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UWF President Martha Saunders Reflects On Her First Year (Part 1 Of 3)

Bob Barrett/WUWF News

It has been a little over a year since Dr. Martha Saunders took over as President of The University of West Florida. She sat down WUWF's Bob Barrett to talk about that first year and her vision for the future of the university.

  • Dr. Saunders said the difference between being provost and being president is one of visibility and of pace. "As president you set the pace" said Saunders, who also spoke about visibility. "I'm in front of a different bunch of people [than as provost]. I still spend as much timer as I possibly can on campus with the people that make UWF work, but I'm spending an awful lot of time, certainly more than half my time with external audiences. I believe I have spoken to every Rotary Club in, just about [the whole state of] Florida, and certainly a lot of [other] different groups. The legislature takes a good bit of my time and attention. So I spend a good bit of time looking outward and talking to external groups.
  • One of Dr. Saunders' goals for her first year was getting another of the university's colleges named, and that happened just one month in. On February first the UWF College of Health was renamed the  Usha Kundu MD College of Health at The University of West Florida. She said there may be a similar announcement coming up. "We've had some conversations [recently]. It may not happen this year. But we have a 'hot prospect' for one of the colleges, and I won't mention the name just yet or the college because I don't want anyone to be disappointed.
  • UWF had an issue this year, as did sone other universities in the state, with fraternities. Dr. Saunders said the problem is on the minds of the administration. "Certainly you can't pick up [a newspaper] and not see some horror story about it. We feel good because we did have an issue this year, but when we looked back we hadn't had any issues in five or six years. So it's not a chronic problem [at UWF]. It's one we're serious about. I think we took appropriate action. We removed a fraternity. We put a sorority on probation for further investigation. We are absolutely serious about it and hope that we are doing the right things about.
  • The issue of sexual harassment has been in the news recently. Dr Saunders says the university is on top of that issue, too. "We do have harassment training. All of our employees are involved in that and are required to undergo discrimination and harassment training. It's on top of mind. And, again, is [an issue] that I feel like there are always issues. They are not prevalent here, you know we don't have an epidemic. And I think that's because for many years it has been top of mind at the university and it's something that we spend a lot of time talking about and making sure that everybody understands." Dr. Saunders adds that if you really "want to make the president mad, then abuse someone who is vulnerable on this campus."
  • On a happier note, this year saw UWF make its name in Division II College Football. Dr. Saunders says that has given the university "a lot of exposure. We couldn't buy the kind of visibility and attention that that little two year old football team got us! Internally everybody was all excited. The community was excited about it. But it was kind of a wonderful fairy tale, too. Here came a brand new, fledgling program. Just have a winning season would have been good. But to go all the way to the playoffs (and the National Championship Game) is a fairy tale story that everybody loves. Who doesn't love to see the little engine that could come out and deliver?"
Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.