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Bruce Gutknecht

  Bruce Gutknecht headshot

It's one thing to be turned down for a job. It's another thing to be turned down for a job you didn't even apply for. But that's how Dr. Bruce Gutknecht's career at the University of North Florida began.

Gutknecht was an elementary school teacher and principal working on his master's and doctorate in education at Michigan's Wayne State University. When he completed his Ph.D. in 1972 he applied for, and was offered, several teaching positions. He was surprised when he received a letter from UNF informing him the administrative position he applied for had been filled. Gutknecht was amused to be turned down for the wrong job, and decided to accept a teaching post at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg.

A phone call rekindled his curiosity in UNF. "The chairman called me and said, 'Are you still interested in teaching here?' I told him I was about ready to take the job in Pennsylvania," Gutknecht recalled. But a thick overnight package arrived, describing a new concept in education called competency-based teaching.

"It was a chance at something new, as opposed to the typical hear lecture/take test format," he explained. Gutknecht added that because the College of Education faculty was writing the curriculum, they worked two months before the other colleges in offices at Sandalwood High School. And while competency-based teaching never fully developed as a movement, Gutknecht hasn't regretted his decision to come to UNF.

"There've always been opportunities to do something in addition to teaching, although I never wanted to not teach," Gutknecht noted. "I've done a lot of grant work, dabbled in politics as the president of the Faculty Association, and I served as the first chair of the merged Division of Curriculum and Instruction."

One of his favorite activities was serving as chief university marshal, coordinating commencement ceremonies. "That was a lot of fun. We've got a rich commencement history around here," Gutknecht said, noting that the first ceremony was performed in the parking lot in front of Daniel Hall. When graduating classes were small, individual colleges held their own ceremonies, but all on the same night, he noted. Gutknecht took over when commencements were moved to the green, although rain could be a problem in that location.

Former Cabinet Officer Elliot Richardson was about to address the graduates one year when, "The heavens opened. Thomas Carpenter said something like, 'I declare the ceremony over. Come pick up your diplomas next week in Registration.' " From there, commencements moved to the Morocco Temple and finally to the Coliseum before the UNF Arena was completed.

Today, Gutknecht continues to expect excellence from UNF, citing the increasing use of part-time faculty as an area for improvement.

"In terms of program integrity, we need more full-time faculty. We have a number of fine part-time people but in developing curriculum to continually meet accreditation standards, the burden falls on fewer people," Gutknecht said. "And one of the things that's been unique about this place is that you have full professors teaching freshmen."

It's not necessary for UNF to be all things to all people, he added. "The idea that higher education is for everybody is a myth. We're seeing in today's economy that a degree doesn't equal employment, at least not in the field for which one is trained."

As a pioneer in developing distance learning, which uses computers to link student and teacher, Gutknecht said putting more resources into technology is essential. "We need to do more than talk about cutting edge technology and actually commit the funds to it," he said. "Our faculty often finds itself in the position of training teachers who work in schools with more technology than we have."

One of Gutknecht's greatest pleasures in his years at UNF is, "Seeing the place succeed. Back in the early days, the newspapers and everyone else didn't really know if this was Jacksonville University or a branch of the University of Florida. They know now."