R. Lee Phillips: Quiet on UF campus says something about students
Published: Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 11:34 p.m.
This past fall I had the opportunity to visit the University of Florida’s campus on a weekday. Having only been there on Saturdays over the past few decades, I was excited to take a stroll and see any recognizable changes.
Heading east I walked past the Hub, and as I neared the intersection behind Turlington Hall, I noticed the sound of a scooter in the distance. I realized the sound of the scooter was coming from far away and something about that seemed odd. Either the scooter was extremely loud or my surroundings were very quiet.
As the sound of the scooter faded it became apparent just how quiet it was. I was in the middle of campus surrounded by a large number of students either moving toward their next classes or sitting at tables, on benches or on one of the strategically placed small walls, and yes it was quiet; oddly quiet for the heart of a college campus on a weekday.
As I curiously glanced around to determine the nature of this unusual silence, I noticed that of the hundreds if not thousands of students milling around, not a soul was talking. Almost all of their eyes were glued to their phones, tablets or to the ground. There were no conversations and no high fives to passing friends. It was eerily quiet.
There was no greater noticeable difference to the UF campus of 25 years ago than the lack of student interaction with each other. Considering the possible reasons for this lack of what most would consider normal social engagement and contact with others, it was obvious I was witnessing a vastly different student body conducting themselves in what they would consider their normal behavior.
While there is no right or wrong here and everyone is fortunately free to reside in their own personal normalcy, I did begin to consider the differences in the collective student body of UF today versus decades ago and, more importantly, how these changes will benefit and potentially harm the university in the long run.
The majority of students attending UF today are without question the cream of the crop academically. Statistically, the admission standards, including extremely high SAT scores for incoming freshman, have increased over the years to the point they are now comparable to Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Turning UF into one of the few elite, academic institutions in the country has been a goal of the President Bernie Machen, and to his credit it would appear he has accomplished just that.
During my campus visit I observed a noticeably more cerebral student body silently conducting their daily routines and wondered if the obvious changes in the personality of the students as a whole were as strikingly apparent to others as they were to me. I saw a much more socially reserved student not participating in worthy college activities keeping their distance from others and forming a significant attachment only to their phone, tablet or laptop.
When I began to think about what this meant for the future of UF, there were already obvious and very measurable indicators of a student body lacking social bonds, resulting in little or no attachment to the university itself. While many revel in the new standards and site the statistics of the incoming freshman class, have they not considered what this will mean for the future support of our university going forward?
If you think this has anything to do with football and or attendance at home games, you’ve missed the point entirely. I am writing out of a concern for what the desired changes over the past decade mean for the future support of the university overall.
But football attendance is just one obvious measure of that support, and it clearly signifies the waning level of attachment the students and alumni have for the university
State legislation was passed decades ago that has prevented UF from having any students who reside outside of Alachua County. This has contributed to the increased admission standards based on demand alone. Many more students want to attend UF than are qualified to do so, and logically the best will be admitted to the exclusion of thousands of students who grew up loving UF attended by generations of their family members.
This will compound the waning support for UF, as those alumni will undoubtedly feel more distant. While the UF Online program will be the exception to the Alachua County rule, the admission standards for online students are the same.
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the Alachua County rule and consider establishing a few satellite campuses that will allow more students to form a connection to UF and stop the bleeding support, which is visibly evident. I don’t believe the students at UNC Chapel Hill feel any less elite because UNC has satellite campuses?
As I consider not renewing my season tickets this year — and again, this isn’t about football — perhaps the new chant should be “Please don’t go Gators!”
R. Lee Phillips is a UF alumnus of the class of 1990 who lives in Tampa.