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Gator Shame: Why I’m Relieved My Daughter Won’t Be Attending the University of Florida

| May 20, 2012

A contrast in values, too.

As many parents know, April can be the cruelest month, breeding college rejection letters from across the land. My daughter Sadie, who’s completed the IB program at Flagler Palm Coast High School, had high hopes. But she was wait-listed at her four top choices, all four of them out of state. She finally enrolled, to her great disappointment and ours, at the University of Florida. Then last week Grinnell College in Iowa called. Sadie was off the wait list. She was in. Not only that: she was granted a full ride and then some. Just as important: She got her visa out of Florida.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive We shouldn’t have been so relieved that she could turn down the state’s best public university. But we were. I doubt we’re the only ones in this spot, which says plenty about the state of public education in Florida: that state is closer to dismal than acceptable, and it’s an indication of where Florida is heading. It’s not joining the ranks of competitive, high-tech states with an innovative or sought-after workforce. It’s becoming a wasteland of tourist ghettoes, sunbathing spreads and Medicare colonies, its golf courses tended more lovingly than its classrooms.

Florida does not take its K through 12 school system seriously. The Legislature takes pleasure in short-changing it financially. It treats its teachers as if they were robotic data-entry secretaries rather than professional educators. It harasses students with standardized testing that would fail any credibility test. It is privatizing the system by way of charter schools, the cheaper, less accountable way of pretending that our children are getting educated. At least they’re wearing uniforms.

The Legislature’s assault on public universities has been no less severe, with a $300 million cut this year alone. Bright Futures, the full-ride scholarship once given to the state’s best students, is now a joke of its former self, covering just half an entering freshman’s tuition. Forget about room and board. It’s a little disturbing that Sadie’s college costs at UF, all grants and scholarships aside, would have still been steeper at that $19,000-a-year school than at Grinnell, where it costs $50,000 a year.

Endowments, which underwrite the price of a great faculty and provide students more access through generous financial aid, tell a story. Compare Florida to North Carolina and Virginia, two states that do make higher education a priority. The University of Virginia’s endowment is approaching $5 billion.  North Carolina’s is at $2.3 billion. The University of Florida? $1.3 billion. Even Grinnell, a school with one-thirtieth UF’s student body, has an endowment $200 million larger than UF’s.

Something is amiss in the notion of supporting our brightest futures. It’s not just the money or the politicians. It’s attitudes. Let’s be honest. Floridians don’t value education. At least not as a defining priority. Almost universally, the reaction Sadie got when she’d say she was going to UF was glee that she was becoming a Gator. Grown men and women, supposed business leaders and politicians, would congratulate her and immediately go into football or basketball fan mode. That’s what UF means to people.

It’s what UF means to its own governance. When the Legislature cut UF’s funding this year, the university thought nothing of eliminating its computer science department to save $1.4 million, though it increased its athletic budget, now approaching $100 million, by $2 million. A big outcry—led by students and computer scientists, not by Floridians at large—forced the university to reverse its decision.

The question must be asked: why isn’t the school’s athletic department—American university’s equivalent of Pentagon budgets, waste and bogus needs included—the first place to take a hit? The rationale that football brings in gobs of revenue doesn’t wash: college athletics’ finances are a self-fulfilling obscenity, siphoning priorities and money away from a university’s primary mission, which is not moving a football 100 yards downfield, but forming the best minds possible. That’s not happening at UF or in Florida higher education at a level that would no longer compel us parents to look for ways out of this state for our children.

And this is how Florida intends to make its way into the 21st century.

Tallahassee isn’t entirely at fault. Lawmakers are merely reflecting the dull roots and stony rubbish of their constituents. It may be fine for the rest of us geezers. Our mortgages are spoken for. But to condemn our children to the same fate is a crime. And we’re guilty of it every time we vote our greed instead of our ideals.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. This column was picked up by the Tampa Tribune, the Miami Herald, Hernando Today and Tampa Bay News Weekly.

