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. 22, 2018, in Schneebeck Concert Hall. 

It is wonderful to see all of you gathered here today as we celebrate the beginning of what I am sure will be another year of excellence and accomplishment for our students and for our university as a whole.

We are already off to a terrific start, welcoming to campus last Saturday the eagerly anticipated members of the Class of 2022, who are embarking on an exciting new orientation program thanks to the good and creative efforts of many of you here today. While we have a lot to talk about today, let me cut straight to the chase. While final numbers will not be available until the 10th day after the start of the fall term, we are very confident that we will meet our first-time-in-college undergraduate head count goal of 645 students and transfer student goal of 55—and may very well exceed our goals in both cohorts. 

These are challenging times for enrollment in higher education, and let’s just take a moment to celebrate this good outcome and express our thanks to Vice President Laura Martin-Fedich and her great team in enrollment, as well as our athletic coaches, faculty members, and others for their outstanding work this past year to bring these amazing young people to us. Thanks, too, for the great support our entire university community provided to realize this fantastic achievement. 

Today, I would like to talk with you a bit about the current environment for liberal arts institutions like Puget Sound, the ways in which our strategic planning efforts are targeted to address those concerns, and key opportunities for engagement in the work that we will do together.  

Over many decades, those working in service to Puget Sound have built upon the strengths of the past while responding with creativity to the challenges of the present day. I think it’s fair to say that the greatest challenge we are confronted with today is the increasing competition for students in a very dynamic and crowded market where tremendous external shifts in demographics, affordability, government regulation, technology, and the political environment—to name a few—require us to be more adaptive than ever before in meeting the needs of this and future generations of students.

So… How are we going to do that?

The good news is we have already begun. We are entering the coming decade in a strong position as a stable and well-managed institution. We remain more committed than ever to our mission as a liberal arts institution, and have affirmed that our distinctive delivery of a liberal arts education that produces well-informed and engaged citizens is exactly what the world most needs.

Collectively, we have spent the past year listening to and learning from members of our campus community, as well as alumni, parents, friends of the university, trustees, and others to gain a strong understanding of our collective hopes and dreams for the future, and the opportunities before us to realize them. These ideas have been refined through discussions with trustees, our year-long collaborative strategic planning process, and broad participation from the campus community.

I am very excited about the focus and direction of our strategic plan. I believe it will position us to deliver a most relevant and impactful 21st-century liberal arts education that is academically rigorous and distinctively Puget Sound, and will provide deep learning and transformational experiences for all of our students—with the emphasis being on ALL of our students. I look forward to bringing it to our trustees for endorsement in October.  

Meanwhile, I have scheduled time to speak at the Faculty Meeting on Sept. 5, at noon, the Staff Senate on Sept. 26, at noon, and with ASUPS on the evening of Sept. 20, to share the plan with our community prior to the board meeting. You can find out more about that at pugetsound.edu/strategicplan. We will do a deeper dive then, but the strategic plan’s vision statement calls for us to challenge and support our students as they become broadly and deeply educated lifelong learners, prepared to create and serve the future and to become the world’s next generation of visionary leaders. To realize that aspiration, the core of the plan is centrally focused on our students, faculty, and staff, and is organized around five key strategic commitments:

We will advance institutional excellence, academic distinction, and student success.

We will enrich our learning environment through increased diversity, inclusion, and access.

We will support and inspire our faculty and staff members.

We will enhance engagement with the community and the promotion of environmental sustainability.

And we will identify and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities consistent with our mission and values that will expand the value of a Puget Sound education, strengthen our financial position, and enhance our ability to anticipate and respond to technological and social change.  

I’d like to focus just a bit on that last goal this afternoon. Even as we celebrate meeting our head count for our first-year class—something that not all of our peers are experiencing right now—we are bringing that class in at a higher cost than budgeted, and balancing that with our retention, particularly for our entering sophomore class, which numbers about 480 students. Our historical average first-time-in-college to sophomore retention rate is just above 86 percent—a respectable figure but, for an institution of our caliber, we have set our sights on achieving a substantially higher percentage in order to better meet the needs of our students and our net tuition revenue goals. 

Since 2011, we have seen a precipitous drop in total enrollment overall, which stands at 2,671 as of today. I believe it is imperative to return to a combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment of 2,800 students, at a minimum, which is optimal to fully leverage the breadth and depth of the Puget Sound academic experience. This goal is realistic and achievable, and I’m genuinely excited about the good proposals that have come forward to address this concern, including those related to Puget Sound’s very strong graduate programs in education and health sciences. We are seeing very strong enrollment for our Master of Arts in Teaching degree this fall, as well as for degrees in occupational therapy and physical therapy. In addition to the important role these programs play in attracting undergraduate students, deepening our program offerings, and meeting the needs of our community, they make possible our continuing commitment to our core mission as an undergraduate liberal arts college.

Of course, Puget Sound is not alone in meeting the challenge of right-sized enrollment, but we have an incredible advantage in being well positioned to build on strengths throughout our curriculum and program offerings. We are also an historically stable and well-managed institution, where the ethos of innovation is very much a part of our campus culture. These strengths and assets will serve us well in the decade to come.

