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Student complaints greet new UF leader

But the governor called to welcome the university president to Florida on his first day.

By Associated Press
Published January 6, 2004
[Last modified January 6, 2004, 01:33:37]

GAINESVILLE - On his first day as University of Florida president, James Bernard Machen confronted concerns about a growing student body, a stingy Legislature and the closing of a campus library.

On top of that, the 59-year-old educator known as "Bernie" said he felt like he had a touch of the flu, canceling a chance to mingle with students at the Reitz Union food court.

Facing a room full of reporters, Machen (pronounced Match-en) said Monday that he didn't arrive at UF with an agenda and planned to spend much of the next few months meeting with students, alumni, donors, faculty and university officials.

"This is a university working well," Machen said, adding that outgoing president Charles Young had left UF in great shape. Young's retirement was effective Monday. He served as president for four years.

The former University of Utah president said he expects to spend a lot of time in Tallahassee, learning more about Florida's educational system and meeting with state officials.

He said two issues concern him:

More than 90 percent of UF's 48,000 students receive Bright Futures scholarships from the state, which he says doesn't pay the full cost of educating the students.

The Legislature has a tight rein on university budgets, which prevents the schools from making their own funding decisions.

"The university has really been an agency of the state in much more of a fashion than any state university I have ever seen," Machen said. "We are not able to manage our resources in the most efficient manner. "All of those answers start in Tallahassee," he said. "I've got to find Tallahassee on the map and get over there."

Machen said he received a call Monday morning from Gov. Jeb Bush welcoming him to Florida.

Several students came to Machen's news conference, complaining about plans to close the largest student library until 2006 for renovation. The books will be stored in a warehouse near the airport and students will have to order books they need in advance.

Their complaints, they said, had been ignored by other university officials.

Machen told them the decision was made before he arrived, but said he would meet with the students about their concerns.

Machen, UF's 11th president, was unanimously selected Oct. 8 by the board of trustees after a nine-month nationwide search.

Before going to Utah, he served as provost and vice president for academic affairs and dean of the school of dentistry at the University of Michigan. He also served as an assistant and associate dean at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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