The following is a transcript prepared by University of Puget Sound's Office of Communications of President Isiaah Crawford's welcome address for faculty and staff members, delivered Friday. Jan. 22, 2021, via Zoom.
Welcome everyone. Thank you for taking the time to join me today as we wrap up this very, very busy first week of the spring semester.
And what a week it has been! Our students moved in over the weekend, we joined together for a very special MLK Day celebration on Tuesday, and we witnessed the peaceful transition of our country’s new president and historic vice president.
And as you can see, I am back in my office in Jones Hall, and couldn’t be happier to be here.
Over many months we have been preparing for spring and talking almost exclusively about the pandemic. Today I wanted to take some time to recognize all of that extraordinary work—as well as the other good and important work that has gone forward as we work together to realize the goals of our Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan. Over the next 30 minutes or so, we will also look ahead to the opportunities and challenges of the spring semester and beyond.
Our format today is simply an address—I’m thinking of it as a companion to the annual fall President’s Welcome for Faculty and Staff. So much has transpired since we gathered together in August; a mid-year check in to talk in a larger way about where we are and where we are going is definitely in order. Although our time together does not allow for a Q&A following my address, I hope you find my remarks useful to you in your work, and invite you to seek out the provost or your area vice president afterward with any questions you might have about our path forward.
Although not even a month old, 2021 is already proving to be a very big year, in which our mission as a liberal arts college is proving more essential than ever. From the development of the COVID vaccines to fair and accurate news reporting, it’s pretty clear to see how absolutely essential education is to our democracy. Absolutely essential. We know that investment in an educated populace is necessary so that we are capable of the type of discovery, discernment, and action that helps us create with courage; resolve our conflicts with fairness; and advance the common good. This is exactly what a Puget Sound liberal arts education is designed to do.
I continue to believe that the Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan that we created together in 2018 is the right blueprint for our future. I ask you to keep it front and center in your work, and invite you to review it at the very easy-to-remember website address of pugetsound.edu/strategicplan.
The plan calls for us to be increasingly innovative in offering a challenging and relevant liberal arts education that prepares all graduates for success in a highly dynamic economy marked by an accelerating pace of change. That was true when we created the plan in 2018, and it is even more true today.
The plan consists of five goals:
We are committed to advancing all five goals over the 10 years of the plan, and at this time are prioritizing four specific initiatives. These include:
So with that introduction, I’d like to focus now on recognizing your impressive achievements from the fall, identifying the challenges and opportunities ahead, and outlining what to expect in the coming months as we work together as a community to support student success—and each other—in these hopefully waning days of the pandemic.
It is impossible to talk about this fall’s achievements without expressing my sincere appreciation for the way our faculty and staff have responded to the pandemic. It has upended the way we approach nearly everything that we do, and you adapted, innovated and persevered in remarkable ways.
The tireless work of the COVID-19 management group and others—Student Affairs (and particularly Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services and Residence Life), Technology Services, Facilities Services, Security Services, dining, athletics, communications, enrollment, constituent engagement, and fundraising—it took a village to pull all this together, all while our professors and instructional staff revamped every class, along with all those who provide such a rich array of virtual extracurricular and academic support services. You have made it possible for our students to continue to be students, to progress toward completion of their degrees, and to make sense of the world around them—in as much as that is humanly possible.
In addition to all that, your strong modeling of adherence to public health guidelines has limited cases of COVID-19 in our community and is more essential than ever as we move more deeply into the spring semester, supported by our new testing program.
There is good news to report on that front, with just under 900 students now living on campus and completing their seven-day quarantine before in-person activities begin on Monday. Results from our week of testing so far indicate that our plan is working; we have 800 or more test kits being sent to the lab each day, results are coming back quickly, and the campus community is doing a good job of observing health protocols. And in the midst of all this, we have continued to do what we do best. I’d like to cite just a few of many examples:
The impact of this collective good work on our students is notable. While we are not yet at 10th day, projected retention from fall to spring is estimated to be a very strong 95.4%—a clear sign that students value the experience we offer and a clear testament to all of you.
We also committed ourselves during this year to more fully immerse ourselves and our university in the call to become a fully anti-racist institution—something that our colleagues in Race and Pedagogy, African American Studies, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Diversity Advisory Council, Intercultural Engagement, the Chaplain’s Office and others have worked so diligently to bring about for so many years.
In fall we launched the President’s Advisory Panel on Racism—a group of students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees working to help advance key priorities in this year before our new vice president for institutional equity and diversity joins us. That search is well underway now, with candidates expected to be on campus in early March—we hope in person, but potentially virtually. Look for more information on that soon.
