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UWF's Saunders: 'We've Survived a Number of Storms'

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University of West Florida President Martha Saunders delivered the first virtual “State of the University” address Thursday.  It was a classic example of “sulfur and molasses.”

“It’s been quite a year on the good ship, Argo,” Saunders said. “We’ve sailed a lot of rough seas, we’ve survived a number of storms, but we have amassed a great deal of treasure.”

First, the molasses.

“The state of the University of West Florida is sound because of you,” said Saunders. “Our enrollment is up; our fundraising is up. And we continue to give our students the quality experience that they deserve.”

Despite the challenges of dealing with the novel coronavirus, the president said faculty and staff are making sure UWF is keeping true to providing a high-quality education, research and community engagement. That includes appearing on a number of honor rolls.

“Collaborative governance; professional career development programs, compensation and benefits,” Saunders said. “Facilities, workplace, and security.  [Also] job security; work-life balance, and respect and appreciation.”

Among other honors, the school remains among the top-15 regional universities in the South by U.S. News and World Report; special recognition was also given in a number of areas.

“As a regional university, top public schools; social mobility, best colleges for veterans, and most innovative schools,” said Saunders. “We were named a Gold Level military-friendly school. And, we won a national championship in football.”

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Praise also went out to UWF faculty and staff, for stepping up most recently during and after Hurricane Sally, but also through Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vetoes of key programs, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Now, the sulfur. West Florida continues to face the life-threatening virus, and the economic impact it’s bringing.

“We’re currently undertaking a budget-reduction exercise, that very likely will be implemented soon; and we’re bracing for a significant hit,” said Saunders. “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.”

While Saunders concedes this will be another tough year, she adds that “We are not helpless.”

“Because we have the tools we need to persevere; we have a strong ship and an able crew,” Saunders said. “Over the past years we have weathered storms. We will persist as we always have, and we will be stronger when we get to the other side.”