Dr. Fuchs' remarks at the Eye Opener Breakfast, Jan. 14, 2015

January 14, 2015

Good morning! This is my second week in Gainesville. I’m thrilled to call this community my new home, and very pleased to have this chance to meet so many leaders of North Central Florida.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Governor Scott’s inauguration and hearing his speech, during which he urged people from other states to move to Florida. This follows last month’s news that Florida has passed New York to become the nation’s third-largest state by population – a fact that I have been very pleased to share with my former colleagues in New York.

New Yorkers, of course, are the top migrants moving in. As I reflected on the governor’s remarks … and on the fact that my wife, Linda, and I were packing up to move on the very day the Census Bureau announced the new rankings … it dawned on me that there may have been an ulterior motive for recruiting me to serve as UF’s president.

That part about leading a top public university was all fine and well – but maybe the real goal was to lure two more New Yorkers south to cinch Florida’s milestone.

We all join the Governor in recognizing that Florida’s new population rank, while notable, is only part of the story of its growth and diversification – including the innovation economy that is such a part of Gainesville and this university community.

As a new resident, I have been struck by how frequently I hear the word “innovation.” This morning, I want to talk more about innovation and what “innovation” means for me and our town-gown partnership. I also want tell you about myself and my thoughts on UF and its path forward.

First, though, I want you to understand that my top priority for the next few months is to fill my mind and spirit with the University of Florida, with our Gainesville community, and with our great state of Florida. I want to get to know you and other residents … visit our neighborhoods and landmarks … learn your concerns … find out about your issues … and most of all, understand your aspirations for UF, our community and our state.

I will start with a little about me, but as I said, my real goal is to learn about you.

My dad’s family were farmers, and I was born on his farm near the small town of Sayre, Oklahoma, in the southwestern part of the state.

My father, Calvin Fuchs, never went to college. But he was creative and a self-starter, and he taught himself to be a wonderful musician and to operate an amateur radio.

At some point before I was born, he bought his first plane for something like $100, and he and his brothers rebuilt it on his farm. He became an excellent pilot, although I understand in the process he crash-landed in the cotton field a few times.

When I was about four, dad decided he wanted to combine his hobbies of flying and amateur radio, becoming what is known today as an air traffic controller. Once he obtained the training he needed in Oklahoma City, the only opening he could find was in Alaska. Off we moved.

I spent my youth in Homer, Alaska, but eventually, my parents grew weary of the long winters and decided they needed a change. What would be more transformative than relocating to sunny Florida? We moved to Miami, where I attended high school at Miami Killian Senior High School. From there, I went to college in North Carolina at Duke University.

I started as a physics major because I was certain I was going to become a scientist, but my roommate convinced me that his major, electrical engineering, would be more fun. So, I switched. My roommate then switched to music. Today, indeed, he’s a music professor. So much for careful planning of our careers!

While at Duke I attended a local Baptist church that was popular with college students. The experience made me decide I wanted to become a pastor and lead a church, so after graduation, I set aside engineering and instead pursued divinity studies in Chicago at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with plans to become an ordained minister.

What did I just say about planning? As I busied myself with my divinity studies, I realized that I really wanted to be around students and work as a teacher on a college or university campus. That realization was one of two life-shaping experiences in Chicago. The second was that I met Linda, who was also attending Trinity as a master’s student.

We met each other at the library because of an overdue book that she had, and I needed. As a result of that overdue book, Linda has been my wife and partner for 34 years, and we have four grown children and an infant grandson, all scattered around the country.

I went to engineering graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and spent another 11 years there as an electrical and computer engineering professor. My first full-time academic leadership position was Purdue, in West Lafayette, Indiana, where I led the school of electrical and computer engineering.

After six years of enjoyable and satisfying leadership at Purdue, I joined Cornell in upstate New York as engineering dean. After another six years, I then became provost, with the titles of chief academic officer and chief operating officer.

We learn more about ourselves as time progresses. One thing I have come to recognize about myself – and I am sure this is true of any of you – is that in addition to being goal-oriented and competitive, I also periodically need new challenges. So, you can imagine how I felt when I learned about the search for the presidency of the University of Florida.

Why UF?

First. this university has a well-deserved national reputation for both amazing excellence and comprehensiveness, and Gainesville is known nationally as a wonderful college town. Those are reasons enough.

But as I came to appreciate during my research and interviews, what sets UF apart from universities of similar size and stature is the strength of the university community’s shared ambitions for the future …. and purposeful strides toward those ambitions … in a state as dynamic and increasingly influential as Florida.

The opportunity that brought me here is to use that strong scaffolding to climb to an even higher goal for this university.

When I was in Tallahassee, I had a private lunch with the governor, and he gave me a tour of the governor’s mansion. We spoke about many things, including Florida’s new status as a top-three state.

I told the governor that a top-three state deserves a top-three university. He said he agreed, but that he is a competitive person, and third-place wasn’t good enough. He said he wants UF to be number one.

I resisted the urge to ask if the next stop in our tour could be the state treasury!

Whatever number we use, my vision is for UF to join the ranks of the very best universities in the country … in a city that increasingly mirrors iconic university cities like Austin … in a state gathering behind aspirations to pursue the innovation and entrepreneurship status of states like California.

I had a number of other discussions in Tallahassee, where I have spent two of my first eight days president and met with nearly a dozen state officials.

I visited with Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – both, of course, UF grads. I met with many members of the leadership of the House and Senate, including the House appropriations chair, the Senate president and majority leader, and several members of the local delegation – to whom I am grateful for carrying the UF flag.

