Messages from President Roellke

Kindness, empathy and agency are the hallmarks of many of the comments and messages from President Roellke, and you will see many of those themes repeated in his ongoing communications and public statements. Below are some of his most recent posts and appearances.

Previous webinars related to COVID-19 mitigation and testing are posted by date on Safer Stetson under Latest Updates. 

Upcoming Webinars

Rolks Report Live: Campus Climate Webinar, Spring 2021 Update

Thursday, April 15, 4:30-5:30 p.m.

Join President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, for a Campus Climate report update on progress and work to date, and plans for moving the university forward in Fall 2021. The webinar will include progress reports and discussions with the co-chairs of the three working groups: Stetson Culture, Inclusive and Transparent Communication, and the Relationship between Stetson and DeLand. The webinar will include updates from the president on the President’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group and progress on the President’s Cabinet commitments.

Have questions? Get answers by submitting your question prior to the webinar and it will be sent to the panelists to answer. Submitted questions will be answered during the webinar either by the panelists or through a direct response. Similar questions are consolidated.

Registration for Rolks Report Live: Campus Climate Webinar on Thursday, April 15, 4:30-5:30 p.m., is now open.

Panelists:

Stetson Culture Co-Chairs:

Sven Smith, Associate Professor of Sociology

Carmen Johnson, Director of Diversity Initiatives and Recruitment, College of Law

Relationship between Stetson and DeLand Co-Chairs:

Savannah-Jane Griffin, Executive Director of Community Engagement and Inclusive Excellence Bud Hanson, Assistant Professor of Practice and Executive Director of Professional and Corporate Education

Inclusive and Transparent Communication Co-Chairs:

Andy Dehnart, Visiting Assistant Professor of Communications and Media Studies

Lisa Diliberto, Director of Communications and Marketing, College of Law

A Special Rolks Report Live Webinar: The Vaccination Webinar

Webinar Transcript

President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD and a panel of experts held a A Special Rolks Report Live webinar for the Stetson community on Wednesday, April 14 to discuss the status of COVID-19 vaccination and latest local and national updates.

The panel included

  • Dr. Christopher Smith, AdventHealth DeLand-Daytona Beach Chief Medical Officer, discussed AdventHealth vaccination efforts, new variants and the importance of getting vaccinated.
  • Asal Mohamadi Johnson, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Public Health, Stetson University; Co-Director of the public health program; and Volusia-DOH Biological Scientist IV, Division of Epidemiology. Johnson is part of the Volusia-DOH COVID-19 Epidemiology team investigating COVID-19 infections in college and university students. She debunked myths and inaccurate information about the vaccine.
  • Patricia Boswell, MPH, Administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County, who is leading Volusia’s DOH vaccination efforts, discussed vaccination trends in Volusia, local COVID-19 trends and information, and staying safe in colleges and universities.
  • Lynn Schoenberg, Dean of Students and co-chair of the Safer Campus Task Force: What vaccinations mean for the fall.
  • Johana Burgos, RN, Director of Stetson Health Service: How to get vaccinated, and the importance of continuing to follow health and safety guidelines.
  • Jeff Altier, Director of Athletics: What vaccinations mean for student-athletes and athletics, direction of the regional and national conferences, and plans for the fall.
  • Ocean Crawley-Sweeney ’22, junior Molecular Biology and Public Health double major, WELL Team Program Lead and member of the Women’s Lacrosse Team, along with other students, will discuss their vaccination experiences.
  • Jasmaine Tinsley ’21, is a graduating senior and History major from Atlanta. She is President of Hatter Productions, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and will share the importance of being vaccinated.

Rolks Report Live Webinar: Safer Campus Task Force and Budget Discussion

Webinar Transcript

President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD held a Rolks Report Live webinar for the Stetson community on Thursday, Feb. 25 to discuss updates from the Safer Campus Task Force and budget plans and changes following the Feb. 18 and 19 Board of Trustees meeting.

