Panels Look Forty Years Ahead, Forty Back

One of the opening events for President Joseph Urgo’s presidential inauguration was an academic symposium that began the afternoon of Mar. 25 in St. Mary’s Hall. This article covers the first two panels of  the symposium; the keynote address by Dr. Eduardo Ochoa, Assistant Secretary for Post-secondary Education, is covered separately.

The two panels of the symposium focused on sustainability and accessibility separately by examining the history of St. Mary’s 40 years into the past and predicting the path of the college 40 years into the future.

The first panel, “Sustainability – Living Responsibly,” was led by Kate Chandler, Associate Professor of English, Kevin Fletcher, Executive Director of Audubon International, and Tom Botzman, Vice President of Business and Finance, and was moderated by senior Chelsea Howard-Foley.

Howard-Foley’s brief introduction reminded the many in the audience of faculty, staff, community members and  students to think of “the possibilities as we gaze ahead into the next 40 years.”

Chandler began by speaking first, outlining the history of the College since before the 1970s, through construction and expansion of the campus, as well as the changing site of the water tower. Her slide show displayed the College’s growth from 3 buildings South of Route 5 (Calvert Hall, St. Mary’s Hall, and the May Russell Lodge) to where it is today, including impending construction projects such as the renovation of Anne Arundel Hall. Chandler said, “We’re marching forward…it’s been very wisely chosen how we’ve grown…[but] at what cost?”

The focus was not only on sustainability in terms of environmental effects but as well as relationships and lifestyles. Chandler questioned whether the cleaning staff was overworked because of new buildings and fewer employees hired. She also asked, “Is [the] curriculum providing what our students need?”

At the end of her speaking time, Chandler said, “We do a lot of things right,” but reminded the audience that the “secondary definition of sustain is to nourish; let that be our goal.”

Fletcher then began to speak on sustainability from the perspective of an individual whose job is to help and to encourage institutions to engage in more sustainable practices. He said, “We are bounded by the limits of the natural world…[and] have come to the conclusion that we have to change some of these [unsustainable] systems.”

He covered the increase in environmentally focused building and awareness, citing certifications like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for building projects, which though successful is not as widespread as many believe.  Fletcher said, “press coverage and awareness is disproportionate to what’s actually happening.”

He warned against expecting perfection in sustainability because of “paralysis” if that goal is not immediately reached; instead he said, “any action [toward sustainability] is good.”

Botzman finished the first panel on by addressing monetary concerns and the predicted budget for the college in the next 40 years.

He began by reviewing the College’s budget in 1971 ($14.3 million), currently ($69 million) and with an average 4% annual increase for the next 40 years, $331 million in 2051. For 2051 Botzman gave estimates of the cost for students assuming current rates and average annual increases; tuition would cost $65,437, room $29,529, and board $20,068.

These future costs reflected future inflation rates as well as the fact that “costs are rising more rapidly in the service industry.”

Botzman covered initiatives by the College that have been both sustainable and cost effective by reducing energy use, such as reducing storm water runoff, as well as predicted actions in the future. “I expect solar panels on campus and [we’ll] probably have wind power.”

He said one reason why sustainability is important is not only because of saving money, energy and being environmental stewards, but also because “a sunset over the St. Mary’s River is a billion dollar view.”

Following a short break the audience reconvened for the second panel of the academic symposium, “Access and Inclusion – Threats and Possibilities,” which was moderated by junior Brittany Davis. Wesley Jordan, Dean of Admissions; Lois Stover, Professor of Educational Studies; and Leon Henry ,’88, Director of Outreach, Big Brothers Big Sisters – Central Maryland, all spoke.

Jordan spoke on the importance of St. Mary’s being accessible because of its status as a public trust, a publicly funded institution entrusted to educate “as many students as we can.”

He suggested several avenues to ensure St. Mary’s remains diverse, open, and continues to hold high academic standards. He listed items like increasing the financial aid budget the same percentage as tuition goes up and an active admissions process and outreach.

Stover continued the panel with the question, “Why should we care about diversity anyway?” She pointed out benefits to having different types of people come together: students learn more academically when they are forced to examine views different from their own as well as being “forced to recognize our own view of the world.”

When a diverse group of people comes together their interactions are “effortful [and] mindful…when in a situation for which you have no script.”

Stover encouraged St. Mary’s to “continue to share our stories to build community.”

Henry was the final speaker of the panel before the floor was opened to questions, several of which he raised during his time speaking.

He reflected on his time as a student at St. Mary’s and how “diversity in our mind meant black and white.” He asked whether increasing diversity at schools necessarily meant  “creating a schism between haves and have-nots in minority communities.”

Furthermore, he asked if  minority students “have an obligation to demonstrate that success?” Henry added that all students need to have a “willingness to reach out to [different] experiences.”

 

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