President's Welcome for Faculty and Staff

The following is a transcript prepared by University of Puget Sound's Office of Communication of President Isiaah Crawford's welcome address for faculty and staff members, delivered Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Schneebeck Concert Hall. 

Welcome to the 2017–18 academic year—the first, that I’m aware of, that’s begun with a celestial event. The alignment, however briefly, of the sun and moon a few days ago seems to be a good omen for the year. At least I hope so. In just a few short days our entering students will complete orientation, our upper-division students will return, and our undergraduate and graduate classes for the fall semester will begin. This week we continue our rituals of welcome, renewal, and preparation, knowing that the year ahead of us promises to be anything but routine.

How could it be?

Just a few days ago I welcomed to campus our dynamic entering class, and told them, as I tell you now, that the world is calling us. All of us. Unimaginable events are taking place in our country and in a world that is crying out for leadership, for truth, for wisdom and courage, for equity and justice.

It is not enough to despair, or simply hope for change. We must construct a way forward. Every day, every single day, here at Puget Sound we must challenge ourselves and prepare our students to provide the leadership and service that our world most needs.

This is a high calling, and it belongs to each and every one of us as members of this community. There is work to be done, and it is work we can and must do together—through our work with students, our scholarship and research, our community engagement, and the innumerable ways that you, as faculty and staff members, bring the best of yourselves every day to this place that we love.

So let’s get started by affirming our mission, who we are and what we stand for: preparing our graduates to meet the highest tests of democratic citizenship, and liberating each person's fullest intellectual and human potential to assist in the unfolding of creative and useful lives.

I am hard pressed to think of a harder, higher test than the act of engaging in active citizenship, whether we are looking east to the unspeakable acts of blatant and unabashed bigotry and racism that took place in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia; or much closer to home, at the protest and threats of violence that unfolded at The Evergreen State College earlier this summer; or closer still at events on our own campus that have called into question the balance between freedom of expression and freedom from harassment or harm.

To my faculty colleagues, know this: as an institution we will vigorously defend academic freedom, regardless of the subject of your work, the opinions you hold, or the content of your speech. The university must be a place that not only welcomes but encourages the free exchange of ideas—whether those ideas are expressed in the classroom, in debate, in protest, or in demonstration. This commitment is a foundation not only of our values as a liberal arts college but of our democracy.

To everyone gathered here, I affirm in the strongest possible terms that college campuses must be places where assumptions, beliefs, and experiences are challenged, interrogated, and explored. We support civil, rigorous, thoughtful, and respectful engagement, and that exercise is not without conflict, nor should it be. It’s what emerges from that conflict that is most important. Critical thinking. Growth. Respect. Understanding. And most important, change.

And our campus IS changing, in some profound ways. Let’s look at our incoming first-year class:

  • They attended high school in 34 states and 10 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, and the Philippines.
  • The languages spoken at home by the families of our incoming students number 20, and include Mandarin, German, Korean, Hebrew, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Tagalog, and Turkish.
  • Thirty-one percent of the incoming class members identify as students of color.
  • While we think of our undergraduate students as being roughly between 18 and 22 years of age, the oldest of our incoming students is 29 and the youngest just turned 17 (born in 2000…and, yes, saying and hearing that does make us old(er)!).
  • Fourteen percent are the first in their families to attend college, and 10 percent have a family member who attended Puget Sound.
  • Thirty-three are from Tacoma Public Schools, a more than threefold increase since we began our Tacoma Public Schools Commitment two years ago.
  • Ten members of the Class of 2021 are members of our second Posse Cohort, and they’ve been preparing for their leadership roles on campus since they were offered admission last December.
  • The incoming class’s other stats are impressive, too, with an average SAT score of 1261, and an average GPA of 3.5.

Only one stat gives us pause, and it’s this: There simply aren’t enough of them.

Now, this is a well-managed institution with a stable financial outlook and a conscientious approach to budget management; we have contingency plans and we will see our way through the upcoming year with some prudent management of our operational expenses.

We also know that we are not alone: a number of our peer institutions are in a similar situation, and we all are dealing with the fact that there are fewer people ages 18–24 than in previous generations. The number of students attending and graduating from high school has been declining steadily since 2011, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. This year, it is expected that there are 81,000 fewer high school graduates in the U.S.

In this increasingly competitive environment for students, and especially for students and families who can afford a Puget Sound education, we must find a way to strengthen and diversify our revenue, to become the school of choice for those who are seeking college degrees, and to meet the demands of the economic, social, and political times in which we live. We must continue to be relevant, forward thinking, and courageous, and we must offer the types of opportunities and experiences that help our students engage the world and make it a better place. I can’t state this strongly enough.

