Leading with grace and precision

Joe Glover’s transformative leadership guided UF to ‘new heights’

This month marks the conclusion of a significant chapter in the University of Florida’s history, as Dr. Joseph Glover steps down from his role as UF provost and senior vice president for academic affairs after a distinguished 15-year tenure.

Glover was teaching mathematics at the University of Rochester when a colleague at UF suggested he should relocate to Gainesville. Upstate New York was caught in the icy grip of a blizzard, and it was a frigid winter day as he contemplated such a career move.

Little did Glover know his decision to join UF’s mathematics department would set in motion a remarkable career that would span four decades and shape the future of one of the nation's leading universities.

“When I came to Gainesville in 1983, I thought I’d be here for three or four years,” he said. “I was lucky enough to remain in place and flourish along with the university.”

Glover’s contributions helped transform UF into an academic powerhouse. From enhancing the undergraduate experience to propelling UF up the U.S. News & World Report best college rankings and pioneering the artificial intelligence across-the-curriculum initiative, Glover leaves an indelible mark on the university's legacy.

“During Joe’s tenure as provost, UF has made amazing strides in rankings, reputation, and research prominence,” said Sabyasachi “Saby” Mitra, dean of the Warrington College of Business. “Joe enabled that success by empowering unit leaders to make decisions while providing oversight and guidance. His knowledge of UF and its various units is unparalleled.”

Mastering his skill set

Glover’s first role at UF was assistant professor of mathematics, and from there, he took on several department, college, and university leadership positions before taking on the role of provost in 2008. He served as chair of the mathematics department, associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, associate provost for academic affairs, and interim provost. 

“I changed jobs almost every five years, but that kept things fresh — there was always something new on the horizon,” he said.

When Glover was named provost by then-UF president Bernie Machen, the country was experiencing the Great Recession, and he focused on stabilizing the institution and improving its reputation.

As the second-ranking officer of the university, the provost supervises the allocation of resources in academic areas, improvements in and coordination of instructional activities, development and improvement of research activities, and evaluation of university academic activity.

“Our objectives have become more ambitious over the years, but we laid a solid foundation as we lifted ourselves out from the recession,” Glover says. “That allowed us to set our goals higher, improve the quality of students and the quality and quantity of our research programs. We have made a lot a lot of progress, and we do a lot of unique things at UF that are not replicated at other universities.”

Shortly into Glover’s stretch as provost, UF began an unprecedented period of growth and achievements, including the birth of UF Online, now ranked No. 1 among online baccalaureate programs; faculty hiring that included the Preeminence program to hire 100 faculty, followed by the faculty 500 hiring plan, and followed most recently by the AI 100 hiring plan; UF’s reaccreditation; and UF surpassing $1 billion in research spending for the first time last year.

“His vision brought me back after retirement for another 15 years of life at UF, and frankly, we accomplished more in that time than in my preceding 30 years,” says W. Andrew McCollough, associate provost for teaching and technology. “One of Joe’s many strengths is his ability to bring to the table parties in disagreement and walk away with a consensus. The reputational progress of the university benefitted from his recognition that all UF people had a role to play.”

Elevating the undergraduate experience

Throughout his tenure, Glover made it his mission to prioritize the quality of undergraduate education at UF, and he put in motion a comprehensive set of initiatives elevating the educational experience for students.

“Whether accurate or not, UF used to have a reputation as a huge university where students were herded through large classrooms,” Glover says. “We’ve turned that story around and offer an experience that is equal to any university in the United States, public or private.”

students walking to and from class on campus

University of Florida

Under Glover’s leadership and through initiatives aimed at enhancing the critical thinking and communication skills of undergraduates, the university has fostered an environment of academic rigor, innovation, and intellectual growth that provides students with the necessary tools to thrive in an increasingly complex world. 

Examples include lowering the student-to-faculty ratio, so students can take small classes, engage in undergraduate research, and participate in unique college-specific programs. In 2015, UF launched the Pathway to Campus Enrollment, or PaCE, which allows first-year students the opportunity to start their UF degree online and then transition to campus to complete undergraduate degrees. The Innovation Academy, introduced in 2013, comprises four years of classes on entrepreneurship, creativity, leadership, and ethics to help students develop an innovative mindset. And most recently, education and training in AI is available to any student from any major who is interested.

“We are very proud of the student experience we’ve built here,” Glover says. “When you combine that with a tremendously affordable price, you can’t do better than to come to UF.”

