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Opening Faculty and Staff Meeting

Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, shared a welcoming smile during the meeting.

In preliminary remarks last week during Stetson’s 2019 Opening Faculty and Staff Meeting at the Edmunds Center on campus, Joe Cooper ’79, MBA ’82, chair of Stetson’s Board of Trustees, commented: “You can feel the energy, anticipation and certainly some anxiety as our students begin or continue their journeys.”

The same could be said about the university as a whole. 

Following Cooper to the podium, Stetson Provost Noel Painter, PhD, also a professor of music, even banged a drum to mark the occasion — performing on a tongue drum, a version of a slit drum.

Provost Noel Painter, PhD, beat a drum — yes, literally.

The surprising sounds resonated and were, appropriately, quite dramatic. After all, much is poised to unfold on the campuses in DeLand and Gulfport, as well as satellite sites in Tampa and Celebration.

Presidential Search

The search Stetson’s 10th president is in full swing. President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, announced she will be retiring at the end of the academic year. Cooper called the early reactions from potential candidates to the search and the university’s presidential search prospectus “robust.” Candidates, he noted, include a diverse group of accomplished leaders from higher education and other sectors expressing interest. 

The search committee has been very active, he added, with more than 150 applications and nominations being diligently reviewed, evaluated, vetted and assessed.

The selection process is on schedule, with the target timeframe for naming a new president set for the end of November.

New Faculty and Staff

A total of 27 new and full-time faculty have arrived for the new academic year, joining several new adjunct faculty and more than 90 new staff members (having joined since this time last year).

Provost Painter’s message to them: “Stetson is full of people who have committed themselves to the advancement of this institution and its mission of education and enrichment.”

Additionally, there are three new deans: Tim Peter, DMA, School of Music; Elizabeth Skomp, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences; and Michèle Alexandre, JD, College of Law.

College of Law

Alexandre, who arrived this spring, announced the establishment of a new pinning ceremony for Stetson Law, to occur at the end of student orientation, as a sign of One Stetson — a community that has “key values,” she said. 

Also, she pointed to a new initiative at the Gulfport campus, called Stetson 2030.

portrait outside
Stetson Law Dean Michèle Alexandre: “We are shaping a vision for the institution … .”

“We are shaping a vision for the institution that we are building for resilience, and for leadership in legal academia and higher education for the next 10 years,” Alexandre explained, noting that this is occurring in the backdrop of Stetson Law’s 120th anniversary next year.

Priority areas for Stetson Law include national and international prominence through metrics, rankings and performance; and partnership innovation, among others, Alexandre said.


A summertime of collaboration regarding entrepreneurship and sales in the School of Business Administration was especially noteworthy, as were developments in health and science in the College of Arts and Sciences, according to Painter. 

“All of these activities and more emphasize our need to know our strengths, understand our mission and continually raise the bar for student learning,” he said.

Among the indicators of Stetson’s strong academic position is the result in June of the university’s Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges five-year interim report, which was “entirely successful” and without additional reports requested, Painter noted. The university’s 10-year reaffirmation quest will bring a campus visit by accreditors in spring 2022.

That accreditation process, Painter said, also will enable the university to see its strengths and weaknesses, further enhancing the academic mission, while pedagogical and curricula evolution will continue. 

New Graduate Programs for Business

Initially drawn to the School of Business Administration by the potential of additional programs outside of traditional undergraduate study, Giovanni Fernandez, PhD, executive director of Graduate Programs, pointed to the launch this fall of Stetson’s first online MBA.

Giovanni Fernandez, PhD, executive director of Graduate Programs, School of Business Administration

“Oftentimes, we think we have a good idea, but the market tells us otherwise,” said Fernandez, also an associate professor of finance. “Well, the market has spoken, and it has told us that the Stetson brand is strong.” 

The result: A class of more than 70 online MBA students has arrived, more than double the original goal. 

In addition, this fall the School of Business Administration is launching a dual Master of Healthcare Administration in Strategy & Innovation (MHA-SI) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA), partnering with AdventHealth University. Students now are able to spend time with faculty and students from both institutions — and with more to come soon in the form of leveraging new technologies, Fernandez said. The dual MHA-SI/MBA follows the model used by Stetson Law’s Juris Doctorate/MBA. 

