President's Welcome for Faculty & 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 Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 via Zoom. The presentation included a video of aerial footage of campus and was followed by virtual receptions for faculty and staff members.

Good afternoon!

I hope you enjoyed that video introduction! Normally, we would all be here to appreciate the beauty of our campus home so I thought this would be a nice way to start off our time together. You might recognize the music, too—Adventure of a Lifetime, by Coldplay. It’s what we typically play as an introduction to this annual event, and I think the lyrics apply today more than ever:

“Under this pressure
under this weight
we are diamonds taking shape.”

That is you, my faculty and staff colleagues! In response to COVID-19 and all the changes it has brought, you have been nothing short of magnificent. You are Puget Sound. You’re the magic of this place…the heroes of this time…the diamonds in our crown.

I’m still getting used to the fact that I can’t actually see any of you in this Zoom webinar format, but I know that you are out there. Evidence is everywhere. Without your resilience and creativity, your flexibility and your hard work, we would not be where we are—on the eve of what I know will be a very successful fall semester.  

Thank you for everything you have done to get us to this point. I know it has not been easy. I know you have been working long hours to reconfigure your classes and work spaces, meet public health guidelines, and move the intensely personal experience of a residential campus online. There are many things that keep me up at night, but never my belief in you and this community to rise to this or any other occasion. I am so inspired by the ways you have leaned into the challenges of the past several months to support our students, and one another.

You have not only met the immediate challenges of this crisis with your swift pivot to remote learning and business operations in March, but with the incredible work that has taken place over the summer to reimagine nearly every single thing we do. In addition to positioning us for a successful fall, you have positioned the university as a whole for continued success, long into the future.

That’s not something every college or university can say in these uncertain times. We have talked in the past about the challenges confronting higher education in general, and independent liberal arts colleges in particular. The pool of college-age students continues to shrink. Numbers of first generation college students are increasing, calling us to be ever more responsive in meeting and anticipating their needs. The investment in a college degree continues to pay enormous dividends over a lifetime, but access to one continues to be a struggle for too many of our potential students.

The universities that will endure are those that address these challenges head-on, manage their resources wisely, and have a clear vision for moving forward.  

That is the case for Puget Sound. The coming year will not be easy, but we will continue to move forward to realize our goals for the university.  Over the next few minutes, I’d like to take a closer look at how we are doing here on campus and the good work in which we are engaged to provide leadership for a changing world. At the end of my remarks, we are going to attempt a little social time together, so please stay tuned for how to join our virtual reception—I know the reception is always the highlight of these proceedings so we have something special in store for you.

But now let’s begin by taking a look at enrollment. First, I want to thank Shannon Carr for her extraordinary work in her role as interim vice president for enrollment over the past year, along with our colleagues in admission, and in Student Financial Services under the leadership of Maggie Mittuch. Earlier FAFSA deadlines, changing national rules for student recruitment, and a pandemic are just a few of the curve balls they encountered this year. The fruits of their efforts have paid off by bringing to us a most accomplished group of incoming students who will do us all proud. We don’t have a final count on the class yet, but we know that some of our students have made the difficult decision to defer joining us for another semester or two, and some of our continuing students have opted for leaves of absence. While we have fewer students than we’ve had in the recent past, we are grateful for each and every one of them.

Our graduate programs collectively have an enrollment slightly higher than in the past for fall, and students are ready and eager for what we have to offer.  And of course, our enrollment team is already hard at work on securing next year’s class, with assistance from many others across campus. Enrollment is the work of our entire community.

For those of you who have not yet met him, it is my pleasure to introduce Matt Boyce, who joined us earlier this summer as vice president for enrollment. Over the coming year, he will be working with the enrollment team and others across campus to develop a strategic enrollment plan, which will lay out the optimal number of students for us going forward, and strategies we can employ to support them in making the good decision to attend and graduate from Puget Sound. We also look forward to rolling out a new Puget Sound website to help students better understand the benefits of what we offer.

