CLAS Convocation

2007 Fall Academic Convocation Speeches

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
October 4, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen:  Welcome to the 17th annual Fall Academic Convocation, sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  I am Joe Glover, Interim Dean of the College. I am joined on the stage by University of Florida President J. Bernard Machen, Director of the University Honors Program John Denny, Associate Dean David Richardson and Interpreter Cynthia Dupont.

On behalf of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I welcome all faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends who have come to this Convocation.  For those of you who traveled here from some distance, I appreciate your taking the time to support these terrific students.  You make a real statement by your presence.

I'm not always sure that people understand what is meant by the term Convocation.   For our purposes today, it is an assembling or a coming together - in this case a coming together of faculty, staff, and students, along with their parents and friends.  Our intention with this event is to celebrate a new academic year and to honor our undergraduate scholars who have demonstrated a special high level of excellence in their studies: the National Scholars, Lombardi Scholars, the 2007 CLAS scholars and the Anderson scholars.

Beyond that, it is a celebration of scholarship itself, which is a major component of this college and this university.  It is a celebration of the scholarly accomplishments of our faculty and students.

We gather to hear an address by a distinguished scholar and educator, to recognize the best and brightest of our students, and to meet and greet our colleagues in this auditorium.  This, then, at its simplest, is a brief one-hour break from the academic routine of a new year.  However, the celebration of scholarship is more than that.  It is a reaffirmation that thinking men and women continue to push back the frontiers of discovery, gathering and assimilating new knowledge for the benefit of those who come after us. In short, it is the celebration of the creative mind.

How does that creative mind work? And what effect does it have on how a major research university operates? The creative mind drives this university. It is not constrained by historic and traditional boundaries between academic disciplines. Fortunately, we have today at the University of Florida some fascinating interdisciplinary research centers, such as:

and there are others.  All of them draw scholars together to share their talents.

Sometimes, scholars focus their energies in narrow, but deep channels to learn a great deal about a limited academic landscape.  And there are often good reasons for this.  The world is complex and life is short.  And we find our academic specialties charming – they draw us deeper and deeper into them.

But we need to help our students – these students – see the boundless world in broader scale, to understand a world that ignores our own artificial division of knowledge into careful disciplinary cubicles.  Only then can we speed our progress toward a grander understanding of the world and of our place in it.

We are very fortunate to have at the University of Florida an exemplary community of scholars who work individually and collectively to add to the world’s knowledge.  Interdisciplinary research is very active at UF.

And scholars know something that legislators sometimes have trouble grasping, namely that great research can be at the same time great teaching.   That is, scholarship involves faculty and students working together, learning together, and discovering together. So as we assemble in this Convocation devoted to scholars and their accomplishments, let us not lose sight of the fact that students are the most important product of that scholarship.

I count myself fortunate to share this academic life with so many talented faculty scholars; and to be blessed at the University of Florida with so many outstanding student scholars.  Scholarship -- the life of the mind -- is truly alive and well at the University of Florida.

So we gather here to celebrate those creative minds of today (our faculty), and the creative minds of tomorrow (our students).   In perhaps no other event at this university, I believe, do we have such a concentrated gathering of brilliant scholars.  Thank you all for joining us in this annual celebration. 

Presidential Remarks

The centerpiece of the convocation is an address by a scholar, educational leader, and, indeed, a national leader.  We are pleased to have with us today someone who has been a loyal supporter of this College, its students and its faculty.  Ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to have with us today to deliver the Convocation Address the President of the University of Florida, Dr. J. Bernard Machen.

Dr. Machen became the university’s 11th president on Jan. 5, 2004.  Prior to coming to UF, he served as president of the University of Utah, Provost at the University of Michigan, and Dean of the School of Dentistry at the University of Michigan.  He received his doctor of dental surgery degree from St. Louis University, and a master’s in pediatric dentistry and a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Iowa.  He has served as president of the American Association of Dental Schools and on the Board of Trustees of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Committee.  It gives me great pleasure to present to you Dr. J. Bernard Machen.

President Machen addresses the audience:

Good afternoon!

