Eckerd College was in crisis when Donald Eastman took over as president 18 years ago. But under his steady leadership, the private St. Petersburg college has flourished and Eastman has distinguished himself as a compelling advocate for a well-rounded liberal arts education.
Eastman, 73, announced this week he plans to retire in June 2020. When he took the helm in 2001, a spending scandal had drained the school's endowment and damaged its community standing. Within three years, Eastman, who came from the University of Georgia, had replenished Eckerd's coffers and restored its reputation by being a transparent leader and sincere listener. He created a collaborative culture, which made him well-liked by the faculty. During his tenure, Eckerd was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, student programs expanded and buildings and sports facilities on campus were modernized, including the construction of a $15 million library.
But for all the brick-and-mortar improvements, the most distinctive aspect of Eastman's legacy is his voice. In speeches and in guest columns in the Times, Eastman lamented the shifting emphasis in higher education on potential earnings after graduation. "Students' contributions to our world - including service to our country, our communities, our schools and those in need around the world - and colleges' success in preparing them, should not be measured by the salaries they will earn, but by the contributions they will make to build a better world," he wrote in 2013.
Eastman understands his mission to educate students so they will become well-rounded citizens, and he will leave Eckerd College well-positioned to continue fulfilling that vision.