Our committee to develop principles to guide the renaming of campus buildings and spaces will convene shortly, and we are doubling down our response to the anti-Semitic vandalism that occurred late last fall. This is simply unacceptable and antithetical to everything we are, and I am deeply appreciative of our colleagues in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Security Services, Student Affairs, the Bias-Hate Response Team and others involved in investigating these incidents and supporting our campus community.
As I announced late last fall, the university is also pleased to become a partner with LACRELA – the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance. This partnership put together by college presidents of color will expand our access to diversity training programs and help us better meet all members of our community wherever they are in their journey to eliminate racism and recognize bias. There will be more information to share with the campus community about these efforts soon.
And of course, our Race and Pedagogy Institute continues to be a beacon of information, inspiration, action, support and knowledge. RPI’s passionate efforts to eliminate racism are among the most visible, powerful and long-standing on our campus and in our community, and offer an invaluable source of education and support for students, faculty and staff alike. We are fortunate to have such a center of excellence at the heart of all of our endeavors. I am also deeply grateful to Sunil Kukreja for assuming an interim appointment as Chief Diversity Officer while we seek to fill our new vice president role.
A few other actions of note that I’d like to share with you: In December we were pleased to select our sixth Posse, a group of 10 students who come to us from the San Francisco Bay area as Posse Foundation scholarship recipients. We recently received a gift of half a million dollars to help support this program and the young leaders that it brings to our campus every year.
Over the fall, as well, the President’s Cabinet created a list of Actions to Support Diversity and Anti-Racism, which will be posted on the university website and shared broadly with the campus community. This work helps prioritize our efforts and hold us accountable for results, and it complements the division-specific initiatives that are taking place all across campus.
As one example of a divisional effort, there is terrific work coming out of Career and Employment Services to develop and offer programs that proactively support marginalized populations, with a series of five identity-based career resources for students who are undocumented, first-generation, students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQN+. CES has also worked to create a virtual networking event for students and alumni of color, a career planning workshop for students of color interested in STEM, and alumni-student career conversations for the Latin American Heritage Student Organization. This is all a critical part of supporting our students for post-graduate success.
As an educational institution, we know that our work to become a more fully diverse and welcoming campus community is ongoing. The Diversity Advisory Council will distribute a new campus climate survey in mid-February—as it does every three years—to help us track our progress, and identify areas of success and areas for improvement. In previous years, the Diversity Advisory Committee has developed the survey, but based on feedback from almost 20 listening sessions conducted over the last year, we will begin using a national survey through the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium. So, in addition to getting information about our own community, we will be able to compare ourselves with similar institutions. Please take time to take this anonymous survey when you receive it. Previous surveys have helped inform important initiatives to support diversity in faculty hiring, gender neutral restrooms, diversity-related training programs, and more.
Another way that we track our progress is through the National Survey of Student Engagement. I was heartened to see that on the most recent survey a slightly larger percentage of our students reported increased engagement with those who are of a different race, ethnicity, gender identity, socioeconomic status, religion and/or political perspective than in the previous NSSE survey. Our campus is built for such interactions, and the quality of our educational experiences and the future of our democracy depend upon it.
And with that—let’s continue to look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
On Wednesday we witnessed a peaceful transition of presidential power—if you can truly call it that with 25,000 members of the National Guard on alert and standing by. I am so appreciative of the efforts across campus to get out the vote in this historic election in which more people exercised their right to vote than ever before.
The new administration is expected to have a significant impact on higher education, beginning with the appointment of a new secretary of education and revocation of some key executive orders that have run counter to our educational mission—particularly those related to immigration and to race and sex stereotyping. We can look forward to support for DACA students, an improved climate for international students, see steps taken to help address the costs of higher education, and other favorable actions—some of which our new president began addressing in his very first hours on the job.
There is also a potential for increased oversight and regulation, which is something I will be paying close attention to in my work with National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education, Independent Colleges of Washington, and the Council of Independent Colleges. Next month I will assume a one-year appointment as board chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and look forward to having an even more direct role in influencing policies affecting higher education. I will be working directly with Washington State Senator Patty Murray, who assumes the role of chairwoman of the Senate education committee in the new Congress; and Representative Derek Kilmer, in his role as co-chair of the Congressional Independent Colleges Caucus; as well as other legislators in D.C. and Olympia.
Another development of key importance this spring is our continued effort to enroll and retain students in a highly competitive market with a declining number of college-age students. I commend our Admission and Student Financial Services staff members for their creativity and flexibility, including remote programming and visits with prospective students and their families, and the new “Remake the World Initiative” where admitted students can choose to support a local nonprofit in lieu of receiving a Puget Sound logo item or marketing trinket with their admission offers. This pilot program, really speaks to our students’ deep commitments to social justice and community engagement, and is another way for us to demonstrate our values as a community.
And we also have a team of students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees taking a look at Puget Sound’s brand messaging. This project will help us all better articulate the value of a Puget Sound education, and inform the development of a new admission marketing campaign. Look for more information on this work soon.