The panel included

  • Updates from the Safer Campus Task Force on changes since January and planning for spring.
  • Updates from CFO and EVP Bob Huth on discussions at the recent Board of Trustees meeting and plans for university budgeting this spring and next academic year.
  • Updates from EVP and provost Noel Painter, PhD, on Fall 2021 academic planning.
  • Introduction of Stetson’s new Associate Vice President for Finance and Controller Jeremy DiGorio, who is joining Stetson from Rollins College.

Values Day - Hindsight 2020

Thursday, Feb. 11

President Chrisopher F. Roellke, PhD, led the Values Day - Hindsight 2020 webinar focused on acknowledging and reflecting on the racial injustices that have occurred throughout history and explore what we as a Stetson community have learned from one another and how we are moving forward to create a more just and hopeful future for all.

The panel offered perspectives from:

  • Research on "Slavery and the Struggle for Freedom in East Florida" by the Community Education Project, with Andy Eisen, PhD, Visiting Assistant Professor of History
  • Collaboration between Volusia Remembers Coalition and the Equal Justice Initiative in acknowledging Volusia County’s history of racial terror lynching
  • Insights from Sharmaine Jackson, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology, gained during community discussions and her webinar series "Race in the 21st Century"
  • Stetson students and their involvement with organizations on, and off, campus

Grants and Faculty Innovation

President Chrisopher F. Roellke, PhD, was joined by the Stetson University office of Grants, Sponsored Research and Strategic Initiatives, Dean Elizabeth Skomp, PhD, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Professor of World Languages and Cultures (Russian), Melinda Hall, Associate Professor of Philosophy & Dept. Chair, Department of Philosophy and Brown Center Faculty Fellow for Scholarship and Publication, and the Faculty team making up the Principal Investigators for a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to discuss the many ways recent grants are helping to fuel faculty research opportunities.

National Politics and Stetson

Thursday, Jan. 21

If you have problems playing the video, you can directly visit the video's webpage for access.

Transcript of webinar.

President Christopher F. Roellke held a political roundtable following the events of Jan. 6 on Capitol Hill, impeachment proceedings, and Wednesday's inauguration and its impact on perceptions of political leaders, parties and politics in general. Joining the webinar were Louis Virelli, professor and expert in Constitutional Law; David Hill, professor and chair of Political Science; Andy Dehnart, visiting assistant professor in Communications and Media Studies; Elizabeth "Libba" Galloway, professor of Business Law; George Alderman, '21, who wrote an open letter to Republican leadership that has received national attention; Aliya Cruise, '21, who appeared in a Voice of America article in June 10 as a member of the Stetson Black Student Association, BSA, titled “On Racism, Young Americans Say Change Takes Effort”; and Joshua Finkelstein and Daniel Hendrick, president and vice-president of SGA who wrote an open letter to students following the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill.

The Inauguration and Stetson Values

National Politics

While the first few days of 2021 did not begin any less tumultuous than the past 10 months have been, I nevertheless remain optimistic for our future. As members of this learning community, we have an opportunity to forge paths toward unity and recognition of our shared humanity that seem to elude us at a national level. In alignment with our mission and values, we are called to face these issues with open hearts and minds, and address divergent views with civility as fully engaged citizens of our campus, communities and world.

The university leadership has closely followed the social media and news reports surrounding the events in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, and afterward. Given an FBI warning regarding potential attacks on state capital buildings on Sunday, Jan. 17, and the uncertainty surrounding Inauguration Day on Wednesday, Jan. 20, I want to let you know how Stetson University is responding.

Chief Cisco Ortiz, director of Public Safety, met with local law enforcement and strategized ways to increase patrols and collaborate to keep our campus safe over the next week. Emergency Management Teams at both campuses will be monitoring the situation and will be present on campus.

