Patricia L. Schmidt: Goals for Bernie Machen
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
I have watched the controversy over President Machen's bonus with some interest, as it echoes some of the knottiest problems facing higher education.
Almost since I arrived at UF as a young faculty member in 1973, the air has been rife with talk of moving into the top tier of research universities. Presidents have come and gone, but the elusive goal of joining the company of the best universities seems more out of reach than ever.
Within the first few years of my arrival, UF was admitted to the American Association of Universities (AAU), an elite club of the best private and public universities, and quite an honor. Nothing comparable to that honor has happened since.
Admission to the AAU must be partially credited to Dr. Robert Marston, who was president at the time, and the faculty, whose excellence was the basis of the AAU's decision. Without excellent faculty, no amount of public relations activities would have mattered.
Moreover, I am certain that Dr. Marston considered his behind-the-scenes work part of his job, and neither expected nor received a bonus for his role.
Now this is not another anti-bonus letter, though I do think that it is unseemly for the president to receive a significant bonus, while faculty who are making significant contributions receive virtually no increase. And this at the same time as our athletic coaches' and athletic director's salaries have eclipsed the salaries of even the most distinguished researchers and holders of named chairs.
If our only goal and mission as a university were to win national titles in football and basketball, then such raises/bonuses would be entirely justified, even if the faculty had to be denied suitable rewards. However, if we truly want to join the ranks of the Ivies and the best public universities, then the criteria by which our president is paid a bonus (if that system continues) must reflect benchmarks related to moving us into the top tier.
A friend of mine, who was visiting over the holidays, described the Nobel Prize ceremony she attended for one of her University of Minnesota colleagues. When did we last have a Nobel Prize winner? We have none now. They tend to be clustered at Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, as well as at distinguished public universities such as Michigan, the University of California, University of Chicago, etc. Surely recruiting the next Nobel Prize winner should be a primary goal for the president of the University of Florida.
Of course, those in the know will say that especially in the sciences, the recruitment of such an individual requires massive amounts of money for salaries, equipment, labs. I say, "Build it and they will come." Use Gatorade money and income from the Tom Maren patent with Merck to bring whole groups to UF.
If the public school system is a disincentive to their leaving their home institutions, make tuition to private schools part of the package. If we can do what it takes to become number one in football and basketball, we can do what it takes to move UF into the top academic tier. But the goals set for the president must reflect this goal. The first should be to hire and retain a Nobel laureate or potential Nobel laureate within the next five years.
As a corollary, we should also seek to increase the number of Fulbrights, National Endowment for the Humanities fellows, Pulitzers, etc., over the next five years and reward the faculty who receive these honors accordingly - just as we reward the president and coaches for winning the SEC.
A second goal is to increase the number of Rhodes scholars. UF has had a few, three in the last 30 years, one of whom was my student. Given the quality of our student body, one every decade is not good enough.
The president should see that potential candidates are identified as freshmen and then trained and nurtured by faculty throughout their undergraduate years. This tracking system should incorporate publicity and recognition for awardees, as well as rewards and recognition for faculty who have helped to achieve such a goal.
A third goal for the president is to reduce class size and increase the number of classes being taught by faculty, rather than graduate students. Nurturing of students does not take place in large classes. Nor can a graduate student write a meaningful letter of recommendation for a student who wants to go on to graduate school or a professional school.
Again, there will be cries of "no money," but if having smaller classes is a priority, the president will find a way of making it happen, especially if his bonus depends upon it.
UF is in the top tier of schools generating patent and licensing income. That is no accident. The patent policy which was written in the early 1980s intentionally provided the second-most generous financial incentives to faculty in the country. Patent disclosures, which kick-start the process, almost immediately increased from five disclosures per year to 5,000 over the next three years.
The three goals I have outlined are core measures of the best universities. By these goals the president of the University of Florida should be measured.
Patricia L. Schmidt is a UF professor of English emeritus.
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