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Dr. Joseph Urgo Named New College President

Dr. Joseph R. Urgo (Photo from smcm.edu)
Dr. Joseph R. Urgo (Photo from smcm.edu)

On Monday, Feb. 22, the Presidential Search committee announced that it had selected Dr. Joseph Urgo as the next College president.The announcement marked the culmination of a search which began last April and restarted last October after all of the previous candidates withdrew. Urgo will join the College on July 1, 2010.

Urgo is currently the vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. He is also a professor of English, and has taught courses in American literature while serving as dean of faculty. He previously served as a professor and the chair of the English department at the University of Mississippi from 2000-2006.

“I am drawn to SMCM because of its liberal arts tradition, its reputation for rigorous undergraduate research, and its strong sense of community,” Urgo told the College for its press release. “More importantly, SMCM has one of the finest faculties in the country. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with such a talented and committed group of teacher-scholars and creative artists.”

Urgo’s research focuses on 20th-century novelists and writers William Faulkner and Willa Cather, and he has written five scholarly books: Faulkner’s Apocrypha: A Fable, Snopes, and the Spirit of Human Rebellion; Novel Frames: Literature as Guide to Race, Sex, and History in American Culture; Willa Cather and the Myth of American Migration; and In the Age of Distraction. His sixth book, co-authored with Noel Polk, Reading Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom!, is set to be published in March 2010. He has edited and co-edited numerous works, including a classroom edition of Willa Cather’s My Antonia, and has written dozens of essays, including analyses of affiliation and collegiality in the academy.

In addition to his scholarship in English, Urgo has a background in the social sciences, having received his received his bachelor’s degree from Haverford College in 1978 with a major in political science. He also holds a master’s degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s and Ph.D. in American civilization from Brown University.

Urgo was elected unanimously by the Board of Trustees.

“As we got to know Dr. Urgo, we found he understood St. Mary’s College, our sense of place, and shared our deep respect for the mission of a public liberal arts institution,” said Molly Mahoney, chair of the presidential search and member of the Board of Trustees.

The fact that the search was closed drew anger from some in the College community, but those involved with the search assured the community that all constituencies’ needs were taken into account.

“Members of the committee, that included all campus constituencies, were especially mindful of their duties and responsibilities to represent their campus colleagues thoughtfully,” said Mahoney.

“At the beginning of the search, the search committee sat down and created a scope document with input from all our constituencies about what we want in a president,” said senior Debbie Travers, Student Trustee. “Dr. Urgo fulfills all of those requirements. Beyond that, he strikes me as someone who genuinely cares about student s and is enthusiastic about the concept of the public liberal arts.

“Under the leadership of Dr. Urgo, I see the College moving forward and becoming an even better institution than it already is. I can’t wait for the student body to meet Dr. Urgo so that everyone can see for themselves how great of a fit he is for St. Mary’s,” she added.

Junior Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, who will be the Student Trustee for the 2010-2011 school year, raised concerns about the lack of transparency in a closed search–transparency that he said “is critical to keeping any process above reproach.” Still, Ruthenberg-Marshall expressed hope that the closed search would “allow us to land the best candidate available.”

Ruthenberg-Marshall said that the closed nature of the search should not affect student-president relations because Urgo “can only be judged upon merit.” Moreover, he said, “I look forward to working with him…in order to ensure that the student voice is heard at the highest levels of Calvert.”

According to Mahoney, Urgo will be introduced to the campus community in early March. His biography is available in PDF form from the College home page.

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