Dr. Philip W. Eaton has announced his decision to step down from his role as president of Seattle Pacific University, effective July 1, 2012.
Eaton’s announcement comes a week before classes start on September 26, 2011, when SPU will not only welcome the largest incoming class in its 120-year history, but also its most diverse group of new students. A projected total enrollment of 4,191 will set a new record, as will a projected 1,000 new students, 30 percent of whom are ethnic minority students.
During the course of his presidency at Seattle Pacific, Eaton has seen, among other things, more than 12,000 students graduate; more than 500,000 square feet of facilities built or renovated; a 130 percent growth in operating budget; a huge increase in the student applicant pool; a major increase in the size and selectivity of enrollment; and strong new visibility for SPU, both regionally and nationally.
In a message to the Seattle Pacific community, Eaton said, “For everything there is a season, and for Sharon and me this wonderful season in our lives draws to a close. We leave at a time when SPU is flourishing. Our enrollment numbers are exploding off the charts. Our vision is clear and compelling and desperately needed in our world. It is time now to hand over the university to strong new leadership.”
Eaton is in his sixteenth year as president of SPU, a private Christian university founded in 1891. He is the longest serving SPU president since 1959. The author of Engaging the Culture, Changing the World: The Christian University in a Post-Christian World (InterVarsity Press, 2011), he is noted for his conviction that the university must address the needs of the world. “Christian universities will sometimes isolate themselves from the world for spiritual reasons, and secular universities will do so for intellectual, philosophical reasons,” he has argued. “Neither kind of separatism will do.”
“Philip Eaton has taken Seattle Pacific University to a whole new level as an institution,” say Dennis Weibling, chair of the SPU Board of Trustees. “His contribution to the growth and success of this university cannot be overstated. He has provided the kind of elevating vision that causes students to think expansively about their education and their lives, faculty and staff to accomplish great things for the benefit of others, and alumni to speak with pride about their alma mater. Most of all, he is a man of great integrity, who leads with humility.”
Among so many other things, Eaton is the visionary behind several events that have helped bring the Seattle community together with the people and programs of Seattle Pacific. The annual SPU Downtown Business Breakfast gathers more than 1,200 community leaders to hear from national speakers who engage the audience on the issues of the day. The annual Sacred Sounds of Christmas concert, performed yearly to sold-out audiences in Benaroya Hall, features the widely acclaimed SPU choral and instrumental ensembles, along with other musicians and readers.
Eaton says he does not plan to “retire,” but instead to “craft a future where I can contribute to the building up of lives and organizations,” including Seattle Pacific. He and Sharon also plan to share in the lives of their family, including their three sons, three daughters-in-law, and seven grandchildren.
The SPU Board of Trustees will begin the process of conducting a search for the next Seattle Pacific University president to be appointed by July 1, 2012.