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. 28, 2019, in Schneebeck Concert Hall.

I trust you had a good, productive, and restful summer, whether here on campus or off. It’s great to see you all and have the opportunity to reconnect as we bring in the new academic year together and set our sights on our goals for the future.

We have many goals and priorities, and great work has been accomplished over the past year as we have put the Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan into motion. I am energized by our forward progress and hope you are, as well. I am also encouraged by the ways in which our plan anticipates and will respond to the challenging and rapidly changing environment for higher education, and for residential liberal arts colleges like ours. I am confident that we have a good road map, and am happy to be on this journey with all of you.

Our first stop today, then, will be on one of the biggest questions we face: how to attract and retain students at a time when the population of college-age students is declining. The competition is fierce, as our hardworking colleagues in admission and Student Financial Services will tell you. Fortunately, we have many assets that have and will help us stand out from the crowd:

  • First and foremost is all of you: a hardworking faculty and staff committed to our students’ success. 
  • We also have an outstanding curriculum that is becoming more distinctive, and I am excited about the excellent work our faculty is doing to bring forward a curriculum proposal this fall that will ensure that EVERY Puget Sound student will benefit from the best of what we can offer and take part in high-impact experiences that promote deep learning and a lifetime of intellectual curiosity, creativity, and professional adaptability.  
  • Key to this is the important work we are doing campuswide to make Puget Sound an ever more welcoming and inclusive community.  
  • And it doesn’t hurt that we have an exceptionally beautiful campus—which this summer The Princeton Review named one of the 20 most beautiful campuses in the country. How lucky are we to work in this magnificent environment every day? How about a round of applause for our great colleagues in Facilities Services, who look after and maintain our gorgeous campus?

On Saturday, we welcomed our incoming first-year and transfer students to Puget Sound, and as anticipated, they are a very strong class academically, although there aren’t as many of them as we would like.  

We are not alone in this predicament. Although not fully confirmed, we understand that only three four-year colleges in the state of Washington will meet their first-time-in-college student enrollment goals this fall. That takes the sting out of our situation a bit—but not that much. We will be and must be on the other side of that equation going forward, and have more work to do to achieve our enrollment goals and contain our discount rate, which directly impacts the amount of tuition the university actually receives.

And now for the good news.

  • First, our incoming first-year students are well prepared for success. The academic caliber of the Class of 2023 is strong, with collectively better writing skills than we have seen in the past, average high school GPAs above 3.5, and very good performance on the ACT and SAT. 
  • As we had hoped, we continue to see increased diversity in the class: for the past three entering classes, more than 30% have identified as students of color. This has a very positive impact on our campus culture, and this, coupled with a steady increase in the hiring of tenure-line faculty of color, is a very good and important trend for us.
  • The incoming class also brings to campus a full complement of students involved in the Posse program, which brings to us talented students from the Bay Area poised for leadership in our campus community. We now have four classes of Posse students, and we look forward to holding our first Posse graduation next spring. 
  • We are especially appreciative of our Posse students, given that one of the challenges that we and some of our peers are facing is changes in the state of California that are opening up more seats at their state institutions and making it more attractive for students to stay in state. Despite a reduction in the number of students from California, we are still attracting a good mix of students from throughout the U.S. Our new students come to us from 37 states, with fluency in 17 languages, and from countries including Canada, China, the Czech Republic, France, and Kenya.
  • We also note in this class an especially good turnout of student-athletes, which is a credit to our athletic coaches and staff, and certainly bodes well for a good year for Logger athletics!

Let’s hear some appreciation for our enrollment team and student affairs staff members, coaches, faculty members, and others who worked so hard over the summer to yield this terrific class of undergraduates. 

Of course, new undergraduate enrollment is just part of the picture. We have also experienced a decline in our retention of students over the last two years. Student retention is one of our highest priorities. We’ve got great colleagues at work on this issue. It is imperative that we develop and launch, as soon as possible, necessary onboarding, structured summer bridge experiences, and ongoing systematic programming for new and continuing students to enhance their sense of belonging and strengthen their performance and persistence to graduation. We all have a role to play in this effort, and I look forward to our collective work to promote the success of our students. 