This work is a key element of our Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan, along with important work taking place to advance academic excellence and student success. I’m particularly excited about the faculty’s focus on experiential learning and interest in systematically building it into our educational model for the benefit of every undergraduate student. We know that high-impact engagement with internships, research, mentorship, and other hands-on opportunities leads to deep learning and strong educational outcomes.

I’m also excited by the great progress that has been made to launch our Master of Public Health degree, with a search for a director currently underway--and in hopes of bringing our first class to campus next fall. This is the kind of distinctive programming that is appealing to undergraduate students as well, leverages our strengths in the health sciences, and meets an important need in our local community. I believe it will be one more important reason that students decide to choose Puget Sound. Despite the pandemic, enrollment across our graduate programs in education, occupational therapy and physical therapy remains strong. This is a very good indicator for us that we are meeting the needs of our community in an important way and supporting our core mission as an undergraduate college.

Over the past year we’ve also explored several possibilities to develop a new center or centers of distinction.  The arrival of the pandemic in the spring required us to put that work on hold, but we look forward to resuming it this fall.  This will be yet another way to demonstrate Puget Sound’s continuing forward momentum, and our value to our students and their families, as well as to broader communities. And it will add to the areas of distinction for which we are already known, including the Sound Policy Institute, FEPPS, and the Race and Pedagogy Institute.

All of these areas of distinction address some of the most pressing issues of our time. And, of course, over the summer months no single issue has galvanized our country as much as the clarion call for social justice—particularly racial justice.

Our colleagues involved in the Race and Pedagogy Institute continue to provide outstanding educational opportunities and calls to action that enhance the understanding and commitment of our entire community, here on campus and beyond. We look to further leverage this moment by moving forward with the President’s Panel on Racism, which is a group of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees that will meet with me throughout the year. We are also preparing to move forward with our national search for a vice president for diversity and inclusion, under the leadership of Vice President for Student Affairs Uchenna Baker and Amy Ryken, distinguished professor and dean of the School of Education.

More than ever before, the world in which we live—and the changes we seek to make—requires a high degree of collaboration, transparency and consideration as we forge our path forward. As we launch this important search, we will engage all members of the campus community, embracing the considerable expertise that already exists, and the deep commitment of everyone engaged in this work. This is absolutely essential if we are to fully become the type of community we wish to be.

Correction: that we need to be. Progress on the vice president search was paused in the spring due to the necessity of managing the impacts of the pandemic, but it is my intention that it resume soon. The importance of a national search cannot be understated. I believe—and know from my own lived experience—that candidates who participate in a national search have the enormous benefit of assuming their new role with the support of a rigorous, affirmative, open and fully vetted process.  National searches, particularly for senior leadership positions, also extend opportunity to those who may be overlooked or otherwise disadvantaged or discouraged from consideration. Historically, that group includes women and people of color.

Through engagement in a national search, I believe we can move the university forward while fully embracing the work of those who have done and are doing so much to advance this community through their expertise, collaboration, leadership and hard work. This is hard, hard work. Puget Sound must be a place where all are welcome and feel a strong sense of support and belonging. We are at our best when we lift up all voices, all perspectives, all people. Through this search we will strengthen our commitment not only to racial justice, but to all forms and facets of diversity, equity and inclusion that make us a better, stronger community—across the spectrum of socioeconomic status, religion, gender, ability/disability and political thought.

The issue of social justice is of course front and center in this year’s national presidential election. It is a bitterly divisive time in our national politics, but I am hopeful that if we all stay active and engaged—and if we all make a commitment to vote…to encourage and support others in their efforts to vote…and to make sure those votes get counted here in Washington state and across the country—we will, in a most important way, advance justice and the most foundational concept of our democracy.  Leadership—whether in politics or business or higher education—does not happen in a vacuum. Leadership is made possible by participation in the process. We all have a role to play in the governance of our campus, our community and our country. Please vote.

