On Thursday, Mar. 11 through Monday, Mar. 15, Dr. Joseph Urgo, the next College president, visited campus with his wife Lesley to meet with students, faculty, and administrators and to enumerate his vision for the College.
Urgo’s formal introduction to the campus came at 5:15 p.m. on Mar. 11 in St. Mary’s Hall. He was introduced by James Muldoon, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Larry Vote, the provost and acting president.”He knows what high standards look like,” Muldoon said, referring to Urgo’s work at Hamilton College, both in acting as president for spring 2009 and in working for the Hamilton library coordinating academic programs in Paris, Madrid, Beijing, Washington, D.C., and New York.
Urgo defined his goals as accessibility, inclusiveness, meritocracy, and sustainability. Regarding accessibility and inclusiveness, Urgo mentioned “rapidly growing immigrant populations,” and said that “colleges need to prepare themselves for that so that they don’t become anachronisms.”
Meritocracy, to Urgo, meant that everything outside a student’s current performance in school, from SAT scores to family status, should not matter in college. “You rise or fall on your own merits,” he said.
To Urgo, sustainability applied to both environmentalism and finances. He said that he thinks that colleges should be models for the rest of the nation in terms of sustainability; “if we can’t do it here, we can’t do it anywhere,” he said.
Urgo also talked about his personal views regarding interaction with students that he formed from teaching for 30 years. “There is not one kind of intelligence and one way to measure intelligence,” he said. He also described the “malleability of identity” and experimentation with views and ideas that many students undergo. He also expressed a desire to live on campus with his family, to be able to “speak not from analytical knowledge but from deep emotional knowledge” about the campus.
He summed up his agenda by saying that “opening our doors to a more diverse population” is as important to the College as a new science building or physical plant because “unless we do that, we have no future.” He also expressed a desire to strengthen the bond between St. Mary’s City and St. Mary’s College, and in terms of finances, looked forward to 2015, the 175th anniversary (“demisemisepticentennial”) of the College’s founding, to galvanize alumni support.
Campus reaction to Urgo was positive overall.
“I found him to be energetic and ready to engage with the main issues in the St. Mary’s community. His wife was equally interesting, and I believe many faculty members are excited to be working with him,” said Michael Cain, chair of the political science department and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy.
“I was thrilled that he was received on campus warmly and that those who commented to me were very pleased with the Board’s choice,” said biology professor Bob Paul, who is also head of the faculty senate.
Students also reacted favorably to Urgo’s visit.
Sophomore Anna Weaver, who talked briefly with Urgo during lunch one day, said, “I think it’s great President Urgo took the time to see what the campus is really like. He seemed genuinely interested in the students.”
Junior Sam Geselowitz attended Urgo’s introduction and was impressed with Urgo’s plans to live on campus and possibly teach a class. “He seemed to also have a sense of humor,” Geselowitz said. “He already seems to be at least 10 times as good as Maggie (O’Brien).”
Urgo himself seemed eager to be on campus. “[My family and I] are so pleased to be here,” he said. “We are so looking forward to making this our home.”