The other important piece of the enrollment picture is our graduate programs. The Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan calls for us to modestly rebalance the proportion of undergraduate and graduate students, in light of demographic trends and other pressing issues and opportunities. One of those opportunities is the very strong interest in our current graduate programs, some of which have record enrollments this year. I am very pleased to share with you that our graduate programs will exceed their enrollment goals for academic year 2019–20. Our graduate programs are in strong demand!

Over the past year, we have been researching opportunities for other programs that might be a good complement to our existing programs and community needs, and also be in alignment with our liberal arts mission and attractive to our undergraduate students. More work is forthcoming in this area, but it is our intent to determine this fall new graduate programs we will look to launch as soon as it is feasible to do to so, with a target on fall 2021. This is a positive development for a tuition-dependent institution like Puget Sound that will help us stabilize our enrollment and grow net tuition revenue.

Research also indicates that our new Welcome Center will help strengthen our enrollment program, and we know that students who visit Puget Sound are six times more likely to enroll than students who do not. A memorable and welcoming campus visit program is vitally important. As you can see, the new building is well underway. We look forward to moving our admission team into the new space sometime in the spring, and I’m sure many of you would like to know what will happen with the space that they are vacating in Jones. We will be using this opportunity to co-locate people and teams within Jones Hall to create better synergy and to address accessibility issues related to a third floor that has no elevator access. Our broader space planning will give priority to the advancement of our strategic objectives. 

Also key to enrollment and to retention, the curriculum work in which our faculty is engaged is absolutely critical to our success; I have never seen a faculty move with such deliberate speed to advance a new curriculum. Thank you … and, my colleagues, please do all that you can to bring your recommendations forward on our revised educational model as soon as possible. It is the central component of the strategic plan and will be the key to further mark our distinctiveness on the higher education landscape, which is essential to our student recruitment and retention. We would very much like to promote our new model to prospective students as part of this forthcoming recruitment cycle to realize the Class of 2024. As I have expressed before, it is important for us to be thoughtful, collaborative, and expeditious. 

These are just some of the ways in which the framework of our strategic plan invites us to seize new opportunities and to meet the challenges of the times in which we live. As we have discussed before, one of Puget Sound’s great strengths is a long history of being responsive and adaptable to the needs of different generations of students. This is our time to make a difference in the lives of the students we are privileged to serve and contribute to the world in which we live.

And if I may say so: The world in which we live is very much in need of our help. The infuriating and horrific nationalistic violence on our shores and across the globe is unsettling, along with the polarizing, often demoralizing political landscape that cries out for a population that must be prepared to meet the very highest tests of democratic citizenship and carry forth this experiment known as the United States of America. I am convinced that our mission… our university… is needed more now than ever before. We must be a beacon… a clear light… to resist the negative forces that seem emboldened at this moment in our nation’s history. We must do all that we can to make sure our students and the members of our community are prepared to step into this cultural moment, engage in the civil—CIVIL—exchange of ideas, and nurture rather than erode our sense of a shared humanity. As faculty and staff members, it is important for us to make our voices heard and model these values for our students, and support them as they learn to express themselves and their ideas.  

And in addition to supporting our students, it is of utmost importance that we support and inspire our faculty and staff. This is a key goal of our strategic plan, and I want to thank everyone who participated in the Great Colleges to Work For survey last spring. Our results will be available next month, and I look forward to engaging with all of you to learn more about and celebrate our strengths, and identify and prioritize our opportunities for improvement.

As we move all of our new initiatives forward, we must continue to be thoughtful stewards of our resources, including our time and talent, which are not unlimited, especially as we navigate the impacts of a smaller undergraduate class and a decline in gifts to the Puget Sound annual fund. This, too, is not entirely unexpected, as there is a nationwide decline in giving to colleges in general.

