University of Florida President Bernie Machen and Position of Preeminence
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the official announcement on Sept. 12, 2017, U.S. News & World Report in its 2018 Best Colleges rankings has placed the University of Florida No. 9 among Top Public Schools. Current UF President W. Kent Fuchs revealed the big news via Twitter in advance of the official announcement. The following article from 2013 showcases the university’s journey on the path to preeminence.
The current relationship between Gov. Rick Scott and University of Florida President Dr. Bernie Machen began with numbers.
The genesis was an economic impact study commissioned by the Board of Governors of the State University System to understand the economic contributions to society and the state made by its 12 member universities, including UF. For the fiscal year 2009-10, UF had total revenues of $4.27 billion with $2 billion from sources outside of Florida; total spending of $5.83 billion; total spending within Florida of $4.92 billion and a total output or revenue of $8.76 billion for the state’s economy.
The numbers caught the governor’s eye—big time.
It was a long-awaited, ‘I told you so’ moment for Machen. UF currently sits at No. 17 on the U.S. News & World Report rankings of public universities nationally. A preeminence designation by the state would provide additional funds to pursue top 10 status, something very important to Machen. And, apparently, to Scott.
“Here’s a businessman that comes from outside of Florida most of his career, and he came in asking questions,” says Machen. “He’s a very data-driven person as well. And some of his questions allowed us to put together the data on what we’d been doing.
“And then he started looking at the data, and he said, ‘Well, wait a minute! You’re different than the others based upon the data,’ and I said, ‘Yes.’
“I’ve been saying that but no one’s been listening. It’s really the case that his focus on quantitative measures in many ways allowed UF to demonstrate we are different. And we convinced him of the potential for us to continue to do more. And that’s where he bought into helping us become preeminent.”
So much so that in January 2013 the governor reached out to Machen to delay his retirement. A search committee had been underway to identify a replacement for the president of Florida’s second largest university. Scott felt Machen was the visionary needed to lead UF to become a top 10 public university.
“What would you do to improve our position in the national ranking of universities? And how would giving money to your college help us?”
“It really was an agreement between him and me that this will help the state,” Machen adds. “But the governor did not want to change drivers right now. And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll stay on.’”
Preeminence is part of a comprehensive education bill passed by the Florida Legislature that affects every stage of public education from kindergarten to graduate school. Scott signed the bill last April. UF and Florida State University were the only two state universities that initially met the criteria for designation as preeminent. As such, they will receive $15 million a year for the next five years. Machen will match that amount with private donations for a total of $150 million.
What will he do with the money? One word. Faculty.
“In a broad brush, all of this money is going to be used for faculty,” Machen says. “That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s really not. When you think about what it costs today to bring in a world-class scholar, depending on the field—for instance, engineering or the sciences—it could be in the millions of dollars. It’s not just salary but the things they need to move here from where they are, research capabilities, etc. So you think about it, $150 million, but that’s not a lot.
“If you look at our dollars with the universities, we are competing with, even with new money we’re still going to be behind.” He went on to say that some of the funds could go towards recruitment of faculty and the graduate students they bring with them, and some funding could consist of start-up packages for researchers.
In terms of allocating the resources to faculty, UF administrators will be very proactive on campus. “We’re going to be very entrepreneurial. We’re going to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge, but at this point we have cast a wide net around the colleges on campus and asked them to tell us basically, ‘What would you do to improve our position in the national ranking of universities? And how would giving money to your college help us?’ So we haven’t restricted it. STEM will be a big part of it, no question. Engineering will be a big part of it. But we think that there are many disciplines on this campus, if given an opportunity, could make significant improvements in their overall performance,” Machen says.
Currently, the university has created several committees, including one for fundraising, as $75 million will have to be raised. Administrators and faculty members are working expeditiously.
”If you add the three universities together [UF, UCF and USF], the aggregate impact on this region is significant.”
“Right now, we are collecting proposals for top 10 through the colleges. I met today with the chairperson of the faculty senate, and we expect to have direct faculty involvement in helping us make these decisions as well,” says Machen.
The president and his administration are energized and on the move. “I mean, the clock has started ticking. So I would think by late fall we will have some initial directions identified and hopefully by next spring we will have made decisions that bring some new resources to the campus,” he said.
