Students React to President O’Brien’s Planned Departure

President O’Brien’s resignation was met with reactions of surprise and sadness on the part of the student body. (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)
President O’Brien’s resignation was met with reactions of surprise and sadness on the part of the student body. (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)

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.”

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