‘Always be accessible’: Moez Limayem marks one month as UNF president

Taking on the role of the University of North Florida (UNF)’s seventh president in stride, Moez Limayem has checked off his first month, spending the time talking to Jacksonville businesses and connecting with university leaders and students.

With a busy calendar that ranged from appearances before the Jacksonville City Council to throwing the first pitch at a Jumbo Shrimp game celebrating UNF’s 50th anniversary, Limayem says it’s hard to choose a single ‘favorite memory.’

Limayem wears black pants, white shoes and a white striped shirt with UNF and 50 on it
University of North Florida President Dr. Moez Limayem celebrates after throwing the first pitch at the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp game on Friday, August 19, 2022. (Justin Nedrow)

“Graduation was just an incredible experience for me to do it for the very first time, my very first week here,” he said. “It was very special to see students and their parents and their families ending a great journey and being happy having spent a great experience at UNF.”

Aside from speaking downtown, Limayem says the other highlight was talking to and welcoming students, both new and returning, to campus. 

“Just seeing the big smile on our students, also our faculty, our staff,” he told Spinnaker with a big smile of his own. “I would say the first month has been really special.”

Connecting with students 

“It’s very clear that we’re here because of students,” Limayem said. 

“One of the things I really admire about UNF and one of the reasons I’m here at UNF is that: the culture of student success. People really do care about students here. Students are at the heart of the discussions, at the heart of the priorities, and you can feel it. You can really feel it.”

What he calls ‘student success’ will be — and will always be — a top priority. But what is student success? To Limayem, it’s simply giving students the best possible experience from enrollment to graduation and beyond. 

Limayem smiling, wearing a blue suit
University of North Florida President Moez Limayem talks to Spinnaker reporters on Friday, Sep. 2, 2022. (Justin Nedrow)

During his final interview with the Board of Trustees (BOT) in May, Limayem said that “it’s really easy to grow. All you have to do is lower the bar.”

Now, as UNF marks its largest freshman class in the history of its existence, Limayem’s administration must address one question. How does UNF grow correctly? 

“The end goal is, of course, to grow strategically. To grow well,” Limayem explained. “I don’t think it’s right to increase the numbers of incoming students if we don’t have the right infrastructure for them.”

Infrastructure is more than physical, Limayem said. It includes a human aspect which makes it that much more complex. “Human” infrastructure means ensuring that UNF has enough staff, mental health professionals, athletics and more. 

On the physical side, UNF has faced an issue-laden start of the Fall 2022 semester because more students are looking for on-campus housing. As of Aug. 22, Housing reported that 203 students were still on the dorm waitlist, 78 of which were freshmen.

Moez Limayem wearing a blue suit on the right and Carter Mudgett wearing a white button down on the left
University of North Florida President Moez Limayem (right) talks to Spinnaker Editor in Chief Carter Mudgett (left) on Friday, Sep. 2, 2022. (Justin Nedrow)

Based on the growth of Jacksonville, according to Limayem, UNF should total around 30,000 students. Currently, the university has topped out at about 17,000 students. 

“So, we have a lot of room to cover, and we have to play a little bit of catch-up,” he said, “but we want to do it right.”

Working with an open door

Time being his scarcest resource, Limayem explained that he is always seeking to be accessible and open. 

“I can assure you that I wake up every morning before everyone at home because I want to make sure that I answer all the emails that are coming from students and their parents and the faculty,” he said.

Already seen around campus talking with students and engaging with the campus community, Limayem said that would not change as the semesters pass by. 

“I am not the person who can operate effectively, efficiently, in an ivory tower,” he said. “That is not my style.”

Fundraising 

His business connections were no small selling point during his final interview, where BOT Vice-Chair Paul McElroy called him a “transformational leader.” Limayem told the BOT he would “hit the ground listening” to UNF and the community, including Jacksonville business leaders. 

Connecting with businesses, forging new partnerships and fundraising isn’t just a job, Limayem said, “I enjoy it.”

Limayem smiling, wearing a blue suit
University of North Florida President Moez Limayem talks to Spinnaker reporters on Friday, Sep. 2, 2022. (Justin Nedrow)

During the decade Dr. Limayem spent at the University of South Florida (USF), the school brought in almost $100 million in donations from top companies throughout the area, according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

“I was not the only person who brought a lot of money to the Muma College of Business, and I will not be the only one bringing a lot of resources to UNF,” he emphasized. “But, I can assure you that I will play a major role, and I will help the team […] and make sure — going back to that high level vision — we are a preferred destination.”

A look to the future

Why can’t UNF be the best in the world?”

— Moez Limayem

UNF is in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary, but what about its next 50 years, next century? 

Although he has only just begun his time at UNF, Limayem wants his legacy to focus on the youth, when parents are having kids and imagining them eventually attending college at UNF. 

“When parents have or adopt a baby, their first discussion will be, ‘we’re gonna work really hard to help our kid come to UNF,’” he said. “That’s my dream. That’s my legacy.” 

___

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