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38 Responses for “Gator Shame: Why I’m Relieved My Daughter Won’t Be Attending the University of Florida”

  1. gatorfan1 says:

    good article and spot on. however not sure where he was going with this being that UF is a division 1 unversity and not a public elementary or high school and the endowment issue is way out in left field and has nothing to do with the sad state of affairs in florida’s pathetic school system. the fact that any kid graduates from fpc high school and gets into ANY college is a miracle in itself. flagler county’s school system is beyond pitiful.

  2. Don Abernathy says:

    In your article, you mentioned that “When the Legislature cut UF’s funding this year, the university thought nothing of eliminating its computer science department to save $1.4 million, though it increased its athletic budget, now approaching $100 million, by $2 million.”

    Look a bit more in depth next time, perhaps. The athletic and academic budgets at UF are entirely separate and it makes it difficult to just move funds around however they wish. Since 1990, the University Athletic Association (UAA) has actually donated over $53 million (as of 2009, when this source was published – now it is closer to $60 million) to the University. For example, in 2004, the UAA donated proceeds from their pay-per-view games to UF’s Library System.

    http://www.alligator.org/news/campus/article_73239d6b-8421-578b-93a3-673dc5a44b4c.html
    http://news.ufl.edu/2005/08/19/libraries-benefit/

    And the Athletic Department actually does experience its fair share of cuts- even though new television contracts have added new revenue:

    “In order to make the contribution this year, the department made 10 percent cuts to discretionary spending, like travel and equipment. Each sport, for example, was asked to make a 10 percent cut to its budget.”

    Read this explanation for more:
    http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2012/apr/24/forbes-blog/university-florida-eliminates-computer-science-dep/

    Although the budget DID increase by $2 million this fiscal year, the UAA donated $6 million to the University the previous year.

    I understand this is only a response to a small part of the article, but I wanted to get that aspect straightened out.

  3. GoodFella says:

    By the looks of the pictures used I most likely would want to go to UF if I was a young man.

  4. Anonymous says:

    There are huge differences between the larger public universities and the small private colleges.

    I got out of U of F as fast as could, and enrolled in Rollins College. Very happy I did.

    Smaller colleges mean smaller classes. Smaller classes mean greater support through paying attention to an individual’s needs.

    This practical approach to teaching is simply lost in the public system. The good guys are overlooked by the overwhelming number of numbskulls who shouldn’t be there.

    Congratulations for getting your daughter where I know she will be happiest!

  5. ProudGatorAlum says:

    I think before you start on a tirade against how much the football program makes or spends, you need to realize that the University Athletics Association is a private entity, separate from the University. I may be wrong, but I remember reading where the UAA gives money to the University to help meet it’s educational goals. The athletic department you reference in the budget issues is responsible for the intramural sports program, NOT the one that we all see on TV every week.

    While I can understand your frustration with the public school system in Florida, attacking UF seems a stretch. This year, UF was the 58th ranked University in the country. Out of thousands! They were the 19th ranked public university, 44th best Business College, 34th best Education College, and 35th best Engineering College. Not bad for a school whose funding has been SLASHED over the last few years by a state devastated by the recent economy.

    Is it an ideal University? No. But are they doing a great job given the position they have been put in? You bet your Orange and Blue underwear they have!

  6. w.ryan says:

    Your duality is exactly what he is saying. Can’t we invest in our future thru our children’s education no matter the cost? Bright future gets dimmer and dimmer for our brightest minds. Harvesting the brightest minds have a set back starting from funding for the seedling on up.

  7. Ambroz says:

    Great article Pierre! So nice to read about a subject so close to our heart. Our son just graduated from St. Joseph’s (he was accepted to IB after Mother Seton, but decided to go to St. Joe’s because his friends were going there, much to our and our pocket’s chagrin). He was accepted by UF as well but decided to go to New York instead for reasons similar to those mentioned in your article. Best of fortune to you daughter. Your and Mrs. Tristam’s FB postings show how proud you are of your daughter and I’m sure she will excel in college and beyond.

  8. Sad Times says:

    I repeat the words I used when commenting on the article about the FCAT test results…….

    “I just do not understand the thinking that goes on within the education system in Florida…..I thought that one of the goals was to improve our education system…. not keep stepping backwards!!! We should be increasing expectations of our students…. not lowering the expectations!! My goodness….at the rate we are going….. none of our students “graduating” from our schools will be able to read, write, or add!!!!”

