On Friday, Jan. 25, President Tuajuanda C. Jordan, PhD, delivered the annual State of the College Address, entitled “Dismantling the Ivory Tower: Becoming Something Greater.” The address touched on issues of isolation, diversity and enrollment, while also defending the college’s new branding initiative “The National Public Honors College.”
In the opening remarks, Jordan explained that the term “ivory tower” is often used to describe elite liberal arts institutions, which are often isolated and able to treat practical issues with impractical, often escapist attitudes.
“Our mission is to provide an excellent liberal arts education comparable to that found at small, elite private institutions, but to do so in a way that is accessible to a diverse population,” Jordan explained, commending the college’s academic rigor and small 10:1 student to faculty ratio, explaining that “we are giving our students the attention that they deserve and need to push them to a higher level.”
Jordan touched on the college’s increasingly diverse student population in the face of a decreased enrollment in past years, citing a steady increase in minority students and students from a lower socioeconomic background. “We know that a diverse campus community enhances our intellectual, social, and cultural growth and creativity, and we will continue to ensure that our diverse students are successful,” Jordan remarked.
Jordan also acknowledged the ongoing search for a new Associate Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, a post that has been held in the interim by Ken Coopwood, PhD since Kortet Mensah, PhD’s departure from the post in early 2018. Jordan explained that a national search for a chief diversity officer was launched in the fall of 2018, and three finalists came to the college to be interviewed and selected by President Jordan.
“I did not [select a candidate]. I failed the search,” Jordan explained. “When I sit back and reflect on what’s going on in this community, and I think about how we are working so hard to make sure that we create an environment where everyone can thrive, that means we need somebody who really knows this kind of work.” Jordan stated that the candidates were “up and comers,” and that the college needs more than “up and comers.”
The three finalists of this year’s search were Toya Cooper, PhD, of Westmont College, William Boerner, PhD, of The State University of New York at Fredonia, and Sybol Anderson, PhD, a former SMCM faculty member and finalist for the same position in the fall of 2016.
The College has enlisted the help of a search firm, which Jordan stated has ensured that the position can be filled by the end of the summer. She declared that “we cannot fail this search, we can’t just bring in anybody. They have to be the right person.”
Jordan continued the address by focusing on the survival of liberal arts institutions across the nation, and ensuring the College’s success through academic prestige. “Every day this week you read about another [liberal arts college] closing its doors. I had no idea, but we’re in a fight,” Jordan said.
The President explained the College’s branding initiative, unveiled last October, which intends to tout SMCM’s national recognition as a top public liberal arts college in it’s brand, “The National Public Honors College.” She cited the high ranking that the College has received from nationally-respected institutions such as U.S. News and World Report, who listed the College as one of the top public liberal arts colleges in the nation. “We are proud to say that we are the national public honors college. There is no room for debate there,” Jordan explained.
However, Jordan also recognized that “in spite of our accolades, we like many other institutions are having enrollment challenges, and we are in a dogfight.” Jordan noted that there are challenges that the college must face in the Southern Maryland area, such as the merger of the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC) and the University System of Maryland (USM). “So now, the [USM] is in our backyard. It’s good, and it isn’t.” Jordan recounted a meeting with USM members, where she stated that “It’s like Davita and Goliath out here. Remember David and Goliath? I’m Davita.”
Jordan also discussed the college’s absence of involvement in the local area, specifically the college’s absence in the growing “innovation district” surrounding St. Mary’s County Regional Airport, which has largely grown in the past 10 years with investment from the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and other large institutions. The SMHEC is also located in the development, which will receive a great amount of subsidies from the county government. “They invited and they invited, and we refused, and now we’re trying to play catch-up,” Jordan lamented.
To conclude, Jordan announced that the College must end its “ivory tower” mentality within the St. Mary’s County area, and become a player in the county’s development. Jordan asked “how can we be certain to keep our eyes wide open going forward, and are able to help the region see that we are a significant and important contributor to the region?”
Jordan also announced future plans for a concert series that will be piloted the week before the annual River Concert this summer. Plans are still to be announced.
The address was followed by a reception in Daugherty-Palmer Commons recognizing staff and faculty who have served the College for an exceptional number of years. The Point News was not invited to cover the event.