Employment is on everyone's minds these days, but there is one job opening that all Floridians should be especially interested in: president of the University of Florida.
Incumbent president Bernie Machen announced in June he would step down from the position in 2013 after a successor is found. The person who follows Machen will have the opportunity to build upon his extraordinarily successful tenure.
So, why should Floridians care who is selected as the 12th president of the University of Florida?
The fact is, the University of Florida is an incredibly valuable statewide resource. The Gators' storied athletic accomplishments aside, UF is the only institution in Florida belonging to the prestigious Association of American Universities, a group of 61 pre-eminent research universities. For Floridians, that means their flagship school is among the best universities in North America, those at the very forefront of innovation and scholarship. Not surprisingly, UF's presidential search already has drawn strong interest from leaders at other AAU institutions.
UF also has touched virtually every Floridian in one way or another during its long and distinguished history. Consider:
• UF's annual economic impact exceeds $8.76 billion, and its activities generate an estimated 106,118 statewide jobs. That impact is greater than the state's professional sports teams or cruise ship industry.
• Researchers at UF's Emerging Pathogens Institute are constantly studying new ways to protect Florida residents from deadly infectious diseases and dangerous foodborne illnesses.
• UF's Florida Opportunity Scholars program has given more than 2,300 students from low-income Florida families the chance to go to college — a chance they otherwise would not have had.
• UF scientists conduct research that makes Floridians' homes safer in hurricanes.
• As a land-grant institution created to serve the entire state, UF educators and researchers provide Florida residents knowledge they can use in their everyday lives through extension offices in all 67 counties.
It is clear that handing over the reins of such an important state treasure must be done thoughtfully and with great care. It should be equally clear that Florida residents have a big stake in the work of the Presidential Search Committee, whose 23 members represent faculty, alumni, students, UF's Board of Trustees, Florida's Board of Governors and others. Members know that they have an important job to do at a critical time when state funding for higher education continues to decline and the need is greater than ever to keep a college education affordable.
By any measure, the University of Florida is a truly remarkable institution, one that Floridians deserve and of which they should be proud. It demands the very best president we can find, someone who will ensure its future in the world and its ability to keep serving Floridians for generations to come.
C. David Brown II is chairman of the University of Florida Board of trustees and chairman of the UF Presidential Search Committee. Monitor the search's progress at http://presidentialsearch.ufl.edu. Brown wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.