I want to begin today by offering a hearty "congratulations" to the Anderson scholars, as well as to their parents and families. Many students flounder their way through the first two years of college as they emerge from the shock of leaving high school. Maintaining GPAs of at least 3.87, the Anderson scholars beat the odds in a big way. Your performance shows talent and dedication, and I applaud you.

I also want to acknowledge and applaud the other students who receive special recognition today, as well as the distinguished faculty members we are honoring. Most of you here had plenty of options for where to pursue your studies or careers, and we are pleased you chose the University of Florida. However, I think you may have asked yourself in the past 12 months or so what is happening in your college. Owing to a major budget deficit, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been through a tough period, one felt in every department and discipline. With open positions left unfilled, travel restricted and ordinary supplies suddenly hard to come by, it has been a painful time for faculty. Students have faced difficulty getting into certain courses. I do not intend to rehash the circumstances that created this situation, nor do I want to try to recast it.

What I want to tell you is simply this: I strongly believe in CLAS' mission at the University of Florida, and in the value of a liberal arts education in general. I also want to say that although hardships continue, the CLAS budget deficit is shrinking fast, and the college is on the move.

I pledge to do all I can to ensure that this new dawn continues, and that CLAS has a bright future at the University of Florida.

Even with no budget deficit, it's hard to be the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, circa 2007, and harder still for the basic sciences, liberal arts and social sciences that are the college's mainstays. That's because there is so much emphasis in society, in Florida and admittedly at this university on the professional schools and the training they provide. Many taxpayers, not to mention politicians, want to see university education in the simplest possible light -- as a sort of industrial process, taking in raw material in the form of high school graduates and graduating four to five years later as salary earners. To this way of thinking, or perhaps non-thinking, universities exist only to add value to a product, the product being the professional consumer class.

Public appreciation for basic sciences and the social sciences, is equally superficial. Most people value university research, but as with graduates, they want a defined outcome with a readily understandable application. You might be able to convince them that basic science is important because it pays dividends down the road – that out of this apparently incomprehensible research they'll one day get faster computer chips, better running shoes or the iPhone. But forget about trying to justify the more abstruse sciences and scholarly pursuits. To these eyes, studying theoretical physics or philosophy or William Blake appears an expensive luxury.

I have the deepest respect for the professional schools, their graduates and the applied research they do. I think it's remarkable, for example, that we can transform teenagers into engineers in a few short years, a feat we accomplish with roughly 850 students annually. And I think it's wonderful that researchers not only in the professional schools, but also in CLAS, come up with technologies and processes that have a ready value. The University of Florida is a national leader in technology transfer and commercialization, and that's something we should all be proud of.

But there is much, much more to a university education than training. And there is much, much more to university research than stocking the shelves of Best Buy with the latest electronics in time for the holiday season.

We are here not only to jump start students in their professions, but to give them a well-rounded and deep education, one that prepares them as much as possible to be active and knowledgeable participants in our Democracy. And we are here not only to innovate, but also to extend the boundaries of science and knowledge purely for their own sake.

These twin missions go back to the original charter of universities. But they are far from dated. To the contrary, a well-rounded education and an eagerness to pursue the fundamental questions of nature and science are more important than ever. In the past 20 years (1987-2007) 18 Nobel Laureates were educated at predominantly undergraduate institutions. Environments like that in CLAS.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has many vital roles at the University of Florida. CLAS is home to virtually all of our undergraduates for the first two years of college. Here at CLAS, University of Florida students learn the writing, critical thinking and quantitative skills essential to their success in the upper division. Not to mention seemingly mundane but critical practical skills such as good study habits and getting around the libraries.

Perhaps most importantly, CLAS students get the opportunity to explore, to get a taste of what's out there, and to try new things. Many students arrive at UF believing that they will go pre-med or pre-law. We don't need that many lawyers or doctors! And fortunately, most of these students discover they are really more interested in something they never even heard of before they arrived at UF. Credit for this transformation goes to the rich variety of courses at CLAS. This is not just good for the students. It's what college is all about.

