After 17 years of teaching at St. Mary’s, economics professor Asif Dowla was recently named holder of the Hilda C. Landers Endowed Chair in the Liberal Arts.
The chair, which was previously held by Lucille Clifton, is given to a faculty member of the college for outstanding achievement both at and outside of the school.
According to students and faculty, Dowla fits that description.
“He’s always in his office and is always willing to chat with students about anything,” said senior Alec Stone. “So devoted is he to teaching that I can only remember him canceling class once – because he had to be in Oslo,
Norway to watch his friend and former professor receive the Peace Prize. He even held class on the day of his flight, leaving for the airport directly from class.”
“Dowla is one of the best teachers in the College because he challenges students to think beyond graphs and models, and to consider the social and moral implications of different policies,” said David Wessler. “He has the unique ability to humanize economic problems.”
Professor Andrew Kozac, chair of the Economics department, also described Dowla as devoted to his students. “One of the secrets to Asif’s success in terms of teaching is that he sees his students for more than being just students,” he said. “He’s got a certain caring for them as individuals. And that care extends farther than what happens to them in the classroom, but also after they leave the classroom.”
Besides his work at the College, Dowla has worked with Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with microfinance, including starting the Grameen Bank.
Dowla’s book about the Grameen bank, The Poor Always Pay Back: The Grameen II Story, has been translated into French, simple and complex Chinese, and Baha Indonesian and is used as a textbook at Duke, Harvard, and Princeton.
Dowla, who describes his reputation among the students as “very demanding,” says that he is humbled by being chosen for the Landers Chair. “For an academic,” he said, “this is the ultimate honor.”
After nearly thirteen years as the residing President of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Jane Margaret “Maggie” O’Brien has decided to resign from office. The campus community has responded to the news with mixed opinions, but overall a genuine sense of loss.
In response to O’Brien’s sudden decision, first year Thaise Bower expressed her sorrow at the situation. Although she hasn’t been on campus for long, she still acknowledges that the beginning of her college experience has been memorable and pleasant. “Times are really good now, I don’t know if things will change,” she said.
“It came as sort of a surprise,” said senior Emily Hollis concerning the way in which O’Brien’s decision was made public through James Muldoon’s email on January 7th. Hollis wasn’t the only one surprised; many faculty members as well as students were unaware of O’Brien’s decision prior to the mass email. Junior Cameron Leischer was also taken aback when he first heard the news. “It’s a shame,” he said, “she helped with the sense of community that this school has. People who are involved in the community know her well and she added to the prestige of our school.”
“I was very surprised, I hadn’t heard any rumors about her wishes to resign,” said associate professor of English Jeffery Lamar Coleman, “given that she’s fairly young for a college president; I thought she would be around for a long time.” Coleman added that he has enjoyed having her as a colleague. He also stated that she has always been “accessible and available to the faculty” in dealing with issues or questions that have arisen over the years.
Junior Resident Assistant Zinash Seyoum was not shocked by the news of O’Brien’s resignation, however. “I’m sure that President O’Brien has her reasons since she has been here for so long,” said Seyoum, “but it’s definitely a loss to the college.” Seyoum, even though she didn’t know O’Brien on a personal level, remembers that O’Brien was very involved in Resident Assistant activities and procedures. “She came frequently to the R.A. meetings,” said Seyoum, “and provided a great deal of help to the students.”
The search for a new President has begun and recently an email was sent out in order to find two students from the freshman/ sophomore class body who are interested in becoming student representatives on the Presidential Search Committee. O’Brien has expressed her intentions of stepping down from office by June 30th, 2010, or until a new president has taken the position. As St. Mary’s awaits a new president, there is a lot of debate going on around campus as to how the new president, whoever he or she is, will impact the campus.
“My concern is whether or not it will change the mission of the college,” says Todd Eberly, an Assistant Professor for the Department of Political Science. While in his opinion it is not necessary for the new president to be chosen from within the current staff, he feels that the candidate should come from at least another public honors college or university.
Bower feels differently on the situation, however, expressing that it would be more beneficial to have someone from within our staff to try and fill the shoes of O’Brien; a feat that Leischer feels can not easily be done. “St. Mary’s is changing,” he said in regards to the new presidency among other recent events on campus, “having someone from within the St. Mary’s community would keep the school’s spirit, the spirit I was attracted to when I chose this school… I mean really, where did all the hippies go?”
On saying goodbye to our current president, and one who has definitely changed the face of what was once only the little school by the river by spearheading many of the projects and changes that this campus has undergone in recent years, Coleman states that “we’ll just have to adjust our relationship to viewing her instead as a member of the community. It’s not really goodbye.”