    Citizens…… please take stock of what is going on in Florida (and the rest of the country!)…. let’s forget about power and party affiliations…. and start caring about the future of the United States…. which just happens to be in the hands of our children!!! And, thus, let’s work together to prepare our children for the future…. prepare them for the jobs that will and do exist NOW….not 20 years ago.

    I do not mean just elementary school, high school and college…. I also mean educating those who wish to become plumbers, auto mechanics, chefs, etc. ALL professions need employees who can read, who can write, who can add and subtract…. but, if we keep fighting for power and money…. we will be leaving our students unprepared for living their own lives….. and, in many cases, living off of medicaid instead of working in a viable career that they can depend upon to put a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs!

    People…. WAKE UP!!!!!

  9. JB Birney says:

    Sad. We need more proud Gator grads; not less.
    Don’t give up….
    Let’s start fresh with a REAL neglected part of our Education system; 0-4 year olds. High Quality Early Learning – It’s the only thing that can save our communities and assure that your daughter’s kids can go to UF and be loud and proud (and smart) future Gators.
    Don’t get me wrong, a healthy K-12 sysyem is critically important and gets a lot of deserved discussion. However, It is obvious that K-12 would be the biggest beneficiary from a new focus on positive early learning outcomes. The majority of brain development happens during these vital years and it presents our biggest window on an opportunity for substantial change in our communities. (and our favorite Universities).
    Go Gators!

  10. ric says:

    gatorfan, who are right with the information supplied.. Maybe it’s because they didn’t the scholarship and some revange is coming out. I am a gator fan I think it’s a privledge to attend Florida and become a Gator..

  11. Student says:

    I will start off by saying that I am biased in that I attended the University of Florida, but I think you go a little too far in this article. I agree that there are serious problems with the educational system in Florida that have deep impacts on schools from the elementary level up to the college level, and that other states have much better programs in place (UNC and UVA as you mentioned). However, UF is still a fantastic institute, one that many kids across the country look to as one of the leaders in public education. Princeton Review just ranked UF as the best school IN THE COUNTRY for career services and ranked UF seventh for best value public schools. And of course the Princeton Review can be skewed, but as far as financial aid goes, people may have expected too much from Bright Futures. I will admit it is quite a shame that this scholarship gives out less and less money each year, but for some kids coming from low-income families, it is extremely helpful. I understand what you are saying in this article, and on some level I agree, but I just think you look over the many benefits that a school such as UF offers too quickly.

  12. Mike says:

    You should have saved money to send your to school instead of hoping for a scholarship. U of Fl can only do some much since most of you need aid.

  13. Anon says:

    Piere, Piere… (: yes, you should be ashamed. You think the grass is greener elsewhere eh? You haven’t done your due diligence homework on where she just selected. SHE should select the school of HER choice based on ITS positives, NOT on the negatives of UF. Let’s hope she’ll come off other wait lists? Now over the next six months, do the right research and find a better place for your daughter to transfer to for her sophomore year before it’s too late. Too bad you won’t be able to keep an eye out 2000 miles away. Trust me, I KNOW.

  14. Frances says:

    I am a Floridian and I do value education. Many many Floridians do. I found your article insulting to the caring and educated people who were born in Florida, live in Florida and have worked hard to educate themselves and others. Congratulations are in order for your daughter and I wish her well at her college in Iowa.

  15. Jeremiah Mahoney, DMD says:

    Should we really be comparing UF’s endowment with UVa’s? If anything, I would think that a school whose endowment was started by Thomas Jefferson,as was UVa’s, should be much, much larger than what it is today. Though it would be difficult to find anybody that disagrees more with the mishandling of the state’s education system than me, I’m saddened that anybody would be “relieved” to have their child not attend UF. As somebody that graduated from both Flagler Palm Coast and the University of Florida, I can tell you firsthand that they are both great schools with amazing educators and students. I’m proud to call myself a graduate of FPC and UF. Just because we don’t agree with how the state handles its education system doesn’t mean the schools in that system should be pilloried.

