Machen makes it official

UF's new president takes it slowly on his first day


University of Florida President Bernie Machen points to Independent Coalition coordinator Ian Richard, at left, and fellow members of the UF student group, not pictured, pledging to open lines of communication related to the closing of UF's Library West after a news conference in the Suwannee River room of the Reitz Union on Monday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 6, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2004 at 12:31 a.m.
Still mired in a knee-high mountain of paperwork, University of Florida President Bernie Machen has yet to put pen to paper outlining his own plans for the state's flagship university.
And even though administrators, professors and students may be eager to learn his intentions, Machen said he has no need to set a course - at least not anytime soon.
"The truth is I'm just beginning to sort it all out," Machen told a group of reporters gathered Monday to chat with him on his first official day on campus. He took the reins from UF President Charles Young, who retired after serving for four years.
"It's not fair to come here with my own hip-pocket agenda," Machen said.
For the near term, he'll be following the university's strategic plan, ensuring that faculty and students have enough say in its contents. He indicated some personnel changes could be on the horizon in six to nine months.
And some leftover - and in some respects recurrent - issues will confront him during what he called his "honeymoon" period.
This year's state legislative session begins March 2, not much time if you're the new kid on the block and could face crippling funding cuts. But Machen aims to make the most of it.
During the next three months or so, he plans to set out on a whirlwind tour of the state - dubbed a 100-day roll-out - to place him face to face with as many legislators, alumni groups, associations and news media organizations as possible. He'll be hitting venues such as the editorial boards at the state's largest newspapers, cattlemen dinners and groundbreakings.
"This is just a plan to get him in front of some key audiences," said Gail Baker, UF's vice president of public relations.
Similarly, when Machen began as president at the University of Utah in 1998, he set about traveling the state in a pickup visiting state legislators in their own back yard. In Florida, he's looking to log some major sky miles rather than road miles.
"If possible, we are going to try to catch up with legislators on their own turf," Machen said. "The whole idea there is that you get a lot more of their attention."
Meanwhile, a faculty fight could be heating up on campus. At the end of the spring semester, faculty will be voting on whether to allow the United Faculty of Florida to become their bargaining unit.
UF administrators - including Machen and former President Young - favor instead shared-governance, "a system practiced at leading research universities whereby faculty and administrators make decisions about the university through a collegial process," said Joe Glover, associate provost for academic affairs.
"This is big stakes," he said. He said none of the nation's top research universities - something UF aspires to be - has a faculty union.
All Florida universities, except UF, recognize or have agreed to recognize the unions in the near future.
"I have never worked at a university with a faculty union," Machen said. "There will have to be some full dialogue."
A small group of students opposed to the two-year closing of Library West, the university's primary library, is looking for some face time with the president, too. They believe their concerns have been ignored by administrators.
They wore T-shirts that read "Libraries are not optional" and took advantage to express their objections over the decision to move the stacks to a warehouse off campus, requiring students to request books well in advance.
Machen pledged to discuss the issue, but he made no promises.
Machen took his first day a bit slowly, acclimating to his surroundings and meeting as many people as possible.
Suffering from a bout with the flu, a feverish Machen said he began his day with a 6:30 a.m. workout, then two hours later walked across campus from his new home on W. University Avenue to Tigert Hall.
"I can't quite get over the warm weather here," said Machen, adding that there was 5 feet of snow in Utah when he left.
Like most first-day students, Machen spent some time wandering around lost. At Tigert Hall, Machen ended up at his second-floor office after a brief stop at the general counsel's office on the first floor, where he initially thought he would find his office.
He said he spent most of the day focused just on the comings and goings in Tigert Hall. He said he had to learn where things were and how his computer worked.
"I hadn't until this morning sat in the chair of the president," Machen said.
He even fielded a well-wishing call from Gov. Jeb Bush.
Machen said he stayed in the president's house over the weekend, although his wife, Chris, whom he left in Utah, has yet to arrive with the moving vans.
In the meantime, Machen is living out of boxes of belongings that were shipped earlier.
"I don't know where all of it is, but it's somewhere in the big house over there," he said.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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