Faculty Express Concern over Agreement between College and CMRS Program

In a letter sent to the Board of Trustees last month, the Faculty expressed concerns regarding the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) in Oxford, one of the College’s signature study abroad programs. The letter outlines three main issues surrounding the MOU—financial risk, lack of consultation with the faculty prior to the MOU’s execution, and conflict of interest.

According to Vice President of Business and Finance Tom Botzman, the College created the MOU to ensure students have the opportunity to study abroad. Under the new CORE curriculum, the College expects an increase in the number of students hoping to study abroad. Eighty percent of the first-year class is planning on studying abroad.

Approved by the Board in July 2009, the MOU commits the College to sending 25 students a semester to CMRS, paying 9,500 British pounds per student. After giving back 15 percent of their operating budgets last semester, the faculty is concerned that the MOU is too costly if not all of the spaces are filled. For instance, this semester only 20 students studied at CMRS.

According to the letter, board member of the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Foundation and former trustee Harry Weitzel indicated in a Faculty Senate meeting that given the numbers, the risk was worth taking. Yet, “[their] concerns remain.”
Botzman explained that CMRS is being flexible with the College given the economic crisis and the fact that the classes with the most demand to study abroad will not begin applying until next fall semester. This semester the College was only billed for 20 students, and not the empty five spaces.

The faculty was never consulted about the MOU and was only informed of it after it had passed through the Board of Trustees. “The faculty didn’t have the chance to review it. We’re looking at it after the fact,” said Faculty Senate president Bob Paul. He described what would have been an appropriate process. “It should’ve gone to the Senate, the Senate would have given [it] to the Committee of Internationalization, [had it] come back to the Senate and go back to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board but none of that happened,” he said

“It’s the board prerogative to make major decisions concerning finances, but it’s still in the faculty realm to design and execute curriculum. That’s what we do; we should be part of the process instead of it being presented as a done deal,” said Senate Vice President Dan Ingersoll.

The faculty also views the MOU as a potential conflict of interest. The MOU was drafted and signed by former president Maggie O’Brien. After stepping down from the presidency, O’Brien is working full time on implementing the MOU. “That the former president will assume the administrative and other responsibilities associated with the implementation of this MOU could easily be interpreted as more than coincidence,” the Senate wrote in the letter.

According to Botzman, O’Brien is a professor of the College and reports to the Provost and acting president Larry Vote. The faculty points out in the letter that CMRS is the only study abroad program coordinated by a professor full time. Professors who manage other study abroad programs do so in addition to their full time teaching responsibilities, for an additional $15,000 in salary.

In response to the letter, the Board of Trustees has created a sub-committee of the Academic Affairs committee. It will consist of Weitzel, three faculty members and three Trustees. “I think they’ve responded favorably. They’re listening, willing to see the establishment of this committee,” said Ingersoll. “We hope negotiations will add strength to the program and I’m optimistic about working with them on this.”

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