This story was written by Lia Ganosellis, Independent Florida Alligator
Though UF President Bernie Machen's endorsement of a presidential candidate was unusual for a leader in public higher education, university leaders said Wednesday it's not a big deal - just Machen's opinion.
Although unaware of Machen's intentions before his weekend announcement that he is endorsing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2008 presidential race, Provost Janie Fouke said she wasn't surprised by his decision to share his political views.
"I think it's clear that many public figures have private lives, and I think it's appropriate," Fouke said.
There should be no question of whether Machen's support for McCain would seem to represent the views of the UF community, she said.
"I think he was clear that he was expressing his personal values," Fouke said.
Dianna Morgan, chairwoman of UF's Board of Trustees, UF's highest governing body, said Machen's announcement shouldn't come as a shock.
"Dr. Machen has the same free-speech rights as any of us," Morgan said.
However, despite Machen's assertion that his endorsement is independent from his UF position, Morgan said she expects Machen's statement will reflect on the university no matter what.
People will make their own judgments, she said, but the endorsement shouldn't be regarded as anything but only his opinion.
"I think it's a personal endorsement of an individual he's known for some time and an individual he greatly admires," Morgan said.
As for Machen's potential influence on public opinion, Morgan said she couldn't offer any predictions.
"I can't prejudge the influence that this endorsement may have," she said.
McCain now leads the Florida Republican primary race at 29 percent, and Mitt Romney is second at 22 percent, according to a Monday poll released by the American Research Group.
Rick Yost, chairman of UF's Faculty Senate and a chemistry professor, said he hadn't considered how Machen's opinion might influence others', but he has as much right as any other U.S. citizen to share his support for a political figure.
"I'm sure people will have opinions one way or another, but I don't think it's a big deal," Yost said.
Though it's rare, Machen wasn't the first university president to publicize partisanship with a presidential candidate for the 2008 race. University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala openly expressed her support for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in January 2007.
But Shalala's endorsement was less surprising than Machen's, as she held a Cabinet position in the Clinton administration and had worked with Clinton herself.
© 2008 Independent Florida Alligator via U-WIRE