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Eckerd's leader draws on past for a beginning

The new president praises the school's rebound from financial problems during his inauguration Saturday.

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2002


The new president praises the school's rebound from financial problems during his inauguration Saturday.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Donald R. Eastman III officially became Eckerd College's fourth president on Saturday.

Eastman, who has been filling the role since July, said Eckerd is looking ahead to a new era that draws on the history of its founding.

"Eckerd's greatest strength is the personal relationship between teacher and student," Eastman said in his inaugural address. "Students at Eckerd don't simply have teachers or advisers. They have mentors in every sense of that magical word.

"The quality of personal attention and concern for undergraduates is, simply, the glory of Eckerd College."

Saturday's ceremony at First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg included representatives from 68 universities, including institutions where Eastman studied or worked. Eckerd faculty dressed in full academic regalia, the colors and styles of their robes and headgear depicting their discipline of expertise.

Eastman arrives at a crucial juncture for Eckerd. Two years ago, the school disclosed that $20-million of its $34-million endowment had been spent without authorization from the Board of Trustees. The problems forced Eastman's predecessor, Peter Armacost, president of Eckerd for 23 years, to resign.

But contributions from the trustees restored the endowment, and last week Eckerd announced it will build a $13-million library with donations from two benefactors.

"The college has written a couple whole new chapters, essentially in a matter of weeks. That's an extraordinary story," Eastman said. "You don't see that Act II very often. You do see academic versions of Enron from time to time, but you don't see it rebuilt and repaid in that amount of time."

Eastman earned most of his credentials at large, state research universities with impressive graduate programs -- atmospheres quite different from Eckerd.

He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tennessee in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English, then earned his doctorate in English from the University of Florida in 1971.

He spent more than 25 years as a college administrator before arriving at Eckerd, working at the University of Georgia, Cornell University, the University of Tennessee and the Florida Endowment for the Humanities.

"There's quite a spirit here of where we're starting again," Eastman said of Eckerd. "Not from scratch, but we're making a new beginning to recognize what the vision of this place has always been."

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