Connecting with students is more than “shaking hands,” UNF president says on first day

Carter Mudgett and Kara Scarbrough

With his first day nearly over, University of North Florida (UNF) President Dr. Moez Limayem told members of the press Monday afternoon that he felt immense pride after stepping into the role of the seventh president. 

Confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) in late June, Dr. Limayem took on the role previously held by the sixth UNF President, Dr. David Szymanski, and Interim President Pamela Chally.

During his final interview, Limayem was focused on working together with the UNF community as a team. It wasn’t just his vision, “it’s our vision,” he told the UNF Board of Trustees (BOT).

Limayem stands facing two cameras on the left and right. He is wearing a blue suit and Ozzie the Osprey stands in the background
University of North Florida President Dr. Moez Limayem talks to local media on his first day in office on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. (Carter Mudgett)

His goal for the first few months? “Hit the ground listening,” he said, repeating the point from his interviews. This time will be spent meeting with students, faculty, community leaders and donors to understand their aspirations, their challenges and work together to “take it to the highest possible level.”

Dr. Limayem noted that the Jacksonville community is “so vibrant” and one that those in Tampa Bay and the University of South Florida, where he previously served as business dean, are jealous of. 

A huge portion of UNF’s students are first-generation college students, many of whom are Pell Grant—usually awarded to undergraduate students who display “exceptional financial need”—recipients, Dr. Limayem said. He wants to take them and give them a great education and high-paying job so that ultimately, they become great citizens who are “great to their community.”

Growing up in Tunisia, North Africa, with his father as a teacher, education became very close to Limayem’s heart. Education is about “changing lives,” which is the “noble mission [Limayem has] been following for almost 30 years.”

Limayem stands with a blue suit holding a blue and white basketball jersey with "LIMAYEM" and "7" on it with Ozzie the Osprey
University of North Florida President Dr. Moez Limayem poses for a photograph with university mascot Ozzie the Osprey, holding a personalized basketball jersey in this Monday, Aug. 1, 2022 photo. (Kara Scarbrough)

“I think that also really shaped my thinking and my passion about higher education and the importance of taking care of our students. Because when [international students] come here, we become their families,” he said. “And what we do is not just responsible for their education, but we’re also responsible for their mental well-being, health well being but also responsible for their future. We are working, and we will work even harder on preparing them for that great career at graduation, or very shortly after, with a competitive salary at competitive salaries.”

His plan for connecting with students after a lengthy pandemic—where separation was a necessity—is simple: being accessible. 

“Actually right after this, I’m going to go and take a walk and shake few hands for our students, they’ve gone through final exams, and just introduce myself,” he said.

Connecting is more than shaking hands, Dr. Limayem explained. The key is to bring students and student leaders into the conversation. When brainstorming and figuring out what students’ challenges are and what needs to be improved, there’s a “magical solution,” Dr. Limayem said. “Ask them, involve them. Ask them.”

Improvement won’t happen without transparency, and “the way we’re going to do it is nothing behind closed doors, Limayem said”

“Students will be part of that new vision, they will help us come up with initiatives and ideas on how we improve that,” he said. “[My] goal and I hope you will see that the campus will be much more crowded now is summer, final week, but hopefully, we’ll work all together to make it much more vibrant for our students.”


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected]