Photo:"Sometimes, you just need somebody coming in with a fresh look," John Delaney said.
Northeast Florida Roundup
Transition: John Delaney leaves UNF's new president a stronger university
After 15 years as president of the University of North Florida, John Delaney, 61, retired from academic life in May to resume a law career in Jacksonville. During his tenure, UNF increased student admission standards, transformed its campus with new buildings and became an NCAA Division 1 school competing in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The former Jacksonville mayor also was a prolific fundraiser: Between 2003 and 2018, the UNF Foundation raised more than $250 million for scholarships, research and other initiatives. The school’s endowment grew from $43 million to $110 million. Delaney talked to Florida Trend about his plans.
Reason for leaving: “I’ll use this analogy: You walk in your house and you see the wall needs to be painted — it’s scuffed up — but after awhile, you don’t notice it anymore. Sometimes, you just need somebody coming in with a fresh look. It just sort of felt like time. The average tenure of a president is five years.”
His accomplishments: UNF managed “through the recession with no layoffs. A lot of schools laid off even tenured faculty. Also, we do a terrific job with students with disabilities. We’ve got some high-functioning autistic kids, and we’ve got more deaf kids than all the other Florida public schools combined. When I started, we had about 150 students registered with a disability. We now have about 1,000, and they graduate with nearly an identical grade point average and at an identical rate as traditional students. A third accomplishment is our vastly improved admission standards. They’re now third in the state — behind Florida and Florida State.”
His focus on new buildings: “About 40% of the campus essentially was built while I was president. When I arrived, I joked that the buildings at UNF looked like they were built in the Soviet era — very utilitarian and plain. We decided to do the buildings right, both aesthetically and functionally. If we can get a student on campus to do a tour, we typically win them.”
Biggest challenge facing UNF: “Higher-ed funding. Funding per student in Florida is toward the bottom of the country. It would take a one-third increase in funding just to get to the national average.”
On picking UNF’s next president, former University of Cincinnati business dean David Szymanski: “I said to the board I should not be involved. I think he’s a great choice. It’s probably time to have an academic as president. I’m what is known as a non-traditional president. The faculty tend to like somebody who has gone through a dissertation and tenure process.”
More business news and briefs from Northeast Florida
INNOVATION: Autism Support
College students with autism tend to have above-average intelligence, which helps them academically. But difficulty with social interactions puts them at greater risk for anxiety, depression and a loss of interest in school, experts say.
Last fall, the University of Florida created SOCIAL Gators (Student Opportunities for Career, Independent and Academic Life) to support students with autism spectrum disorder. The new program — a joint effort by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, the Counseling and Wellness Center and the Disability Resource Center — provides mentoring, weekly group meetings, academic coaching and online classes that teach social skills.
“We want students to stay in school and graduate,” says Ann-Marie Orlando, associate director of UF’s autism center.
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