As a result of UF meeting all 12 of the criteria, the state is funding its online baccalaureate program, scheduled to launch in January 2014, with $10 million in start-up money. When asked about the Jan. 1 deadline, Machen says, “It’s a very steep ramp with a lot of moving parts right now, but we’re meeting regularly and we have a lot of support from the Legislature. We have some deliverables for September, and I think we’re on track to meet those.
“I think it offers Florida residents a great opportunity to get a University of Florida degree without having to come to Gainesville. We have 7,000 online students currently, and we think we could double that in the next three to five years.”
Established in 1853, the University of Florida, with its more than 4,000 faculty members, is dedicated to the common pursuit of the university’s threefold mission: teaching, research and service. Machen has developed a fourth mission, that of economic development. The university has grown its annual research funding from $470 million in 2003-04 to $644 million in the current fiscal year. UF’s 40-acre public/private partnership, known as Innovation Square and the Innovation Hub technology incubator, is designed to foster collaboration among the university and high-tech businesses in downtown Gainesville.
Machen mentioned several areas of economic development where the university excels: total patents granted, total licenses granted and total start-up companies (according to 2011 data). “We are in the top five nationally in those three categories already. Obviously we want to maintain it. It also builds off of research, and our research expenditures were 13th. We need to think about how to expand our research capacity,” he says.
Companies in the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator (see Page 17) have attracted more than $1 billion in funding. Located in Progress Corporate Park in Alachua, the 40,000-square-foot facility formed in 1995 has received numerous awards and, according to a recent study, creates 2.8 times more jobs than the global average for incubators.
”The problem is everyone else is moving too. So even if we move, we just have to move faster than the rest of them.”
“Economic development through intellectual property is another venue. It’s all part and parcel—not the whole reason—part of the reason the state felt this was a worthwhile investment. Look at our incubator numbers. It’s a moving target, of course, and everyone else is trying to move it. But if you look at the rationale of the state Legislature to invest money in us, that’s one of the main rationales. We’re going to help build a 21st century economy for the state of Florida,” Machen says.
As part of the economic development mission, UF joined the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida on the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, a regional economic development initiative whose mission is to grow high tech industry and innovation through partnerships that support research, marketing, workforce and entrepreneurship.
“UF was not an original member of the High Tech Corridor Council. When I came in 2004, I asked Judy (USF President Genshaft) and John (UCF President Hitt) if we could become part of it, and they said ‘of course.’ And they are very inclusive, and they have been very supportive of us. USF is an emerging economic engine in the Tampa/St. Pete area. Orlando is probably the most dynamic area in the state right now and UCF is doing great things,” says Machen. “So if you add the three universities together, the aggregate impact on this region is significant.”
The 23-county Super Region is fortunate to count these three pillar universities. Their economic might is a strong driver of economic development. While UF presently sits at No. 17, U.S. News & World Report named UCF No. 5 on its list of “up-and-coming” schools for 2013, and three of USF’s graduate health programs are now ranked in the publication’s top 30.
With Machen at the helm, it isn’t a question of will UF make it to top 10, but rather when. The Gators are making their move.
“I don’t think you will see the overall quantitative ranking change for maybe three years. But I think there are markers within that—that you will be able to see,” Machen says. “We’re tracking 29 markers. We have to maintain our momentum in those areas, and we have the seven focal points that we are going to try to specifically move up on. The problem is everyone else is moving too. So, even if we move, we just have to move faster than the rest of them.” The university already meets 22 of its 29 criteria.
Machen’s tenure has been chock full of major successes. Among his milestones: more than 2.8 million square feet in new construction on campus, including nearly 600,000 square feet of new research space; completion of UF’s $1.7 billion capital campaign; UF’s first major medical research facility outside Gainesville, the UF Research and Academic Center at Lake Nona in Orlando; the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars program, enabling the enrollment of 2,600 low-income students who are the first in their families to attend college; and the spring-summer Innovation Academy for entrepreneurially minded undergraduates.
The president feels personally gratified in having navigated the university through the economic downturn he faced within a few years of taking office. State funding dropped precipitously. “So you think about the last five years, we have tried to manage our institution with declining resources. They took out almost $230 million in budget support,” states Machen.
So while there have been challenging times, with the preeminence designation and its attendant funding, how long will Machen continue to lead Gator Nation?
