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Dr. Dan Schafer

Dan Schafer headshotWhat made you decide to come to UNF? 

I decided to come to UNF for two primary reasons: 

1) The only access to the campus when I interviewed in February of 1972 was via a dirt trail from Beach Boulevard. St. Johns Bluff Road and J. Turner Boulevard were built later that year. Dean Willard Ash drove me over the bumpy dirt road, with deep washout holes, in his old Mercedes diesel. We stopped at the entrance to the campus, where a bull-dozer was stuck — blade first — in a sinkhole. Dean Ash promised that somewhere in there through the pine trees and palmettos, a campus with offices and classroom buildings, a library, boathouse, parking lots, and other university amenities would be ready for students and faculty in the fall. From that moment on I was intrigued by the idea of working at a university that would be entirely created by its faculty and administration. 

2) It was 78 degrees that February afternoon. That morning it was 22 degrees below zero when I arrived at the airport at Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was 24 below when I returned. I was so tired of Minnesota winters that Jacksonville, Florida, and the University of North Florida became increasingly attractive. 

Dr. Dan Schafer 

History professor 



How did you find out about the opening at UNF?

I found out about the opening at UNF through advertisements in American Historical Association publications and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

What do you remember about the first day of classes?

I remember the enthusiasm of the students and how much older they were than the students I had been teaching at the University of Minnesota for the past eight years. Later I learned that the average age of students in the first class was 34. Many were place-bound, and they seemed so grateful to finally have a university in their community, to have an opportunity to attend a university.

I also remember how young the faculty was and how excited they were about the university and their jobs. They were all very cooperative and enjoyable to be with, and our offices were all in the same building.

What kept you at UNF for so many years?

The students. I’ve never looked for another job. I’ve always admired the spirit of the older students at UNF, many of them parents struggling with family expenses and house mortgages, working full time, and yet managing to find the time and energy to be very good students. I’ve never felt I’d feel as comfortably matched at any other university.

What were you doing just prior to coming to UNF?

Before coming to UNF, I taught at the University of Minnesota while working on a doctorate in history.

How have students changed over the last 35 years?

I don’t think students have changed over the years. Of course, hair styles and clothing trends changed, and changed back, and technology has altered habits and possibilities in amazing ways, but the courteous and kind natures of most UNF students, and the strong desire to learn, is as characteristic now as it was in 1972.

How would you describe the physical growth on campus over the last 35 years?

It was a very unattractive campus until very recently. Driving onto the campus you saw somewhat pretty woods and a winding drive on an elevated roadway that passed by an attractive lake and then came ugly parking lots and in the center very ugly two-story concrete and brick-face buildings, with exterior stairways that looked like a French defensive installation prior to WW II. Starting with the [Brooks] College of Health building, attention has been given to erecting attractive structures.


Thankfully, some of the turkey oaks were preserved during initial construction to provide some resemblance to the natural setting. But from the time the first campus planner left until Ann Hopkins became president, no attention was paid to landscape and grounds. There were noticeable improvements under her prodding, a good example being the shrubs and seating area between Building 1 and the Boathouse.


Credit is due also to President John Delaney for hiring Chuck Hubbuch to be director of landscape and grounds. Hubbuch has done a marvelous job of transforming a drab and unattractive setting into a campus with several places of surprising beauty.