It’s Feb. 22, Monday afternoon. I’m sitting at a lunch table with a few of my friends, one history major and two physics majors. None of us have checked our email yet, so we haven’t seen who the new president is. Speculation abounds about the new president’s background, which eventually degenerates into a my-discipline-is-more-worthwhile-than-yours dispute. As an English major, I stay out of it, mostly because in the hierarchy of majors perceived as useless, English probably ranks in the top five. Nobody does anything with English except maybe become a professor. Or go into communications. Neither of those are easy. Has anyone seen that Facebook group that jokes about living in a box after graduation? Yeah. Most of those people are probably English majors.
The physics majors finally won the debate, and after our group disbanded, I went into Baltimore Hall to check the school Web site. An update was posted: “Dr. Joseph R. Urgo Named Next President of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.” Okay, I think. I click on the press release link. And lo and behold, Dr. Joseph Urgo, current VP of academics and dean of faculty for Hamilton College, and former head of the English department at the University of Mississippi.
I had thought it impossible. Our next president is a former English professor.
The news had already reached Facebook by this time. English and social science majors (Urgo has a degree in political science) were busy rejoicing: “Our new president has done scholarly research on Faulkner and Cather. SO GOOD. YAY ENGLISH MAJORS.” “Our new President has a BA in PoliSci? Search Committee: I love you.” “All hail Urgo! Social science guy from Hamilton-thank you for your work, Presidential Search Committee.” And so on and so forth.
Some might say that it was about time, that after Maggie O’Brien with her science background it was about time that we had a humanities/social science scholar in charge for a change. As much as a little part of me screams for more English department funding (and also wants to make my entire first interview with Dr. Urgo a Q&A session about The Sound and the Fury), I think we can all hope that no president would let his or her personal prejudices influence the treatment of different departments. We can, instead, hope that he will use his knowledge of politics to help our school receive funding, and use the writing and communication skills gleaned from his English talents to further the same goals of working for and with our College.
Time will tell if Dr. Urgo is a good fit for the College. I have communicated with him on Facebook (yes, he is on Facebook, and has been friended by half the Point News staff), and so far he seems very amicable. Am I a bit biased? Maybe. But maybe my optimism isn’t unfounded. Maybe this new member of our campus community will encapsulate all of the skills that I have taught to internalize and admire. And maybe–just maybe–the next time my friends and I talk about the benefits of our respective majors, I’ll put my fork down and chime in with a well-placed sentence or two.