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Focus more on the good aspects of Eckerd College

Published Jun. 28, 2000|Updated Sep. 27, 2005

With the reporting in the June 23 paper on Eckerd College's endowment crisis (Trustees gave lax financial oversight), the good name of my alma mater is once again smirched. Just as it was when the investment scheme failed several years ago, and just as it was when the College Harbor and College Landings deals were exposed, Eckerd College is being looked at by the Times in the worst light.

As both an alumnus and the son of alumni, including a member of the founding freshman class of 1964, I am sickened that my school is not being exposed for the good it has done. From the beginning, the Eckerd faculty sought to integrate its campus and offer its students the finest and broadest liberal arts education possible. Eckerd's autumn term and winter term courses led a trend of mini-semesters now mirrored nationwide. The marine science curriculum was one of the first in the nation at the undergraduate level and includes a former chairman of the U.S. Marine Mammals Commission on its staff. The Eckerd College Search and Rescue Team has assisted tens of thousands of boaters on Tampa Bay for free.

This is the legacy of Eckerd College, not the misguided financial leanings of people who are no longer there. It is that legacy that the Times needs to celebrate and report on its front page, and it saddens me greatly that you often choose not to.

Philip L. Hoffman, St. Petersburg

Armacost should have left long ago

Re: Eckerd College chief is retiring, June 21.

I read of the "resignation" of Dr. Peter Armacost from the presidency of Eckerd College with interest and a glimmer of hope.

As a graduate from the college's early days, I have watched (in dismay, from the sidelines) what he has done to my school. Arguably, he may have been the right person to pull the college back from the brink of collapse in the late 1970s. Be that as it may, I think he is characterologically unsuited to lead an academic institution of the nature of Florida Presbyterian/Eckerd College, which was founded on the principles of academic innovation, social activism, global ethics, egalitarianism and, perhaps most important, open discussion. His departure is at least 20 years overdue.

Under his leadership the faculty and staff have been terrorized. The college community recognizes his preoccupation with malignant control and revenge and hates him; many founding faculty retired prematurely in disgust. The college has come perilously close to losing its liberal arts accreditation, and a large proportion of alumni (myself included) have turned their backs and tended their gardens elsewhere (the college has a shockingly low rate of alumni giving).

None of this is secret. Yet, throughout all of this, the hand-picked board of trustees has been either in denial or utterly tame.

So, what to do? The appointment of Dean Lloyd Chapin as acting president seems appropriate. Then, I believe, the board of trustees needs to clean up the financial mess and consider whether a criminal investigation or civil remedies are indicated. It could also do with some honest soul-searching. Perhaps it can recapture the original vision of a respectful community of learners that once had almost all of us believing we were part of something special.

J. David Bassett, Ph.D., St. Petersburg

Armacost always put students first

As a May graduate from Eckerd College, I was was shocked to learn the extent of the college's financial troubles. As president of the student body for 1999-2000, I was aware of the immense challenges that President Peter Armacost, the executive staff and the board of trustees faced to maintain and improve top-of-the-line academic programs under such extraordinary circumstances.

Because the college is relatively young, financial support from our alumni covers only a tiny fraction of the college's financial needs. For 20 years, it has taken the vision, dedication and will of President Armacost to attract outside financial funding to keep the college on its feet.

But President Armacost is an individual who is defined by so much more than financial campaigns or entrepreneurial enterprises. He is a person who, in my four years at Eckerd, has changed countless lives and has defined himself by compassion and generosity.

It is the mission of Eckerd College to provide a powerful and transforming learning experience. President Armacost helped weave the fabric of such a noble and lofty cause and helped all of us find that spirit within ourselves by exemplifying its very creed.

President Armacost is a person who always put students first. He has been the steady role model and the strong father figure that so many of us needed while we were away from home during our college years. He has given his life to champion the advancement of society by helping to open the eyes of so many impressionable students to the needs of the world.

His legacy will live on with the success of Eckerd College in changing lives and in the hearts in minds of all of those he has touched.

Russ Wilson, Class of 2000, Lutz

Cause for outrage

Re: High price of innovation, June 26.

