The following is a transcript of President Isiaah Crawford’s welcome address for faculty and staff members, delivered Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Schneebeck Concert Hall. 

Welcome to the beginning of the fall semester!

I open our gathering today by acknowledging that University of Puget Sound is located on the traditional homelands of the Puyallup Tribe. The Puyallup people have lived on and stewarded these lands since the beginning of time, and continue to do so today. We recognize that this land acknowledgement is one small step toward true allyship, and we commit to uplifting the voices, experiences, and histories of the Indigenous people of this land and beyond.

My friends, it is good to see you. I am happy to be with all of you here, in Schneebeck Concert Hall, and I offer greetings to those of you joining us via livestream. A transcript of my remarks will be made available on the university’s website following my address for those who are not able to be with us today or tune in.

I will start by thanking each of you, the staff and the faculty of the University of Puget Sound, who make real every day the promise of a Puget Sound education. You have made it possible for our campus to thrive within and beyond the challenges of the past two years. While we remain vigilant in our work to ensure the safety and health of our community, it is truly a great pleasure to be kicking off the academic year in this way, in person and in community. 

At Puget Sound, we are always moving forward, rising to meet the needs of a changing world and to deliver on our mission at this university as one of the finest institutions in the country. This is important work—now more than ever—and it is work that we are called to do. My hope is that each of you knows the impact you have in teaching, coaching, mentoring, supporting, and raising up each new generation of leaders, each new generation of Loggers.

Today, I will discuss a few of the topics that I believe are on all of our minds as we prepare to begin this academic year, and share some of what I hope we will accomplish together.

Over the past few months, we welcomed four new members to Puget Sound’s senior leadership team.

Kim Kvaal stepped into the role of executive vice president and chief financial officer in July, bringing more than 24 years of experience in higher education to Puget Sound. Kim is a strategic financial leader with research expertise in increasing organizational capacity for financial sustainability at colleges and universities.

Victor Martin also joined us in July, not only taking the helm of our Division of University Relations, but overseeing the merger of university relations and Puget Sound’s Office of Communications, a move which we believe will position key members of the university staff to best share the Puget Sound story—particularly as we continue forward in the quiet phase of our next comprehensive campaign. More on that in a moment. 

Welcome, Kim and Victor!

We also begin this academic year with two familiar faces settling in to their new roles: Sarah Comstock officially assumed her position as Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students earlier this spring, keeping the essential goal of student success at the center of our collective work, and Associate Dean Nick Kontogeorgopoulos was named interim provost in July.  I am very grateful to Nick for stepping into this role to advance and support the Division of Academic Affairs and its critical work.

I would also like to warmly welcome our new faculty and staff members. Please give us a quick wave so we can see who you are. We are thrilled to have you join us at Puget Sound and I look forward to the important work we will accomplish together.

As we enter this academic year, it is more important than ever that we remain focused on accomplishing the goals of our Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan. The landscape of higher education is changing—the world is changing—and a Puget Sound education is ever more relevant, meaningful, and impactful.

Our world needs Loggers—students, alumni, faculty, staff, and trustees who are prepared to meet the needs of their communities with bold, innovative thinking.

We know that the high-impact engagement Puget Sound offers through research, internships, work study, mentorship, study abroad and study away, and other hands-on opportunities is the cornerstone of deep learning and strong educational outcomes. When paired with the breadth, depth and rigor of our traditional and interdisciplinary course work and unique opportunities for cultural, personal, and recreational exploration in our region, this mix of engagement makes a Puget Sound education truly distinctive.

You work—we work—extremely hard. I don’t need to tell you that. Ours is a faculty and staff community with an unwavering commitment to the growth and success of our students, and to the advancement of our institution. We must be clear about our priorities and goals, and how to deliver on them consistently and sustainably. It is only through resourceful and intentional allocation of our resources that we will be able to make Puget Sound an even better place to live, learn, and work.

With this in mind, I have been committed to supporting the vital work of the Academic, Administrative, and Auxiliary Program Review Committee. I am grateful to Nick, Kim, and Professor Monica DeHart, who agreed in July to take over as tri-chairs of the steering committee, stewarding the committee’s work and recommendations to completion.  

We know that in order to be successful, these recommendations must be closely aligned with and tied to the Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan, our strategic enrollment and student success initiatives, and Puget Sound’s identity as a place in which to pursue purpose and impact surrounded by a community that challenges and supports the whole individual.

Informed by data and accompanied by a clear timeline for implementation, the recommendations of the Program Review Committee will help provide a path for the university’s sustained success and return to a balanced budget for fiscal year 2025, which remains our goal.