    Jeremiah Mahoney; DMD (University of Florida 2004), MEd (University of Florida 2000), BS (University of Florida 1998), FPCHS Class of 1994

  16. Liana G says:

    Very good article and comments too, When my son was deciding on his college selection two things were important for him; the quality of the degree program, and the diversity of the student body. He wanted to be exposed to a broadly diverse foreign student population. He finally settled on UCF because its environmental engineering program ranked 6th or 7th, and 2nd in its foreign students diversity (Arkansas holds the number one spot in this area). It didn’t take much convincing from his sisters to get him stay close to home. We had some great years. Now he is off working and living in China and reconnecting with his grandparents, and he doesn’t plan on returning anytime soon.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Was the IB program worth the effort?

  18. w.ryan says:

    Congrats to the Tristam’s. Sadie is going to a great school. I looked it up. Super ratings. One of the Best and Brightest in the county, Sadie is destined for great things thanks in part from super parenting and in part from a wonderful young lady. My interpretation of this article was not entirely in condemnation of UF but rather about the priorities on education in this state. Unfortunately it seems to offend Floridians and former graduates of UF. Look at it this way…the forecast is grime. Lets fix state education K-12 instead of privatizing. Lets also reward hard work and bright minds and get them into college with less stress with financial burdens. As for the comment about saving for college…GET REAL BUDDY! Have you seen the cost of college these days? IB is no joke! She worked hard she deserve a scholarship.

    • Lori says:

      I agree with you about Sadie; it is WONDERFUL that she is going to such a great school. She is a lovely young lady and has worked very hard. I would not take the article personally if it was not for the references as to how “disheartened” the Tristam family was at the abhorrent thought of Sadie going to UF. It is one thing if it is not your choice, etc., but do not tell me that the article was not personally insulting to every student who goes to/has gone to and will go to UF. Unfortunately, it was. It is a no brainer that Florida has education issues; everyone knows that but college is what you make of it.

  19. Clint says:

    Ah yes College ! I meet hundreds of grads a year. Seems none have found a jobs much less a careers. Its not the college that has the problem. Its the COUNTRY !!!

  20. wsh302@msn.com says:

    i think the only ones employed are the college professors. i had spent close to 90,000 on my daughters education only for her to be making 10 to 11 dollars an hour. i agree with clint the country is the problem

  21. Lori says:

    Let me tell you what UF meant to my daughter; who will be a senior in college this year…it meant that she was given a full, 4 year scholarship that covered her tuition and living expenses. It meant that even though I am a single mother, employed by Flagler County Schools, my daugher was able to attend what we both consider to be a great school. She has gotten an excellent education and is in the Pro-Teach Program. She will complete her masters after she graduates and has been on the Dean’s List since 1st semester. I have nothing but praise for her wonderful professors and advisors. I know that my daughter obviously does not measure up to yours since she settled for a crummy, Florida school like the University of Florida; but I guess our standards must not be as high as your family’s. Your opinion on this is arrogant and insulting. Get over yourself Pierre. Normally I have much respect for your articles; not this time. Think about the people who’s educations and futures were forged at a school before you lay out the insults. I know plenty of successsful people who did not attend Harvard.

  22. elaygee says:

    UF is a sports factory with a university facade

    • Lori says:

      You might be surprised to know that there are plenty of students who feel otherwise. I assume you have spoken to every single one of them based on your comment?

  23. Jojo says:

    So true. Then – where do you go to work in Florida once you graduate. Gov. Scott wants to make UF and FSU tuition rise much like the first day offering of public stock with Facebook. The notion is to make UF and FSU the top ten colleges in the country. It’s a party school.

    • Lori says:

      As far as tuition rising; that is something that is happening across the nation, not just in Florida. It is not a party school. They have worked very hard to lesson that reputation. And I have news for you; EVERY college is partially a party school. And that includes many private institutions as well.

  24. Ella says:

    The schools in Virginia are top notch! Glad you noted that.

  25. Judy V says:

    I have to agree with Lori above. While, perhaps not the choice for your daughter, it is quite a viable option for many others. The education system is Florida IS flawed, but look closely and I think you’ll find flaws with the majority of states on this count. Disclaimer: my son is a grad student at UF. They have an extremely high job placement rate. That’s what he needs when he’s done – a JOB. My two daughters went to small private universities for undergrad degrees. The three of them are all equally successful.

