Farewell to Young

President Young's four-plus year tenure officially ends today.


Published: Sunday, January 4, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 3, 2004 at 11:09 p.m.
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University of Florida president Charles Young poses with wife-to-be Judy Cornell at the rededication of Anderson Hall on the UF campus in April, 2002. The two were married in July 2002. Upon leaving UF, the Youngs will divide their time between southern California, where both have family, and a new home they bought last summer on an island off the coast of British Columbia, where they plan to put a new 40-foot fishing boat to regular use.

Sun file photo
When he was hired as an interim president for the University of Florida in the fall of 1999, Charles Young announced he had no intention of being "some caretaking kind of guy" during the six to eight months he signed on for.
Retired just two years after a 29-year tenure as chancellor of University of California at Los Angeles, he was looking for a new challenge, but not a long-term commitment.
But then, a week after he settled into his second-floor Tigert Hall office, Gov. Jeb Bush announced a plan to immediately end affirmative action in university admissions, leaving it to each school to figure out how to maintain racial diversity.
And then, five months into Young's tenure, the Florida Legislature started dismantling the state board that governed the universities and created a medical school and two law schools the Board of Regents said were unnecessary.
At the six-month mark, the aforementioned tumult caused the search to replace former President John Lombardi to crash and burn, and all eyes turned hopefully toward Young. For the first of three times, Young agreed to extend his stay in Gainesville.
Taking care of UF, it turns out, was just what Young would do for much of his four-plus year tenure, which officially ends today. Incoming President Bernie Machen, who most recently spent 11 years as University of Utah president, starts work Monday morning.
"It's been very different because of the way it came," Young said in a recent interview reflecting on his time at UF. "First it was going to be six or eight months and then a little longer and then on a permanent-but-who-knows-how-long basis and then on a little more reasonable time frame for the last year.
"That made it a little more difficult because you haven't known what the amount of time is within which you've got to work," said Young, who turned 72 in December. "But looking back, it has been a great opportunity to be associated with a lot of wonderful people."
His tenure involved some damage control, including extensive efforts to help maintain UF's racial diversity without affirmative action and fighting and then adjusting to some budget cuts. Young also helped engineer the smooth startup of the university's first board of trustees.
But Young took positive steps forward as well, including leading a yearlong charge to draft UF's first strategic plan - one aimed at moving UF into the upper echelons of public research universities.
He also worked to "change the culture" at UF, where decisions have traditionally been made in a top-down fashion. In a bid to empower the faculty to become more involved in the university's decision-making process, Young resigned as head of the University Senate, which later changed its name to the Faculty Senate.
"I think the goals and aspirations of the university have been increased," Young said. "I think people - everyone is shooting higher now than they were before.
"I think there is a more positive attitude on the part of administrators, and the faculty and the staff than there was four years ago."
UF faculty and administrators and state education officials give Young high marks for the way he played the difficult hand he was dealt.
"I think it was very important to have a leader with a national reputation," said Carolyn Roberts, chairwoman of the Board of Governors, the new state university oversight board that voters created through a constitutional amendment.
"We were in a time of turmoil and uncertainty in our governance," said Roberts, who sells real estate in Ocala "and his leadership was instrumental in having UF come through that period as a leading university should."
Pierre Ramond, who is chair-elect of the faculty senate, said "it must have been hell for him."
"The whole state system overnight was changed," said Ramond, a physics professor. "He and the other presidents have had to navigate that."
The sailing was not always smooth. Early on, Young stepped into a brier patch with his outspoken opposition to the governor's One Florida plan to eliminate affirmative action in admissions decisions.
The leader of Florida's other hard-to-get-into school, Florida State University President Sandy D'Alemberte, also predicted the plan would harm diversity at FSU.
But his criticisms were more muted. Though Young had a great deal of experience in California, which implemented a similar ban years earlier, his criticism angered Bush, who reportedly threatened budgetary retaliation against the university unless UF's president got in line.
Relations between the two never seemed to warm, which Young said he regrets.
"I regret the fact that - and I guess this is sort of an omnipresent regret - that for whatever reasons, I have been viewed as an outsider by the Florida administration," Young said.
"I think I've been viewed as a problem to people there, rather than as an asset to be utilized," he said. "I think I'm the worse for that and so are they."
Bush, who was on holiday, was not available for comment. But his spokeswoman Alia Faraj said, "We thank Dr. Young for his leadership."
"The University of Florida has accomplished a lot under his leadership."
Near the beginning of his tenure, Young also helped UF complete a capital campaign that was losing momentum after the leader who launched it, President John Lombardi, was forced to resign.
"To be honest, the campaign had reached a plateau, and we were considering whether to declare victory and conclude the effort or whether to extend the original time period," said Paul Robell, UF's chief fund-raiser.
Though he was a newcomer to the state, Young became actively involved and also helped UF tap resources more familiar to him in California. In the end, the campaign ended on schedule and $100 million over its $750 million goal.
Looking ahead to the next capital campaign, which will have a goal in excess of $1 billion, Young said he and other fund-raisers were careful not to tap-out the university's benefactors.
Using a lumberjack analogy for the harvesting of donations, Young said, "The logging that was done in the recent campaign was not a clear-cut.
"It was done in such a way that the people who gave then will give more now."
"I think that's the basis for a strong additional campaign that ought to raise at least 50 percent more money than the previous campaign."
Young faced personal as well as professional challenges while at Florida, including the extended illness and eventual death of his wife of 50 years, Sue Young. Sue Young encouraged her husband to take the short-term interim job at UF when her illness, metastasized breast cancer, was in a remissive state.
When the search to replace him failed, highlighting UF's dim prospects for immediately finding a new leader, Young agreed to stay - but on a three-quarters time basis. He both commuted and telecommuted from Los Angeles so that he could be there for Sue as the final stages of her illness played out.
He accepted the job full time after her death in the fall of 2001.
At a retirement reception in December, Young remarked, "I have loved two universities in my life and I have loved two women."
In 2002 Young married longtime family friend Judy Cornell of Los Angeles.
Upon leaving UF, the Youngs will divide their time between southern California, where both have family, and a new home they bought last summer on an island off the coast of British Columbia, where they plan to put a new 40-foot fishing boat to regular use.
Though he's well past the age most people retire, Young said he's weighing some consulting offers he's gotten and considering some part-time work.
"I think I'm being honest with myself when I say I feel younger and better today than I did when I came to the University of Florida," he said.
And none the worse for the tumultuous ride.
"If you're going to ride a roller coaster," he said, smiling, "it ought to have loops."
Carrie Miller can be reached at millerc@gvillesun.com or 338-3103.

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