The events of the next few days may be filled with political speeches and commentary, but also with opportunities to witness history as it unfolds. As an educational institution, we take seriously our mission to “encourage the development of informed convictions, independent judgment, and lifelong commitments to learning that are characteristic features of the enlightened citizen” and therefore offer the following opportunities to engage in learning and constructive dialogue.

Leading up to this weekend and next Wednesday's inauguration,Stetson Votes is holding its Weekly Wrap-Up discussion and a watch party for the Inauguration Day speech. Details below.

  • Weekly Wrap-Up (online): Friday Jan. 15, 12-1 p.m. on Zoom. At Weekly Wrap-Ups, we talk about the week's political news! All are welcome, regardless of political opinion or level of knowledge. Register for the event at https://forms.gle/yJqde1Ja3JjZXSg57. DM @StetsonVotes on Instagram or email kwinchel@stetson.edu if you have any questions about the event.
  • Inauguration Watch Party (in-person): Wednesday Jan. 20, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. @ CUB Stetson Room. Watch and discuss President Biden's Inauguration with other Stetson students, faculty, and staff! Doors open at 11 a.m., and speeches/ceremonies typically begin at 11:30, lasting until 1:00 p.m. or so. Physical distancing, mask wearing, and capacity limits will be required. Sponsored by Stetson Votes. Cultural Credit event. DM @StetsonVotes on Instagram or email kwinchel@stetson.edu if you have any questions about the event.
  • Inauguration Watch Party (online): Wednesday Jan. 20, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., on Zoom. Watch and discuss President Biden's Inauguration with other Stetson students, faculty, and staff! Zoom will open at 11 a.m., and speeches/ceremonies typically begin at 11:30, lasting until 1:00 p.m. or so. Sponsored by Stetson Votes. Cultural Credit event. Register for the event at https://forms.gle/yJqde1Ja3JjZXSg57. DM @StetsonVotes on Instagram or email kwinchel@stetson.edu if you have any questions about the event. 

The evening of Wednesday, Jan. 20, 6:30 p.m., Stetson's Office of Diversity and Inclusion is hosting the virtual Martin Luther King Junior Life and Legacy event. The theme for this year is Recovering the Dream, and members of the Stetson community and DeLand will offer their resolutions to recognize and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I encourage the community to take part, and participants should register for the event at the link above.

On Thursday, Jan. 21, I will host a webinar on the events since Jan. 6 with Louis Virelli, professor and expert in constitutional law; David Hill, professor and chair of Political Science; Andy Dehnart, visiting assistant professor in Communications and Media Studies; and Elizabeth ‘Libba' Galloway, professor of business law. Register for the webinar and submit questions here.

Two Final Notes

First, remember to use www.stetson.edu/report-it for concerns. Our on-call, Public Safety and BEST teams are prepared and on alert as always.

Second, as some of you may be aware, we do have members of the community who are in the National Guard and have been deployed to Washington, D.C. Our thoughts are with them during the coming days as they protect our government and this country's citizens. We thank them for their service and are eager for their safe return to the Stetson campus.

In community,

Christopher F. Roellke, PhD

President

Professor of American Studies and Education

Message to the Stetson Community

Updated 4:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 8, 2021

Updated Message to the Stetson Community

At the opening of his Welcome Back Webinar on Thursday, Jan. 7, at 4 p.m., President Roellke updated his message to the Stetson community on the riots that broke out in our nation's capital. The video above is limited to his message, and the text of the message is posted below. For the entire webinar, visit the Safer Stetson page.

Text Version

Earlier today, I sent a brief message to the Stetson University community reflecting on our current national context and I would like to expand just a bit on those remarks prior to getting into the primary topic for today—updating you on public health information and our plans for the Spring 2021 semester.

Today, I join other leaders in American higher education and all members of the Stetson community in condemning the violent actions in our nation's capital. I do applaud Senate and House members, from both political parties, for returning to "the people's business" just a few short hours after a very harrowing experience for all. Early this morning the House and Senate completed that work, and in less than two weeks there will be a transfer of power and we all deserve and should expect a peaceful transition. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum or how you may feel about the outcome of our 2020 elections, I am certain that you share my view that there is no place for violence when we seek to settle disputes, whether they be large or small.