Core Learning

Two years ago, the Core Learning Committee was formed to “identify and strengthen the connective tissues that hold the pieces of our core curriculum together,” reported Megan O’Neil, PhD, associate professor of English. And that work by faculty and staff continues today — with the belief that reflection and integration must take the same importance as writing, speaking and thinking.

“These are values that set Stetson apart, the values that steady our hands and our hearts as we work to teach and graduate humans full of promise and talent in their fields,” O’Neil said. 

Last year, under the vision of Ranjini Thaver, PhD, , professor of economics, the first-year seminar program began to stretch out and explore in new directions. Exploration included a common book experience, a renewed focus on academic work in the first weeks of the semester and creating a stronger sense of faculty ownership of this “vital piece of curriculum,” O’Neil explained.

Meanwhile, the Core Learning Committee listened to faculty and students about their experiences in the Junior Seminar, and this year begins with a more informed definition of its function and its vital place in the core curriculum.

This fall, according to O’Neil, the Core Learning Committee turns its attention to the final piece in the core-learning curriculum: the senior capstone experiences in the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Business Administration and the School of Music.

“We need to understand more deeply what students carry out into the world from their experiences here. To this end, Core Learning will be partnering with Career and Professional Development, as well as the Undergraduate Research Committee, to plan for enhanced integration of disciplinary concepts, critical intellectual skills and professional preparedness,” O’Neil said.

Last week’s move-in day at the DeLand campus was an especially busy one.

Enrollment Highlights

Although final tallies will be announced on Census Day, Sept. 9, President Libby provided a peek into what is her final incoming class as president:

  • 943 first-time-in-college students, compared to 895 last year and 868 in 2017
  • 125 transfer students, compared to 105 last year and 86 in 2017
  • Approximately 58% female and 42% male
  • 41% students of “color”
  • 27% from outside Florida (with New York leading the way)
  • Students from 41 states, 22 countries and 2 territories 
  • Average GPA of 3.82
  • 91 incoming Hatter Legacies — from families of Stetson graduates
  • Two transfer students who are Jack Kent Cooke national scholars
  • Multiple national Army ROTC scholarship recipients and the first Air Force ROTC scholarship recipient

Financial Strength

Libby reported that for the fifth time since 2010, Moody’s Investor Service reaffirmed Stetson’s A3 rating and outlook as being “stable.” Libby labeled the rating a “real badge of pride and success.”

Moody’s Investor Service cited the university’s positive financial status, “healthy” donor and alumni support, regional academic reputation, and endowment.

Planning for the Future

“Not content to rest on our laurels,” as Libby described, five meetings last spring came to be known as the Deltona meetings. Separate groups of pre-tenured faculty, tenured faculty, staff and students were asked to explore and discuss a wide variety of topics, with the following identified as “key issues” that will demand attention going forward:

  • Improve our reputation
  • Extend our high impact practices and global opportunities
  • Enhance career services and undergraduate advising
  • Provide more training to enhance transparency
  • Strengthen our sense of community and improve campus climate

Beyond Success … Significance

Libby concluded with what she believes is “one of the most transformative successes of this last decade” — the “Beyond Success … Significance” fundraising campaign, which ended on June 30.

The campaign raised more than $218 million on a total goal of $200 million and included 5,600 new donors who gave approximately $20 million.

Her words: “We have endowed scholarships, started new programs in areas of excellence and started new areas of excellence. We have funded programs that undergird our students’ success in academic learning and in athletics. We have renovated and built new buildings and put aside money for their maintenance over time.  And we have planned for our future by raising over $60 million in future gifts from donors’ estate and trusts.”

So, as the 2019-2020 academic year begins, what’s next?

More work, evolution and advancement, Libby asserted. 

“I see our major goal/responsibility is to deliver the best university for our next president — No. 10!” she said. “Our hopes for the future are tied up with our successes of the past and the groundwork we have laid in the present.”

-Michael Candelaria