But CLAS does much more than take our newest and least experienced students under its wing. As I alluded to earlier, the true role of the liberal arts education is deeper, more expansive -- and as it turns out, more urgent.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities published a fascinating report on liberal arts education earlier this year. One of the main thrusts is that today's university graduates are entering a disruptive if not chaotic world, one characterized by uncertainty and rapid change. In this era of global change, giving students a narrow training in a specific field does them a disservice.

The AAC&U says, and I quote, "…Graduates will need to be intellectually resilient, cross-cultural and scientifically literate, technologically adept, ethically anchored and fully prepared for a future of continuous and cross-disciplinary learning."

In other words, graduates need the classically broad benefits of a liberal education now more than ever. And it's not just the AAC&U saying this. From Intel to State Farm to Raytheon, numerous industry leaders have extolled the virtues of employees with liberal arts backgrounds.

But a liberal education doesn't just look good on one's resume. The searching, skeptical frame of mind cultivated in the liberal arts is key to the vitality of our Democracy. The same goes for much of what is taught as part of a liberal education – history, sociology, language. Again, there is renewed urgency about this: Six years after 9-11, you have to be blind not to grasp the poverty of our understanding of the Middle East and the desperate need for more people educated in the languages and customs of that part of the world.

If questioning is the lifeblood of Democracy, it is also essential to good science. Again, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is where students learn to adopt this mental stance, and where faculty may most freely pursue pure and basic questions. And all the evidence is that our faculty do well at this: This year, CLAS brought in $48 million in research grants, up from $40 million last fiscal year. Two CLAS faculty members netted this university's first ever grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

So I deeply value the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and its important work of nurturing our most inexperienced students, upholding liberal arts and probing the toughest and most basic scientific questions. Because I so value it, I am happy to see CLAS emerge from the significant budget constraints it has been under.

There are several pieces of good news for the college.

First, CLAS will be back in the black by next academic year, at least one year ahead of schedule. I know this required deep and lasting sacrifices throughout the college, but the results speak for themselves. Second, a search committee has been formed and is soliciting nominations for a new dean. Third, we have set aside for the college four of five positions we are now recruiting despite a university wide hiring freeze -- one each in botany, chemistry, English and psychology. We have also transferred enrollment management to CLAS, a step that brings significant additional resources for the college.

Last, we are protecting CLAS from most of the budget cutbacks being experienced elsewhere in the university due to the current state budget ills.

There is a certain irony in what's happening: CLAS is coming out of its budget problems just as everyone else is going into them. That is positive for the college, but at the same time, I know much more is needed.

Unfortunately, we have a deep-seated and longstanding funding problem. UF's tuition is the lowest in the country, and while this makes our university affordable it also shortchanges us compared to our counterparts in other states. All signs are that Florida is entering an era of budget shortfalls, which may only make a bad situation worse.

So the university is in a difficult position. However, it is not necessarily an intractable one. We made some progress this past spring when the Florida Legislature approved the state's first-ever differential tuition program. Starting next academic year, this program will allow UF to charge more than other state universities, which will allow us to begin to hire additional faculty members and advisors. The focus will be on the high-demand undergraduate areas of concentration. Many of these hires will be in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Meanwhile, just last week we launched our next major capital campaign, setting a goal of $1.5 billion. And we recently completed our Faculty Challenge campaign, raising over $200 million for faculty needs and resources in CLAS and elsewhere.

Progress won't be immediate, but it will come.

A particular concern for me is the resource needs of the humanities and social sciences. These disciplines encounter a large undergraduate teaching load and have limited resources to grow and adapt to new challenges.

Going forward, as a new point of emphasis in the Florida Tomorrow Campaign, I am announcing today the Humanities and Social Sciences Challenge. My goal is for $30 million in new endowment resources for these disciplines. We expect to focus just like we did for the Faculty Challenge. The new dean will assume major responsibility for allocating these funds. My hope is to recognize faculty with endowed professorships and to enhance graduate education with first year and dissertation fellowships. In the end, this is not a lot of money and will not meet all our needs. It will take some time, perhaps the 5 years of the Florida Tomorrow Campaign.