    To me, sports are a necessary evil. They produce revenue. And that revenue needs to be shared.

    Party school? Show me a school that isn’t! Once again, the choice comes down to the student – are you going to party and screw up or are you going to succeed? You raise ‘em, point ‘em in the right direction and hope.

  26. Will Allen says:

    The number one priority for my son in choosing an engineering school was the national ranking. Luckily, he had that option, but only because his (private) high school excelled in AP math courses. We didn’t have the money to afford his fancy high school, but sacrificed with modest housing, used cars, and little social life while our two kids worked their butts off to get good grades. We toured UVA and walked among the white pillars of wisdom, but their engineering school was not in the top ten, so he declined. He didn’t get accepted at his first choice, Cal Tech ( few do). He was deferred by MIT. We were glad not to have bought a winter’s wardrobe. He chose the No. 3 Engineering school, Ga Tech (tied with Stanford). Now he travels the world designing cargo innards and we only get to see him twice a year.

    We stay in Florida watching school budgets get slashed and teachers demeaned with salary cuts and forced to spend their own money on classroom necessities. Today I visited an eighth grade Social Science class that did not have text books for the subject, nor had they had them all year.

    Florida is entering a very dangerous era of lost priorities. Politicians who fail to promote the very best in educational standards and conditions will lead this state to a state of failed responsibility. The stakes are only as high as future endeavors in twenty first century survival. Fail the children, you fail tomorrow.

    • Helene says:

      Will, while I agree with your last paragraph, I cannot do the same for your inference that your son got into his third choice “only” because he went to a “fancy” private high school. Frankly, I am sick of people constantly knocking our high schools in Flagler County. Our HS’s offer all the top courses needed to get into highest ranked colleges and universities. There is a long list of top ranked schools that our local graduates have attended and currently attend. I personally know a family whose son graduated from FPC last year and is attending your son’s “deferred” college – MIT. I also know several families whose children attended private high schools in St. John’s county because they thought they would stand a better chance of getting in to the top colleges. Alas, they didn’t get into any and had to settle for UF (you know, the school Mr. Tristam didn’t want his daughter to settle for). I can only surmise that a student who is in the top 5 to 10% of a class of 500 and has taken advantage of the Honors and AP courses offered PLUS has been involved and committed to a couple of the multitude of clubs or organizations offered at a large HS, has a better chance of getting in than a student who is in the top 5 to 10% of a class of under 100 .

      I certainly agree that our Florida legislature better get its priorities straight where the future of our children are concerned and therefore the future of this state. However, our county schools have many opportunities available to our students if they take advantage of them. I have two chldren that received a great education at FPC and went on to a top rated private college and university. My third is about to graduate MHS and is also going to attend a hgihly ranked private university in the Fall. This doesn’t mean they are against big public universities; they just felt that at the college level they were more comfortable in a smaller environment. As several other posters stated above, it is really where the student feels he/she belongs not whether it is a public or private college. I don’t think big public universities and smaller private universities are ranked in the same group. So a school in each category can be equally as good or great. UF is highly ranked at the public national level while Grinnel may be highly ranked at the private level. As someone else stated, “apples and oranges”.

  27. Will Allen says:

    Helene, we didn’t live in Florida when my son went to high school. We lived on a 35 square mile island,
    St. Thomas, USVI. I agree and have talked with students at both our high schools that are seeking
    engineering careers. For those so inclined, the courses are available to follow that calling. My problem
    is with the general population of the schools. Other states are leaping forward with all technology resources. No more text books. The course is on a computer assigned to each student. Urban cities in Virginia are dramatically improving overall achievement across the board. Imagine that kind of action in Florida?

  28. tracey swaine says:

    Just wanted to say yea for Sadie! Grinnell College is a great school. My daughter, dispite being 5th in her high school graduating class in 2009, didn’t get into any of her out of state choices so settled on Florida State since it was a reasonable drive home to the Tampa Bay area. She didn’t want to go to UF because everyone else was going there. The classes were too big, the advisors didn’t care about the students and football was a big part of the social life which she wasn’t into at all. She was miserable and started looking for something smaller and found Belmont University in Nashville where she has been for the past 2 years and loves the small class sizes, being taught by a professor not a TA and the willingness of the advisors to really help the students. If Sadie can survive the cold Iowa winters she will love the change of seasons. And if she misses football, she can drive down I-80 and take in an Iowa Hawkeye football game which is my alma mater!

