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Saunders Gives Upbeat State Of The University Address

UWF President Martha Saunders
UWF President Martha Saunders

University of West Florida President Martha Saunders delivered the annual State of the University address on Thursday and the Center for Fine Arts on campus.

“The state of the University of West Florida is sound; with incredible potential for growth,” said Saunders during her 17-minute address. She expressed gratitude for how the 2021-22 school year kicked off.

“We had a smooth start to the semester; we have record enrollment, we have so many people on campus,” said Saunders. “I never thought that I’d be happy to say that the parking lot is crowded, but this is a good thing for that to happen.”

They were looking cautiously to starting the new semester than the one before, said Saunders. UWF’s plan for re-opening had been approved by the Florida Board of Governors, students were back in the dorms, and a COVID vaccine — actually, three of them — were just about to roll out, and there was a little hope.

“And then, the combined impacts of Hurricane Sally, a broken bridge, a challenging legislative session, and the Delta variant, blew us off-course a time or two,” Saunders said. “But true to form, the Argonauts adapted and showed the resilient spirit for which we are known.”

The university pulled tougher, she said, in dealing with the unprecedented.

“The faculty and deans worked out the best and safest ways to conduct in-person classes; our staff found good paths for working remotely, or on flex schedules without loss of productivity," said the president. “We increased online services for our students, including high-demand mental health counseling.”

The Good Ship Argo, Saunders told the gathering, remains afloat, but added that there are still rough waters ahead.

“COVID is still with us; and as guidance changes, we will adapt — because we know how,” she said. “And a few of our buildings are just plain wearing out. We’re going to be addressing those challenges this year, and looking forward to many other challenges that we will solve together.”

For now, one of the main jobs is “redrawing the charts” in areas such as the university’s master planning, along with strategic planning, enrollment planning and diversity planning. With changing scenarios thanks to the pandemic, Saunders says more questions are arising about the future.

“Do we need more building? Fewer buildings? Different buildings? Can employees work remotely, effectively?” asked Saunders. “Can we expand our presence? Should we build a stadium on campus? The answers to these questions will shape us for years to come.”

Another area getting “laser-focused” attention will be student retention and graduation.

“Despite tremendous progress on those metrics, too many of our students are still falling off before completing their degrees,” said Saunders. “We will continue to build recognition for UWF as a top-performing university in the state of Florida.”

UWF president Martha Saunders left the live audience, and those watching online, with this promise.

“We will do our best to serve you; and we will not be out-worked,” she said. “It’s an honor to be your president. Go Argos — now let’s go to work.”