dr saunders speaking on stage

State of the University

Please join President Martha D. Saunders for the 2020 Virtual State of the University Address.


President Saunders' 2020 State of the University Address

Welcome to the State of the University Address 2020. This year is a little different. We are having this event virtually and it’s going to be aired in a number of different media channels. I really do miss seeing you all here in person and I look forward to the day when we can be together again in this room. 

Well, it’s been quite a year on the good ship, Argo. We’ve sailed a lot of rough seas. We’ve survived a number of storms, but we have amassed a great deal of treasure. We measure our treasure in a number of ways, but one in particular are the recognitions that we earn for all of the hard work that you do. 

We won a HEED award this year for the fifth time, for the third year in a row; and this prestigious recognition for diversity and inclusion is a credit to the hard work of Dr. Kim LeDuff and her talented staff in the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Affairs. I especially want to mention and recognize Dr. Greg Tomso and his awesome honor students because they are sponsoring now, a very important “Race and Community” dialogues and discussions in the community. 

For the eighth time, we have been named as a Great College to Work For. This a recognition that comes from you. It comes from our employees who complete a survey and talk about what they think is working well. This year, we were on the honor roll for several different areas and they are: Collaborative Governance; Professional/Career Development Programs; Compensation and Benefits; Facilities, Workspace and Security; Job Satisfaction; Work/Life Balance; Confidence in Senior Leadership; Supervisor/Department Chair Relationship; and Respect and Appreciation. This is a testimony to the great caring environment that is built by our Human Resources department and I want to give a real shoutout to Jamie Sprague and her team for all the work they do for our employees. 

Once again, we were named to the top 15 public regional universities in the south by U.S. News and World Report. We were given special recognition this year in several areas. One as a regional university, top public schools, social mobility, best colleges for veterans and most innovative schools. 

We were named a gold level military-friendly school with much credit going to Lori Milkeris and the guys over in the MVRC. 

And we won a national championship in football. Thank you Coach Shinnick. 

We charted a few new courses as well. Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, we now have a named school of music, named for a beloved former faculty member Grier Williams. 

This year, our development team, under the leadership of Howard Reddy, has raised the most new cash gifts in the history of the University. 

We were the only school in the State University System to make a perfect ten in metric one in the performance based funding metrics. Now metric one is the one that measures whether our students are employed or in graduate school a year after graduation. Now that tells me that UWF students are very much in high demand.  

Provost Ellenberg and his war room warriors stay focused. They have been a mainstay of our metric effort and it shows as our numbers have stayed strong over the years.  

We earned professional accreditations in teacher education and in engineering. Now these are rigorous reviews, high standards that really show recognition of best practices so I certainly congratulate Dean William Crawley and Dean Jaromy Kuhl and their talented faculty for the work that they have done there. 

The Usha Kundu College of Health has created a number of innovative ways for us to reduce the price of textbooks, a very important area for our students. 

Our students distinguished themselves through a number of competitions including the UWF cyber team, our engineering and robotics team, and our business teams just to name a few. 

Our faculty continue to do meaningful, relevant research such as working with the Navy and the development of parachute training devices, or testing for bacteria in local waters. Hospitality and tourism and supply chain management are taking center stage and working with industry leaders to figure what is going to happen next. 

The Sea3D Lab has been manufacturing face shields, free of charge, for use by local health care professionals. 

And you all deserve a trophy for the sheer resilience you showed when we were hit with COVID-19, the governor's vetoes of significant programming and Hurricane Sally. For all your efforts that are too numerous to list, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

You know in an interesting way, the global pandemic has brought out the best in us. We have found creative solutions to immediate challenges. We have worked harder than we ever imagined and with the agility I have come to expect from UWF, we have adapted to a new reality. 

I wish I could tell you that the storm has subsided, but I can’t. We are still facing serious challenges including the very real presence of a life threatening virus in our midst and the economic fallout that is certain to follow. We are currently undertaking a budget reduction exercise that very likely will be implemented soon and we are bracing for a significant hit.  

The decisions we make now regarding University resources will be thoughtful. They may be painful but they will be in the best interest of our students and the mission of the University.

It’s going to be another tough year, but we are not helpless because we have the tools we need to persevere. We have a strong ship and an able crew. The state of the University of West Florida is sound because of you. Our enrollment is up, our fundraising is up and we continue to give our students the quality experience that they deserve. We have mined areas of research that are paying off and our community supports us. 

Over the past years, we have weathered storms and endured in an environment that no one alive has experienced. We will persist as we always have and we will be stronger when we get to the other side. 

We’re the Argos and it’s an honor to be your president. 

So now, just for a moment, sit back and take a breath. Marvel at all we have accomplished over the past year and imagine what we can be.