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Originally published Monday, April 16, 2012 at 3:31 PM

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Philip Eaton's lasting influence on Seattle Pacific University

For the past 16 years, Seattle Pacific University President Philip Eaton has helped shape students to enter the world bent on changing it.

Seattle Times Editorial

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A PACKED ballroom at Seattle's Westin Hotel was gratifying proof of how many people value Seattle Pacific University's annual downtown business breakfast.

The early-morning gathering last Wednesday also served as an opportunity to thank the man who began the breakfasts years ago, SPU President Philip Eaton, acknowledging just how much he'll be missed when he steps down this summer.

Eaton's low-key influence has served him well. There may be larger institutions with more well-known names at the helm, but Eaton has met the challenges of higher education as ably as anyone else.

Thanks to Eaton, "Engage the culture; Change the world" is more than a slogan hanging on every SPU banner, syllabus and publication. It is a principle given as much prominence as academics at the small Christian college founded by Free Methodist pioneers 120 years ago.

Moral and trustworthy leadership best describes Eaton's approach to the pressures of higher education: rising expenses and tuition, squeezed revenues and a sometimes delicate dance with faculty, trustees and donors.

An emphasis on community service and building relationships beyond the campus tucked at the base of Queen Anne's north side gave way to The John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development, a bridge between SPU and urban communities around the region.

Enrollment has grown and applications have nearly doubled in recent years. When Eaton decided to create a "core curriculum" uniting the school's many disciplines, Eaton pulled together discussion groups, found the extra money and developed a set of courses culled from theology, liberal arts, science and other branches of learning. Students must complete the seven courses, regardless of their major.

Daniel Martin, the president of a Christian liberal-arts university in central Ohio, is a fine pick to succeed Eaton. Martin has a law degree and an MBA, as well as a doctorate in higher-education management from the University of Pennsylvania.

The grand conversation launched by Eaton, one of engaging culture and changing the world, will continue as it should.

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