Messages from President Roellke

Wednesday, July 8, Weekly Webinars

Join President Christopher Roellke, PhD, for his weekly update as the university moves toward Fall 2020 and addresses the issues associated with the pandemic and the health and safety of the Stetson community. This is open to students, faculty and staff 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.

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

Thursday, July 16, 1-2 p.m.
President's Weekly Update webinar
Posted to Safer Stetson

Thursday, July 23, 1-2 p.m.
President's Weekly Update webinar
Posted to Safer Stetson

Thursday, July 30, 7-8 p.m.
President's Weekly Update webinar
Posted to Safer Stetson

Thursday, Aug. 6, 1-2 p.m.
President's Weekly Update webinar
Register now

Thursday, Aug. 13, 7-8 p.m.
President's Weekly Update webinar
Register now

Thursday, Aug. 20, 1-2 p.m.
President's Weekly Update webinar
Register now

Thursday, Aug. 27, 7-8 p.m.
President's Weekly Update webinar
Register now

Tuesday, 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,

Chris Roellke, PhD