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University of Florida = a sad joke

18 June 2013

I received a PhD in economics from the University of Florida in 1991, having attended graduate school there full time from 1984 to 1987, and then written the dissertation while working in Tampa and later New Jersey. That day in April 1991, when I successfully defended my dissertation was a very happy and proud one.

The Department of Economics at UF was outstanding at that time. The chairman of my dissertation committee was Professor G.S. Maddala, one of the fathers of modern econometrics. Other outstanding faculty included Dr. Yasushi Toda, my main advisor, and people like Sanford Berg, the founder of the Public Utility Research Center, and David Denslow, one of the greatest teachers I have ever come across, anywhere. The department was vibrant, with more than 30 faculty, and with many graduate students from all over the world.

During those years, it was clear that while the most important academic discipline at UF was football, closely followed by basketball, there was a certain determination that the university should also excel in more bookish pursuits.

No more.

This past week I learned that the PhD program from which I had graduated 22 years ago has effectively been abolished, accepting no new students in 2013. The ones already in the program will be able to complete their degrees, assuming of course that the few remaining faculty (11 at this point) will be able to support them. The empty suit who currently runs the Warrington College of Business Administration, of which the department is a part, states: “This strategy is consistent with the college’s strategy of downsizing to better service the development needs of students, faculty and staff.” A management consultant in one of Dilbert’s strips could not have said it better.

By happy coincidence, during this very week I have received not one, but two e-mails from the UF Alumni Association (the membership of which I shall shortly be resigning). The first one, dated 14 June 2013, shares joyous news:

Hello, Alumni and Friends,

I wanted to share with you the good news from the legislative session as reported by UF Board of Trustees Chair C. David Brown.  The University of Florida (UF) is one step closer to becoming one of the top ten public universities in the nation – Go Gators! 

Please know that the UF Alumni Association (UFAA) is always here to fuel your connection to the university and your quest for excellence.  Stay connected!

Warm regards and Go Gators,

Danita D. Nias
Danita D. Nias, Life Member
Executive Director & Sr. Associate Vice President
University of Florida Alumni Association 


Date:  June 13, 2013

To: University of Florida friends and family

I am writing to share with you some very exciting news about the University of Florida.

After years of managing through budget cuts and a tough economy, our university is at the threshold of a new era of growth, innovation and excellence.  This opportunity comes to us thanks to a bill passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Scott that designates the University of Florida as a preeminent university and gives us funding to help take UF to the top ten of the nation’s public universities. 

We shouldn’t underestimate the significance of this action. 

The alumni and supporters of the University of Florida for years have sought recognition of UF’s flagship status and the resources necessary to elevate the prominence of our university.  We have come close several times but never succeeded until now.

Much of the credit for these advances is due to President Bernie Machen.   It is his leadership that has brought us to where we are today.

During last week’s annual Board of Trustees retreat, Bernie spoke of his vision for a top ten university and gave us a roadmap for how he intends to get there.  This is what he told us:

  • The university has identified criteria for attaining top ten status that is composed of five key metrics –student admissions, student success, faculty, value and research and technology transfer.
  • The greatest area of opportunity relates to faculty.  UF needs to hire more new and accomplished faculty in targeted areas.
  • UF also needs to support and enhance our research activities in several key areas, including:
  • Genetics and genomics
  • Emerging pathogens
  • Neurosciences
  • Food security and safety
  • Domestic and national security
  • Nutrition and obesity
  • Managing manmade and natural disasters
  • Autonomous systems
  • Next generation manufacturing
  • Big data

The preeminence bill also creates an institute for online learning that will offer baccalaureate degree programs.  The Legislature recognized the excellence of the University of Florida and our strong brand and designated UF as the home of this institute.  Through it, we will offer fully online degrees to students who meet all existing UF admission criteria.  However, these students will not need to attend classes on campus.

In recognition of President Machen’s leadership, the Board of Trustees last week approved a contract extension that will keep him in office until December 2014.  We are gratified he has agreed to stay on and guide us during this period of extraordinary opportunity.  He is best positioned to do this considering his record over the past ten years.  Among Bernie’s most significant accomplishments are:

  • Growing faculty research funding from $470 million in 2003-04 to more than $644 million in the most recent fiscal year.
  • Creating Innovation Square, a 40-acre public-private partnership that has nurtured more than two dozen startups, attracted three major companies and generated hundreds of new jobs.
  • Bringing Shands Hospital and the UF Health Science Center together in a close partnership recently renamed UF Health.
  • Spearheading the construction of more than a dozen major new research, student life, innovation and other facilities, from the Cancer and Genetics Research Building to the Southwest Recreation Center to the Florida Innovation Hub.
  • Leading UF’s seven-year capital campaign, completed last year after raising more than $1.7 billion – one of the leading such campaigns at public universities nationwide.
  • Creating the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship program that has enabled more than 2,600 low-income students to attend UF.
  • Overseeing significant improvement in the quality of student applicants to UF and their four-year graduation rates.
  • Launching the university-wide sustainability initiative to make UF one of the greenest public universities in the country.
  • Leading a tremendous athletics program, with the Florida Gators winning 12 national titles during his tenure.

After being on campus last week, I can tell you there is an unmistakable aura of optimism, excitement and momentum about UF’s future.  We have good reason to be proud of our university and stand ready to see it achieve new heights of accomplishment.

The whole Gator Nation is appreciative that President Machen has made a commitment to stay on and lead us through this exciting time.


Best Regards,
C. David Brown II
Chairman, UF Board of Trustees

The second one is even more comical in light of current events. It arrived in my inbox yesterday, with the subject “Wear Your Gator Pride #Tebow5.” Inside, it goes on to say the following:

Go Gators!

I’m sure you, like the rest of us in the heart of the Gator Nation, were thrilled to hear the news that Tim Tebow was signed by the New England Patriots.  We are so proud of Tim and his indomitable Gator spirit! 

Tim Tebow JerseyAs a small token of our appreciation for your membership in the UF Alumni Association (UFAA), we are pleased to offer you a $10.00 discount per single purchase of an official, adult size Tim Tebow jersey (pictured).  Use your membership number to login to the “Members Only” section of the UFAA website and receive the redemption code.  Get your jerseys at the Patriots ProShop. Act now, as this offer is only valid for 10 days. 

Thank you for being counted!  The importance of all Gators being counted through their affiliation with the UFAA grows as this great university and its alumni association strives to climb the ranks into the nation’s top ten public universities.   For Gators that are not yet members of the UFAA and wish to be counted, join now to receive your official membership number.

It’s time to show Tim that the magnitude of the Gator Nation is behind him all the way!  Please join us in cheering him on during this phase of his NFL journey. 

Danita D. Nias
Danita D. Nias, Life Member
Executive Director & Sr. Associate Vice President
University of Florida Alumni Association

I find this latest message particularly illuminating, as it shows what really matters at the University of Florida. We are raising tons of money, spending it on new buildings and what not, our Christian ex-quarterback is no longer unemployed, so who cares about some PhD program?

Fortunately, I have degrees from a couple of other universities, where the tail does not wag the dog. And since I am now into my third decade of full-time work, the debasement of the degree I earned back in 1991 is not going to affect my career. But I feel sorry for the 27 victims trapped in the current “PhD program” and the handful of faculty members who are left to pick up the pieces.

I am no longer a Gator.

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