So…how are we going to do this? Well, we need a plan. I committed myself to listening and learning this past year, meeting with campus members, community members, alumni, trustees, students, and other stakeholders, learning everything I could about the values, traditions, strengths, and challenges faced by Puget Sound in preparation for launching a strategic planning process this fall.

Informed by your input, that process is about to begin. Over the summer months I have reached out to our Board Chair Bob Pohlad, Faculty Senate Chair Alisa Kessel, Staff Senate Chair Anna Coy, ASUPS President Amanda Diaz ‘18, and Alumni Council President Andrea Tull Davis ‘02 regarding creation of a steering committee to guide our work. The steering committee includes faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, administrators, and trustees, and will be charged with ensuring a successful campuswide effort in which all will have the opportunity to share their viewpoints and perspectives about a 10-year vision for Puget Sound.

I have also secured the services of two experienced planning consultants to assist us with the coordination of this work, Dr. Pete Facione and Dr. Carol Gittens of the firm Measured Reasons. They will be on campus in early September to meet with the steering committee and to host the first of several Strategic Planning Community Conversations that will provide an opportunity for all members of the campus community to be involved in this work.

A message to the campus community will go out tomorrow with more information about the process, including a website with bios for our consultants, names of our steering committee members, timelines for the project, and more. By the end of the fall semester we expect to have several subcommittees working on development of specific goals, and to have a draft of the plan developed for board review in May.

It’s an ambitious schedule, but there is no time to waste. Our vision for Puget Sound for the next decade must reflect the ways in which our commitment to a liberal arts education meets the needs of our students, our community, and our world, which is changing and changing fast. We need an engaging and inclusive process that brings forward our best thinking about our future and what we, as a university community, are called to do. 

Last year I spoke to you about the need to support our students, engage our community, and carry forward Puget Sound’s positive momentum—momentum that each and every one of you has built—to take this great college to its next level of excellence, national standing, and visibility. As I reflect on the past year, I am awed and amazed at the work that has already taken place as we’ve worked to strengthen student satisfaction and persistence to graduation, including the successful launch of new majors in African American studies and environmental policy and decision making; the growth of our experiential learning initiatives and the addition of a MakerSpace and technology development studio to foster experimentation, innovation, and collaboration; the dedicated, vigilant, and thoughtful work of members of the Undocumented Students Work Group; and, of course, the beautiful new Wheelock Student Center Plaza that offers more space for interaction and meeting with one another.

The gains and achievements that faculty and staff members have made possible make me so proud to be a member of this community, and to share the great things that are happening here at Puget Sound with our alumni and trustees, donors, civic leaders, and others.

And there is so much more ahead! This year we will continue in earnest our planning for next fall’s Race and Pedagogy National Conference. We will welcome to campus in November the Washington State Supreme Court’s traveling court, to hear oral arguments on several cases and hold open fora to which all are invited to attend. We will welcome to campus visual artist and social activist Clarissa Sligh, who will present talks and workshops related to her exhibit in Collins Library on identity, politics, social justice, memory, and history. We will hear from Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, addressing her work on digital sociologies for the Brown and Haley lecture series. And we all can look forward to receiving postcards from our students who are studying abroad on the PacRim program this year for what will surely be the adventure of a lifetime.

And from our students here on campus, we will have the opportunity to attend student summer research symposia for the sciences and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Please make a point to attend these symposia to learn more about the life-changing work in which our students are engaging. An upcoming Experiential Learning Symposium will also feature the work of nearly 40 summer immersion interns about their work in our local community.

This work is important. It is our work. And we’re going to need fuel for the journey. In a few moments, I will invite you to accompany me to Karlen Quad, where we can spend some time in conversation with each other, beverages in hand, as we embark together on this new year at Puget Sound, full of challenge and opportunity, promise and hope.

But first, I wish to thank you, all of you, for the ways in which you have welcomed and invited me into community on this campus. I was humbled and inspired by the inauguration events of last March, in which so many took part in showcasing the best of Puget Sound: the energy and ideas, research, scholarship, and talents of our students, faculty, and staff. It was a glorious opportunity to showcase the unique strengths of this remarkable institution.

And I’ve also got to say: it’s nice to no longer be the “new guy,” and to look out into the auditorium this year and see familiar faces, colleagues, and friends. That said, I know we have plenty of other “new guys” out there and I’d like to take this moment to formally welcome you to our community. Will all faculty and staff members who joined Puget Sound during the past year stand as you are able and be recognized?

Thank you. We are so glad that you are here and part of this community. 

On that note, I want to thank you all again for taking time to gather before the semester begins, and for the good work you are doing on behalf of our students. Let’s take it outside and continue our good conversation with one another!