The incoming Florida Senate president asked the University of Florida what the state could do for it. On Tuesday night, students, faculty, and UF President Kent Fuchs answered.
More stipends for graduate students, increasing need-based student aid and better compensation for faculty were some of the answers that Sen. Joe Negron received when he visited UF.
UF served as Negron’s second stop on the second day of his “listening tour” of state universities. The purpose of the tour is to hear suggestions from university students, faculty and administration on ways to improve higher education. Negron said the state university system is his No. 1 priority as he’s set to become Senate president in November.
“We’re here to listen and to learn,” Negron said. “We’re here to see what we can do as a legislature to help the University of Florida even achieve higher levels.”
The Stuart Republican is scheduled to visit each of Florida’s 12 state universities from Monday to Thursday.
“I’m just so impressed that he has taken the time to visit the universities and talk to every one of them,” said Fuchs. “Secondly, I’m so impressed that they’re spending time talking to students. That’s been the big focus.”
Negron’s tour at UF started at the J. Wayne Reitz Union by students and faculty. He spoke about the importance of financial security and graduating on time.
Later there was an open-discussion panel with UF faculty, state senators and students, where Fuchs showed a list of the top 15 public universities in the nation, which includes UF, and what it takes to be at the top.
“We want to take a great university and make it one of the very greatest,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs discussed areas where the state can help, such as decreasing the student to faculty ratio, having more money to retain a world-class faculty and infrastructure renewal.
“The classes are too large at UF,” Negron said. “What can we do as a legislature, either policy-wise of funding-wise, so that more students in their freshman and sophomore year have a traditional classroom experience rather than sitting way up like they’re watching a baseball game?”
Fuchs response was that having more faculty would improve the current 21-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Negron also spoke about how only 67 percent of students graduate in 4 years.
“We’re not judging,” Negron said. “We’re just trying to learn; to me, that’s a red flag.”
Fuchs spoke about ways to make sure students graduate on time, such as restructuring the curriculum and creating a financial incentive so students actually graduate after 4 years.
“We have one of the highest in the nation of six-year graduation rates, of which we’re proud, but our four-year graduation rate is not at the level of our peers,” Fuchs said.
Negron also took a tour of the Nanoscale Research Facility, a state-of-the-art center for research in micro and nano device fabrication. The center holds about 60 fabrication and inspection tools that cost about $8 million.
When he was formally tapped for the position in 2015, Negron proposed increasing university funding by $1 billion over two years. He also wanted to give more financial aid to students and attain top out-of-state students.
“They have high aspirations for investing a billion dollars in higher [education], which I find, obviously, incredibly exciting,” Fuchs said. “I’m optimistic about the long-term future.”