps 50% of its budget come from the state. Today about 30% comes from appropriated state funds. Tomorrow, the state's portion will decline to less than 20 to 25%.

The university's growth will depend on the resources we can command in exchange for the quality and productivity of our work. Research, teaching or service grants and contracts; income from patents, licenses and royalties; private fundraising through capital campaigns; revenue from medical and other services all of these will grow increasingly important as we continue to improve the quality of our facilities and increase the depth of our academic resources for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff.

We will find more opportunities for public-private collaboration and more involvement in non-credit educational services to corporations and other organizations.

Yesterday we thought of ourselves as a fine state university. Today we see ourselves as this state's major research university. Tomorrow we must become a premiere national research university for the state of Florida.

No one can predict with certainty the directions we must take and the work we must do, and flexibility and creativity will inform the choices we make.

Whatever else happens in the year 2000 and beyond, only quality and productivity will guarantee our success in the competition ahead:

Quality, because the content of the university's work makes us successful.

Productivity, because the resources available to support our work remain and will remain inadequate for our imagination and opportunities.