Eckerd College leaders announced today, during a campuswide meeting, that President Donald R. Eastman III will retire effective June 30, 2020.
“It has been my honor and privilege to have served for the last 18 years, leading this exceptional institution in the noble work of educating tomorrow’s leaders and elevating Eckerd College to its rightful place among the best national liberal arts colleges in the country,” Eastman said. “What we’ve achieved at the College would not have been possible without our superb faculty, students, staff, alumni and unfailing support of the Board of Trustees. Eckerd College is a strong, close community; and my wife, Christine, and I will cherish our years here always.”
Eastman’s retirement will give the College’s Presidential Search Committee 17 months to find a successor, according to Board of Trustees Chair John Finneran.
“Don Eastman has been a visionary leader for Eckerd College. Our shared goal, and a challenge that Don has met, has been to establish Eckerd’s place among the preeminent institutions in the U.S.,” said Finneran, who is senior advisor and corporate secretary for Capital One Financial Corporation in McLean, Va. “Eckerd has been transformed financially and physically, with a vision and a sense of purpose that have bolstered and enriched the academic program and the student experience. The College today is in tremendous shape and it is well-positioned for continued progress and success. Don’s legacy as an advocate for this institution, its students, its faculty and the community will endure for many years to come.”
Eckerd College Board Vice Chair and Search Committee Chair Ian Johnson ’89 told faculty and staff present at today’s announcement meeting that the College already has begun work to identify Eckerd’s next president. The Board has contracted with the firm Academic Search of Washington, D.C., and the search will begin this spring.
“The Board is confident that we will find a great leader to help guide the next phase of the College’s journey,” said Johnson, of Boston, senior vice president of investment operations at Fidelity Investments. “We have ample time to find a successor who can build upon the tremendous positive momentum Don has established at Eckerd. We have identified a Search Committee and we are taking all of the necessary steps to guide the institution through this transition.”
Eastman continues to lead Eckerd during this period when small private colleges are experiencing financial pressure and a number have shut their doors. Despite it all, Eckerd College has managed to flourish—with increased applications and enrollment, increased endowment and a greatly enhanced physical plant.
“Due to Don’s exemplary leadership, I know of no other college with the modest resources of Eckerd that has come further, risen faster and developed more effectively a special niche among the nation’s liberal arts colleges,” said Dr. David L. Warren, of Washington, D.C., president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and an Eckerd College Trustee since 1997.
Eastman, 73, was born in Virginia and graduated from the University of Tennessee before earning his Ph.D. in English from the University of Florida. Immediately prior to coming to Eckerd, he served as vice president for development and university relations and vice president for strategic planning and public affairs at the University of Georgia.
Eastman became the College’s fourth president in 2001 and has led the institution to national prominence through a focus on adroit management, fundraising, raising the College’s public profile, connecting with alumni, and developing and improving programs to support an exceptional undergraduate experience.
Applications have more than doubled since Eastman’s arrival, student retention has increased 10 percentage points, and students living on campus have increased from 68 percent to 89 percent (with more on a wait list). The 1,970 undergraduate students who currently attend Eckerd College can attain bachelor’s degrees in science, arts and fine arts in 40 majors with 50 minors—12 of which were created since 2001—and go on to excellent graduate programs throughout the country and around the world. More than 70 percent of 2018 graduates who started their careers at Eckerd studied abroad at least once because of the College’s redoubled efforts to make study abroad available to all.
Veteran board member George W. Off, a retired businessman who lives in St. Petersburg, said Eastman’s legacy will ultimately be the students and alumni. “The College has been true to its mission, it’s graduating really fine citizens, it’s graduating really well-educated people who will go out and make a difference in the world,” he explained.
Founded in 1958 as Florida Presbyterian College, Eckerd College—which was renamed in 1972 after a donation from pharmacy executive and philanthropist Jack Eckerd—still maintains a covenant with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Florida’s only national private liberal arts college, Eckerd is one of 40 schools featured in the book Colleges That Change Lives and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society. Last year, its 188-acre waterfront campus on the Gulf Coast attracted students from 45 states and 40 countries.