On Friday, June 10 Eckerd College President Damián Fernández sent an email to the Eckerd community stating that he would be stepping down as president beginning August 1, 2022. Five days later, Eckerd’s Board of Trustees appointed Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students James Annarelli as interim president of Eckerd College beginning August 2, 2022. 

In the email sent by Fernández, he stated that after a period of consideration with the Board, he felt it was best to step aside from the presidency due to “institutional and personal factors.” 

“This was not an easy decision, but I think it was the right decision for the college at this time and for myself,” Fernández said in an interview. 

Fernández talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic had put a strain on college presidents around the country, and he felt that throughout his presidency. He noted that the strain between keeping up with COVID regulations and continuing precedence was a key factor that “cannot be underestimated or overlooked.” 

Additionally, Fernández stated the second main reason behind his decision was the personal exhaustion felt after the numerous accomplishments and momentum he began. 

“We must celebrate everything that is accomplished there,” Fernández said. “Some people take 10 years to accomplish what we did.” 

The list of accomplishments include the advancing of the “Strategic Plan” through the beginning of the living shoreline project; launching of the St. Pete Center; founding the Nielsen Center for the Liberal Arts; and advances in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Fernández also said that 2021 was the third-highest fundraising year in the college’s history, raising $26 million. 

“We have delivered on diversity, we have delivered on long-range planning. And now it’s time for someone else to come in,” Fernández said. 

One of the things Fernández was most proud of was the college’s ability to persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from that, he is proud of the foundation set for the future of the college – a vision that includes “problem-centered, place-based, purpose-driven education that’s handbuilt and hands-on.” 

This momentum was something that Fernández thought was necessary and will continue to be necessary for the future of Eckerd. 

“Business as usual is not good business anymore,” Fernández said. “I think the best years of Eckerd are in the future, not in the past.” 

Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students James Annarelli looks to keep this momentum going as interim president for the 2022-2023 academic year. 

“I want to be sure that the college does not skip a beat in the momentum we have achieved,” Annarelli said. 

Annarelli has served in his current role since 2008, but has been a faculty member at Eckerd since 1990, serving in multiple positions. His more than 30 years of experience within the Eckerd community makes him “uniquely suited to advance the College as we search for a permanent President,” according to the June 15 email from Ian Johnson ‘89, Chair of the Board of Trustees. 

After ensuring that the duties of his current position are taken care of for the next year, Annarelli looks forward to immediate community involvement. 

“The first step is to have conversations with all college constituencies so that I have a good sense of the community’s perspective as we move forward,” Annarelli said.

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