I join you as well in looking forward to a better, brighter, kinder and more humane 2021. All of us at Stetson and our fellow Americanswill take up the work of restoring confidence in our government and reaffirming our commitment to democracy and our commitment to each other.

As I have said throughout the fall semester and will continue to assert as we enter the Spring 2021 semester, there is no better place to tackle these critical issues than here at Stetson University. In my six months or so as your president, I have found Hatter Nation to be both collaborative and resilient and we remain committed to applying the very best forms of education to improve the human condition. Our emphasis on the whole student, values and citizenship at the undergraduate and graduate level and at the College of Law, positions Stetson to prepare our students and future leaders for the hard work we will face to heal the wounds of our country. Of course, we do not always agree on the socio-political context within which we live. In fact, as an educator, it is my hope that we will not always agree as the sharing of divergent perspectives --and conducting this sharing in a collegial and productive manner – makes all of us better.

In my view, what happened yesterday is both tragic and unacceptable and we collectively mourn the loss of life, and hope for the speediest and fullest of recoveries for those who have been injured. We also hope that, as we move forward as a nation and as a community, we will be able to do so peacefully in an effort to find common ground.

As an academic and residential learning community, I am certain that we will be part of the work to build a more equitable and just world. We will also strive at Stetson to be a model of how to productively engage in dialogue that encompasses divergent perspectives and world views. I am also certain that all of us are all feeling a mixture of emotions during this time. I ask that we all take time to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.

If you are struggling after the events in Washington, D.C., yesterday, the Stetson Hatter family is here for you. Whether you are scared, angry, hurt or confused, your feelings are valid and you deserve support. We hope you take comfort with family and friends and connect with other campus resources as needed.

Last semester, as we embraced themes of kindness, empathy and agency to navigate both racial unrest and a global pandemic — a pandemic that is regretfully very much still with us, we demonstrated as a community that we are much stronger together than we are divided. We also demonstrated that we are both a resilient and collaborative community that has the ability to plow through challenges judiciously, with care and with good judgment. As we enter the Spring 2021 semester, these challenges are still with us — but again, it is my belief that there is no better place to be to address these challenges than in higher education more broadly and at Stetson University specifically.

I remain at the ready, as your president, as a member of our faculty and as a member of our community. I remain ready to listen, to engage, to collectively problem solve, to collaborate and to act judiciously as we move the essential enterprise of education forward. 

Let me conclude by quoting my own mother, who just turned 90 years old a few short weeks ago, who asserted at my wedding: omnia vincit amor, omnia vincit amor.

Love conquers all things.

In community,

Christopher F. Roellke, PhD

President and Professor of American Studies and Education

President's Chat and Q&A for Students and Parents

Special President's Weekly Webinar: 2020 Election, What Happened?

Webinar Transcript

Special President's Weekly Webinar: 2020 Election, What Happened?

No matter our political viewpoint, we can all agree on one thing: This has been and continues to be a very different year. For months we've heard about mail-in ballots, voter fraud, possible lawsuits and the potential role of the Supreme Court and its newest member. Join President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, a panel of distinguished Stetson faculty, and staff and student political GOTV advocates, for a discussion on the recent Presidential Election and its outcome, if we know it.

Panelists   

  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD
  • Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, professor of law, with a focus on election law
  • David Hill, PhD, professor and chair of political science
  • Kelly Smith, PhD, assistant professor of political science
  • Amelia Maulfair, philosophy and political science '22, director of Stetson Votes
  • Kevin Winchell, associate director of Community Engagement
  • Sharmaine Jackson, PhD, JD, assistant professor of sociology and Africana studies

Open Forums

On Oct. 15, President Roellke hosted the first open forum resulting from the 2020 Campus Climate Survey. This forum was the first of upcoming opportunities the community will have to discuss race and Campus Climate issues and was open to students, faculty and staff. The moderator was Harry Price, PhD, associate professor for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and faculty director for the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence. Participants were encouraged to submit questions, comments and suggestions for the open forum in advance through an online form or the chat box during the forum.

