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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 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.

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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. 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.


  2. 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,, 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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