Several years ago, at another university, I met with the faculty members in one of the university’s colleges. I was responsible for leading the search for the college’s next dean, and I wanted to hear the faculty’s input on the search.
The college was ranked 13th nationally. I asked the faculty for their goal in raising their ranking, expecting to hear that the college needed to be in the top 10 or maybe top five. To my surprise, their unanimous response was that they did not want their ranking to change. When I asked why, they said that they did not want to lose their college’s collegiality. They felt strongly that all the colleges ranked higher than theirs were marked with internal strife and competitiveness.
In his 1948 inaugural address, then-University of Florida President J. Hillis Miller established the goal of UF becoming one of the nation’s top-10 public universities. In 2015, we stated that UF’s goal was to be a top-five public research university. Since 2015, UF has moved up in the rankings from 14th to tied for 7th, and we are close to achieving our goal of being ranked among the top five.
However, as UF moves up in the rankings, I wonder if we are at risk of losing the values, attributes and culture that are important to who we are. For me, if UF becomes a top-five university or higher, and yet does not remain caring and loving, then the price is not worth the prize. If we become a university where we don’t support each other and don’t help or celebrate our classmates and colleagues, then UF will be weaker and not stronger, despite the ranking.
Can we be a university that is even more diverse as we become more highly ranked?
Can we be even more collegial and caring as we become more excellent?
Will we in the future be able to enjoy UF and have fun, even as we work harder to achieve new heights?
Can we be a university that continues to have our amazing breadth of programs – from agriculture to the arts, from public health to political science, from entomology to anthropology – and yet be ranked among the best in all we do? Can we be among the best nationally in both academics and NCAA athletics? As the impact of our research and scholarship grows, can our excellence in teaching and education also grow?
The college that was ranked 13th when I met with its faculty members many years ago was still ranked 13th in this month’s U.S. News & World Report rankings. I believe UF can and will move to the top of the national rankings while still retaining what we most value and what is most important about our university and our community.
If there are attributes of our university that you value, and that you would like to preserve or enhance as we move up in the national rankings, please send a personal note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We must double down on nurturing the things we love about the University of Florida in harmony with our rising rankings and national visibility.