I hope you all have had a chance to review and provide feedback on the draft proposals presented to the campus community last week. The Program Review Committee is expected to prepare a full and complete set of written recommendations to me by Sept. 26 for consideration, which will enable me to prepare and take forward my recommendations to position the university for recovery, renewal and realization of its goals to the board in October.   

Returning to a balanced budget is imperative as we move this great institution forward. As we shared with you during our town hall in June, numerous factors are at play that contribute to the headwinds  before us, including 1 million fewer college students since the start of the pandemic, the advent of the demographic cliff of traditional age college students, inflation hitting a 40-year high, along with a persistent workforce shortage. Some of the biggest questions we will face in the coming year include how to best deliver on our mission as we manage our way forward with a budgeted operational deficit and how to ensure that the high quality experience synonymous with Puget Sound—whether as a student, faculty member, or staff member—remains uncompromised, despite increasing challenges in enrollment, staffing, and compensation.

Enrollment remains a significant challenge, one that is being addressed through the implementation of our Strategic Enrollment Plan, led by Vice President for Enrollment Matt Boyce and his team. In the coming year, the team plans to roll out a new distinctive admission marketing campaign that will help build the largest pipeline of applications the university has seen in decades. The team is confident in the changes enacted over this past year to help meet the enrollment targets set for the coming year. The Strategic Enrollment Plan calls on all of us to take on a more active role in recruitment efforts, seeing ourselves as ambassadors of Puget Sound to every prospective student and family we encounter.

Meanwhile, I’m sure everyone is curious about the incoming Class of 2026. I am pleased to report that the class is extraordinary by any measure:

  • The academic caliber of the class is very strong with an average GPA of 3.59 and SAT of 1265, which are the highest in five years.
  • Our students come from 36 states, and we have 5 international students coming from three countries around the world. In total, they speak 22 different languages.
  • 18% are first generation.
  • 29% identify as students of color.
  • 27% plan to participate in Logger athletics.
  • Additionally:
    • One student has over 40,000 followers on TikTok;
    • One is the founder of their own non-profit;
    • And we have two women who will be playing on the men’s football team!

The members of this class have had every manner of academic preparation—private school, public school, home school and gap years—and we are excited to welcome our 7th cohort of Posse students, who are always especially well prepared for their first-year college experience and will be supported by an excellent mentor, Dr. Nancy Bristow. 

The top five career interests of the Class of 2026 at this time—and we know that these shift a lot, particularly after their first year on campus—are physical, occupational, or speech therapist; scientific researcher; business executive; physician; and, my personal favorite, clinical psychologist. We will be able to support all of these ambitions and more.

Unfortunately, while the incoming class is outstanding, our undergraduate enrollment for academic year 22–23 remains below our goals. Our incoming first-year class currently numbers 407, including 16 students who deferred their enrollment from fall 2021. 

I spoke with a number of our newest Loggers and their parents during move-in over the weekend, and they indicated that the way in which we prioritized the health of our community and its continued well-being while promoting the academic and social development of our students throughout the pandemic further solidified their commitment to attend Puget Sound.

This seems to hold true for our continuing undergraduate students, as well. We continue to provide support to our students in a variety of ways to ensure their success at Puget Sound and are particularly focused on the persistence of our first-to-second-year students. We’ve put greater emphasis on transfer students, and are seeing that population increasing compared to recent years. 

Our strategic plan also calls for us to increase our graduate program enrollment, and that is working well. We expect to exceed our enrollment goals in the MEd program and occupational therapy. We also are thrilled to welcome our second Master of Public Health cohort. Our graduate programs collectively have an enrollment of 309 students, bringing our total graduate and undergraduate projected enrollment to 2,010 students for fall. 

We are committed to greater support for our graduate programs, including the addition of a Graduate Student Commons this fall, and I would like to thank our colleagues in Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Facilities on working together to bring to fruition this dedicated space for our graduate students to study, relax and visit with one another.  

Our students and their success are at the heart of our Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan. They are why we’re here and the inspiration for all that we do. When we say “Once a Logger, always a Logger,” it isn’t just a slogan or a rallying cry; it’s our promise to be the tide that raises each and every one of them, helping our students become the leaders that our world so desperately needs.

You make that happen. Every member of our faculty and staff is essential to the success of our students, and no matter your role on campus, you have a hand in ensuring that Loggers can—and will—change the world.

That’s why it is essential that we value and compensate our faculty and staff fairly. Salary increases, promotions, cost-of-living increases, and filling critical open positions remain a priority. If we cannot sustainably recruit and retain talented and dedicated faculty and staff members, we will not be able to deliver on the promise of our mission as a distinctive liberal arts university where every member of our community pursues purpose and meaning, and is challenged and supported every step of the way.

