The Importance of Thinking Differently

When I was an electrical engineering student, most of my classmates looked like me and thought like me. Companies have learned in recent decades that having a workforce that consists mostly of white male engineers narrows their perspective and limits their capacity to innovate. We have learned that organizations are more likely to be successful over the long term if their members contribute racial, cultural, gender, geographic and disciplinary breadth. Similarly, top universities increasingly have students and faculty who bring a rich tapestry of knowledge and understanding due to their different races, religions and numerous other areas of experience and perspective.  

The University of Florida aspires to have a global reputation as one of the very best universities in the world. In order to achieve this aspiration, we increasingly need students, faculty and staff who contribute to the community from a great breadth of perspectives and backgrounds.

I have been so impressed in my first semester with UF’s broadly diverse Student Body. However, there are two areas for which I have higher aspirations. First, as reported in The Independent Florida Alligator and other newspapers, we have work to do in increasing the number of African-American students, who have slipped from 9 percent to less than 7 percent of our undergraduates, with pronounced declines among African-American men.

Second, only 7 percent of our undergraduates come from another state or country. The Business Journals recently ranked UF seventh in the nation among all public universities. Our scores for quality and stature were among the very best, but our score for diversity, particularly geographic diversity, was among the lowest. Indeed, only 1 percent of our undergraduates are citizens of another country.

As we plan a path for the future, we are taking action today. We will increase need-based financial aid, and we will double down on our strategic recruitment of students. We are also committed to providing an environment in which all members of the Gator community can be successful both personally and academically. When the renovated Reitz Union opens in December, the new Multicultural & Diversity Affairs center will serve as an exceptional space for enhancing UF’s support environment, augmenting the continuing work and contributions of the Institute of Black Culture and La Casita.  

When we study and collaborate with students and faculty who are different from us, we become better individually, our lifetime network of friends and colleagues grows and our university becomes stronger. I am very glad that not everyone at UF looks like me nor thinks like me. I intend to celebrate and learn from our differences. I know that this will make me a better person and leader.

I offer my very best wishes to all UF students on your exams, papers and projects as we conclude the academic year. This is an intense and stressful time, so I pray not only for your academic success, but also that in the midst of your work, you will be safe and find joy.