Serving as second in command of one of the nation’s most academically diverse universities can be demanding, but Glover made sure he carved out time for his interests, which include raising Labrador retrievers, gourmet cooking and ballroom and Latin dancing. In fact, his talent on the dance floor was in full view during the 2017 Go Greater Campaign kickoff celebration at the O’Connell Center when he appeared on stage and performed an elegant Viennese waltz with UF alumna and Trustee Anita Zucker.

“I think that took a lot of people by surprise,” he said. “However, dancing became a significant pastime for me starting back in the ’80s.”

Glover and a UF trustee

Joe Glover and UF alumna Mary Lane

Dancing in a tailcoat tuxedo at a university event isn't the only surprise Glover has had for his colleagues and staff. His serious dedication to the task at hand was often countered with small gestures to lighten the mood. He frequently used whimsical backgrounds in Zoom meetings and occasionally wore a colorful Lily Pulitzer suit jacket to Board of Trustees meetings that was a gift from the board members and that he pulled off with Fred Astaire-like sophistication.

A meteoric rise

Like executing the difficult steps of a waltz with grace, Glover applied good balance and posture as well as an understanding of those around him to perform feats of excellence on behalf of the university.

When asked about his most fond memories of the job, Glover recalls a September day in 2017 which quickly transitioned into what he calls one of his greatest at UF.

“I was sitting in this office,” he said, “and Steve Orlando (the current interim vice president for strategic communications and marketing) appears at my door with two members of our communications team, and with a deadpan delivery, he says ‘We’re in the top 10.’”

Orlando’s statement meant that, for the first time in its history, UF cracked the U.S. News & World Report list of top 10 best public universities, an institutional and statewide priority since 2012 when UF was ranked 19th.

“I just looked at the team and said, ‘This isn’t funny. If you’re joking, you’re all fired,’” Glover said.

The day marked the beginning of a remarkable ascent over the next five years — UF is currently listed as a top-five public university.

“I remember very clearly opening that email from U.S. News — it was the culmination of many years of hard work by a lot of people, including Joe, and I couldn’t wait to tell him,” Orlando said.

UF’s rise is the result of former UF President Kent Fuchs’ vision and Glover’s detailed plan to make the university a place where students, faculty, and staff can learn, teach, research, and contribute at the highest levels.

“It may seem trivial to some but given the amount of time and effort from so many people, breaking into the top 10 was a tremendous achievement and a great day,” Glover said.

Building the nation’s first AI university

Glover will continue to serve UF as a senior adviser to President Ben Sasse, which will give him a front-row seat to what should prove to be his most lasting impact: UF’s AI initiative.

Recognizing the transformative potential of AI in education, Glover unveiled a visionary plan to integrate AI concepts and applications across the curriculum and to ensure courses in AI were offered in each of UF’s 16 colleges. The groundbreaking initiative is designed to answer the nation’s need for a skilled AI workforce in every discipline, not just engineering and data science.

The genesis of UF’s AI-across-the-curriculum initiative can be traced back to 2020 during an impromptu conversation between Glover and Chris Malachowsky, a UF engineering alum and cofounder of NVIDIA, one of the world’s leading companies in AI computing.

“I will never forget that day. Chris walked up to me in the hallway while visiting campus,” Glover said. “He asked me, ‘What would you do if I gave you an AI supercomputer?’ I was on the spot, and I invented AI across the curriculum.”

Although spontaneous, Glover was onto something, according to Malachowsky, and by July, NVIDIA and UF announced a $70 million partnership to use AI to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. The partnership was anchored by a $25 million gift from Malachowsky and $25 million from NVIDIA in the form of the most powerful university-owned supercomputer in the nation — HiPerGator AI.

Joe Glover and Chris Malachowsky

Chris Malachowsky, left, and Joe Glover

“Joe’s proposal and implementation of AI across the curriculum in response to UF’s acquisition of the HiPerGator AI supercomputer may well be his most enduring legacy,” Malachowsky said. “With it, UF has shown global leadership and developed the first and only proven model of workforce and academic modernization fully in step with the revolutionary power of modern AI. Joe’s vision was, and is, one of UF’s celebrated superpowers.”

As UF will soon welcome a new provost, the impact of Glover’s transformative leadership will continue to be felt by faculty, staff, students, alumni, and partners. He perpetuated a culture of excellence, innovation, and a commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge that will help lead the university into its next chapter.

“Joe is a special guy, and his efforts helped lead UF to new heights,” President Sasse said. “It’s great news that Joe will be continuing to serve Gator Nation in the years to come — especially as we invest in HiPerGator and so many of the other student-focused initiatives that Joe helped spearhead.”

Said Malachowsky: “Maybe the best way to thank him for all he has done is to simply acknowledge that Provost Glover has made me proud to be a Florida Gator!"

Karen Dooley July 28, 2023