By Amy Tudor
In a March 19 Berkeley Beacon article, Emerson-Marlboro merger still on track despite growing opposition, Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley made several erroneous statements.
The President was reported to say “The [I Believe in Marlboro College] group as a whole has brought several resolutions to Marlboro College’s weekly Town Meeting, which have been resoundingly shot down by the community,”
I brought one proposal to town meeting on March 11: “The Town Meeting assembly resolves that the Board of Trustees should release the agreement with Emerson College, referred to as a ‘non-binding Term Sheet’, and make it available in writing to current students, faculty and staff upon request.”Many were interested in discussing it, and it was motioned tabled by a student who wanted more community there to debate. While this occured before the decision to close campus for the rest of the semester, if Town Meeting happens remotely, it will be on the next agenda.
In regards to the other resolution Dr. Quigley credits to me, I assume he is referencing student Aaron Pilacik’s resolution to form a committee to look into alternatives to the merger. Is the President frustrated that students continue to push back against what amounts to a closure of Marlboro College when he has said they have supported it? Could this be why he credits it to me?
The President says “that even if the [I Believe in Marlboro College] group could raise a significant amount of money, it’s unlikely the college would be able to remain open and the model would have to be approved by the New England Commission of Higher Education.”
The accreditation topic conflated as a deterrent dulls a little more every time it is used. NECHE’s task is to evaluate the plans submitted by an institution. NECHE is not the body that creates plans, they simply judge them. It’s clear that Marlboro never even presented to NECHE a reasonable plan for its own survival. The pro-merger contingent would be on stronger footing if a plan for a smaller college had been shared with and rejected by NECHE, but that simply isn’t the case.
The fundraising in support of keeping Marlboro College in Vermont is proof that the frequently presented idea that the alumni won’t donate is incorrect. The I Believe in Marlboro College movement has raised $279,000 in pledges over the course of one month using only word of mouth, social media, and a small alumni contact list that we have built ourselves. We have had to do so because the College’s alumni database is in tatters: the College doesn’t even have email addresses for nearly 2300 of its 5200 alumni. What could a fully built-out list generate over the course of a year?
In December I proposed identifying 500 alumni with the capacity to donate between $3000 and $5000 annually and volunteered to make those calls, which would raise between $1.5 million and $2.5 million. No one has taken me up on the offer. Instead, Dr. Quigley seems threatened that alumni have the ability and the desire to keep their school alive.
The President goes on to say “We raised $4.5 million, and we had a $5 million operating deficit last year.”
He needn’t go any further.
I continue to question why Marlboro needs such substantial funds to stay open. If I’m shopping for a new vehicle, I look at my budget and I spend what I have, or less than I have. For the current merger proponents to continue to press the point of there not being enough money, I say, Show me the purportedly examined and rejected model of a Marlboro College operating within its means. Unfortunately, it’s clear this wasn’t thoroughly considered.
In Beverly Cleary’s 1950 book Henry Huggins, Henry discovers that his new guppies have had babies and he must get the babies into their own jar and needs a net to do so. Would they run to the store and buy one? No. “[Henry’s father] found a piece of wire and bent it into a circle. Mrs. Huggins took an old stocking and sewed it to the wire to make a little fish net.”
As in the book, Marlboro is a place where nothing is handed to you. Marlboro is hard. Marlboro is about finding a way against all impediments. Marlboro is about guiding an individual on an individual journey, unlike any student that came before or will after. It would be ridiculous to provide every amenity for every journey. The job of faculty, staff and the board is to be at the student’s back, supporting and encouraging the pursuit of each path and not sweeping the ground free of every pebble in front of the student.
Surely, 25 students would opt in to that model each year, comprising a student body of 100?
The commodification of knowledge as seen in efforts like the Common Core standards will continue to increase the need for places where curiosity is guarded as the main driver of learning.
Further, should all of the above seem inconsequential during these extraordinary times, I would direct your attention to the graduates who are working for the greater good during this time of pandemic. In addition to saving Covid-19 patients, Dr. Stephen Hunt, a classmate of mine, has become one of the most reliable sources of information from his interventional Radiology perch at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. As of this writing, he is researching how doctors should make triage decisions in the coming months. Like all Marlboro alumni, Dr. Hunt knows how to walk a pebbled path and make do with few amenities; those things will now help save lives.
Another classmate, David Van Deusen, is fighting for those living paycheck to paycheck who are suddenly without income, without food, without rent through his role as President of the Vermont AFL-CIO.
A third classmate, Paul Adams Cox who attended Marlboro College as an older student after his time in the Army, works in Washington D.C. as Senior Risk Analyst in support of the National Risk Management Center, Department of Homeland Security. His insider knowledge during a time of pandemic has been a crucial thread of competence within a weak landscape.
A fourth classmate, Emilie Kornheiser, Vermont State Representative, was just elevated to the consequential Ways and Means committee in her first term.
I could go on to include the nurses, the artists, the teachers who are contributing as well. But for now, I will keep fighting for Marlboro College because Marlboro graduates will fight for all of us.
When, 20 years ago, Marlboro finally built an endowment and an enrollment of over 300, that should have been seen for what it was; a warning siren. Instead of resting on laurels, the time of victory is always the time for the next innovation. Mistakes are a necessary part of learning throughout our lives, but to view them as the end of the story is an unconscionable suggestion. The pebbles in the path are large, but surmountable.