Eastern President Elsa Nunez announces retirement
After serving 18 years, University's sixth president announces transition
Willimantic, CT (05/18/2023) — Elsa M. Nunez, the sixth president of Eastern Connecticut State University, announced her retirement today. Nunez began her presidency in 2006 and will support the University as it transitions to a new president.
In a letter to the University community, Nunez wrote: "Eighteen years ago, I visited Eastern for the first time and I fell in love! I encountered a beautiful campus, inspiring students, dedicated faculty and staff, and engaged alumni. From that very first visit, I knew that Eastern was more than where I wanted to be. Eastern was where I was destined to be. I was honored and humbled to be selected as your sixth president, and, to this day, I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to serve all of you! However, no amount of love can stop the passage of time, and, for me, the time has come to embrace the next phase of my life."
The first Latina to serve as a university president in New England, Nunez is credited with many significant accomplishments during her 18 years at the helm of Connecticut's designated public liberal arts university.
Under her leadership, Eastern has climbed steadily in U.S. News and World Report's annual Best Colleges rankings, and now ranks #19 among 63 public regional institutions in the North Region, an area spanning 11 states and the District of Columbia. Contributing to Eastern's high rankings, Nunez helped realize gains in student GPAs, SAT scores for incoming first-year students and four/six-year graduation rates.
Demonstrating strong fiscal responsibility and management, Nunez submitted balanced budgets for 18 consecutive years and built the University's reserves from $0 in 2006 to $32 million today.
Eastern's 184-acre campus continued to evolve during Nunez's presidency, with new construction including an expanded and remodeled Student Center and enhanced student life program; construction of a 174,000-square foot Science Building in 2008; the creation of the Center for Community Engagement in 2009; and the opening of the 118,000-square foot Fine Arts Instructional Center in 2016. Reflecting growth and renewal, the University also reopened a modernized Communication Building in 2018 and renovated Goddard and Shafer Halls in 2019.
Nunez was also an early proponent of the role higher education plays in creating a more sustainable world. In 2007, she became one of the first university presidents to sign the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment. She also oversaw creation of Eastern's first Climate Action Plan in 2009, and six years later she signed Second Nature's Climate Leadership Commitment, which includes a pledge to address climate resilience while achieving climate neutrality.
Dr. Nunez approved Eastern's second Climate Action Plan in 2020, and in December 2022, she was notified that Eastern had earned a Gold Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of Second Nature, where she chairs the Climate Leadership Steering Committee, Dr. Nunez is highly sought-after as a speaker on the role higher education plays in achieving sustainability and equity.
A hallmark of her presidency has been her effort to provide higher education opportunities to marginalized high school students, and building a campus culture that supports diversity, equity and inclusion. Through her leadership, Eastern now has the most faculty of color of any higher education institution in Connecticut, and campus administrative offices are more adept at addressing the unique needs of marginalized students.
In 2010 she negotiated an agreement with the Hartford Public Schools and Quinebaug Valley Community College that created the "Dual College Program," creating a unique pathway for Hartford high school students to transition into Eastern through QVCC. Other partnerships followed, and over the past seven years alone, more than 1,200 students have matriculated to Eastern through these various "Opportunity Programs."
Dr. Nunez's scholarship includes teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, two books - "Pursuing Diversity" (1992) and "Hanging Out and Hanging On: From the Projects to the Campus" (2014) - and numerous publications, all focused on public policy and language acquisition.
She thanks the Eastern community of students, colleagues, alumni and friends for welcoming her into the University community, and noted that the leadership of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System would be working with Eastern "to initiate a thorough and wide-ranging search process" to identify her successor. No additional details on the search for her replacement were announced.
Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving upwards of 4,100 students annually on its Willimantic campus. In addition to attracting students from 160 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 32 states and eight countries. A residential campus offering 41 majors and 68 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal arts foundation grounded in a variety of applied learning opportunities. Ranked among the top 20 public institutions in the North by U.S. News & World Report in its 2022-23 Best Colleges ratings, Eastern has also been awarded 'Green Campus' status by the Princeton Review 13 years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.