As a tuition-dependent institution, enrollment data are important information for us to have in updating our long-range financial plan, but I want to be clear that our lower enrollment does not mean that compensation increases are off the table. 

There are many components that make up our budget, and the choices that we make must be grounded in our strategic priority of supporting and inspiring our faculty and staff who deliver our Puget Sound education. We will continue to assess compensation and strive to be an employer of choice that pays competitive salaries and offers comprehensive benefits.  We will move forward with our planned total rewards review.

Given these considerations, you may be asking: Where does this leave us financially? 

First and foremost, our current and long-term financial health remains strong, even while our net tuition revenue has declined and costs have increased. Our endowment provides distributions that help fund student financial aid and campus operations, and is a clear marker of our overall financial stability.

Second, evaluations from ratings agencies are another sign of strength. During the past year, Moody’s and S&P both affirmed Puget Sound’s ratings at A1 and A+ respectively. This is a very important expression of confidence in our ability to navigate through our current challenges in financially sustainable ways.

These factors, coupled with our conservative and responsible short-term reliance on withdrawals from our endowment, the initiatives outlined in our Strategic Enrollment Plan, and the work of the Program Review Committee, provide us with a clear path forward to balancing our budget over the next two years.

Additionally, we also have realized some level of temporary savings from open staff positions. While we have said farewell to a number of valued members of the Puget Sound community in the last year, through the ongoing good work of our human resources colleagues, we continue to welcome talented new colleagues to our campus and are doing so despite the competitive job market and continued labor shortages. The constant change can be a source of stress and strain for all of us, but I am confident in our ability to attract and retain the very best and brightest faculty and staff members as we navigate these times together.

And together, I am happy to say, we will be. After more than two years of altered operations due to the pandemic, we enter the fall with things feeling a bit more “normal” or more like fall 2019.  Tomorrow, we will have our Fall Faculty Dinner in person for the first time in three years, and coming soon are beloved campus events, including LogJam! next week; our fall Swope Lecture on Ethics, Religion, Faith, and Values featuring celebrated author Monique Gray Smith on September 13; and Collage – our 12th Annual Faculty and Student Music Showcase on September 30, and more.

Our admission and university relations colleagues soon will be hitting the road to gather with prospective students and Logger alumni, sharing our vision of the Puget Sound experience and building on the love and connection our graduates feel for this place, which helped shape them into the leaders they are today. I, too, will be traveling this fall to meet with alumni and friends of the university, laying the groundwork for the future public launch of our comprehensive campaign supporting key objectives of the Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan.

I’m excited to share with you now the three pillars of Greater, We Ascend: The Campaign for University of Puget Sound seeks to support:

  • Our commitment to experiential learning; 
  • Making a Puget Sound education accessible; and 
  • Promoting a Logger’s dedication to lifelong learning.

Through this ambitious fundraising campaign, we aim to raise $150 million using these pillars as a framework to support the initiatives of the Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan that look to advance educational excellence and our institutional distinction; enrich our learning environment through increased diversity, inclusion and access; support and inspire our faculty and staff; enhance engagement with our community; promote environmental justice and sustainability; and fully leverage and expand our institutional assets. This will be no small task, but we will rise to the occasion. And when we do, Greater, We Ascend.

Rising to the occasion is something that Loggers do well. Drawing inspiration from the Greek motto in our university seal, “Pros ta akra,” we have long been called “to the heights.” And so, we will rise to the occasion.

  • To the occasion of rallying our community in support of the goals of our strategic plan, to do so with grace, kindness, appropriate consultation, and with a sense of “community”;
  • To the occasion of innovating our curricular and programmatic offerings to prepare our students to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow;
  • To the occasion of creating an inclusive and welcoming living, learning, and working environment for all;
  • To the occasion of aligning the recommendations of the Academic, Administrative, and Auxiliary Program Review with our strategic priorities; and 
  • To the occasion of advancing the mission of University of Puget Sound by delivering on our promise to provide a community in which our students, faculty, and staff can pursue purpose and impact through experiencing and delivering an exceptional liberal arts and sciences education in a location ripe with opportunity and promise. 

I remain thankful and humbled, as always, to join with you in the stewardship of this great institution.

I look forward to connecting with each of you this semester, and will keep you informed of developments and provide updates throughout the year in all the usual ways. But for now, let’s adjourn for food and conversation!

Please join me for our reception on Karlen Quad. Thank you for coming, and here’s to the work ahead.

Once a Logger…

…always a Logger!