Stetson University's Response to Social Media Image

Recently, a troubling image of a Stetson employee and her fiancé began re-circulating on social media. The image shows the employee, a white woman, and her fiancé, a black man, dressed for a costume party – an image seemingly simulating a master/slave dynamic.

We find the image deeply distressing. Moreover, as we reflect on the university's response – or, more accurately, lack of response – when we first learned of the image in 2016, we regret that we did not do more.

The employee apologized, expressing there was no malicious intent. In addition, corrective action, rooted in education, took place. However, as our campus community has more vigorously embraced the social justice movement – as we've explored our shortcomings as a campus community through the Campus Climate Survey, and more broadly as a society – we know that intent does not matter as much as impact. A gesture that marginalizes a people, that makes light of our country's deep and persistent wounds, is simply unacceptable. For the university's failure to fully recognize the gravity of this issue, and the hurt it has caused, we deeply apologize.

As a matter of policy and practice, and out of respect for our employees, past and present, we do not disclose specific personnel matters. We can assure you that we are taking this seriously, and that we will be carefully evaluating our next steps.

The image does not represent Stetson's mission or values, and with the racial injustice that still divides us, including the controversy surrounding the recent Breonna Taylor judicial decisions, there is already deep pain in our community. It enflames an already tense situation.

We can't help but reflect on this image through the lens of our recent Campus Climate Survey. As we indicated when we shared the results, we have much work ahead of us to truly move our institution to be a more inclusive and diverse community, and images such as these cause significant setbacks.

Our work on climate together goes beyond a single image or event. Even tonight as I joined a virtual Shabbat dinner with guests from off campus, our Hillel Zoom account was invaded and a hateful homophobic comment spewed toward members of our community. Again, this is unacceptable and we must eradicate this divisive and hurtful behavior.

We are striving to do better and we must do better.

Next week, we will be announcing a series of virtual meetings, open to the community, to hear your concerns around equity and race on our campus. I plan to host the first one. A meeting time and invitation will be sent out and I hope you will be able to attend. I will also make myself personally available for dialogue between myself and impacted members of our community.

In our context, we want to give specific time and space to address the issues that challenge us and to determine how Stetson may engage in reconciliation and healing.

I want to acknowledge and thank the many people on campus trying to create opportunities for healing. This is hard and often unrecognized work, and I want to dedicate myself to help lead our community through these challenges. I do want to remind you that counseling services is offering a series of Diversity Support Groups.Their schedule begins on Oct 1 at 3 p.m. and to participate or for more information on the Diversity Support Group, please contact Student Counseling Services or the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

We hear you, we see you and we are committed to having Stetson be a community where all members are welcomed, cherished and supported. Though I have only been a member of the Stetson University community for a few short months, I have come to admire our tenacity, our resilience, and our commitment to one another. When we fall short of this commitment, we must respond fully, collaboratively, and with an eye toward building a better future for all.

in community,

media/pres-sig.jpeg

Christopher F. Roellke, PhD

President

Professor of American Studies and Education

President's Weekly Webinar: Student Political Engagement and the 2020 Election

Webinar Transcript

President's Weekly Webinar: Student Political Engagement and the 2020 Election

Noel Painter, PhD, executive vice president and provost, guest hosted the president's weekly update webinar on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 4-5 p.m. In preparation for the upcoming national elections, the webinar focused on the critical role young adults play the political process and their potential impact on the 2020 election. Dr. Painter was joined by special guests, alumnus Jim Daughton '89, president, Metz, Husband & Daughton, P.A., Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, professor of law with a special focus on election law, and Amelia Maulfair '22, director of Stetson Votes. The guest panel examined Stetson University's unique legacy within the national and state-level political system as a non-partisan advocate, mission of promoting the active citizenship necessary to addressing the many challenges facing our nation and on-going support for racial equality and racial justice issues. Guests also discussed special interest areas including voting in a pandemic, campaign spending, student voter education and turn-out rates, and political involvement versus partisan politics. 

