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Eckerd College invests its sixth president: James J. Annarelli, Ph.D.

By Tom Zucco
Published October 16, 2023
Categories: About Eckerd, Community Engagement, Students

Left to right: Anna Annarelli, wife of President Annarelli (holding the mace); Board Vice Chair Susan Slaugenhaupt ’85; Board Chair Ian Johnson ’89; and Professor of Political Science Mary Meyer McAleese. Photos by Lisa Presnail

In an investiture ceremony filled with hope, resolve, humor and pageantry, James J. Annarelli, Ph.D., was formally installed as the sixth president of Eckerd College on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 12, inside Fox Hall on the Eckerd campus.

After serving as the school’s interim leader since August 2022, Annarelli was appointed by the Eckerd College Board of Trustees to serve as the institution’s president following a unanimous vote at its winter meeting last February. The investiture on Thursday was as much a formalization of his office as it was a celebration of the College and its founders.

Annarelli earned his Ph.D. in religion and society from Drew University in 1984 and has had a 43-year career in higher education. He taught at St. Francis College and Empire State College in the State University of New York and served 10 years as a member of the faculty at St. John’s University before joining Eckerd in 1990.

Annarelli served in a variety of roles at Eckerd during his 33-year tenure so far—most recently as vice president for student life and dean of students from 2008 to 2022. He succeeds the College’s fifth president, Damián J. Fernández, Ph.D., who served from 2020 to 2022.

After the skies had cleared and the more than 500 faculty, staff, students, board members, alumni and friends were welcomed by Board Chair Ian Johnson ’89, Annarelli received a proclamation from the City of St. Petersburg’s Office of the Mayor, Ken Welch, declaring October 12, 2023, as Dr. James J. Annarelli Day in the city.

Annarelli also received symbolic gifts from the Eckerd College family—including a set of the College’s bylaws from the Eckerd College Board of Trustees, a faculty handbook from the Eckerd faculty, a silver buttonwood sapling from the Eckerd staff, and a personalized longboard from Eckerd students. That gift drew cheers and laughter.

Moments later, again to the delight of the audience, Board Vice Chair Susan Slaugenhaupt ’85 added, “And because the president is known for his wisdom, and will therefore not actually ride this longboard, it will be publicly displayed as a sign of his deep devotion to students and his enduring commitment to ensuring their Eckerd College education prepares them for a successful career and a meaningful life.”

On behalf of Eckerd alumni, Stephanie Kadel Taras ’89, Ph.D., college historian and granddaughter of founding President of Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) William H. Kadel, and Joshua D. Annarelli ’14, son of President and Mrs. Annarelli, presented the sixth president with two books about the College authored by Kadel Taras—On Solid Rock and Swimming Lessons.

The Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College presented Annarelli with an ASPEC Fellows certificate inducting him as a Fellow.

And then it was President Annarelli’s turn. He stood at the lectern, paused, and said one word that perfectly described the moment.

“Wow.

Susan Slaugenhaupt ’85 shares a laugh with President Annarelli at the investiture reception at the James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences.

“As I look out upon all of you gathered here,” he began, “members of the Eckerd community, my family, friends and honored guests, I am overcome with gratitude: gratitude both for the tremendous confidence that you have placed in me by entrusting into my hands the leadership of our beloved College, and gratitude for your overwhelming show of affection and unwavering support. …

“We are well aware of the multiple challenges that every college and university today must face: demographic and social changes impacting student recruitment; issues related to equity, access and inclusion; concerns related to affordability and student debt; and questions related to the value and relevance of higher education itself. …

“We must not only protect but also foster the academic freedom of our faculty as well as the freedom of inquiry and expression of our students—and be willing to wrestle with the occasional tensions and conflicts that result. We must affirm that the educational and scholarly work of the college or university should not be governed by public polls or surveys or by the decisions of those external to the scholarly community, but by scholars themselves in accordance with the principles of scholarly competence and academic peer review.”

The audience responded with not its first standing ovation.

“There is much work to be done and there are difficult decisions to be made,” he concluded. “Paraphrasing a classic hymn by James R. Lowell, ‘to every person and community, come moments to decide … some great cause, some great decision….’

Maddie F. Reifsteck ’24, President of the Eckerd College Organization of Students, presents President Annarelli with a personalized longboard from Eckerd students.

Left to right: President Annarelli with silver buttonwood sapling, Risk Manager and Environmental Health and Safety Manager Tonya Womack ’05, Associate Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Fred Sabota and Susan Slaugenhaupt ’85

“I look forward to working with you as we address ‘the moments of decision’ of our time and as, together, we take on the noble tasks before us.”

Then the inspirational ceremony, which can be viewed via YouTube livestream replay, was followed by a reception at the James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences Wrenn Hall.

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