To get the challenge started, today I am announcing a $1 million allocation to endow a professorship in English literature. I hope we could commence searching for the position soon. I am also announcing a $1 million Endowment for graduate fellowships in Psychology. This represents a $2 million beginning to the Humanities and Social Sciences Challenge.

Earlier in this speech I said that one of CLAS' greatest contributions is giving students the opportunity to explore. I want to return to this theme briefly in my closing. Universities are fertile places for discovery, whether with regard to science, scholarship or technology. But for many students, self-discovery is the most meaningful legacy of attending college. This can be an awfully painful process, but we emerge from it strengthened and better prepared for life ahead. Of course students can experience this transformation anywhere, but it is most likely to occur during that period of introspection, questioning and exploring in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

People learn who they are here, and that is a rare gift. I look forward to seeing this tradition continue as the college grows and prospers.

Thank you.

Thank you for joining us today, Bernie, to inaugurate this academic year. 

Faculty Recognition

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been especially fortunate in attracting some of the nation’s best scholars to the University. In many areas, they are international leaders in their fields: unraveling the origins of the universe, articulating the social structures that define our civilization ,  probing the impact of climate changes on humankind; these scholars are also highly dedicated teachers who attach the highest importance to reaching out to young minds. It is thanks to their efforts that our students are well prepared for their future careers and the challenges of the modern world.

I would now like to welcome Associate Dean David Richardson to the podium to lead us in recognizing some of these outstanding researchers.

Dave Richardson introduces UFRF Professors:

The University of Florida is one of the country’s top-ranked research institutions.  Its faculty members are on the cutting edge of scientific and scholarly inquiry in many fields.  They are involved in discovering new insights into our physical world, shaping our society, developing new technologies, improving health care, and creating beauty in words, images, and music.  Faculty members from across campus generated more than half a billion dollars in external support last year to carry out the university’s critical research mission.

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences also had an outstanding year for grant support, raising a total of 48 million dollars.  This funding supports innovative research in the humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and the natural and mathematical sciences.

In 1997, the Office of Research established an award for outstanding faculty scholars.  Each year, faculty members are nominated to compete for the prestigious University of Florida Research Foundation Professorships.  This year, six professorships were awarded in our college, each carrying with it a significant salary stipend and a $3,000 research award. 

Please recognize with your applause this year’s UFRF Professors from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in attendance today.

Will each professor please stand and be recognized when named.

Please join me in congratulating all of our 2007 UFRF Professors!

Recognize 2007 Faculty Honorees

A faculty member can have a profound impact on the academic life of a student.  Few things are as rewarding to a faculty member as hearing a student say, “You have made a difference in my life.”

Whether in the classroom, in the research laboratory or in advising,   their contributions, guidance, and mentorship  can make all the difference to a student. We have invited each of the student scholars who have been at UF for two years to nominate a faculty member who has had a special influence on their lives. I would ask these faculty honorees, whether in our college or in others, to please stand and be recognized.

National Scholars, Transfer Scholars, Lombardi Scholars

JG introduces John Denny.

By any measure of quality, the abilities and strengths of our students is outstanding and continues to climb. I am confident that this will continue.  The University is home to a large number of national scholars and I will now call on Dr. John Denny, Director of the Honors Program to present our national scholars.

John Denny speaks

It is a great pleasure to introduce the National Merit and National Achievement Scholars in the entering freshman class – class of 2011. We are very proud that 171 new National Merit scholars and 29 new National Achievement Scholars have chosen to attend the University of Florida.

National Merit and Achievement Scholars are leaders and achievers!  In high school they participated in newspaper, band, athletics and every other extra curricular activity you can name; they played leadership roles in a wide variety of student organizations, they contributed thousands of hours of community service and they worked in a variety of part-time jobs.

Their academic records are impressive- many of them are valedictorians, others in the top 5% of their class.  They have won numerous honors and awards.  They are, in short, the best of the best.

These students had many options for their college careers.  We are proud they came to UF where it is a safe bet they will continue to be leaders and achievers.  These students have great potential and we have high expectations for their future accomplishments.  Two years from now we will be recognizing many of them as Anderson Scholars.  They will go on to win Goldwater and Udall Awards, Fulbrights and perhaps even a Marshall or Rhodes Scholarship.  We have high hopes for them.