And as for Leischer’s concerns for the dwindling hippie population on campus, Coleman thoughtfully adds that “it could just be a lull, and not in concordance with Maggie’s departure.”
The mass exodus of administrative offices from Anne Arundel Hall and Margaret Brent Hall to Glendening Hall is only one part of a much larger restructuring of South Campus, which promises to connect the college with Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) in beneficial new ways.
Glendening Hall, the new home of such administrative offices as Residence Life and International Education, was completed in late fall of last year to reduce the “run-around” necessary to do such things as change housing and add and drop classes, according to Assistant Vice President of Planning and Facilities Chip Jackson. Such administrative offices as Residence Life, Academic Services, International Education, and Financial Aid were moved to Glendening over winter break.
This move, however, left a large part of Anne Arundel Hall, and all of Margaret Brent hall, unused. According to Torre Meringolo, Vice President of the Office of Development, this is just one part of the college’s restructuring plans that go back to 1997 when former Governor Paris Glendening and former Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend decided to affiliate the college and HSMC through state law. In fact, this connection between the college and HSMC goes back much farther, all the way back to the College’s creation as a monument to Maryland’s first capital. Meringolo said this partnership, “Ties back to the reason the institution is even here.”
In order to further foster this relationship, the college and HSMC decided that both organizations could benefit from bringing some HSMC staff and research on-campus, and decided that South campus would be the best place to do this. In order to make this happen, however, the college needed to make room in South campus and rearrange academic departments currently in Anne Arundel and elsewhere.
Glendening and Goodpaster Hall are, in part, a result of this need. According to Jackson, these two buildings are just a part of the much larger plan. Jackson said that in the next few years students will see this restructuring plan further played out through the movement of the Religious Studies and Philosophy departments to Cobb House and the renovation or replacement of Anne Arundel. According to Meringolo, replacement is more likely because it’s more cost-effective.
Regardless of what path the college takes with Anne Arundel, the new Anne Arundel will house both archeologists and interpreters from Historic as well as the college’s Archeology, History, and Language departments. Margaret Brent Hall will also be replaced with a new Interpretive center for HSMC. According to Regina Faden, Executive Director of the HSMC commission, the interpretive center will act as the new starting point for tourists to HSMC, give them an overview and brief history of HSMC’s sights, and display rotating exhibits. Faden said that the interpretive center, “Will help to create a sense of arrival [to the city].” She added, “Right now, people aren’t always sure where the city is.”
According to Meringolo, this move and restructuring will greatly benefit students, especially Archeology, History, and Museum Studies majors. Members of the HSMC commission already teach some classes on Museum Studies, but even more opportunities will open up after the move. Students will get the chance to work along with researchers from HSMC on unlocking the secrets of colonial St. Mary’s City and learn about its history as it’s being discovered. Internship and job opportunities will also open up for those especially passionate in the study of HSMC, and students will be able to work with members of the commission on such projects as constructing the “ghost frames” that currently dot Route 5 and interpreting newly-discovered artifacts. The HSMC commission will also greatly benefit from the move, since they will get more space for their growing artifact collection.
Although on their way, many students will be unable to see the full results of these changes in their time at St. Mary’s. According to Jackson, design of the new Anne Arundel will take place this spring and the building itself won’t be completed until 2012 or 2013. Faden said the HSMC will not move into Anne Arundel and the Interpretive Center until around 2014.
Those in the administration don’t seem too bothered by the wait, and believe that the move will greatly enhance the college in the end. Meringolo’s vision is that “In 100 years St. Mary’s college [will be] recognized as being the pre-eminent undergraduate program in Anthropology in the country, or one of the great Museum studies programs in the country.”
Students were probably surprised last week when they received an email about a new program on campus called “Thursdays at the Grind.” However, the new coffee house chair, senior Lauren Schreiber wants you not to worry; she’s just “switchin’ it up” this semester in order to serve your live music needs better.
Schreiber, who replaced Dan Pindell as Coffee House chair this semester as he is studying abroad, is hoping to revive the program this year.
“In the recent past, coffeehouse was having difficulties pulling in a number of students; we have a small campus and with the event happening every week, I think folks started taking it for granted,” Schreiber said, “rather than cutting the program, I decided to change the name: you know, to shake things up and let students know that it was something fresh and worth coming out to.”
This semester Schreiber intends to make a few more changes, all of which are focused around the goal getting more people involved in the coffee house program. The event will still be every week, and will always feature live music.
