Friday night, Al Warrington, a UF alumnus, an accomplished businessman — and a Miamian — along with his wife, Judy, pledged the single largest gift ever to the University of Florida.
The $75 million, which, when combined with Warrington’s earlier support, makes him UF’s first $100-million donor. This gift will add momentum to UF’s accelerating campaign to rise among the nation’s top public universities. The Warringtons’ generosity will benefit Florida’s best and brightest students, its economy and all of the nearly 20 million Floridians touched by the work of UF researchers in fields ranging from medicine to agriculture to engineering.
Florida has invested heavily in public higher education for more than a century, and this taxpayer support has driven the growth and success of UF and our 11 other public universities.
Today, UF offers a world-class education at a price consistently ranked as one of the best bargains in the nation. We have built a legacy of medical and scientific discoveries; technologies that have helped launch more than 100 job-creating companies; and labs that attract almost $600 million in annual corporate, foundation and federal research funding to Florida.
The Warringtons’ gift and similar private support will allow UF to augment, amplify and diversify this legacy in ways that go beyond what is possible with public funds or tuition dollars.
Such gifts support:
• Scholarships for Florida residents, such as the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. Intended for first-generation students whose families earn less than $40,000 a year, this scholarship has enabled more than 2,900 students to attend UF since 2006.
• Endowed faculty positions that will allow UF to hire and retain world-class faculty.
• Student training and experience. A case in point: Business college faculty use these funds to hire graduate student assistants, who in turn focus on research questions and receive critical training as Florida’s next generation of entrepreneurs and scholars.
• The purchase of scholarly or scientific assets, such as immense sets of business and economic data — the raw materials from which faculty build new insights and knowledge. These funds also help UF researchers travel around the globe to collaborate with colleagues at other institutions.
The Warrington gift comes as our university moves forward with plans to hire as many as 130 faculty members as part of the Preeminence Plan to rise among the nation’s top universities. UF will match the state’s investment in this plan — $15 million annually for five years — through private donations, with the goal of raising $800 million before the next Olympics.
Al Warrington has been a regular on the UF campus for almost 60 years. He worked his way through school cleaning fraternity houses and subsisting at times on apple butter sandwiches. He rose in the ranks at Arthur Andersen in its Miami office and frequently recruited Gator grads to work for the firm. He has shuttled into town for decades to serve on the UF board of trustees, as president of Gator Boosters and the UF Alumni Association, and as a member of the UF Foundation Board of Directors. He considers Miami his hometown and has owned a home there for decades.
He knows UF as few do, and that knowledge has guided his giving. His past support helped transform the business school now named for him. His latest gift comes at a key moment in UF’s history as we combine state support with private funding to enhance the preeminent university in Florida, a national bellwether state soon to eclipse New York as the nation’s third most populous.
For students, the results will be more scholarships, state-of-the-art facilities and opportunities to interact with top-flight professors.
The state’s business community will gain new companies, skilled employees and expertise. And residents will see benefits ranging from disease-resistant crops to new consumer technologies to advances in cancer treatment.
As we work toward those goals, donors such as the Warringtons give twice. Once to UF, and again to the people of Florida.
Bernie Machen is the president of the University of Florida.