UF's push for pre-eminence ahead of schedule

Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.

Eight months in, the University of Florida's pre-eminence initiative is already ahead of schedule, Tom Mitchell, vice president of development for the university, told a group of university trustees Thursday.

The UF Foundation has raised $236 million in commitments and endowed 10 new chairs, Mitchell told the Committee on External Relations of the board of trustees. And the foundation has raised $64 million in private money for new construction projects around the campus, including $21 million toward the $50 million O'Connell Center renovation project.

President Bernie Machen had pledged to raise $75 million in private donations to match the amount the Legislature has earmarked for the university over the next five years for being the state's pre-eminent university by meeting all 12 of the criteria established by statute in 2013.

The combined $150 million is targeted for hiring 75 to 100 new senior faculty in areas where UF has already achieved national recognition and could be in the top 10 with an extra push. The UF Foundation pledged to raise an additional $800 million over three years to support the pre-eminence drive.

"Several programs across campus are right on the cusp of pre-eminence," Mitchell said. This additional funding drive will make sure that they have what they need to achieve that, he said.

In 2013, the university had 393 endowed chairs. "Could we become an institution with over 500 endowed chairs?" Mitchell asked. The foundation tested that idea with the faculty and got a resoundingly positive response, he said.

Those donations have helped to create 10 newly endowed chairs, Mitchell told the committee — chairs that are waiting for the hiring process to catch up to fill.

A recent $5 million donation from UF alumnus and private investment banker Andrew Banks will help create five chairs at the discretion of the president and provost across the campus. "That is going to make a transitional gift across campus," Mitchell said.

The fundraising efforts also are filling the coffers of the capital improvement projects — $64 million committed of the $154 million needed to complete construction of a new chemistry building, a new engineering building, a renovated O'Connell Center, Heavener Hall, a renovated Reitz Union, a new medical education building and a children's hospital.

Committee chair Carolyn Roberts asked when construction will begin on the O'Connell Center. Mitchell said the university has $21 million of the $45 million in private money needed for that project, and construction could start a year from now.

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