One interesting change that the new Coffee House chair has in store for Thursdays at the Grind will be to bring out a few local artists from the DC area to perform a one hour and a half set each week.
“The music ranges from hip-hop, to R&B, to ska, to reggae, to funk, to rock. I tried to bring a taste of the city to SMCM, to let kids here know that local artists exist and that there’s more out there than just acoustic guitars,” Schreiber said as she spoke excitedly about the new programs and types of music she plans to bring to St. Mary’s, “I really hope folks get excited about the different sort of sound I’m into.”
Although there will be an influx of outside bands and artists performing this semester, Schreiber still plans to keep local and student artists in the mix at the grind by leaving the first thirty minutes open to student-groups as opening acts for the outside performers.
“All in all there will be less open mic, since I wanted to encourage students to sign up in advance and commit, like a real musical venue would do,” Schreiber said.
In an effort to get students from all disciplines involved in the program she has also considered the idea of commissioning students to create art during the performance and possibly convince them to raffle it off at the end of each show.
The name of the event isn’t the only thing that Schreiber plans to “switch up,” as she hopes to move the location of Thursdays at the Grind around to various spots on campus, including the upper deck, at the lounge at the end of the hall by the breezeway, and hopefully outside on the patio when it gets warmer.
The first Thursday at the Grind, February 5th, turned out to be a huge success with over fifty students attending, and performances from John Haltiwanger, Sarah Weisse and Jack Leathers, Hydröfish, Alec Stone, the Hurley brothers and more. Schreiber encourages everyone on campus to get involved with the new twist on the program and to check out and join the Facebook group.
On January 7, during winter break, St. Mary’s students learned of President Jane Margaret O’Brien’s intention to resign her post as president of the College through an email message composed by James P. Muldoon, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The all-student email explained that, after she officially steps down, O’Brien will take a job with the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Oxford, England. This past Saturday, January 24, The Point News was fortunate enough to sit down with O’Brien and talk about her past, present and future at the College just as the search for her successor was beginning.
The Point News: What will you miss most about St. Mary’s?
President Jane Margaret O’Brien: Because I will continue to live in this area I will not miss the landscape and, it’s strange to say, but the smell of estuarine areas is very important to me. I like the water; I like the edge of the water. I like the seasonal trees; I like the season of winter. I like the way winter is in Maryland. This area is so much my home.
I will miss mornings at the College. I will miss very much the student events. There is rarely an event that I go to where I don’t learn something that I’m surprised with.
I will miss the regular lectures and the regular programs that reveal themselves of personalities.
TPN: Can you speak a little bit about the transformation St. Mary’s has undergone in your 13 years as president?
JMO: We only had 1,046 beds on campus when I came here. One thing that I noticed was the lack of a critical mass, particularly on weekends. Our events have energy, intellectual energy, particularly for a community that is outside an urban area. That’s, to me, one of the most important parts of the campus now.
The goal was never to create prestige. It was to improve, as best we could, the learning environment. Our goal was to respond to the state of Maryland’s request to grow a place where 18-year-old students could come to college.
TPN: What were some of the hardest issues you’ve had to deal with during your tenure?
JMO: Eric Kafka, who was our Director of Counseling, and I once took a tally – this was perhaps five or six years ago – and found that every semester had started with a crisis. These were very sad personal events, accidents that had cost the lives of students. I would say that the personal loss in a community, when individuals have their freedom compromised, when lives are lost, those are the hardest things.
TPN: Why decide to leave the College now?
JMO: It takes a good year for a search process to be developed because there is the Board’s notification; there is the faculty’s notification, the students’ notification, alumni, etcetera. There is the process by which a search firm is hired for a national search like this, a search of this prestige. Then, the collection of candidates, the call to apply and nominate, the vetting and then there is a funnel, basically. 300 applicants, down to 30 airport interviews, down to about four who will come on campus to be interviewed. And, like all colleges, this is such a large family. You have seven constituencies – students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, parents and friends – who are going to want to know something about this person. It takes a long time. I wanted to be able to assure that the College had enough time to develop this search.
I have been, for the last ten years, working through a very important relationship for the College with the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Their timing, as much as anything, has prompted my timing. We love to ask young people, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But some people, even into their fifties still haven’t decided where they want to be when they grow up. I think that’s a wonderful aspect of contemporary life, still being able to dream what our next steps might be. Nobody has to be caught or locked.
At CMRS, I can apply a lot of the fundraising skills that I’ve learned in a place that I’ve become very fond of.