That Peter Armacost is retiring is almost enough to keep me silent. Almost. Unfortunately, any ecstatic celebration of that event was short-lived, and I am left with growing outrage when reading self-serving apologies from board members. It is suggested that the ineloquent Armacost was a good leader, innovative, visionary, even progressive, attaching to educational innovations put in place by the late, great Jack Bevan. Two-thirds of the school's not very big endowment (how good a job did Peter do?) is, indeed, a high price to pay for such adjectives. And now he gets a year's vacation and $187,000. The oft-failed J. Webster Hull has been rewarded with a six-figure send-off as well. An e-mail from board chairman Arthur Ranson to the college community last Friday informs us that the board has retroactively approved, in one day, the expenditures they "didn't know" about for years. And Dr. Armacost has been named "president emeritus."

How pathetic. When he retired after 35 years, my father, Pedro Trakas (founding faculty, professor emeritus) got a rocking chair. And my family is still waiting to hear how the school will honor him, how the money contributed when he died was spent.

Now we are told that the budget won't be balanced on the backs of students, faculty and staff. Too late. That happened years ago by way of frozen salaries and Ivy League tuition. Never mind that the splendid faculty and staff have always been the school's most significant resource _ most significant and least remunerated. Sounds like a labor issue, with big business carrying the bigger stick.

The pale mea culpas issuing from the board are disingenuous at best. To suggest the trustees didn't know is unbelievable. And how is it that no financial staff was in place to guard the coffer? Forget all the beautiful new buildings, what is to be made of the board's laissez faire approach to hiring the comptroller and staff that might have blown the whistle? And I'm counting the days until I get the first mailing from "Development" begging bucks to help "save" the school I knew as Florida Presbyterian College.

I hope the board of trustees will wake up from this self-described guiltless narcolepsy, reach deep into their souls (many once lovingly nurtured by the same splendid faculty and staff that are now at risk) and fix the disconnect that left them so utterly asleep at the wheel. At the very least they should reach deep into their pockets and replenish the deficit resulting from the "big grab" mentality of their guru, profit. Wringing $23-million from 52 millionaires seems an easy enough task. The pain of selling a few stocks is not a human one, and if it causes them to wince . . .

Chris Pedro Trakas, Class of '78, St. Petersburg

Security limitations are human ones

Re: June 16 letters accusing President Clinton of being responsible for the security breaches at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

I was a facility security officer at a defense contractor for seven years in the late '80s and early '90s. This made me responsible for enforcing rules and regulations relating to the security of classified information, for the protection of that classified information and for accountability among the employees. I learned quite a bit.

The Defense Investigative Service and the FBI make no bones about it: No security system is 100 percent infallible. None. Security is only as good as the weakest links in the chain, namely the employees who have access to classified information.

Nor is the purpose of security to prevent the theft or compromise of classified information/hardware. Given that the system is fallible, the purpose of security is to detect theft or compromise as swiftly as possible so that leaks may be closed and so that damage control can be undertaken.

The security system at Los Alamos is working exactly as it is intended to. The possible compromise/theft of information was uncovered. Damage control can now begin.

The security of this nation rests in the hands of tens of thousands of men and women in this country. We must rely on their sense of honor, duty and loyalty, not to mention their carefulness, to protect the information. And we rely on the system to tell us when the weak link has failed, before more damage can be done.

Clinton isn't even remotely responsible for this mess, just as Ronald Reagan wasn't responsible for the breaches in security during his term, including the FBI agent who turned spy.

The person(s) responsible are those who fail in their honor, loyalty, duty and care. And the fingers should point only at them.

Sue Brown, Wesley Chapel

Self-defense should have been at hand

It was too bad about the 56 New York City women who were assaulted by mobs in Central Park.

That wouldn't have happened to them here. We allow our women to carry concealed weapons, to defend themselves, in accordance with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Early Sorenson, Dunedin

We need more from Fonda than words

Re: Jane Fonda regrets posing with enemy, June 21.

Words, words, words! That's all we get from Hanoi Jane Fonda when what we really need from her is action, action, action. She has again apologized for her actions in Vietnam, where she encouraged the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong to kill American military personnel. But words are cheap.

She might warrant some consideration for forgiveness if she started giving away her big fortune to veterans relief programs and taking other action to assist military veterans, especially Vietnam War vets. As long as she lives in luxury, she can't be forgiven.

She laments that it's unclear whether she and husband Ted Turner are happier now that they have separated. Poor baby. Her troubles pale when compared with those of the American servicemen who died in Vietnam as an indirect result of her actions and of the loved ones they left behind.

Come on, Jane. It's still your move.

Donald R. Finley, Tarpon Springs

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