Panelists   

  • Noel Painter, PhD, executive vice president and provost
  • Jim Daughton ‘89, president of Metz, Husband & Daughton, a legislative affairs firm
  • Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, professor of law, with a focus on election law
  • Amelia Maulfair, philosophy and political science '22, director of Stetson Votes

Moderator

  • Kevin Winchell, associate director of Community Engagement

Previous webinars are posted by date on Safer Stetson under Latest Updates. 

President's Weekly Webinars

Join President Christopher Roellke, PhD, for his weekly update as Fall 2020 gets underway. The webinars are open to students, faculty, staff and the Stetson community for DeLand and Gulfport. Participants can register to attend the weekly webinars through the links below. Information on additional participants will be provided prior to the event.

With classes starting Thursday, Aug. 13 in DeLand and Monday, Aug. 17 in Gulfport, the president's webinars have been moved from 1-2 p.m. to 4-5 p.m. to avoid conflict with class schedules for students and faculty.

President's Weekly Webinar: Student Political Engagement and the 2020 Election

Join this weekly update webinar on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 4-5 p.m. With the national elections looming large, Stetson University will host a webinar to discuss how Stetson students are involved in the political process and the 2020 Election. We will be joined by special guests, alumnus Jim Daughton '89, President, Metz, Husband & Daughton, P.A., Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Professor of Law with a special focus on election law, and Amelia Maulfair '22, Director of Stetson Votes.

Panelists:   

• Jim Daughton ‘89, President of Metz, Husband & Daughton, a legislative affairs firm

• Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Professor of Law, with a focus on election law

• Amelia Maulfair, Philosophy and Political Science '22, Director of Stetson Votes

• Kevin Winchell, Associate Director of Community Engagement (moderator)

Thursday, Oct. 1, 4-5 p.m. Register for the webinar now.

If you have comments or questions for the President's weekly update please use the form.

Previous webinars are posted by date on Safer Stetson.

 

Convocation, Aug. 12, 2020

Convocation has a rich and long history at Stetson University. It's a time when the university comes together to celebrate the beginning of the new academic year, and this will clearly be a time of firsts. This is the first Convocation at Stetson for President Roellke, and for the class of 2024, perhaps it is an appropriate start of their university life. Raised in the shadow of 9/11 and the great recession of 2008, many of them have known and overcome hardships and obstacles to be here.

Just as Convocation started, one of Florida's well-known evening thunderstorms hit the DeLand area, causing a few technical difficulties for students, faculty and staff participating in the event. For those who have not had a chance to see the entire event, here is the full video with all of the welcomes and commentary from Stetson's leadership. For those who want to read a copy of President Roellke's remarks, The Importance of Kindness, a full copy is available here.

Convocation Presenters

  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Welcome
  • Pastor Demetris Pressley, Executive Pastor at Tabernacle of Praise and University Chaplain: Invocation
  • Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Breakiron-Evans '76: Board of Trustees welcome
  • Student Government Association President George Alderman '21: Address to Class of 2024, Litany for the Community, Hatter Community Pledge
  • Executive Vice President and Provost Noel Painter, PhD: New Academic Year, New Realities
  • College of Law Dean Michèle Alexandre, JD: Welcome
  • School of Business Administration Dean Neal Mero, PhD: Welcome
  • du-Pont Ball Library and Learning Technologies Dean Sue Ryan, MLS: Welcome
  • School of Music Dean Tim Peter, DMA: Welcome
  • College of Arts and Sciences Dean Elizabeth Skomp, PhD: Welcome
  • Associate Professor of Music Craig Maddox, DM, 2018-2019 McEniry Award: Announcement of 2019-2020 McEniry Award winner
  • Stetson Honors Council President Isabelle Ghofrani '21: Honor Pledge
  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Importance of Kindness
  • Pastor Demetris Pressley, Executive Pastor at Tabernacle of Praise and University Chaplain: Benediction
  • Alma Mater