TPN: With the College’s relationship with CMRS, will you still be very involved with St. Mary’s?
JMO: Not the day to day. This question is a very prescient one. What will I miss? I’ll miss the day to day.
TPN: Can you describe the search process for our next president?
JMO: The Board is meeting [on] Thursday. Torre Meringolo will always be meeting with the Board, I will not. The sitting president, in my opinion, should have very little engagement with the selection, except counsel if anybody wishes it. The Board of Trustees has the authority and the privilege, primarily, in the choice of a president. They will be working with the faculty. After their next meeting, the Board will be in the stages of selecting a search consultant. That will probably be done in two months. There will be advertising, a call for nominations and applications.
Our hope is to make this as smooth as possible. The Board asked me to stay on through the selection of the next president and I agreed. They will, during the summer, start to develop the shortlist of candidates. So perhaps 300 or 400 applicants, by August or September they should have that down to a small pool. Typically there is an off campus interview. There will be students actually, I didn’t mention this, but there will be students involved. I suspect that [Student Trustee] Jeremy Pevner and [Student Trustee-in-Training] Debbie Travers will be involved in the discussions with the student body, probably [Student Government Association President] Sunny Schnitzer as well. When I was in the search process myself, there were two students on the search committee. That’s very important for communication to and from the student body.
TPN: You mentioned hiring a firm for a national search, but how many familiar faces do think we’ll see in the pool of candidates?
JMO: I think we are a very, very attractive school for a presidential candidate. The term that is often used, if someone is familiar with the institution, is an internal applicant. They come from the internal faculty, which would probably be most likely, or they come from a slightly extended network of the College. I’m sure there will be those individuals.
TPN: Some recognizable names are being passed around campus.
JMO: You’ll often find in the early part of a search where people will advance candidates and names. But really, until the on-campus interviews it’s a pretty wide-open field. And, as I said, there will probably be 300 candidates.
TPN: Just to pin this down, what are the odds of hiring a candidate who is already employed at St. Mary’s?
JMO: You can only look at the broader national patterns and the pattern is typically for schools to hire from the outside and from similar schools. Probably the most common appointment is a provost from a comparable institution. This will look again, just as it did in 1995 when I was hired, like a very attractive position for candidates.
TPN: You said you won’t be very involved in the search, but what do you think the College should be looking for in its next president?
JMO: Knowing college presidents, the most successful college presidents are academics. They are also almost long in the tooth, old, in management. Having an individual who has experience already in the core operating issues of a college or core operating issues of larger entities would, to me, be an absolute requisite. It’s as important to me as the academic leadership. The absence of either of those could create an imbalance in a person’s performance on behalf of the institution.
These days, having experience in fundraising is considered important, or having experience in legislatures. But I find those definitely secondary to strong management and financial understanding of institutions and academics. Beyond that, the president sets the tone for an institution. There are way too many books and movies that describe the dysfunction that occurs when heads of schools are troubled or distracted or in other ways not functioning. All members of the community have to be very involved. You really want consensus and excitement about one candidate in the end.
After a semester of Trayless Tuesdays (and, eventually, Trayless Thursdays), the Great Room is now completely trayless. As of this semester, trays will only be available to students upon request.
The Sustainability Committee and Bon Appetit decided to move forward after receiving the results of the Trayless Dining Opinion Survey, which was sent out to students late last semester.
Before the survey was sent out, “We had been getting a lot of negative emails,” said Sustainability Fellow Rachel Clement. The survey was composed to get a more representative sample of the thoughts of the student body.
The survey, which was sent out during the second week of December 2008, showed mostly positive feedback. “Two-thirds of the people who took the survey were willing to pay the small price of going trayless,” said Christophe Bornand, the Sustainability Coordinator.
The survey’s results showed that although only 48.5 percent of respondents initially thought that going trayless was a good idea, 70.3 percent thought that the environmental and economic benefits of going trayless seemed worth the change. 67.9 percent thought that they would become more comfortable with trayless dining over time.
“A lot of colleges are going trayless because it saves a lot of energy, money, food and labor costs,” said Clement. A study conducted by the Sustainability Committee concluded that going trayless would reduce food waste by 30 percent.
Not wasting as much means not buying as much, said George McClusick, Bon Appetit’s general manager at St. Mary’s. Going trayless will have environmental and economic benefits. “Our company is very into sustainability. We strive to do these initiatives,” he said.
Although most comments are positive, there has been some negative feedback.
“I think it’s one of those things that will take time and eventually people will forget they even were offered,” said Clement.
