UF creates $1.5 million endowed professorship in early childhood education, named after ex-publisher and child-advocate David La



January 17, 2006



College of Education Dean, Dean Emihovich (left), David Lawrence (center), UF President, Bernie Machen (right)
College of Education Dean, Dean Emihovich (left), David Lawrence (center), UF President, Bernie Machen (right)
David Lawrence Jr. (center) is shown with Education Dean Catherine Emihovich and UF President Bernie Machen. (Photo by Ray Carson, UF News)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Since retiring in 1999, former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr. has worked to strengthen the nation’s commitment to early childhood development so all children will arrive at school prepared for success.

Lawrence now has a lasting legacy for his efforts, and it promises to further strengthen the “school-readiness” movement that is his passion and new life’s work.

Lawrence’s alma mater, the University of Florida, announced today that it has received more than $1 million in private gifts from more than 80 individuals and children’s advocacy groups to create an endowed faculty position in the College of Education. The post will be called the David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Professorship in Early Childhood Studies.

The state will contribute $500,000 under Florida’s matching gifts program to create a $1.5 million faculty post. Earnings from the endowment fund will finance a world-class scholar’s teaching and research activities. The College of Education will conduct a search for a nationally recognized practitioner and scholar in early childhood education.

“Naming this professorship after David Lawrence honors the contributions of one of the University of Florida’s most accomplished graduates and a prominent national advocate for the early childhood school-readiness movement,” UF President Bernie Machen said. “The world-class scholar who is chosen for this professorship will provide the leadership and vision to pursue cross-disciplinary projects aimed at improving the services and policies affecting infants, young children and their families.”

Machen said the new endowed chair will count in the university-wide capital campaign launched last July and also in the Faculty Challenge Initiative, which he started a year and a half ago.

Advancing early child development and education is a state and nationwide concern. Recent federal statistics show a growing number of children face extreme obstacles to learning before they enter school. Eighteen percent of children under age 6 live in poverty. Children under 5 represent 85 percent of child abuse and neglect victims and more than 30 percent of all children in foster care. Seventeen percent of young children have developmental disabilities and 2.5 million children 5 or younger do not have health insurance coverage.

“About a third of all children begin kindergarten already behind,” UF College of Education Dean Catherine Emihovich said. “There is a growing recognition of the need for collaborative, policy-oriented approaches to fully address the complex needs of children from before birth to age 5. This professorship will help to bridge the existing research gap in early child development.”

Emihovich said tapping into the collective expertise of university experts in numerous disciplines—including education, law, medicine, psychology and sociology—is vital to addressing the comprehensive needs of infants and young children.

Recent statistics show that Florida, the nation’s fourth largest state, still ranks in the bottom third of states in a number of key indicators—in low-birthweight babies, in the number of high school dropouts and in child poverty.

Some of Lawrence’s efforts have helped Florida become a national leader in the movement for school readiness and high-quality early development, care and education. He is president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation in Miami, and in 2002 led the successful campaign for The Children’s Trust, which provides early intervention and prevention funding for children in Miami-Dade.

Named by Gov. Jeb Bush to the Florida Partnership for School Readiness, he chaired that oversight board for two terms. Lawrence, a 1963 UF journalism graduate, was a key figure in the passage of the statewide constitutional amendment that provides high-quality, pre-kindergarten availability for all 4-year-olds beginning the current school year.

Lawrence joined the UF faculty in 2001 as the University Scholar for Early Childhood Development and Readiness, and he is a board member of the Lastinger Center for Learning at the UF College of Education.

“I am deeply grateful to those who contributed to the chair because they believe in the cause as well as in me,” Lawrence said. “The University of Florida can become one of this country’s principal higher education resources for energizing the national movement for school readiness, and this chair can be an important part of that.”

Emihovich said early childhood education is one of the College of Education’s core priorities. The college’s Lastinger Center is involved with Lawrence’s Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and also works with a W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded program called SPARK—Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids—in Miami-Dade County to ensure children’s healthy development and early success in school. The Lastinger Center recently received funding to conduct a statewide evaluation of the Governor’s Family Literacy Initiative, a program designed to encourage parents to read to young children.

“We also plan to utilize Baby Gator, UF’s campuswide childcare center, as a pre-school child development and research center and collaborate with other units on campus such as nursing, pediatrics, law, the UF McKnight Brain Institute and our P.K. Yonge K-12 laboratory school to promote the optimal development of young children and their families on a statewide and national level,” Emihovich said. “The Lawrence endowed professorship will draw national and international visibility to the university’s current initiatives and enable us to seek additional support to help young children reach their full potential in school and in their lives.”

   Larry Lansford, llansford@coe.ufl.edu, (352) 392-0726, ext. 266