This story was written by Deborah Swerdlow, Independent Florida Alligator
In an unusual move for a university president, University of Florida President Bernie Machen publicly endorsed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., this weekend for the 2008 presidential election.
McCain's campaign released a statement Monday announcing Machen's support but cautioned that it should not be interpreted as an endorsement from the entire University of Florida community.
Machen reiterated the separation of his views and his role as UF president in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
"This is my personal opinion, and it does not have any relationship to the University of Florida," he said.
Machen, a registered independent, described himself as a longtime supporter of McCain.
"I've always been an independent, and I choose my candidates by person, not by party," he said. "Of all the people running for president in both parties, I've concluded that Senator McCain is the best qualified person to lead our country."
He cited McCain's positions on national defense, education, immigration and the environment as reasons for his decision.
Machen said he agreed to publicly endorse the senator about a month ago after a representative from McCain's campaign approached him about it.
He met McCain in 2004 when the senator spoke at a UF ceremony, and the two have kept in touch since then, Machen said.
When asked about his relationships with other presidential candidates, such as working on the Salt Lake City Olympics with Mitt Romney, Machen insisted those relationships are not an issue because he believes McCain is the most qualified candidate.
He declined to comment on whether he was asked to endorse any other candidates.
Kenneth Wald, a UF political science professor, said it's unusual for university presidents, especially ones at public universities, to endorse political candidates.
Wald said university presidents tend to limit their political involvement to making education a bipartisan goal. He said presidents also fear that if the candidate they support does not win the election, the school could lose potential resources down the line.
"I think most university presidents think the risk is not worth the reward," he said.
Although he thinks this scenario is unlikely, Wald said some university donors who support other candidates might be offended by Machen's endorsement and tighten their purse strings. Students and faculty might also view Machen's endorsement as inappropriate, causing them to lose support or respect for the president, he said.
"I think Machen has a reputation for somebody who shoots from the hip," Wald said, adding that it seems like Machen acted without thinking about the consequences.
Machen said he didn't know how donors or faculty members would respond to his McCain endorsement.
While he recognized that some people might disagree with him, he said he felt it was more important to show his support for a candidate.
"I believe that everyone should take a position in the campaign, and I believe that at a time when we're asking our students to become involved in civic activities, it's appropriate for me to express my personal opinions as well," Machen said.
With the Florida primaries one week away and McCain scheduled to visit Gainesville on Sunday, Machen said the senator's campaign staff decided this was the best time to announce Machen's support.
Machen said he doesn't know the details of McCain's visit yet, but he will help with fund raising or rally appearances if needed.
"If he wants me to, I'd be glad to help," he said.
© 2008 Independent Florida Alligator via U-WIRE