The newest building on campus, Glendening Hall, is the place to go for many of the services offered by the College.
The building is located between the Athletic and Recreation Center and Caroline Hall. It houses many student services, including Residence Life, Academic Services, International Education, First Year Services, the Career Development Center, the Financial Aid office, the Registrar’s office, Human Resources, the Business Office, and Academic Affairs. Construction on Glendening Hall was completed over the 2008-2009 winter break, and student services moved there in mid-January.
Students can now go to one building to add or drop a class, pay bills, find a job, or learn how to study in another country. “Being in the center of the resident population…allows us to better serve face-to-face. The location is a huge benefit,” said Marc Hume, Assistant Director for Residence Life.
Chris Rodkey, a junior, said that Glendening Hall is “convenient” and that it was nice to have a central location for many of the offices that students need.
Employees in the various offices all commented on the extreme convenience of Glendening. Christopher True, the Assistant Vice President for Finance, said that with all the offices in one building it is much “easier to cooperate.”
Tim Wolfe, Director of Financial Aid, said, “[The move] is a wonderful change for us and the students; the staff seems to be much happier.”
For some, however, the move isn’t complete. Assistant Registrar Susan Morse, for example, said that her office still requires some work for it to return to its old form.
For any student that wishes to voice an opinion, Integrated Student Service Administrator Nick Tulley said that surveys will be available in the lobby within the next month.
In Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2009 Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.
Here at the College, students and professors celebrated by partaking in several group events. Students were invited to watch the inauguration unfold on several venues on campus; Cole Cinema and the River Center were open for students to watch the event, and the televisions in the Campus Center and Upper Deck were tuned in to CNN.
Although the College never officially canceled classes, most professors did so to allow their students to participate in the inauguration. “I wanted to give the students the opportunity to celebrate or not celebrate as they wished,” said political science professor Sahar Shafqat, who canceled her classes for the day.
Shafqat added, “I feel that institutionally, there was a desire to mark this historic occasion, saying, ‘Look, this is a big deal.’”
In Cole Cinema, students were able to listen to brief talks before the swearing-in took place. Associate professor of history Charles Holden outlined previous notable inaugural addresses throughout American history, and Assistant Vice President of Academic Services Lenny Howard spoke about Obama’s impact on African-American identity, especially in the contexts of success and education. Bon Appetit provided a patriotic flag cake topped with strawberries and blueberries for the celebration, and afterwards, Michael Cain, the head of the political science department and Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, led discussions.
The event was organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Office of Student Activities. “We all worked on this together to bring faculty, staff, and students together,” said Kelly Schroeder, Assistant Dean of Students.
By 11:30 a.m., Cole Cinema was packed, and latecomers were forced to hover by the cinema doors. The room was mostly silent throughout the ceremony, with applause after each event from the inaugural prayer to the inaugural address. A ripple of laughter shot through the room with Pastor Rick Warren’s pronounced, almost fierce blessing of first daughters “Malia” and “Sasha,” and a similar wave of “Awwww” washed over the crowd whenever the two girls appeared on-screen. Many found the oath of office and its difficulties endearing, especially from such a calm person as Obama.
“It was interesting to see some of his stumbles,” said junior Brad Dodson. “It let us know he’s human, just like us…and realize that we’re in this together.”
Obama’s speech fetched a standing ovation from those not already forced to stand, and the overall mood in the room was electric. “[This is] where civic tradition kicks in,” said Holden. He said that it was amazing to see so many people come together, and not just for a tragic event like an assassination or Sept. 11. He described the feeling as “like the excitement of the campaign, …one last time, or kind of reaching the peak.”
If students thought they were cramped in Cole Cinema, the screen showed that the turnout in D.C. was enormous. “There was something like 2 million people in Washington,” said Cain.
Mathematics professor David Kung was one of the many people present for the inauguration. “ It was fantastic,” he said. “There was a crush of people everywhere.” Kung received the tickets to attend the inauguration through his parents’ congressmen back in Wisconsin.
Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black also received tickets from a senator in another state. “We immediately tried to get tickets from our Maryland representative, but we received an auto reply that thousands had asked already,” she said. She managed to get tickets from her mother in Nebraska. They turned out to be some of the best, placing her “only a football field away” from the action. “It turned out to be the glamorous section; we stood in line with Susan Sarandon and Wesley Snipes,” she said. “We felt very lucky to be there.”