  29. Jim says:

    This is perhaps the most slanted, one-sided drivel I have ever had the displeasure to read. It is hard to find a point of departure there are so many fallacies and half-truths. First, I’m glad your daughter found a place she really wants to attend. There are six UF grads in my family including my wife and myself, yet my younger son chose the University of Tampa over UF. I applaud his decision, not because there is something wrong with UF, but that he found a school he truly loves and in which he is thriving.

    Second, to re-address what has already been thoroughly discussed here, UF did not eliminate the computer science program in favor of moving the funding to athletics. They simply proposed to merge the two computer science programs which are in two seperate colleges into one saving the university that money. ALL athletics at UF are privately funded including all facilities. NOT ONE DIME of taxpayer money goes to those programs. If one would bother to read more carefully or perhaps tell the complete truth, this would not have been raised as an issue.

    Third, your assertions regarding endowments and the clear preference for Grinnell with its $50,000 annual cost are a spurious way to compare universities. Grinnell’s endowment is barely larger than UF’s and Warren Buffett has been supporting it for decades. Grinnell appears to be a fine school for what it is, a tiny (less than 2.000 students) liberal arts college. However, if I wanted to be an engineer, physician, veterinarian, or pursue one of myriad degrees offered by UF and not by Grinnell, I know which one I’d choose.

    I think your main gripe is that your daughter was simply another freshman at UF. Her academic credentials were no doubt impressive, but likely at best average at UF which has some of the most exacting standards for incoming freshmen, public or private. So, there was no “free ride” at UF for your daughter. That sir, is your principal complaint.

  30. w.ryan says:

    Get over the inference. The use of the example was merely a segue into that fact that Florida is falling behind with education.

  31. C. says:

    I hope your daughter doesnt plan on coming back to Florida to get a job, I am convinced that a UF grad has a leg up. There is a reason the largest accounting firms and other blue chip businesses come to UF to recruit for their companies by the hundreds. If you were to go on further than a bachelors degree, UF has some of the foremost programs in the Country, and even more highly regarded in the Southeast.

    And if you happen to be involved in a terrible accident and need trauma help guess where they take you, to Shands in Gainesville or JAX, I think your article is completely misguided and filled with inaccuracies.

    The one thing I can tell you is that I can’t wait to watch the Grinnell (what’s their mascot) play football this fall…….

    Florida is falling behind in education because of poor parenting, underpaid teachers, and underfunded schools. Nothing to do with their universities.

  32. Yelena Orrelly says:

    As a student at the University of Florida I am sick and tired of hearing people bash the university when they clearly have no idea what they are talking about. If Mr. Tristam had spent a little more time doing research he might have found that the University of Florida’s budget has no relation whatsoever to the budget of the University Athletic Association. Correlation does not imply causation, didn’t you learn that in statistics Mr. Tristam? I did, in my statistics course at the University of Florida. The UAA donates millions of dollars to the University of Florida annually, money which comes from football game revenues, media contracts, and generous alumni donations. The fact that the university is making budget cuts to some departments does not mean that the money is being transfered over to the football team. As a matter of fact, the CISE department was never going to be cut altogether. The plan was to reduce funding for the CISE research department to save money because there is already an engineering department that basically does the same thing. I understand that finances are a big part of choosing which college to attend, and choosing the college that offered your daughter a full ride was a wise choice. Writing negative comments about the University of Florida without any concrete evidence to back up your claims however, not so wise. A simple google search would have landed you upon this gem, http://www.uaa.ufl.edu/uaa/Executive_Summary_2011-2012.pdf, the UAA’s 2011-2012 budget. Read it and you’ll see where every penny comes from, and where it goes. Being a Gator is more than being a football fan, it is being a part of a great institution that has produced great citizens and scholars since 1853. The Gator Nation is everywhere, which is probably not something you can say about Grinnell.

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