National Merit and Achievement Scholars, you are a greatly prized group of students.  You represent a standard of excellence to which all students aspire.

Would the new National Merit and National Achievement Scholars please rise so we can recognize you with applause.


It gives me great pleasure to introduce the sixth class of Lombardi Scholars.  Students selected for this honor embody the same energy, enthusiasm and excellence as the program’s namesake: UF’s dynamic ninth president, John V. Lombardi.

In April a blue-ribbon committee had the difficult task of selecting 8 students as our sixth group of Lombardi Scholars, based on their academic achievement, service to the community, extracurricular involvement, demonstration of leadership and evidence of strong moral character.  The competition was exceedingly keen: one student from each of approximately 167 Florida high schools.  We already know how accomplished our winners are because of their superb participation in UF’s Study Abroad program in Merida this summer.

I ask the new Lombardi Scholars to stand when I read your name and remain standing until the list is completed.  Please hold your applause until the end.


We are particularly pleased this year to recognize the 60 Community College Academic Transfer Scholars who have come to us from all corners of the state of Florida.  These students have received this scholarship based on meeting all application requirements and earning a 3.8 or above GPA.  Our transfer students are often the most motivated students on campus; we are proud you have chosen the University of Florida.  Would the new Community College Transfer Scholars please rise so we can recognize you with applause.

Thank you Dr. Denny.

Clas Scholars

JG introduces 2007 CLAS Scholars

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recognizes senior scholars who have maintained a high level of achievement throughout their career with special CLAS scholarships funded by named endowments. I will read the name of each student awarded one of these scholarships and ask each to stand and remain standing until all are named. Please hold your applause to the end.

Please join me in congratulating all the 2007 CLAS Scholars!

I would like to ask that all the parents and family members of the CLAS scholars rise and be recognized.

Anderson Scholars

Of special importance to our College are the Anderson Scholars named after James Anderson, the first Dean of Arts and Sciences when the College was formed in 1925 and who taught Latin and Greek and was also a scholar of Sanskrit. Anderson scholars are recognized for their achievements across their entire field of studies after four consecutive semesters at UF and are selected purely on their academic record. I would like to first recognize those scholars awarded distinction for having earned a GPA average between 3.87 and 3.93. As I read each name I would ask you to stand and remain standing until the list is complete. Due to the number of Anderson Scholars, only the names of students who RSVP’d for this ceremony will be read aloud.  All Scholar names are printed in the program. Please hold your applause to the end.

Please join me in congratulating the 2007 Anderson Scholars who have earned distinction.

I would now like to recognize those Anderson scholars who have been awarded high distinction having earned a GPA between 3.94 and 3.99. Again please stand when called and remain standing until the list is complete.

Please join me in congratulating our 2007 Anderson Scholars who have earned high distinction.

Although the College standards have increased steadily over the years a large number of our students have maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average. We honor these students as Anderson Scholars with highest distinction.

Please join me in congratulating our 2007 Anderson Scholars who have earned highest distinction.

I would like to ask the parents and family members of all the 2007 Anderson Scholars to rise and be recognized.

We appreciate your trust and confidence in our College to bring these remarkable students and future leaders to the level that they have attained. They have an exciting and promising future ahead of them.


This brings us to the end of our program. I would like to thank all of you for joining us today. I am certain that for the outstanding students honored today that this will be just one of your many impressive accomplishments.

Special thanks to Zach Klobnak, a graduate student in the School of Music, for providing our music today.

I’d also like to thank our sign language interpreter Cynthia DuPont.

Again, thank all of you for coming today to this initiation of the new academic year. As always, we look forward to an exciting year in the College.  For example, in two months, we will open a new academic building, Pugh Hall, that will house the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, the Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures, and the Center for Oral History.  In February, the world’s largest optical telescope will begin operation in the Canary Islands, and I am proud to say that CLAS partnered with Spain in its design, construction, and operation.  We have a lot to look forward to. 

Congratulations again to our outstanding students, enjoy your time in the Heart of the Gator Nation, and Go Gators!!!


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