Capturing Opportunities
John V. Lombardi

, June 1999

The strength of the university resides in the quality and productivity of its faculty, and this quality and productivity has its home in the institution's colleges, schools and departments. These stable, highly structured, and long-enduring organizations define the university for generations. They change slowly, they gather resources and build strength over time, and they serve as the primary source of quality control for the institution.

At the same time, the world of intellectual inquiry changes rapidly. New fields emerge; new opportunities arise along with the resources to develop them. Universities can attempt to change and modify their traditional college structures to meet these ever-varying demands, but such efforts often result in bureaucratic delay, destructive turf battles and the weakening of the strong curricular organizations required for quality undergraduate and graduate teaching programs.

Another tactic to meet the changing intellectual demands of our time uses freestanding research enterprises where exceptional researchers work on grants and contracts to produce results for the intellectual marketplace without regard to the disciplinary and collegiate structures of the university's traditional organization. This technique permits rapid response to opportunities, but it builds only transitory strength and contributes little to the enduring substance of the university because it usually exists outside the instructional program for undergraduates and graduate students.

Our strategy combines the agility of the freestanding institute with the enduring strength of the colleges, schools and departments. We create separate institutes and centers to pursue rapidly developing intellectual fields such as brain or genetics research. Then, we fill these centers and institutes with faculty, each with a disciplinary home in one of our colleges, schools and departments, and each with a commitment to the university's whole mission of instruction, research and service.

The advantage of this approach is that the quality faculty we attract to the university contribute both to the new intellectual activities of the current moment and to the continuing academic strength of the university. Our faculty participate as much or as little as is appropriate in these initiatives. We combine and recombine the talents of our faculty to focus on important topics. We recruit exceptional people, secure in the knowledge that their value to the university includes both the immediate needs of the center or institute as well as the continuing needs of the college.

Many of us have observed the success of this approach in the UF Brain Institute. Invented to respond to opportunities and initiatives in the area of brain research, this institute thrives with the expertise of faculty in a wide range of colleges, schools and departments. The UF Brain Institute continues to assemble a superb collection of resources and talent that enhance not only the work of the Institute itself but also the work of the colleges whose faculty, staff, and students participate in its activities.

Similarly, we have launched an initiative to create a Genetics Institute. This program, too, builds on strong talent across campus in colleges, schools and departments focused on genetics research and its applications. We will see the Genetics Institute take shape rapidly over the next year or so with the support of grants, contracts and private funding through the It's Performance that Counts campaign. The growth of this intellectual focus not only draws on the strength of our faculty in the colleges but will also enhance the resources of every participating academic unit.

Genetics research, whether addressed to the prevention of disease, the improvement of longevity, or the development of new food sources and the solution to problems of pollution and environmental destruction, stands at the center of the new science of the 21st century. At the same time it enables a wide range of treatments and changes in the very substance of life, it also presents a host of ethical, legal, political, moral and social dilemmas. Our university-wide approach creates an opportunity to contribute to the scientific revolution and shape the accompanying policy debates.

Each of these two initiatives, large as they are, reflect similar efforts at a smaller scale perhaps in other fields where the combination of scholarship, faculty, students and resources permits the development of first-rate academic accomplishment both in the specialty area and in the core colleges of the university. With this strategy, we can assure ourselves that we build academic strength not only for the moment but for the long-term future of the University of Florida as well.