Machen's mantra: Diversity

University of Florida President Bernie Machen, right, talks with student senators Andrew Hsia and Thomas Philpot before a Student Senate meeting on Tuesday.

LARA NEEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 1:07 a.m.

Improving diversity on campus is one of the first matters University of Florida President Bernie Machen wants to tackle.

That's what Machen, who has been close to the vest with his plans and not wanting to seem "arrogant," revealed to UF's Student Senate on Tuesday night in his first address to students since assuming his new position a little more than a week ago.

"We can't be a great university unless we're a diverse university," Machen said.

While Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida Plan, which banned the use of race in admissions, initially took its toll on minority populations at UF, Machen said, the number of minority students has rebounded to earlier levels.

"That's not good enough," he said, saying also that the faculty was not nearly as diverse as it should be.

He also mentioned he favored capping enrollment in the near future to preserve the quality of education threatened by overloaded classes and professor-to-student ratios.

But learning Machen's plans for the university was not the main reason 100 or more students crammed into a Reitz Union meeting room on a Tuesday night.

They wanted to know if he aimed to be a student's president - one who would listen to their concerns, interact with them at campus events and fight their fights. Some students criticized former President Charles Young's lack of engagement with them.

"(Machen) needs to know how the students feel," Senate President Scott Kennelly said. "Otherwise, he's only scratching the surface of the issues."

They got their answer immediately.

Machen arrived 15 minutes early, casually walking into the room in jeans, a Polo button-down shirt and a black leather bomber jacket, which he pulled off. He then slid into a front-row chair next to some students rather than the vacant one at the end of the row with the "Reserved" sign on it.

"It's interesting he didn't wear a suit," said Andre Samuels, president pro-tem of the Student Senate, sporting a chocolate brown suit with a similar colored dress shirt and tie. "He said he doesn't like suits."

Machen joked about finding his way to the Reitz Union in the dark - by himself - and then possibly parking illegally outside. Students lined up to shake his hand and invited him to this or that event. Machen passed out business cards, encouraging them to send him e-mail.

"If it is an issue for you, then we'll try to address it," Machen told one student interested in establishing an Asian-American studies program at UF.

And Machen passed out compliments, too.

"The student body is better than at the University of Michigan, and that makes it better than anyplace I've ever been," said the former Michigan provost and University of Utah president.

"Good students demand a good education, and I'm not just kissing up to you. Overall, you are quite amazing," he said.

But this president who's known for having good student relations also may hold them to higher standards than to which they are accustomed.

When asked what he thought of the Greek system, Machen, a Sigma Chi from Vanderbilt University, responded that he thought it was a special value added to the educational experience. Nonetheless, he said the Greek system also can breed "selfish and self-centered" members.

"I'll be hard on Greeks," Machen said.

He also challenged them to get involved in the political process - both on campus and nationally.

"The criticism is that young people are not engaged," Machen said. "I hope you can get energized."

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or

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