ANITA KUMAR and TRACY SWARTZ
Charles Young officially retires on Jan. 4 after a storied stay at the helm of the state's flagship campus.
GAINESVILLE - Charles Young, wearing a dark suit and gold tie, stood at the head of a reception line of legislators, city leaders and employees, shaking hands and kissing cheeks.
"Don't be a stranger," Gainesville Mayor Tom Bussing said. "I know you will return often to the city, and we welcome you."
With that, the Gainesville community bid farewell to Young, the University of Florida president credited with helping the state's most prestigious school prosper after a tumultuous period.
Young, already a legendary education figure as UCLA's longtime leader, was lured to UF in 1999 after the resignation of popular president John Lombardi, whose departure left the school divided and donations drying up. Young agreed to spend a few months, though his first wife, Sue, was battling cancer. He wound up staying four years.
"People were wondering what was going on in the wake of those events," UF provost David Colburn said. "What we got was a giant in higher education who really helped in a difficult time."
Young, two weeks shy of his 72nd birthday, celebrated his UF career Wednesday night at an alumni center reception, the last of a series of goodbye parties before his departure next month.
More than 100 people watched as Young, sipping red wine, was given a framed photo of Albert and Alberta, UF's mascots.
"It's a bittersweet thing," he said. "But it's time to move on. It's time for someone else to come in."
Bernie Machen is that someone. The outgoing University of Utah president will begin at UF Jan. 5, the day after Young's last official day.
Young, known for his outspoken views on higher education, is generally praised by faculty and staff, alumni and his bosses, the UF Board of Trustees.
"What we want is another Chuck Young," board chairman Manny Fernandez said, launching the national search for a successor earlier this year.
Young restored a stalled capital campaign that ended up surpassing its goal. He recruited a larger freshmen class with higher grade point averages and SAT scores. He helped reach out to national foundations. He invited faculty to help govern the university.
"He has been a key figure in re-establishing the voice of the faculty at UF," said Anthony Brennan, who leads the UF faculty senate. "This president is setting a standard for the state of Florida."
UF, one of the largest universities in the nation with 49,000 students, has a hefty endowment, a medical school, a premier sports program and a fanatical alumni base. Education experts generally regard UF as amongthe nation's top 25 public universities.
But Young outlined a blueprint for the future - including how money will be spent and what academic programs will be emphasized - to help UF become one of the top 10 public schools in the nation, one of the 20 best overall.
"He came to Florida and got emotionally involved in the place," trustee Carlos Alfonso said. "He became a Gator."
Young came to Gainesville after the departure of Lombardi, the popular president who presided over unprecedented growth and improvement but frequently ran into trouble with his bosses. A national search to replace Lombardi ended in disarray, and Young agreed to stay on. Four finalists withdrew, the faculty declared the other two unfit and the school gave up.
Young said UF reminded him of UCLA when he first took over as chancellor - equal to president - in 1968 at age 36. He spent almost 30 years there transforming a regional college to a research powerhouse consistently rated among the nation's top 10.
Young retired from UCLA in 1997 as one of the nation's most respected voices for higher education but also a beleaguered leader who battled with the University of California regents and state politicians.
He refused to fire professor Angela Davis, a communist, even though then-Gov. Ronald Reagan called for her ouster. Young opposed Regent Ward Connerly's bid to end racial preferences in university admissions. He was criticized for opposing a similar effort in Florida after it was created by Gov. Jeb Bush and endorsed by the trustees.
Young and his second wife, Judy, will divide their time between Southern California and a new home in British Columbia off Vancouver Island. He remains active on a number of corporate boards, including computer chipmaker Intel Corp., and plans to dabble in higher education consulting work. "I don't want to retire," he said. "Retire means doing nothing."- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.