For many founding faculty members, the job at UNF was their first as a professor. Dr. Joseph Perry, who had been director of undergraduate studies in economics at the University of Florida, was a marked exception.
Recruited to North Florida by fellow Gainesville colleague Dr. Roy Lassiter, Perry assumed the duties of chairman of economics and geography in the College of Business in 1971. For all but about eight years since, he has remained in that role.
"All of us who came here 25, 26, 27 years ago had a substantial amount of influence in the very beginning in determining the kind of institution UNF was going to be, its goals and what academic philosophy it would follow," he recalled. "We had an almost populist ethic. We were here to provide educational services to the community, taking people where they were and seeing if we could raise them to a higher level."
Perry added that surveys had shown UNF's founders that their students would likely be older and work during the day.
"For the first few years it was almost like after World War II, where you had people in their twenties and thirties coming to a university. At one point, the median age was over 30," he noted. "Those were the days when you could talk in class about negotiating a mortgage and know that 90 percent of the people in the room had done that or had bought an automobile on an installment loan. You can't talk about those things to an 18-year-old who has just come out of high school. So the mix of students has changed over time and our approach to them necessarily has changed."
Perry could relate to his students since he had worked at a Sears regional mail order processing plant in Atlanta while attending graduate classes at Georgia State, mostly at night. Later he went on to finish his Ph.D. at Northwestern.
Having experience at a larger school like the University of Florida led Perry to appreciate the value of a place like UNF. He said he would prefer that the University maintain its close atmosphere.
"I expect UNF is going to grow with the community, which is about two percent per year right now," he said. "Economists talk about negative externalities. That means if you have too many people in a place you start getting increased pollution, traffic jams. All of a sudden you discover that when you drive into campus at nine in the morning, there's a long line of cars in front of you and you can't get to class on time. Being small has its advantages."
He also wants UNF to avoid developing its sports programs at the cost of its educational offerings.
"Sports brings in a lot of dollars but it creates interesting problems in the classroom with athletes who don't have time to attend classes," Perry said. "The University of Florida hires tutors, and athletes live in a special area. Since this is an area of the country where football is a religion, I'm scared that if we get too heavily into sports then it's going to take away from the academic side, which is why the University exists in the first place."
Perry believes that, just as when it started, UNF's mission now is to meet the community's need for higher education.
"A lot of programs have come and gone in 25 years but they served a need at the time. For example, we have the College of Health that didn't exist ten years ago simply because this is one of the growth areas of our economy," he noted. "In a way, we're a reflection of what the community needs."
While he has no immediate plans to retire, Perry said at some point he might want to trade his department chair to pursue more teaching and research projects.
"There are a lot of things I want to do and a lot of places I want to go and I can't go and do if I'm tied down to an office five days a week," he acknowledged. "I think in a few years I'll just move over into the fast track," Perry said with a chuckle.