On Oxford and the Changing Face of Education: A Conversation With Maggie

I recently spoke with Jane Margaret “Maggie” O’Brien, the former president of St. Mary’s, about what she’s been involved with lately. She stepped down from the college in July of 2009 and began working for Oxford University’s international program, the College for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS).

The Point News: Fill me in on what you’re doing for CMRS.

Former president Jane Margaret O’Brien: Over the last three years, I’ve been working with John Fennely, who is the Principle and founder of CMRS. I met John in 1997. [When I left St. Mary’s] I had fulfilled 18 years as a president.

I’ve seen a remarkable broadening of the curriculum which we did in 2002 [as well as formal agreements to send a number of students to CMRS]. Fennely’s goals are to develop a Western Traditions curriculum and a research center specifically for CMRS students.

TPN: Why are you in the country? I thought you’d be in Britain most of the time.

JMO: My job is the executive Director in the U.S. I love my job and the people I’m working with. When I stepped down I spent a great deal of time coordinating a funding effort… [I’m] currently working with Keble college [of Oxford University, regarding the partnership between CMRS and Keble].

TPN: I’ve heard from different students of CMRS that it can be a little cloistered.

JMO: That’s a very significant reason that CMRS has partnered with Keble. Keble has very robust programs in Athletics and Theatre, to name a few. There was a report last Spring out of a 3-person committee that was not constructive in its presentation… the Dougherty Committee report was less constructive for John moving forward. However, [another report] the Middlebury Report was very positive.
It’s up to St. Mary’s whether they wish to keep sending students with ease to Oxford. The alternate would be University of Bristol or Nottingham. Oxford is like the center of the universe, it’s very international, [and] the value of being part of the Consortium would be the ease with which to send people there.

TPN: What would you say are the differences between what you’re doing now with CMRS and what you did at St. Mary’s?

JMO: I understand how faculty construct international education in the curriculum better than before. I enjoy that type of work. That means reconnecting with people […] who are part of the CMRS family. Every college, every University, has its own style… [Keble and CMRS] function differently than most colleges in the US because of the tutorial system. And you see the value in it. The tutorial system is pretty cool because the student is on the spot every week, presenting their work. What struck me most about education was the incredible importance of in the class and out of the class education.

TPN: Any other thoughts?

JMO: When you step away from college education you can see it more clearly. Higher education isn’t in the forefront of using media as effectively as we can. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with the Vice President of the SGA after Virginia Tech. I asked Meg, grade us, how did we do. And the startling thing was that she got most of her information about what had happened from facebook.
Another thing I’ve become more aware of is that the pattern of learning is in rapid flux. There is no surprise that [as we progress] the 4-year gap becomes very noticeable.

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