That said, with a well-managed budget, we have some room to pull back without impacting our progress on moving forward with our strategic objectives. As we implement the strategic plan, we will make the necessary adjustments to have a balanced budget and ongoing financial model that will allow us to continue strong support for our faculty and staff. Our people are what makes Puget Sound the great college that it is. And we need you, all of us, to advance entrepreneurial ideas and explore new partnerships in the community to benefit our students and contribute to Puget Sound’s financial well-being. Building on the good work of last year’s strategic plan goal team, a task force has been appointed to further explore such initiatives, and I look forward to supporting their good work over the course of the fall semester.

I’ve been advancing this particular part of our agenda by continuing to meet with our alumni, parents, trustees, legislators, and friends to garner support for our goals, and although it pulls me away from campus more than I would like, it is clearly some of the most important work I am called to do as your president, and I am honored to represent you, our students, and our great university in this way. It is a particularly interesting time to navigate the legislative landscape, with reauthorization of the higher education act, DACA, and the pursuit of parity for us with state colleges and universities with the new Washington College Grant, formerly known as the State Need Grant. These are essential programs for our students, and we have to be at the tables and in the halls of power to advocate on their behalf.

I have some excellent partners in this work, and want to take a moment now to do a few shoutouts:

First, our Cabinet leadership has been enriched this year by three new members. 

Our new provost, Laura Behling, joined us just last month from Knox College. Laura, we are excited you are here, and already impressed by your contributions to Puget Sound.

Next, Joanna Carey Cleveland, our vice president and university counsel, who joined us in January from the University of North Carolina, and has been fully engaged on a range of campus issues and in supporting our board of trustees in her role as secretary to the board.

And, not a new face at Puget Sound but new to the President’s Cabinet, Shannon Carr, who is doing an excellent job serving as our interim vice president for enrollment.

Next, I would like to recognize the leadership of our Faculty Senate Chair Sara Freeman ’95; our Staff Senate Chair Anna Coy; and I hope that all of you have the opportunity to get to know and work with Mushawn Knowles, Class of 2020, who serves as this year’s ASUPS president. Mushawn gave a tremendous and warm welcome to the Class of 2023 at Saturday’s Convocation, and we all look forward to working with and learning from Mushawn this year.

Finally, I would like to recognize and express my appreciation for all of our new and continuing faculty and staff members. That’s all of you—everyone in this room, and our colleagues who cannot be with us today. In every department, you daily consider ways we can continue to reach to the heights, and your work is what makes this campus a special place.

We have an exciting year ahead of us in the work that we are called to do. I’m looking forward to welcoming our alumni back to campus for Homecoming and Family Weekend (and another Loggers homecoming football victory), and to attending as many campus events as I can. We have a fascinating speaker, author Kate Manne, as our Brown and Haley lecturer who will address issues of misogyny in September; followed in October by our fall Pierce lecturer, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who will discuss problems and offer solutions related to the criminal justice system … and the Jacobsen Series looks outstanding this year. 

I’m also looking forward to the LIASE Southeast Asia Symposium in October, and Sara Freeman’s Phi Beta Kappa Magee Address on creating a curriculum. In fact, there’s so much happening in October, including concerts, exhibits, athletic competitions, performances, and lectures, that I’m not really sure when any of us, including our students, are going to sleep. I won’t name everything here today, but please check the university arts, athletics, and lectures calendars, and plan to attend one or more events this fall. Participating in the life of the campus in this way is one of the great pleasures and benefits of being a member of a learning community. 

Before we wander outside to engage in conversation with one another and enjoy the wonderful spread prepared by our amazing colleagues in Dining and Conference Services, I want to close by honoring and acknowledging that the work that you do matters. We wouldn’t be the great place that we are, a college that changes lives, without your efforts. Every one of you plays an essential role in the success of our students as we challenge and support them to 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.

As we step into a year full of challenges and opportunities, I encourage you to remember that together there is nothing we cannot address and move over or through. We all have important roles to play to reach our goals.  

Working with all of you to make a difference is one of the greatest joys of my life. I truly believe that together we make the impossible possible, the unreachable reachable, and most important of all, that our care and support for one another is the very foundation of making the world a better place. I am honored to be on this journey with you.