According to Cain, this inauguration was particularly exciting for two reasons. The first was that the nation was seeing the end of an administration that had been on the decline, and the second that Obama was the first African-American to be elected President of the United States. “The first time for anything makes it important,” said Cain. “ Kennedy was the first Catholic and his inauguration was very important for people. [Obama] being first makes it important.”
Cognard-Black thinks that so many people turned out not only for the historical importance of the event, but also because of Obama’s humility and truth. “I think [he’s so popular] because he just projects and presents truthfulness. He actually honors the other side…I don’t think we’ve seen that level of graciousness.”
Due to the significant historical context of this inauguration, many people had their young children watch and understand that history was being made. “We took our 11-year-old son,” said Kung. “Having him see the turnout for this helps him appreciate the historical importance of the moment.”
Cognard-Black and her husband, also took their daughter to the inauguration. In fact, she said that they probably would not have gone if not for their daughter, Kate. “Because of Kate, we’re parents of an only child, and we really think of what experiences are vital for her.”
Like many of his past speeches, President Obama’s inauguration speech was heavily analyzed. Different people saw different things in it. “He definitely placed his inaugural address within the context of inaugural addresses, …hearkening to a sense of unity and purpose,” said Holden.
Holden added that although Obama “said some nice things about the [former] president,” he was “a little bit sharper in marking an Obama administration as being different from the Bush administration.”
“I think that looking at it in terms of Mr. Obama’s speeches, it wasn’t his best speech,” Cain said. “The content of it, not the delivery, was as good as the one given to the Democratic Party, but it was a sobering speech and I think it was an appropriate speech.”
Cognard-Black was touched by Obama’s speech, and like Cain, felt it was appropriate for the country’s situation. She was also very impressed by the way that she felt he addressed issues without pointing fingers, and she reaffirmed that this is why he appeals to so many people. “I don’t think it’s just because he’s a liberal and because he’s young. I think it’s because he has ethos,” she said.
However, not everyone watching the inauguration at the College was an Obama supporter. President of College Republicans Sara Metz was one of the first people to trickle into Cole Cinema. She stayed for the entire event.
“I felt uncomfortable, obviously, being a Republican,” she said. She said that despite the excitement electrifying the room, “I was trying to be analytical.”
Regarding the speech, Metz said “There were some things I was elated about,” although sometimes she “felt like it was kind of partisan.”
Still, “it was a good experience, even though I felt out of place,” she concluded. “It was a historic event.”
oom, “I was trying to be analytical.”
Regarding the speech, Metz said “There were some things I was elated about,” although sometimes she “felt like it was kind of partisan.”
Still, “it was a good experience, even though I felt out of place,” she concluded. “It was a historic event.”
The Board of Trustees chose not to break from over a decade of precedent and voted last Saturday to once again raise the cost of obtaining a St. Mary’s education.
Tuition, fees and room prices will increase five percent for the 2009-2010 academic year, while meal plans will spike about 11 percent. The Board voted nearly unanimously in favor of the rate upturn, with Student Trustee Jeremy Pevner casting the sole dissenting vote.
After hearing the opinions of over 100 students, Pevner chose to vote as a representative of the student body. “Students were looking for some way to feel that they had a voice, to feel that they had some sense of efficacy on the Board,” he said.
Still, he acknowledged that increases are needed to maintain “the premier liberal arts education that the Board expects, that the administration provides and that the students demand.”
The Trustees discussed the proposed cost changes for over a half-hour, making them the centerpiece issue of the hour-and-a-half general session. Most debate focused on preserving the accessibility and quality of Maryland’s designated Public Honors College in the face of rapidly escalating operational costs.
Secretary of the Board Molly Mahoney said, “I think I speak on behalf of the Board in saying that this is not something we do easily.” She stressed that the Board’s aim was to support the students of the College.
The Board and the high-level administrators of St. Mary’s ultimately concluded that maintaining the College’s academic program and student services has sufficient utility to approve a rate increase.
Trustee Gary Jobson said, “No one around this table wants to compromise the quality of education in any way.”
“The one thing that is inviolable is our superior academic program,” added President Jane Margaret O’Brien.
Both O’Brien and Vice President for Business and Finance Tom Botzman were frank about the need for raising tuition, fees, and room and board.
One factor is rapidly growing operational costs. The College’s medical insurance premiums are skyrocketing by approximately 1.2 million dollars and energy costs are increasing by about 1 million dollars.
Student initiatives have aided the College in conserving money, but the savings are not enough to offset escalating costs. The Great Room’s trayless program reduces food waste by 23 percent and sustainability efforts have saved over 20 percent on heating oil and electric bills, according to Botzman.