Meanwhile, COVID continues to affect nearly every aspect of our students’ lives, and we have yet to see what the long-term impact will be. One thing that we know is very important to our graduating students is to be able to celebrate their accomplishments as a community. At this time, we are planning for separate, in-person, outdoor commencement celebrations for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 on May 16. Short of a mandate otherwise, we will do everything possible to make this experience available to our graduates.
Although we hope to begin more normalized operations by the summer, the truth is that the virus is likely to be with us for some time, and we will need to continue to make adjustments now, and also remain open to how what we are learning during this period of largely remote operation can benefit us going forward.
In this context we are working to minimize operating losses due to the pandemic to the extent possible in FY21, while keeping safety, student success, and long-term institutional success top of mind. Mission-based decisions have been and continue to be made that balance these priorities to the best of our ability. The finance team is currently working with budget managers throughout the university to project FY21 unrestricted operating results.
As you may recall, the Board of Trustees approved a revised budget for this year in response to losses related to the pandemic and its impact on enrollment and residential occupancy. The projected operating loss in the current year is not insignificant, and will be covered through the use of reserves and quasi-endowment. Cabinet and the board are in agreement that we need to focus on the long-term and support managed operating losses in the short-term.
The Budget Task Force is in the process of developing an unrestricted operating budget recommendation for FY22 and will present their full recommendations to me before the end of this month, and to the campus community early next month. I look forward to campus feedback before bringing my recommendations for the FY22 budget to the board for their action in late February. In this especially challenging year, I’d like to express my deepest appreciation to the BTF for their hard and thoughtful work – this is not an easy task, and they have performed it with the utmost professionalism.
Our expectation is that the FY23 budget will be balanced and we are taking a number of steps to make that happen.
We are in the early stages of preparing to launch a comprehensive academic, administrative and auxiliary program review process later this year. This process should be completed within the next 18 months with input and involvement from faculty, staff, and students.
The goal of this work is to make sure we are aligning our work and our resources to best support our mission, achieve our strategic goals , and secure a sound future. We must make thoughtful, purposeful, sustainable and long-term decisions that are based on data; grounded in our mission; and informed by the participation, insight and wisdom of our campus community. Through this process we will further enhance the student experience and distinctiveness of a University of Puget Sound education, grow student enrollment and net revenue, and elevate the profile and visibility of the university.
I appreciate what a challenging time this has been for all of you, and even in these constrained circumstances, we are exploring all avenues to recognize and reward your achievements. Our planned total rewards review that examines compensation will be sequenced with the Academic, Administrative and Auxiliary Program Review, and likely will not begin in earnest until fall at the earliest. Again, I want to stress that the program review is intended to take a deep look at how we operate, identify efficiencies and opportunities, eliminate redundancies, and invest in areas of potential growth. We must continue to be thoughtful and strategic about where we make investments, ensuring that our key priorities are funded, and working within the resources available to us from both current and new endeavors.
Again, the goal is for this to be accomplished in no more than 18 months, with broad participation from faculty and staff. This is work we will do together.
Although the double impact of declining enrollment and COVID has had a financial impact on our institution, we have a great deal to be thankful for. Decades of prudent management have enabled us to respond to this short-term situation. Our trustees, our alumni, and other friends of Puget Sound have been most generous, and I am grateful to our University Relations team for their work to create a case for support and hold additional giving day challenge events this year.
There is dire news out there about many institutions, but this is not the case at Puget Sound. We are in a position to make the best choices we can to not only preserve but advance our mission and strengthen our institution. We will continue to hire critical positions needed to achieve our strategic initiatives; fund our top priorities; and serve the 1,849 undergraduate and 273 graduate students enrolled with us this spring, along with the Class of 2025 that we will welcome to campus in the fall.
This is a time of great change and with that comes great opportunity. I am continually impressed by and have confidence in this community. We will emerge as a stronger institution as a result, and will work together to keep each other informed as we move forward.
We have the privilege and responsibility of fulfilling this institution’s mission in service to our students. It is challenging, it is rewarding, and the world needs what we do. Thank you for the important role you play in preparing the next generation of leaders every day. We got this, my colleagues!
I know this to be true because I see and hear about your good work every day. Parents in particular are writing to let me know how thrilled they are to have their students back on campus and how appreciative they are of everything our staff and faculty are doing to make that possible. I have heard the phrase “above and beyond” more times than I can count.
This, my friends, is what makes Puget Sound the special place that it is. Each of us doing our very best, every day, in every possible way. I will close now by thanking you again, profusely, for your truly heroic efforts over the past year, and wishing you good health and more in the months to come.
A transcript of these remarks will be available for those who weren’t able to join us today, and I’ll let you know when that’s available. Thank you, and see you soon!