Quick Contact

Office of the President
Eckerd College
4200 54th Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33711

local: (727) 864-8211
toll-free: (800) 456-9009
fax: (727) 864-1877

Send a message

President

President Donald R. Eastman III

President's Remarks

44th Convocation

September 10, 2003

Welcome to the 44th Convocation of the Eckerd College community. It is a pleasure to see all of you and to have survived the precarious shoals of college presidency long enough to begin my junior year with you.

We begin this year together with perhaps the strongest State of the College in our brief history. Our budget last year was balanced without extraordinary gifts. We have added new faculty and staff positions. We have begun work on accomplishing the master plan approved last fall. We have renewed and improved our covenant with the Presbyterian Church. We are out of the real estate business and refocused on undergraduate education of the highest quality.

Our physical plant is steadily being improved, and we start this year with a renovated student athlete workout center, a refurbished pool and cafeteria, a relandscaped Hough Quad, a new intercollegiate and recreational playing field, and sand volleyball courts and a beach near Galbraith Marine Sciences Building. The new library is on schedule and on budget. Alumni participation in the Annual Fund increased from 15.9% to 28.3% in a single year, and that unprecedented jump was led by the extraordinary 96% participation rate of faculty!

Our internal management is increasingly strong. Our student debt of well over $1 million to the College has been halved in a year. The number of students with balances of $5,000 or more owed to the College has declined from 164 to 7.

We have begun to build a cash reserve and are halfway toward our goal of $2.5 million. We have updated our fiscal and personnel policies and procedures.

We are adding $1.25 million in learning technology to the campus over the next few months. We secured federal support last year for a number of projects, and early indications are that we will again this year.

Our National Survey of Student Engagement scores put us among the top institutions in the country. The College's freshman year experience was named one of the top thirteen in the country by the Policy Center on the First Year of College. We have a superb new freshman class of 435 students and the class SAT scores are up by fifteen points over last year.

Joining us today for his last convocation as dean of admissions and financial aid is the man responsible for that class and, indeed, for having recruited the vast majority of students who have attended Eckerd College. Let us recognize, not for the last time, the extraordinary work of Dean Dick Hallin.

Then there is the recent and extraordinary news of Phi Beta Kappa. There can be no finer "Seal of Approval" for what all of you do - all of you members of the Eckerd College community - than this well-deserved and desperately difficult to earn recognition: Congratulations to all of you for what amounts to national recognition that Eckerd College is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.

Let us take a minute to congratulate the man most responsible for not only the placement of a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter at Eckerd College, but also, more than any other single person, including the legendary Dean Bevan, the shape and form and personality and vision of our faculty and our academic program, who presides today at his 25th Convocation at Eckerd College, Dean of Faculty Lloyd Chapin.

All of these accomplishments support the superior and unique Eckerd experience that is the purpose of all our work together. Unless all the pieces of a college work well and work together-financial aid and student affairs, groundskeepers and food services, academic programs and student accounts, bookkeepers and librarians-unless all are working at a high level in concert-the College cannot truly prosper. As we begin the Fall of 2003, the quality and harmony of our work together are at an all-time high, which makes this an ideal time to take on our primary common task this year: to build a focused, imaginative strategic plan for the College's next decade.

We kicked off this strategic planning process last May with a campus-wide communication and a joint session of trustees and those faculty and staff appointed to one of six strategic planning committees. Copies of the documents distributed so far are available on the Web.

We will develop this plan in two steps: In the first stage, six committees of faculty and staff will recommend strategic priorities in six specific areas of strategic potential. I will have a few words to say about each of those areas in just a minute. In the second stage, a group of faculty and staff will develop an institutional strategic plan building on the most promising of those strategic recommendations.

It is my understanding that the September 20 faculty retreat will be devoted to strategic planning, and I know each of the committees will be looking for ideas and input from as many of you as possible. We expect to have a plan approved by the Board of Trustees in May 2004.

This planning effort is the third chapter in the four-part planning process I outlined in the fall of 2001: A financial plan, followed by a campus master plan; and a strategic plan to be followed by a capital campaign plan.

Our six committees focus on special programs; church relations and matters of the spirit; international education; the freshman year and the core curriculum; academic programs that should be a focus for qualitative and quantitative growth; and programmatic opportunities in student life. Let me make a few comments about each of these areas of inquiry.

Special Programs

The special programs planning groups have been meetings since the Spring to discuss how to respond to the changing market for adult and continuing education and the increasingly crowded field of competitors for that market.

We all depend on the superb job Dean Jim Deegan and his colleagues do in combining superior programs with net revenue production, and these strategic planning efforts are very important to the entire college.

The Relationship with the Church and Matters of the Spirit

Eckerd College has, as you know, a covenant relationship, recently revised, with the Presbyterian Church. That covenant proclaims our intention to develop and support programs that examine and enrich the life of the spirit. The Presbyterian Church has been devoted to education since its founding, and its educational accomplishments are unparalleled in our culture. We are now seeking the best ways to embody and build on this great tradition of educated spirituality and service.