Fall 2020 Faculty and Staff Meeting

With Lee Chapel in the background, President Christopher F. Roellke opened the Fall 2020 Faculty and Staff meeting. He was joined by members of the Stetson community to welcome faculty and staff back to Stetson University for the fall after an unusual COVID-19 spring term and long summer of planning and preparation.

Fall 2020 Faculty and Staff Presenters:

  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Welcome
  • Sensei Morris Sullivan, University Chaplain: Invocation
  • Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Breakiron-Evans '76: Board of Trustees welcome
  • Executive Vice President and Provost Noel Painter, PhD: New Academic Year
  • Vice President Lua Hancock, EdD, CLaSS: Safer Stetson
  • Associate Vice President Bonita Dukes, Facilities Management: Safer Spaces
  • Dean of Students Lynn Schoenberg, EdS: Co-Chair, Safer Campus Task Force – DeLand
  • Professor Terri Radwan, JD: Co-Chair, Safer Campus Task Force – Gulfport
  • President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD: Planning & Principles for Moving Forward

Message to the community, July 7

Dear Members of the Stetson University Community,

First and foremost, I write today with the hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe and well during this exceptionally challenging time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all of us in a myriad of ways and the virus has been especially difficult for the most vulnerable members of our community. We are also living in a time of tremendous socio-political unrest, and we have much work ahead of us to promote a diverse and inclusive community. We must be vigilant in our commitment to eradicate racism and injustice at every turn, and to ensure that the lived experience at Stetson is one that is fully aligned with our stated mission and values. Recent decisions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have further complicated our pursuit of equality of educational opportunity for so many highly valued members of our community.

Though I have been your president for less than one week, I do want you to know how much I appreciate the virtual welcoming I have received. Universally, you have reaffirmed for me that Stetson University is filled with caring, thoughtful, and insightful people—all of whom want to make a positive difference in our community and in the world.

Robust presidential transition plans, led by Board of Trustees Chair Maureen Breakiron-Evans, have been necessarily altered due to the pandemic. However, I am grateful that I was afforded the opportunity by President Emerita Wendy Libby to be actively engaged with so many of you over the last four months in much of the hard work associated with planning for Fall 2020 and beyond. I do feel as though I know Stetson better and more fully because of my participation in this unexpected series of intense dialogue and problem-solving sessions.

Our Safer Stetson Task Force has worked tirelessly to put in place smart, common-sense guidelines to promote the safety and well-being of our community. Our budget prioritization working group in DeLand, and committee at the College of Law, both composed of broad campus constituencies, quickly and diligently made recommendations for necessary reductions in our 2020-2021 budget. At both campuses, our deans and faculty have worked, and continue to work, to reimagine our academic calendar and modes of instructional delivery. This is just a small sampling of the meaningful and important collaborations that have taken place over the last several months. These efforts have been extraordinary and have been conducted under very trying circumstances in a highly evolving context. I thank you for this work. 

Regretfully, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, particularly right here in Florida. Infection rates and hospitalizations are increasing at an alarming rate, including here in Central Florida where ICU beds are quickly reaching capacity.

I know you join me in expressing concern for all of those that have fallen ill and in extending our deepest condolences to those members of our community who have lost loved ones. Many in our community are essential workers and have put their own health at risk while striving to serve others. It is both our individual and collective responsibility to do all that we possibly can to mitigate the spread of this virus. We must act quickly, judiciously, and compassionately.

