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Eckerd’s president steps down; Dean named interim leader

Mark Parker

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On June 15, the Eckerd College Board of Trustees announced its appointment of Dr. James Annarelli as interim president. Photo by Kaitlyn Willgohs/eckerd.edu/news.

Just five days after Eckerd College President Damián J. Fernández announced his resignation, the school’s board of trustees appointed a known commodity in Dean of Students James Annarelli to serve as his interim replacement.

Fernández’s last day as president is Aug. 1, and Annarelli will assume his role the following day.

In a June 15 letter addressed to the Eckerd Community, Board of Trustees Chair Ian Johnson announced Annarelli’s appointment, citing his long history at the college, academic credentials and deep affection for the school’s faculty, staff and students.

“The board supports the vision for the college developed under the leadership of President Damián J. Fernández, and we now look to Dr. Annarelli, the executive team and the faculty to continue advancing those initiatives,” wrote Johnson.

“We are very committed to the principles of shared governance and responsibilities to continue our mission of providing the best quality liberal arts educational experience possible for all students.”

Johnson said achieving that goal would require everyone at the school to pull together in the face of a rapidly changing world. He added that during the transitional period this summer, the board and Fernández and Annarelli would work closely with the executive team to ensure a smooth start to the fall semester.

In a campuswide letter, Annarelli said there is no greater honor than receiving an opportunity to serve as president. He also expressed a deep love for an academic community he has been a part of for over three decades.

Annarelli arrived at Eckerd in 1990 as assistant director and coordinator of directed studies for the experienced learners’ program, the college’s form adult bachelor’s degree initiative. Before becoming vice president for student life and dean of students, Annarelli spent seven years as associate vice president of student affairs.

According to the school, Annarelli currently manages a staff of 75 and an annual budget of over $5 million. He also oversees advocacy and prevention services, the school’s athletic department and several other programs and offices. In his letter, he called Eckerd a strong institution by “all measures” and is experiencing “dynamic momentum” due to the leadership of Fernández and President Emeritus Donald Eastman.

“I am excited by the prospect of working together with you as we advance our college, in a spirit of open dialogue and with an unwavering commitment to building a representative, just and inclusive campus,” wrote Annarelli.

“As August approaches, I will be back in touch to begin planning with you the next chapter of our shared history.”

Annarelli’s appointment follows a June 10 email from Fernández announcing his intention to “step aside from the presidency,” citing “institutional and personal factors.”

Fernández joined the college in July 2020, during the height of the pandemic. He acknowledged the strain of leading an institution during such a tumultuous time.

“Though the job of a president is not a walk in the park or by the shore, it is a rewarding one,” wrote Fernández. “Leadership demands and drains; one must recharge.”

Current President President Damián J. Fernández will leave office Aug. 1. Photo by Angelique Herring/eckerd.edu/news.

Fernández called Eckerd’s management of Covid among the best in higher education. He also relayed that 2021 was the third-highest fundraising year in the history of the college, which exceeded its $10 million goal for the school’s Innovation Fund by $3 million.

He noted that Eckerd developed and launched a strategic vision bases on the college’s foundation values during his tenure, extending place-based education “that capitalizes on our unique position between the urban and the water’s edges.” Other listed accomplishments include the living shoreline project, the opening of the St. Pete Center, founding the Nielsen Center for the Liberal Arts and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Fernández said the last two years inspired him by what Eckerd is and what it will become, as it embraced change while preserving what matters the most.

“Change is not supposed to be easy,” wrote Fernández. “We have worked hard; we have differed on occasion and reached agreement on even more.

“We must be proud of the accomplishments we have achieved together.”

Fernández concluded by stating he plans to finish unread books, complete delayed writing projects, continue his service on national boards and advance his work in innovation, access and academic excellence in higher education.

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