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Convocation 2011

Ceremony of Lights

President's Remarks - "All the Way"

Donald R. Eastman III, President

Donald R. Eastman IIIThe question on my mind – and maybe yours – as we gather to begin the 52nd school year of Eckerd College, is "What's next?"  What's next for a College that is, in institutional terms, barely out of diapers, a young College, located in a paradisal setting, which has just been reaccredited with kudos by the toughest of the nation's regional accrediting bodies; has just completed its first successful capital campaign, raising over $80M from more than 10,000 donors in the second worst economy in the last century; a college that continues to attract students from all over the country and the world with its extraordinary commitment to a personalized, first-rate, globally aware, intensive undergraduate education inside and outside the classroom; a College that even in these economically depressed times, in a state harder hit than most, has a balance sheet that has shown less debt and more reserves every year since 2005, continuing improvements – major and minor – to its physical plant, and the addition of superior new young faculty each year: What's next?

My answers today are these: Celebrate; capitalize and go "all the way."

Celebrate

We surpassed the Many Experiences, One Spirit Campaign goal of $80 million because donors made gifts of $82.7million. We were successful in this Campaign because of you, a dedicated Eckerd family who knows that everyone is a development officer.  Everything each of you do matters to the success of Eckerd College – from picking up litter to greeting campus visitors to teaching our toughest courses.  Though I can't personally recognize everyone who contributed, there are several contributors I want to mention who helped lead the way:

  • Faculty Emeritus Tom Oberhofer and Dean Jim Annarelli led the Faculty/Staff Campaign, which culminated in an impressive 97% of faculty and 76% of staff participating;
  • Former Dean of Faculty Lloyd Chapin led the 2008 Science Summit which resulted in a vision for what is now the Center for Molecular and Life Sciences and the many science faculty members who helped inspire alumni and parents and others to support the Center;
  • The team of faculty, staff and students who entertained a site visit from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, which resulted in a large and symbolically important gift;
  • Dean Jim Deegan and his team who convinced the Osher Foundation to support PEL with more than $3.3 million over the course of the Campaign;
  • Our housekeepers and groundskeepers and facilities staff who supported the endless number of special events which showcased our beautiful campus to visitors who ultimately became Campaign donors;
  • Scores of students who dutifully attended scholarship luncheons, wrote thank-you letters to their benefactors and participated in Campaign functions – showing our donors first-hand how they make a difference in their lives;

The Campaign has repositioned the College for the future. Some of the highlights include:

  • $82.7 million raised from 10,828 trustees, alumni, parents, friends and organizations, 40% of whom were first-time donors;
  • Capital improvements, including a new Center for Molecular and Life Sciences and GO Pavilion; renovations to Sheen facilities, the Wireman Chapel and the fitness center; and a future Pruitt Center for Ceramic Arts and Sculpture;
  • More than $11 million to support residential and PEL student scholarships;
  • Doubling of endowed programs and scholarships, including five new professorships;
  • $2.7 million to expand student abroad scholarships and programs. 

Let's recognize Vice President for Advancement, Matt Bisset and his superb staff for their work in orchestrating and these good works over the past five years.

Let us celebrate also the work of Dean John Sullivan and his terrific staff of admission and financial aid professionals who with help from faculty and staff, have so ably attracted to Eckerd College our new class of 500 freshmen and 78 transfer students:  Please stand so we can say, "Great job!"

Capitalize

In my view, we have three key areas in which we must begin immediately to capitalize on the campaign and other successes the College has experienced.

The first is to prepare for the next campaign.  This means doing the detailed development work with current donors and discovering new prospects, and it also means working with our academic people and programs to develop their connections with alumni and other prospective supporters.  Like any private college, we will prosper or fail to the degree we can attract philanthropic support to our side.