“We are absolutely thrilled that the students are helping us,” he said.
Cuts were also made by the administration. After hiring 16 new faculty members, plans to employ three more have been delayed. Also, some vacant staff positions, including posts in institutional research and athletics, have not been filled and their duties have been reassigned when possible. Salary increases have been delayed as well.
St. Mary’s is also anticipating a cut in Maryland state funding. The College’s block grant is currently around 17 million dollars. “We will find out, we believe in the next month, that the state has rescinded funding [to the College] in the amount of about a million dollars,” said O’Brien.
The St. Mary’s College of Maryland Foundation – the College’s endowment – has suffered during the country’s recession and has seen its returns shrink.
Botzman said, “The endowment has not been strong. In fact, the College will supplement endowment funds for next year. Any scholarships typically come from the Foundation, what the Foundation can’t support, the College will.”
In addition to scholarships, St. Mary’s will add to its financial aid pool in proportion to rate increases so that sufficient need-based aid can still be designated to students.
Botzman noted that each percentage point raise in tuition, fees, and room and board brings St. Mary’s about 200,000 dollars in revenue. The College would face around a 1 million dollar deficit if rates were frozen for the 2009-2010 academic year and a 3.5 million dollar shortage if they were held constant for two years.
“We would have extreme difficultly closing that gap,” Botzman said.
The Trustees were also concerned about a possible rate freeze affecting future students of the College. “Five percent is a lot, but it could be a lot worse,” said Jobson. He added that if tuition, fees, and room and board were not raised this year the College could be forced to implement a 15 to 20 percent increase in the near future.
If the increases were voted down, St. Mary’s would also have to make more wide-reaching cuts to its spending. “If we do have to decide to reduce expenditures, it will affect the academic program,” said O’Brien.
Though the Trustees voted to approve the rate hike with the long-term interests of the College and its student body in mind, not all students agreed with the Board’s rationale.
After hearing of a possible protest against cost increases, James Muldoon, Chairman of the Board, invited sophomore Sarah Shipley to address the Trustees before they voted.
She said, “The student body is extremely concerned about the increase in tuition for next year” and added that most students are “confused” as to where their tuition money actually goes.
Student Government Association Vice President Matt Fafoutis agreed that there should be an increase in transparency and student participation in the budgeting process. “Usually our exposure to the budget is ‘This is how the budget is’ and we have to say ‘Oh, okay.’ The process doesn’t always directly involve the students,” he said after the meeting.
Botzman offered to review the budget with students and present it to the SGA.
In her presentation, Shipley told the Board that, “You all are charged with looking after the long-term health of this College.” She said the “health” of St. Mary’s was staked on the diversity and happiness of its students and that both factors could only decrease as tuition increased.
Shipley originally planned to protest tuition increases outside of Aldom Lounge, the site of the Trustee’s meeting. Senior Tashia Graham, who is also one of the SGA’s Commuter Senators, organized the demonstration on Facebook. 24 students confirmed their participation online, but only around five attended. Protesters cited the cold weather and the relatively early starting time of the meeting – 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday – as the chief factors that thinned the crowd.
The protesters largely focused on the burden of higher tuition prices and the possible loss of socioeconomic diversity at St. Mary’s. Graham said, “I just see the economic diversity that was at St. Mary’s my freshman year dwindling.”
“Economic diversity provides different perspectives. People who come from more economically diverse backgrounds bring different ideas and different experiences,” she added.
Fafoutis did not protest, but was one of about seven students who attended the Board’s open meeting. He said, “I think we’ve reached a tipping point with socioeconomic diversity. I feel like we’re not nearly as diverse as even during my freshman year.”
Sophomore Mary Donahue, another protester, was concerned with her burgeoning debt load and the prohibitive cost of higher education across the country. “I need to pay for my own college education. My interest rates aren’t looking very good. To have to take more loans is so daunting of an idea,” she said.
Pevner also shared the stories he heard from students struggling to pay for college. One student he quoted said, “If you’re going to tell the Board anything, tell them not to forget the working-class students.”
Though attendance at the protest and the Board’s meeting was low, Trustees still took notice of student dissent. “I think it’s important that the students’ voices were heard about this issue and I believe they were,” Fafoutis said.
House Majority Leader and Trustee Steny Hoyer praised Shipley’s presentation and agreed that St. Mary’s should closely look at its expenditures. He also acknowledged a protester with a sign that read “$67,000 in Student Loan Debt” and said, “debt is a tremendous challenge for our country.”