Given that UF and Gainesville occupy the same table in Tallahassee as so many larger and more influential urban areas, I am deeply committed to building and maintaining strong relationships with our lawmakers and policy leaders – for both the spring session and longer-term.

This brings me to the third part of my talk, about the university and our partnership with the community.

As I look ahead, I really have two major responsibilities this year.

The first is to join the university community in working together toward the vision of elevating UF to the stature of one of the very best public universities. The second is to continue UF and Gainesville’s emergence as a centerpiece of Florida’s growing innovation economy – and as an increasingly visible creative community with a thriving arts culture and its own special warmth and charm.

Let me take these two responsibilities one at a time, starting with the university.

I am extremely fortunate to join UF amid the continuing preeminence plan launched by my predecessor, President Emeritus Bernie Machen.

The mainstay of this plan is to hire more than 100 accomplished new professors to complement our distinguished existing faculty. We are well past the halfway mark toward reaching this goal, and we are already seeing great outcomes in terms of teaching, research and innovation.

UF’s pioneering online undergraduate program, UF Online, continues to make progress. The same goes for reshaping the undergraduate curriculum around a series of core courses that will be shared by all students.

We will build on this progress by launching an extensive goal-setting effort that will reach out across UF’s diverse campus. This effort will draw on the input and involvement of our students, faculty, leaders, and all members of the UF family to develop goals we all share in common.

I spoke a minute ago about the university community’s shared ambitions for greatness. We want to distill those ambitions into an equally shared agenda of priorities for progress in the five- and ten-years ahead.

As that work gets underway, I will devote a significant portion of my time to fundraising, so critical in this era of multiplying demands on public funds.

In the next few weeks, as we plan for the capital campaign, I will begin a multicity listening tour to meet with alumni, friends, leaders and media in Florida’s major cities and selected cities nationwide.

I will also make a point of reaching out to our friends and partners in Florida’s agriculture community. UF is my fourth land-grant university, so I understand our state, and indeed national, land-grant mission.

I’m equally committed to supporting the rapid growth and excellence of our research and clinical efforts through UF Health, UF Health Shands Hospital, and the Health Science Center.

Next month, I get to participate in the Agriculture Hall of Fame Banquet in Tampa. Next week, I attend the groundbreaking for the new hospital building. Indeed, my calendar is filling up, and it’s all great!

In the midst of growth and pursuit for excellence and leadership, I want to make UF an example of wise stewardship of both financial and natural resources, including continuing the university’s celebrated efforts in sustainability.

And finally, we will work together to raise the volume and impact of UF’s voice for public higher education nationally. Given our status as the leading public university in a bellwether state, we have a responsibility to speak strongly and visibly on behalf of all public universities.

Preeminence, goal-setting, fundraising, outreach, visible leadership: These are the areas to which I have committed myself this first year.

Let me mention just one more before I move on.

I spent a couple of hours Friday evening at University Galleries’ opening reception for the exhibit of its 50th anniversary. It was wonderful to learn the story of the Galleries. As I spoke with many members of Gainesville’s arts community, I was reminded of how the arts, culture and humanities have been central to the development and identity of the University of Florida.

I want to renew this tradition through giving special attention to the faculty, students, and members of the community who work in these areas – not only for the sake of the arts and humanities as their own essential pursuits, but also because they are so critical to our innovation and creative community.

This brings me to the final part of my talk, UF’s partnership with the community.

In my assessment, you have made brilliant decisions in your public-private collaborative efforts leading to Progress Park, the biotech incubator, Innovation Hub, Innovation Square and so many other initiatives over the years. You have built or supported strong arts and cultural institutions and traditions, from wonderful museums to art centers to renowned theaters.

I think the outcomes are clear … Not only in the growing number of spinoffs and established companies in Gainesville …. Not only in the major companies moving there … But also in the opening of many new small businesses, and the surge of residential and major retail activity surrounding the university and downtown.

Even I couldn’t escape the buzz about the new Lucky’s Market, with its 48-cent containers of blackberries!

My hope is that we will join together in community-university partnership to reach the next stage of this evolution – the stage when Gainesville joins, and even eclipses, Austin, Boulder and other university communities. The stage when people who can live anywhere choose to live in Gainesville.

At UF, this will require us to continue upping the research ante, spawning discoveries and technologies that the world wants and needs. As a community, we will need to collaborate in making smart choices about investments, planning and development, and enhancing public education – about seeding the culture necessary for our innovation economy to flourish.

As residents, we will want to continue to nurture the arts, to value creativity, to embrace our full humanity.

The University of Florida can be a top-three university in a top-three state – but only if we continue the progress you have already made toward building a top-three community.

I cannot end without mentioning athletics. I began this morning with a joke about Linda and I becoming the two residents who finally pushed Florida over the edge to become the third-largest state. In addition to two more residents, you will observe two more cheering fans in the crowds at Gator games. So far, I’ve been to the Bowl game in Alabama and last Saturday’s basketball game here against Mississippi State, so I’m feeling good about my undefeated record.

What Gainesville has proven is it’s not so much the numbers or statistics, but rather it’s all about excellent education … first-rate research … strong town-gown partnerships … and a vibrant innovation and creative culture that moves communities to the forefront.

Linda and I are very grateful for the warm welcome each of you have provided. We are so thankful that we are members of the Gainesville community. I look forward to working with all of you as you continue to make Gainesville a leader, not only for Florida and the nation, but the world.

Thank you!