Our effort to develop the College as a true center for spiritual life is an important experiment, and I hope each of you will help chair George Meese and his committee think through and focus the path we should take in this area of strategic possibility.

A Global Education

I have always loved the line from Terence, the Roman philosopher, poet, and playwright, "I am a citizen of the world; nothing human is alien to me."

The need for a liberal arts education with a rich international dimension could scarcely be more obvious today, and this College has built a tremendous strategic advantage in this area with its strong international academic programs; its international enrollment of over 10%; its strong tradition of study abroad, which now involves over 65% of the student body; and the revered Gower Street facility in London, now in its 33rd year. Gower Street is for many in our community the symbol of Eckerd College abroad.

We are already planning to add a director for international student recruitment next year; we have ensured that we will have French, Italian, and Spanish study abroad programs for the next three years; and a number of improvements have been made to the Gower Street facility.

Where we go next to ensure that Eckerd College graduates are citizens of the world is the immediate challenge of the International Strategic Planning Group headed by Andrew Chittick, and I hope you will make your ideas known to them. I have mentioned before my own ambition that we find ways to ensure that each Eckerd College student has a study abroad experience, and I continue to look for the right combination of support that would make that kind of superb pedagogical and marketing tool feasible.

Fundamental Elements of an Intellectual Life

I have been reading this summer James Gleick's new biography of Isaac Newton and was reminded that when Newton rewrote the book of Nature in the 17th Century, replacing alchemy with chemistry and superstition and magic with science and mathematics, he called his work philosophy and saw no seam or break between the various ways in which man seeks to understand what Newton always assumed was God's creation. We are not Isaac Newtons, to be sure, and the world is no less complex and resistant to understanding than it was in Newton's time, but we too seek to integrate the various ways of perceiving and knowing the world in a liberal arts education.

While a man or woman innocent of the epics of Homer and the Bible cannot be truly educated, neither can one ignorant of calculus and genetic theory.

For we know, and have increasingly acknowledged at least since Newton, that our knowledge of the world of nature is painfully limited and that true understanding relies on a continuing dialogue between that which we believe to be true and that which new forms of knowledge propose to be true. Ours is an age in which science is continually proposing extraordinary quantities of new knowledge, and we also know - as the Romantic poets Blake and Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats did not - that science is not the death of the imagination but one of its most powerful expressions.

As Newton himself said, using an allusion to Milton's "Paradise Regained," despite his unmatched scientific discoveries, "I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

It is the first requirement of a liberal arts education to provide the fundamental elements of an integrated education, and we must review our decisions on what those elements are and when and how our students should be exposed to them. The committee headed by Bill Kelly will include in its work consideration of this vital portion of the College's academic program.

"Famous For" Programs

Just as Marine Science has served as a distinguished magnet program for the College for the past two decades, we must consider developing an additional program or two or three to enhance our attractiveness to our market. This is a long-running discussion in the College, and we look to Bill Felice's committee and to your suggestions to them to provide imaginative direction in this area for the next decade.

Student Life

Finally, we recognize that we must have a superior student life program to round out the residential and social experience of a superior liberal arts education. The student life committee under the leadership of Jim Annarelli will consider new ways we can build an even more successful and uniquely Eckerd student life experience, from athletics to dining to campus ministry to the waterfront, and your advice and counsel are needed there as well.

Let me now shift from specific strategic planning issues to the deeper purpose our plans must serve. While it is a necessary and first condition of our strategic planning to create a plan that responds advantageously to market conditions-responds, that is, to the tastes and ambitions and hopes of prospective students and their bill-paying parents-marketing is not a sufficient condition. What is sufficient is nothing less than taking dead aim on creating a program and an environment for study that we believe will match the intellectual and emotional needs of a world in increasing turmoil and that will match the extraordinary ambition of the Eckerd faculty and staff.

Many of you have heard me speak of the two things I found most striking when I first visited this campus a little more than two years ago: The incredible appreciation among students for the quality of their academic programs and their connections with mentors, and-despite fiscal setbacks and challenges that would have swamped a lesser place-the high level of confidence among students and faculty and staff that Eckerd College was providing and would continue to provide a liberal arts education of the highest quality.

I was not only struck by this confidence and assurance, I was changed by it. I have since discovered the roots of that institutional conviction in the abiding ambition and determination, at once utopian and pragmatic, of the founding faculty and those who followed close behind, to create a college like none other in the American experience, in an environment more hospitable to palmetto and sand spurs than to Plato and Santayana. That fiery ambition was, I have no doubt, also informed and energized by the venerable educational philosophy of the reformed Presbyterian Church.

In this place assaulted by fireants and hurricanes, by the rapacity of developers and the mendacity of administrators, by parking lots that flood in tropical storms and maintenance so long deferred that what is often needed is not renovation but demolition, your ambitions and standards have remained, throughout the evolving form of the faculty, inexplicably and impeccably high: Your students and your graduates, residential and PEL, say again and again, to me and to others, "Eckerd College changed my life;" and I say now, "Me, too."

