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    Eckerd College names president

    The college's presidential search committee says it has found just the man to whip the college back into fiscal shape.

    By DAVID BALLINGRUD

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- The new president of Eckerd College, the fourth in the school's 40-year history, will be Donald R. Eastman III, a University of Georgia vice president with a reputation as a planner and fundraiser.

    Eastman, 55, was in an airplane at 32,000 feet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday when he accepted the job during a phone conversation with Grover C. Wrenn, chairman of the Eckerd board of trustees search committee. He will begin July 1.

    Later, driving from Atlanta to the Georgia campus in Athens, Eckerd's president-designate pulled his car over to answer a few questions. His first priority, Eastman said, "will be to restablish fiscal integrity for the college. That has to happen, and probably without too much help in the short term."

    In the longer term, he said, Eckerd must not only develop a strong capital campaign to sustain it but must have a clear idea of what kind of school it wants to be.

    Having one without the other -- a capital plan without a strategic plan -- "is like playing tennis without a net," he said.

    The new president will be given a "rough road map" to follow as the college struggles back from serious financial problems, board chairman Miles C. Collier said Tuesday, "but largely it will be his issue to work out."

    The discovery of the unauthorized transfer of $19,573,222 from the school's $34-million endowment fund last summer forced the retirement of then-President Peter Armacost and J. Webster Hull, the school's chief financial officer. The money was spent on various campus projects, including the construction of a dormitory, but without board knowledge or approval.

    The endowment has been "by and large returned to pre-problem levels," Collier said,"though that's not to say there aren't problems with the endowment. We are still very much underendowed."

    There are more immediate money problems, too.

    The operating budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is balanced only because trustees made substantial contributions. And, Collier said, the school is expected to operate at a deficit for two more years.

    But by that time, he said, Eckerd not only will be operating with a balanced budget but also will have erased about $1-million in accumulated losses from the preceding three years.

    School officials say recent fundraising has gone well.

    "With $9,591,323, last year was our best year for gifts received," said Rick Haskins, vice president for development.

    Meanwhile, faculty and staff salaries have been frozen, and students face tuition and room-and-board increases this fall.

    "We were looking for someone who could define the issues for a small liberal arts college," Collier said of the seven-month search for a president, "and we were looking for someone who could collect assets -- raise money.

    "We think we have found that man."

    Eastman helped plan a $500-million to $1-billion capital campaign at the University of Georgia.

    Collier and Eastman praised the work of Eugene Hotchkiss, the former president of Lake Forest College in Illinois, who has served as Eckerd's interim president.

    A native of Virginia, Eastman graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tennessee in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English. He earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Florida in 1971.

    According to material furnished by Eckerd, Eastman served as an instructor of humanities and an assistant professor of English at the University of Florida. He was the first executive director of the Florida Endowment for the Humanities.

    He taught poetry and fiction at the University of Tennessee. At Cornell University, he served as executive director of university communications and as acting vice president for university relations.

    Eastman has been with the University of Georgia since 1991. He began as vice president for development and university relations, and is now vice president for strategic planning and public affairs.

    During his years in Georgia, Eastman came to know Eugene Patterson, a University of Georgia alumnus and editor emeritus of the St. Petersburg Times. The two men became acquainted during events honoring the civil rights work of John "Pop" Popham, the first Southern correspondent for the New York Times.

    Patterson on Tuesday called Eastman "a respected academic" possessing "many of the attributes Eckerd will need.

    "There's a certain amount of rebuilding to be done," Patterson said. "I regard him very highly ... I think he is a good fit."

    Eastman said he is looking forward to the new job, and said he and his wife, Chris, plan to visit the Eckerd campus several times before July. They have three grown children.

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