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Group Works to Save Marlboro College from Gifting Itself to Boston’s Emerson College and Moving out of State
MARLBORO, Vt. (May 4, 2020) — As things stand now, Marlboro College in Southern Vermont has entered into a non-binding agreement to gift itself to Emerson College in Boston, including the College’s endowment of $30M and the campus valued at approximately $10M. The transaction is expected to happen after the conclusion of the 2019/2020 academic year. As part of this deal, some Marlboro students will transfer to Emerson, and Marlboro tenured and tenure-track faculty will be offered positions at Emerson. The transfer of Marlboro assets to Emerson allegedly will fund Emerson’s liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies program, to be renamed the “Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies.” In late March, Marlboro listed its campus for sale.
Higher education in America was already struggling before the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many colleges were already searching to find new paths forward to survive. Marlboro’s Board of Trustees had been entertaining different paths for some time, including an ill-fated transaction with the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, which would have kept a presence on Potash Hill.
A group of Marlboro alumni has organized to preserve Marlboro’s assets and relaunch Marlboro College in line with its original mission as a model of substantive community governance through participatory democracy. That mission made Marlboro one of the most unusual higher education institutions in the world and inculcated in graduates an enduring commitment to democratic institutions and processes. Marlboro required students to craft their own course of study, develop a plan of concentration that conveys original research persuasively, and then defend their research before an outside expert in order to graduate. These demands are an example of an unheard-of level of commitment among American college and university students in today’s bachelor-level higher-ed curriculum.
“Marlboro and Emerson have very different missions and programs. Marlboro’s foundational principles of self-governance and its values that travel out into the world with Marlboro graduates will not be preserved, let alone encouraged, in a larger, top-down-managed institution,” explains Rhett Bowlin. Bowlin is helping to coordinate this effort on behalf of the College’s alumni and friends. “Marlboro’s graduates have gone on to enjoy success in the arts, academia, business, government, and the third sector. Marlboro alumni are leaders and change-makers. While the same can be said about many Emerson alumni, Marlboro College has been a fit for many students when a traditional higher-ed setting has not been. Marlboro students have proven to be wildly successful because of the approach the College previously offered.”
The group of alumni argues that Marlboro’s Board of Trustees is not fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility and commitment to the College itself, and instead has concentrated only on select faculty and ensuring their transition to Emerson. While some students will transfer to Emerson, many will not. All staff will lose their jobs.
The alumni group is focused on saving the college and creating a future for the college, the campus, and the greater Marlboro community.
Many alumni, faculty emeriti, and friends of the College fault the Board and Marlboro’s current President for lacking the vision to discover the solution for Marlboro’s future that sits immediately before them. The alumni group urges Marlboro’s Board of Trustees to terminate senior leadership at Marlboro, and to remove those board members who cannot or will not support a future for Marlboro College, and form a new board with the sole purpose of saving Marlboro College by reimagining the College and finding a path forward that is both fiscally responsible and sustainable.
“We are not saying that the College can continue ‘as-is,’ especially at this point,” remarked Bowlin. “We do know that with new leadership at the administrative and board levels, that we can recreate Marlboro College as a powerful and compelling model of self-governance and academic rigor.”
For more information and to add your name to the petition to save Marlboro College, Click Here