The second area, closely related to the first, is in marketing and communications.  As some of you may know, we organized a new Office of Marketing and Communications this summer led by our former Campaign Director, Valerie Gliem, and by #1 Web Dude, Casey Paquet.  Establishing this office is an important step in clarifying the benefits, advantages and value of the Eckerd experience, particularly to begin with in Admission, Advancement and Special Programs.  Valerie's charge is to oversee and coordinate all marketing, communications and image-building activities College-wide. 

Thirdly, the most visible task we have before us this year is to build the Center for Molecular and Life Sciences facility, and to plan the renovation of the Sheen facilities.  We will certainly attend to that task with diligence and care so that our resources are spent as wisely as we collectively know how.

At the same time, it is equally critical that we capitalize on this unprecedented building project, fully funded by campaign gifts, to maximize the impact on Eckerd College.  While the administration directs the construction of the building, the faculty must ensure that the science curriculum and majors are cutting edge and exciting.  Science faculty must also step up to the new expectations for research funding and equipment to support the new facility. I spent the first week of August in Washington talking to federal agency officials about Eckerd College and our growing strength in the sciences and in arts and letters, preparing the way for faculty visits, some of which followed soon after. 

Science faculty must also help Dean Sullivan and his staff move recruiting and admission to a whole new level of interest and quality; and the rest of the campus must prepare for a dramatic increase in expectations and aspirations.

You already know that so many of the "big ideas" of our time have come from science: the Big Bang; entropy; randomness; "quantum mechanics"; the uncertainty principle; the binary nature of information; black holes; DNA; and so on.  These ideas are generated in various attempts to understand the phenomenal world, but the phenomenal world is not where they reside. These ideas are metaphors; they reside in the world of the imagination, which is where all the disciplines of intellectual life reside.

As the renowned physicist, mathematician and essayist, Freeman Dyson often points out,

"The public has a distorted view of science, because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths.  In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.  Wherever we go exploring in the world around us, we find mysteries."

Science, no less than art and religion, seeks to explore the great mysteries of life, and the primary faculty it uses is the imagination.

Our job as thinkers and teachers is not only to inspire our students to learn about the phenomenal world, but also to help them learn how to use the imaginative tools of the arts and the sciences to make sense of the world they live in. The new science building will be a building for learning not only science but a center for developing the imaginations of students from every corner of the curriculum.

Going "All the Way"

We live in a time of arrant silliness, if not outright ignorance, about what higher education really is. We live in a time when the Governor of Texas has tried to fund the great public universities of his state by assessing the worth of each professor, according to his or her credit-hour and research dollar "productivity," as if colleges were factories or cattle farms. And now we see the Governor of our own state emulating the shameful numerological philistinism of Texas politics.

That arrant silliness extends also to those who pretend, because it is financially advantageous for them to pretend, that traditionally-aged college students learn just as well on-line as in class. For those who actually work with 18 to 22 year-olds, the growing myth about on-line learning is the ultimate example of the emperor with no clothes.

To be sure, on-line learning has its place. But for most students, it is a last resort. For those who have no other options, who cannot get to a classroom because of time or distance barriers, on-line instruction has to suffice, and thank goodness for it. Adult students who simply have neither the time nor the scheduling flexibility to attend classes are understandably the primary users of on-line course work. Increasingly however, public universities expect traditionally-aged students to take on-line courses because of lack of space. This year the Florida legislature passed "The Digital Learning Now Act," which mandates that all high school students take at least one class on-line to graduate (as if high school students need to be required to use the Internet!).

But what works best for most students is to be in a supportive classroom environment with a relatively small group of peers where a respected authority exhibits passion for and deep understanding of his or her subject and of the unique needs and abilities of learners.

Most students do not make an objective, unemotional calculation about what to learn in college. Rather students fall in love with the methodology, the mystery and the beauty of a subject or the challenge of mastering something new. Learning even at a high level is engaged and transactional, fully involving the emotions at least as much as the intellect.