And let’s be prepared to move forward with the outcomes of that vote. November 2016 was a difficult time on campus for our students, faculty and staff who felt validated by the presidential election, and those who felt disappointment or harm. Let’s be mindful of our commitment to civic and civil discourse not only with our students but with each other. It will be more difficult than ever to be apart from one another this fall, but I am confident that we will find a way to be in community and help each other process the outcome of the election and what it means for us, our nation and the world.

One of our earliest opportunities for civic engagement this fall occurs on Tuesday, September 8, when we will hold the Susan Resneck Pierce Lecture in Public Affairs and the Arts. We are grateful to our speaker, H.R. McMaster, for proceeding with a virtual lecture rather than postponing for another time. Although we are operating remotely throughout the fall, it really is very impressive how many events are continuing to go forward, from student orientation to convocation and matriculation and more, including our faculty awards. I’m really sorry that we can’t gather for our annual faculty dinner, but have enjoyed seeing each of our faculty award recipients have a day in the sun this week. I especially look forward to announcing the recipient of this year’s President’s Excellence in Teaching award on Friday.

There is so much more to say as we look forward to what I am sure will be a most memorable 2020-21 academic year. At the risk of leaving anyone out, I hesitate to call out just one or two departments but I do want to say a special thank you to our colleagues involved in the work of the Emergency Response Group who have done extraordinary work to support the campus community…simply extraordinary!   I also want to express my gratitude to everyone who is working so diligently from home, and to those who have continued to come to campus, every day, to care for our campus community, keep us safe, support our students in ways large and small, and generally keep us up and running, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I am deeply grateful for your commitment, your dedication, and your professionalism. Truly, we have the best staff in the world.

Over the summer months the members of Cabinet and I have been in conversation about supporting our staff members who are particularly impacted by the pandemic in terms of their lives and livelihoods. Working with Human Resources, we are happy to introduce the new telework policy that supports staff who are working remotely, plus an updated sick leave policy that will strengthen support to staff during and beyond the pandemic. We are also adding an additional paid bonus vacation day for staff members on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. Please look for a message soon from Human Resources with more detail.

In closing, our “new normal” is no longer new OR normal. But our college and our mission continue on. We will not be paralyzed by COVID-19 and the circumstances associated with it. We are moving through and beyond this, and will continue to thrive when the world, the nation, and Pierce County comes through the other side of it. Meanwhile I ask you to continue to care for yourselves and one another. Wear a mask. Keep your social distance. Wash your hands. These are simple things to do, but they make a big difference in our ability to keep each other safe.

We may be primarily virtual, but we are still a real, live community, and that’s the very best thing about who we are and what we are called to do. I miss you more than I can say, and hope you know how much you are making a difference in the lives of our students, every single day. I don’t know if you saw one of our young alumni, Carly Dryden from the Class of 2019, speak on national television last week about her work to prevent sexual assault. This is work that she started here on campus, and she even referenced Puget Sound in her remarks. It made my week. That’s what we do—help students find their voices, explore their passions, and commit to making a difference in the world.

My friends, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

And now—we are going to engage in a bit of an experiment. As I said earlier, I know that one of the biggest draws to the President’s Welcome is the opportunity to socialize afterwards. While we don’t have a big tent this year with great food prepared by our Dining and Conference Services colleagues, we do have some breakout rooms.

If you look in the chat box, you’ll see that we have four Zoom calls set up. To enjoy this opportunity to mix and mingle with your colleagues, at the end of my remarks, please click on the link associated with your birth month. We have hosts standing by in each of these breakout rooms with a little icebreaker: namely, an opportunity to reflect on the FIRST thing you look forward to doing when the pandemic is over. I hope you enjoy this time together—and I hope it works! I have so often talked about preparing our students to face whatever life has in store. I never thought that would extend to my hosting virtual receptions on a remote platform, but there you go—we keep learning new things every day. I’ll do my best to pop into each session to say hello.

So, heads up, friends. These are extraordinary times, but you are extraordinary people. Be well, be healthy, keep your faces to the sun, and let’s boldly and confidently continue our adventure of a lifetime.