The Office of Admissions and the Office of Business and Finance plan to aid both current and incoming students. “Access is part of our mission,” Botzman said.
The College has budgeted for sufficient need-based financial aid and will support scholarships that the Foundation cannot. Admission is need-blind, unlike many private institutions, and does not consider the financial situation of students before offering them acceptance, according to Rich Edgar, the Director of Admissions.
The Office of Admissions will continue to recruit a diverse student body. “The students have my word. We’re working hard to preserve the socioeconomic diversity of this institution,” Edgar said.
Botzman said that the Foundation’s end of the year appeal for funds is now for a call for donors to consider a gift to the Emergency Assistance Fund, which “goes directly to students struggling in the aftermath of an unexpected financial setback,” according to the College’s website. Both Admissions and Business and Finance also work directly with students to help them secure loans when necessary.
Botzman and Edgar also stressed that rapidly growing tuition costs are a national issue and that students considering St. Mary’s will likely see an equal, if not greater, upturn in costs.
“It is not insular…it’s a broader picture, everyone is going to have increases at this time and everyone is going to have cuts,” Edgar said.
After the concrete raises to tuition, fees, and room and board were in place, Pevner said he was “pleased with the amount of discussion that the Board had” and that he believes the Trustees will scrutinize the budget even further at future meetings. He added that he voted against the increases to give a “voice” to the students.
“It is important that the students feel that their voice was heard. Because, if not, then we stop caring and we can’t stop caring about this campus. As soon as we start doing that, then that makes us the same as everyone else,” Pevner said. “From here we move forward as a community,” he added.
The new staff of the College’s counseling services center are trying their best to fulfill the responsibilities of their predecessors with limited resources and time.
This year, the College hired a new counseling team for the counseling services center which includes Director of Counseling Services Mary-Jeanne Reynolds and Assistant Director of Counseling Services Kyle Bishop. They replace Counselor Shawn MacDonald and Psychiatrist Christine LePoutre, both of whom left last year. Reynolds, although new to the job, says her prior experience allows her to be comfortable in her position “I was a director of a counseling center at a college like this size before…so I wouldn’t say I’m learning the job, but I’m learning the environment and the students.”
The counseling service center, located within the health center, deals with mental health on campus. According to Reynolds, the center’s services include individual and group counseling, referrals to outside psychologists, psychological assessment, outreach, preventative work, and prescriptions for psychiatric medications through their psychiatrist. The center also holds events, such as mental health screenings for depression and suicide prevention training for psychology students. Counseling services is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but is not open on Saturdays or Sundays.
According to Bishop, the only thing a student has to do to get counseling help is to make an appointment at the health center. Bishop also said, “If [a student] is in a crisis they can walk in, and if there’s a therapist available we’ll see them on the spot.”
Although the center provides a myriad of services, some believe that the counseling services center many not have enough resources to handle the College’s student population. Along with Bishop and Reynolds, the counseling services center includes Counselor Mary Haugaard, Wellness Advocate Candice Daniels, and an outside psychiatrist who prescribes medications. However, according to Reynolds, these three counselors see upwards of 35 to 40 students regularly, and have more than 200 open case files. In contrast, Assistant Professor of Psychology and part-time Clinical Psychologist Debbie O’Donnell only has two current clients, which is her “typical load.” This large patient load is even worse in light of the fact that the counseling services’ psychiatrist is only available four hours a week on Tuesdays. The counseling services center also cannot hire student volunteers because of the confidential nature of patient information.
Finding the resources and time to provide these services is also a problem. According to Chris True, assistant vice president of Business and Finance, the counseling services center currently has a budget of $151,000 for fiscal year 2008, $33,000 less than last year. O’Donnell said, “From my perspective, they’re having to do a lot on limited resources.” She added, “I think that the college should be investing more resources in the center because I think it is such an important service.”
Regardless of these limitations, Reynolds is confident in both the center’s ability to handle even a large-scale traumatic event and in the relationship the counseling services center has with other counseling centers in Maryland. Reynolds said, “Depending on the level of event, we would call other people to help us out.”
According to Tom Botzman, Vice President of Business and Finance, there are currently no plans to expand the counseling services center’s staff. However, that doesn’t mean that the center doesn’t want to increase its presence on campus and provide more support for students. Reynolds said, “I’d love to do more outreach and more preventative work and have more availability for students, and we’re still building all that.”
Part of it may just be getting the word out about this service on campus. “I think the counseling service provides an extremely valuable service,” said O’Donnell. “I think it is definitely something that students should be aware of.”