It is for that reason, because you as a faculty and as a supporting staff have such high standards and expectations for yourselves and your students and your institution, that you must now resolve to raise the bar this year through our strategic planning discussions because the world has raised the bar.

Our students leave us to move into a world of increasing and exasperating complexity, one requiring ever-increasing levels of education to make sound political, social, economic, scientific, environmental, and moral decisions.

If our graduates are to achieve what you hope for them, we must review and, if necessary, revise the educational experience we provide, beginning with thinking through how best to explore, explain, and discuss the duality of a culture formed by stories of both Jesus and Achilles, peace and war, love and rage. We must retell those stories and ask at every point the seminal philosophical question: "How, then, does the good man or woman lead his or her life? Given what we know, what then must we do?"

In my Baccalaureate remarks last May, I reminded our graduating seniors that "there are three pillars upon which the American liberal arts college sits: the primacy of the close relationship between student and teacher; the importance of the residential experience; and the commitment to an educational model, in college and beyond, that places great value on public service." I then asked them to remember St. Paul's familiar but difficult words - difficult particularly to those of us who think that knowledge is important:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.... As for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

"Resolve now always," I then asked them, "to remember the third principle of your education: Resolve now to remember that you were educated, and you are called, to serve those less fortunate than you, no matter how high you rise in the eyes and estimation of the world. Resolve to remember that such service is called love."

Eckerd faculty and staff, past and present, these are words I arranged to describe your work, your ambition, your institution and its values, and they say that intellect is not enough, that only intellect in the service of what might have been translated from the Greek not as "love" but as "moral passion" is enough.

We espouse this value at Eckerd College because of the kind of school we are, and we must do all we can to ensure our values are not merely rhetorical-as King Lear's Cordelia puts it, "That glib and oily art/To speak and purpose not"-but embedded in the educational experience we provide. We must confront the post-modern ambivalence toward intellect devoid of moral passion, and we must join George Steiner's anguished cry for a pedagogical response to the knowledge that "Heidigger wrote within earshot of the death camps, and his pen did not go dry nor his voice go mute."

I hope that you will, in the months ahead, find ways to be in sustained conversation with the committees convened to discuss our future: Push them, question and support them; make them earn their proposals. You faculty and you staff are what Eckerd College is, and you are largely what it will be in the decade to come. This plan, therefore, must be your plan.

While Eckerd College is in no position to take great risks with our enterprise, I do believe that our strategic plan should include at least some risk-taking initiatives. As a still very new institution, we must find increasingly imaginative ways to answer the question, "Why Eckerd? In what ways does this College distinguish itself in academic quality and in the total educational experience?"

As we seek to continue to set ourselves apart as an innovative college, a place of special qualities, we are likely, I think, to need to take some additional programmatic risks to even more clearly define and deepen the "Eckerd experience." We must remember that the key question of strategy is, "What will provide competitive advantage?" and the second question is, "How can we maximize that competitive advantage?" Each of our strategic priorities must be proximate answers to these questions.

Just to assure you that planning is no empty exercise at Eckerd College, let me point to the physical master plan approved by you and by the Trustees last October.

I think it is becoming more obvious everyday the campus master plan is no abstraction, no cloudy vision of a far-off Byzantium: We are moving dirt. We mean business. In order to survive, let alone prosper, Eckerd College must grow in numbers of students - the master plan assumes 1800 - in numbers of faculty, and substantially in new and renovated facilities. That growth will require not only more buildings but also more maintenance, more housekeeping, more utilities, more sidewalks, more walkways, more borrow pits and ponds, more drainage, and much more planning. If we are to achieve our collective ambitions for this College, the next decade will be a constant parade of dirt and dump trucks and drywall. We are going to plant areas of native grasses and oaks and palms, restore mangrove banks, dig up manicured St. Augustine grasses, move cars to the north end of campus and make this piece of paradise a walking and biking - and perhaps skateboarding and roller-blading - nirvana. We are also going to have to build badly needed storage facilities in the prematurely named "Forever Wild." There have been to my mind a number of facility and program placement decisions in the past that now are challenges that we simply have to live with and plan around: Three of those are (1) the location of the entire Marine Sciences operation so far detached from the rest of the academic programs of the College; (2) the relocation of the Facilities Maintenance Office to the far northeast edge of the campus, thus requiring those employees to forever commute hundreds of trips daily to the College they are expected to serve; and (3) the location of a commercial residential complex on some of the College's most valuable property. These decisions are pretty much irrevocable, but it is important to remember that here is where we are, and that we are going to have to break some eggs to make the omelet we want. Like the strategic plan must, the physical master plan must make it increasingly clear what "the Eckerd experience" truly is.

We have had our troubled hours at Eckerd College, but they have only in the long run made us stronger. The next step in making Eckerd College even stronger is to develop an imaginative strategic plan that we can translate into a compelling capital campaign plan-one that compels support because of the quality of its ambition and commitment.

What we seek is to create a story of nothing less than your highest aspirations for your professional lives and those of your students.

Each of you has all my best wishes for a challenging and successful academic year. Thank you.