In addition to the growth we are seeing in our graduate enrollment, the entering undergraduate class is a good model of things to come:

  • 17 percent are first-generation students
  • 10 percent are from Pierce County, including students who are participating in our Access Programs and Tacoma Public Schools Commitment
  • 10 new students are joining us as part of our third cohort of Posse students from the San Francisco Bay Area, bringing our total number of Posse Scholars to 29
  • We are continuing to see gains in the diversification of our incoming class: 32.5 percent identify as students of color, and 20 percent as underrepresented minorities
  • We continue to see geographic diversity, as well: The Class of 2022 comes to us from areas throughout the United States, with a heavy representation from the West Coast, but we are seeing international numbers increase, with students who have attended school in countries including Brazil, Canada, China, France, Japan, and Thailand
  • We have 40 students in the entering class for whom English is not their first language; And their first languages are more diverse than you might expect: American Sign Language, Arabic, Cantonese, French, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Persian, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Tigrigna, and Vietnamese
  • The religions represented by the class range from atheist to Baptist and Buddhist to Christian Scientist, as well as Jewish, Methodist, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Sikh, Unitarian, Wiccan, and many, many more

Collectively, these statistics represent a really exciting development for Puget Sound, not just by increasing the diversity of our student body, but by increasing the opportunities to learn with and from each other in a very challenging and, frankly, raucous national environment. I spent a good deal of time on Capitol Hill last year, and will do so this year as well, as we seek a favorable renewal of the Higher Education Act and passage of other legislation that protects the rights and increases opportunities for our students—all of our students—regardless of citizenship status—and strengthens the ability of young people to complete a college education and become the visionary leaders the world so desperately needs.

Our students are highly active and engaged, and with midterm elections coming this fall, we can expect to see debate, dissent, activism, and passion in full play. We will, as always, vigorously defend academic freedom and the right to free speech, and also live our commitment to balancing freedom of expression and freedom from harassment or harm. I would like to see the university make a definitive statement about this commitment in the coming year, and look forward to discussions with faculty, staff, and students on that subject.

As I stated at this gathering last year, we must 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. What emerges from that conflict is central to our mission of developing capacities for critical thinking, growth, respect, understanding, and change. 

We will have many opportunities over the course of the coming year to practice this work, as our colleagues roll out various sessions to further explore the results of the most recent Campus Climate Survey, and as we come together as a community for the upcoming Race & Pedagogy National Conference.

The conference provides our entire Puget Sound community of teachers and learners a significant and unique opportunity for focused and sustained learning through critical explorations of necessary, provocative, and difficult questions that inform our collective lives as we seek to advance grounded, inclusive practices of justice. To that end, the conference program will be Puget Sound’s classroom for Sept. 27–29, offering four plenary sessions, 12 spotlight sessions, 120 concurrent sessions, and a range of artistic performances and art exhibitions over three days. 

This endeavor is a huge undertaking for our community, with some 4,000 people expected to join us for the conference, which will be held concurrently with our Homecoming and Family Weekend. I look forward to welcoming all of them and all of you, as well as some truly outstanding keynote speakers, including Valerie Jarrett, a former senior advisor to Barack Obama and fellow Chicagoan, who will serve as this fall’s Pierce lecturer in public affairs and the arts.

Please note that this conference is for us all: students, faculty, staff, educators, activists, community members, and more. I invite you to take a look at the schedule and other information available online and make plans now to attend sessions as you are able. More information will be forthcoming as the conference gets closer.

Could I ask everyone involved in planning and preparing for the conference, in any capacity, to stand?

Thank you all, so much, for your good work. 

I would be remiss in not naming all of the other activities and opportunities ahead of us. I’m not sure time permits that, but just a few shout-outs—first, we look forward to another great year for our Logger student-athletes, who continue to excel both on the playing field and in their academic pursuits. I look forward to cheering on our teams this fall whenever I can, and attending the many lectures, performances, and events supported by our faculty and staff that enrich our entire community. 

And as much as I wish I could be here on campus all the time, I also look forward to carrying the achievements and promise of this great university as far and wide as I possibly can as I prepare to travel to meet with our alumni and other friends of the university in our alumni chapter cities of Seattle; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Denver; Boise; Washington, D.C.; Portland; Honolulu; New York; and the Twin Cities, as well as professional engagements with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Council of Independent Colleges, and other organizations that help make the case for our students with policy- and decision-makers. 

Wherever your work takes you on behalf of Puget Sound, know that this is good work. It is important work. It is work that changes lives. And it is work that is made better by our collaboration with one another. To further that aim, in a few minutes I’d like to invite you to accompany me out to Wheelock Student Center’s Upper Marshall Hall, where we can spend the balance of the afternoon 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 before we go, I have to add that it just feels great to enter my third year here at this remarkable institution, to have had the opportunity to know and work with so many of you, and to be in full partnership with you to promote and champion the extraordinary value and importance of liberal arts education. Before we head to Wheelock, I want to take this opportunity to introduce a few new people to whom I’m sure you’ll want to say hello.

First, Uchenna Baker, our new vice president for student affairs and dean of students, who joined us just last month from Elon University. It is such a pleasure to have Uchenna here with us, and we are excited about all that she will bring to her leadership in this important area. I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank Provost Kris Bartanen for her incredible work over the past year holding positions as both our chief academic officer and interim vice president for student affairs.  Kris, please stand so we can recognize you for your extraordinary work this past year.

Next, I’d like to introduce Lori Magaro. Here’s how new Lori is: She doesn’t actually start her role as my new executive assistant until Sept. 4, but graciously agreed to join us today to participate in this launch of our new year together. Lori comes to us most recently from the nonprofit organization Visit Seattle, and we look forward to welcoming her to the Office of the President team. Lori, you are going to love it here!

Over the past few days, I’ve also had the opportunity to gather with our new faculty members, and invite them to stand and be recognized.

I know there are many other new faces out there, too, and I’d like to invite all who have joined us since my last faculty and staff welcome in August last year to stand or wave and be recognized. We thank you for the energy, insight, and experience that you bring to Puget Sound.

We have a few minutes before we need to adjourn for our reception for any questions you might have or very brief announcements any of you would like to offer or make, respectively.   

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 our gathering over to Wheelock and continue our good conversation with one another!