In typical Stetson fashion, we have not remained idle. Many of you advocated so effectively to urge the passing of a mask ordinance in the City of DeLand. You have adjusted to remote work with creativity, patience and ingenuity. You have joined me in making considerable sacrifices in compensation, benefits, professional travel and other expenditures to enable our students to make progress in completing a Stetson education. For all of this, I again extend my most sincere appreciation and admiration.

As we move forward in this rapidly changing and increasingly challenging context, I also want to acknowledge that we will be required to make additional adjustments in the coming weeks as we prepare for Fall 2020 and beyond. Most certainly, there are divergent perspectives on how best to proceed to promote the very best form of education Stetson can provide within the context of a pandemic that is not being contained. Our decision-making must be inclusive, collaborative, nimble, and timely.

Toward this end, I have established a much accelerated “listening and learning tour” to garner perspectives from a wide range of constituents, including virtual meetings with faculty senate leadership, students (including the leadership of the SGA and MSC), the staff advisory council, the academic deans, the dean's advisory committee at Stetson Law, members of the board of trustees (most of them alumni), vital community partners and others. In addition, I am committing to conducting weekly live and interactive webinars every Thursday beginning on July 16th with the goal of engaging our entire community as transparently and consistently as possible. In short, I thank you for your patience and understanding while we work on these critical issues in a very compressed time frame.

Over the next several weeks, there will be emergency meetings of presidents of both the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN) and the Pioneer Football League (PFL). In addition, I am fortunate to be selected as part of the Educational Advisory Board's (EAB) first cohort of over 50 new college and university presidents who will meet virtually for two hours every week for the next six weeks. I am certain that these and other forms of engagement will be very instructive and reaffirming to both me and to our University as we navigate this unprecedented context.

I know that this introductory communication with you is inherently incomplete and lacks the clarity we all desire at this moment. You are also eager to learn of the longer-term priorities your new president would like to establish. Articulating these longer-term priorities and aspirations must be postponed as our energy and intellectual capacities must be directed to our most urgent challenges. In the spirit of transparency and with a call for collaboration, these are the key short-term goals I shared with the Board of Trustees at their meeting on June 25th:

  1. To promote the health, safety, and well-being of our community in a period of considerable uncertainty, anxiety, and risks to public health.
  2. To listen carefully to members of our community to garner multiple perspectives on our current context, with special emphasis on public health, racial justice, and the University's finances.
  3. To operationalize a presidential communication plan so that the community is informed regularly on our COVID-19 response.
  4. To sustain and enhance the positive relationship Stetson enjoys with the broader DeLand and Gulfport communities by fostering additional collaborations during this pandemic.
  5. To consider appropriate mechanisms for productive, collegial, and sustained interactions among students, faculty, staff and senior leadership and the board of trustees.

As I indicated in my first address to the Stetson community back in November of last year, “I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers to the challenges and opportunities facing higher education more broadly or for Stetson more specifically. What I can pledge, however, is that I will always be committed to working with you collaboratively, with openness, with honesty, and with steadfast integrity as we seek to educate our students to lead society judiciously to good ends.”

It is with all humility and with full acknowledgment of my own limitations as an educator/leader, that I accept the challenge to move our beloved Stetson University forward. I accept this challenge with optimism, with confidence, and with tremendous excitement about Stetson's future.

I'd like to close my first official correspondence to the Stetson community with one additional remark I made during my introductory speech upon being selected as Stetson's 10th President. I think these words, which were inspired by childhood educator Fred Roger's claim that “the way to ultimate success is to be kind,” are particularly relevant today:

Kindness not only matters, it enables us to listen, to engage with others unlike ourselves, and to consider paths we can forge together to make our community, in fact, the world-- a better place.

Difficult, and in some cases painful, decisions lie ahead for Stetson. I am convinced that kindness will go a long, long way to ensuring as positive an outcome as possible for all of us.

Stay safe, stay well, and stay strong.

Sincerely yours,

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Chris Roellke, PhD
President