A great teacher in full flight is a spellbinding revealer of mysteries—not simply because he or she knows things we don't, but because a gifted teacher reads the audience the way a comedian or an actor or a politician reads the room or the way a general reads the battlefield—and continually shifts and revises what is emphasized and the language, illustrations and metaphors that help students learn and help students learn to think. Great teachers often use our classmates as teaching aides, acknowledging that students sometimes learn best from each other in their own vernacular.

Undoubtedly, the classroom experience can be significantly enriched by information technology. Effective teachers use, and have always used, every tool at their command to support their work and their students' understanding.

Most of us are not effective autodidacts. Most of us cannot and would not assemble a college education let alone a degree worthy of the name, if we were given total access for six years to all the libraries and websites of the world. We need mentors who provide guidance and support and who stimulate and encourage us through meaningful interactions. We need peers and exemplars, collaborators and competitors, inspiration and incubation in order to translate information into knowledge and knowledge into deep and lasting learning. Until we learn how to learn difficult things, which is primarily what college is–or should be–about, few of us have the discipline and skill to get there on our own—or on line.

There are dark days ahead, I fear, for higher education in Florida and the nation, as politicians and others look for ways to make education quicker and easier and cheaper. But not at Eckerd College.  At Eckerd College, we pride ourselves on focusing on the big picture.  Here we know that a truly good undergraduate education has to go all the way despite the challenge and degree of difficulty and expense. If you have seen Arthur Skinner's lecture on Sacred Art, you know that he concludes by focusing on the maze on the floor of Chartres Cathedral. The maze is, of course, a metaphor for the journey toward God and salvation, the journey– one way or another – we are all on.  And Arthur says the pilgrims (and we are all, one way or another, pilgrims) must negotiate the entire maze to get to the altar, that there are no short cuts, no quick and easy solutions; you must progress, he incants, "All the way."

At this College we know we have to go all the way. And by we, I mean not only our faculty and staff, but increasingly, our students and their parents, our alumni and other supporters and, enthusiastically and uncompromisingly, our Board of Trustees. 

Our Board, which provided 45% of the gift dollars to our Campaign, has obviously listened to my rhetoric, supported our financial rigor and enjoyed our social connectivity.  But much more compelling than that, they have learned how faculty work.  Each three-day Board meeting now includes what has become the most important and enjoyable hour we spend together, a session entitled "How I Teach."  Last May, Anne Cox and Bill Junkin taught the Board how technology can transform teaching by making what has been learned immediately evident and allowing the teacher to respond to that immediately and precisely.  (The subject was optics; the lesson was to make us see.)

At our earlier meeting Julie Empric used a one-page short story to illustrate how a professional analyst of narrative thinks about story, and about readers. Eileen Mikals-Adachi taught us how language and courtesy shape Japanese culture.  Tony Brunello's humor and piercing questions made political systems a subject still discussed at Board meetings.  Each of these and other presenters demonstrated what it is like to go "all the way."

Nothing is more central, or more valued by our graduates, than our commitment to going all the way through the maze of intellectual discovery that is General Education.  As we review and revise our best thinking about what all students should experience in their intellectual journey, and what skills they should develop, we should recognize that we are developing for them a road-map for their understanding of the arts and sciences, and for their life time of reading and knowing. As we do this work, we must remember that it is not only the text, but teachers, not only ideas, but passion that make the magic of the classroom work. What we have in abundance, and must offer to our students, in whatever follows Western Heritage, and in all of our classes and co-curricular programs, is not merely a curriculum, but an inspiring case for the life of the mind and the fierce engagement of the spirit. 

Let me close by saying how honored I was last spring by your expressions of support for my ten years at Eckerd College.  Given what we worked through in my first years with you, and the successes we have had since, I am simply enormously grateful – and enormously excited about what is next.

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Convocation 2011 Photos

Check out photos from Convocation 2011.

Convocation 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011
1:30 p.m.

Fox Hall