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Eckerd's acting chief brings calm

By ADAM C. SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- When Eckerd College trustees needed to bring a quick dose of stability and confidence to the tumult on campus, the choice for acting president was obvious.

They turned to a man revered by faculty and students: their longtime faculty dean and vice president for academic affairs, Lloyd Chapin. On Thursday, when trustees briefed anxious Eckerd staffers about major endowment problems and the sudden departures of Eckerd's longtime president and finance chief, the mention of Chapin being given the helm drew sustained applause.

"He's just the right man at this time. He brings a sense of stability," said board Chairman Arthur Ranson III. "He enjoys great respect, and he is a figure who can communicate to students and faculty and staff the central fact this college is not in danger and this college is going to continue to move forward."

Chapin, 63, is a formal, but warm, intellectual. Almost every day, in his tie and beige hat, he walks to campus from his Dolphin Cay home, cheerfully greeting students, faculty members and maintenance workers on the way.

He came to Eckerd in 1979, and faculty members describe an administrator whose focus has never strayed from Eckerd's academic mission, even as the administration veered into controversial and troublesome real estate ventures.

"He's a straight shooter, and a person you can trust," said rhetoric professor George Meese. "He's been tremendously supportive and inspiring as an academic leader."

Chapin and his wife Louise had expected to spend the summer in London, but instead he will occupy the president's office at least until August, when trustees hope to name an interim president and start searching for a new president.

Chapin is now delving into Eckerd's finances with trustees, and he will be a key figure in bringing the next president up to speed on Eckerd.

Sitting in his book-lined office Friday, Chapin declined to speak in any detail on how he viewed the problematic real estate ventures that former president Peter Armacost pursued or the sudden revelations that nearly two-thirds of the college's endowment had quietly been drained.

"I was surprised and saddened, but I have great respect for Peter. I value his friendship, and I have been very grateful for the many good things he's done for the college," said Chapin, a philosophy and religion professor who teaches top Eckerd students pursuing academic careers.

He and his students used to meet in the college board room, and he constantly reminded them to use coasters for their drinks. At graduation this year, each of his students walked onto the stage and dropped a coaster in front of the professor. Most of the coasters included notes of appreciation.

"You are a blessing to higher education and to the lives of students. You won't ever be forgotten," one student wrote.

Chapin would not say if he's interested in remaining Eckerd's president, but he said he's not worried about the college's future. "We're going to manage this without any kind of effect on the academic programs. I care a lot about this college, so whatever I can do to help, I'm willing."

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