When asked about it, Machen smiles. “Top 10 will happen after I am gone,” he says. “But the major decisions are going to be made on the front end. The resources, the infrastructure to obtain the resources we need—I’m going to do all that. But that was the commitment to the governor for the first couple years, and after that we will stand back and see what happens.”
“President Machen has done an exceptional job leading the University of Florida,” says Scott. “Not only is he committed to our higher education system, but he is laser focused on making sure students are prepared to compete in a global economy for jobs. UF is a world-class university, and I am confident he will lead UF into top 10 status.”
A Harley aficionado, Machen moves fast. He wants UF to move even faster.
The preeminence piece of the legislation outlines 12 metrics that state research universities must meet in order to merit the preeminent designation.
Average weighted GPA of 4.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale and an average SAT score of 1,800 or higher for fall semester incoming freshmen
Top 50 ranking on at least two well-known and highly respected national public university rankings
Freshman retention rate of 90 percent or higher
Six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or higher
Six or more faculty members at the state university who are members of a national academy
total annual research expenditures of $200 million or more
total annual research expenditures in diversified non-medical sciences of $200 million or more
Top 100 university national ranking for research expenditures in five or more science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields of study
100 or more total patents awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the most recent three-year period
400 or more doctoral degrees awarded annually
200 or more postdoctoral appointees annually
Endowment of $500 million or more
Q&A with UF President Dr. Bernie Machen
How did you feel when your preeminence designation came to fruition?
“Preeminence is a legislator’s word; we didn’t really focus on that word so much. But to be honest it has been in existence long before I came here. So from people who have been here longer than me this was sort of a lifetime recognition of what we have all felt. When you look at the objective criteria, the University of Florida is different and yet we were treated like everyone else in the state. We perform a different mission and we perform at a certain level, but we’ve never been able until now to get anyone to recognize that. ”
How long has this top 10 goal been out there?
“When I came here in 2004 the Board of Trustees set an aspirational goal of us being a top 10-focused university. Before I came here, maybe 20 years ago—they tried to make some legislative authorization for the word flagship, but that had no real meaning. And it didn’t make much sense for me to push that. What we were looking at was real separation, role mission funding. So at least 10 years in this form and before that in another form.”
What will you do with the money?
“If you look at our dollars with the universities we are competing with, even with new money we’re going to still be behind. So we have to do more with less. And I think the beauty of it is we have some categories where we don’t have to do much of anything. That being student characteristics, that being the support for our students, that being our facilities. We are blessed in many ways to have the advantages maybe others don’t have. So the bottom line for you is that almost all of the $150 million, either directly or indirectly, will go towards the faculty.”
How are you different from other universities?
“Take the categories—start with students. We have one of the highest quality indexes for entering students in the nation. Look at the matriculation of our students—significantly higher graduation rates than any other university in Florida and among the best in the country. Look at the faculty that we have and the awards they get and the national academies to which they belong. We’re in a different place than the other universities in the state. Total research productivity—we are significantly above all the other universities by a factor of $200 [million] to $250 million a year. So if you count them out, if you look across the board—one of them is graduating students. If you want to save money, you save money by getting students into and out of college. And we have a very good record for a four-year graduation rate and the next market would be the six-year graduation rate. And we are significantly different than the other universities in the state in that regard.”
In discussing economic development impacts:
“We just won the top incubator [Sid Martin] in the world, and it had to do with the amount of stuff coming out of the incubator here in Alachua. It has been open since 1985, so it’s only been in place 18 years. And now we’re full up. We now have an incubator [Innovation Hub] down here. So we’re looking to build another incubator.
“Well, the big problem we have historically is we churn out these companies and lose them. Hopefully, companies will invest and leave them here in north central Florida. The manpower in California is so much deeper than here. However, the cost of starting a company in Florida versus California is much better. It costs 40 percent more there. We just have to build our manpower and the cost of living in Gainesville is much more attractive.
“Several areas of economic development we already excel at. Our research expenditures were 13th. We need to think about how to expand our research capacity. We built our first research building out in Orlando at Lake Nona. One of the problems with research is you need a critical mass. What happens in Lake Nona is there’s the Burnham Institute—so we are able to work with them. You start spreading your research resources all around and you lose your critical mass. So one of the things we like to do is keep them in working distance in Gainesville.”