Urgo's Open Letter to College

The Point News:

The Board of Trustees has approved a four percent increase to tuition rates for next year. The discussion on the increase was lively, with substantial and thoughtful input from students, faculty, and staff. In the end, the trustees continued to hold to the key aspects of our mission: balancing access and affordability with a rigorous academic program.

Our operating budget totals about $70 million; over $34 million pays salaries and benefits for about 420 faculty and staff, over $6 million to scholarships and financial aid, and about $27 million pays for ongoing programmatic and operational expenses. A major portion of our budget funds the mundane articles that support everyday College life—things such as maintaining our facilities, paying for utilities, and covering rising employee benefit charges. In a typical year, routine repairs and increases in these areas exceed $1 million.

We’re in the fifth year of the global recession and there are signs of slow improvement. Several sources of revenue, such as interest earnings on our endowment, are beginning to recover but not at a pace that meets all of our budget challenges. The state continues to provide support, but the rate of growth is slower than in past years. College leadership must prioritize what is most important as the economy slowly recovers. The direction supported by our students, staff, faculty, and trustees is remarkably consistent. First, we want to prepare our budget so that it pays the faculty and staff fairly for their good work. The trustees were clear that we should, at our first opportunity, provide salary increases to those members of our community who are paid the least and those who have not had increases for three years. We have a plan to budget for those increases. While we remain under a wage freeze, we are ready for when the thaw begins. We also know that the Governor’s proposal would increase wages by two percent for all employees on January 1, 2013. That’s an important first step and we look forward to moving beyond the base when we are able to do so. Second, we must continue to support the rigor of the academic program. After attempting to include new faculty positions in the budget for four years, but failing to fund them, the budget that will be submitted to the trustees in April, will propose two new faculty lines. Third, we will continue to fund the financial aid budget and include allowance for shortfalls in endowment income. And, of course, we’ll continue to actively encourage philanthropy that supports student scholarships, particularly in support of students with financial need.

The Board will be asked to approve next year’s budget at its May meeting. My goal is to bring a budget that supports St. Mary’s College and its educational mission. I want to thank the members of the community who have spoken with me to articulate their budget priorities. I also thank Tom Botzman for his public presentations of the budget, and for maintaining an open process as we plan for next year’s expenses.

 

Joseph R. Urgo

President

Urgo Urges For Campus Civility

Dear St. Mary’s College Community:

In conversations with students, faculty, and staff over the last few weeks, a recurring theme of civility on campus has emerged. Simply put, the word on the banks of the St. Mary’s River is that people are becoming less nice.

I’m told there are fewer greetings on The Path and more ear buds cocooning playlists that have left their owners insulated from passers-by. There also seems to be a rise in mean-spiritedness. These issues are prickly because while we want everyone to be nice to one another, we all have the right to be asinine sometimes.

So, this message is not about being selfish or hoarding the jellybeans. That’s human nature. When I think of civility I think more of the work it takes to create, maintain, and participate in a community.

I am thinking more specifically about cleaning up after ourselves, holding the door for others, looking people in the eye, smiling, and (remember the old lesson?) treating others as you would want to be treated.

At college we study the best that’s been thought, said, created, imagined. That’s a high bar for behavior. Under observation, how will the critics assess our contribution? High quality? Worthy of national distribution? Or, destined for rubbish and not even recyclable?

I don’t think we need to be nice all the time. I agree with the idea articulated by Abbie Hoffman, a defendant from the Chicago Seven trial a generation ago:  “When decorum is repression, the only dignity free men [and women] have is to speak out.”

We always need space for dramatic articulation. At the same time, this is our home. Let’s not soil where we eat. Civility has its place in our learning environment as a key component in creating and maintaining our community.

As news about our institution is sent into cyberspace via YouTube videos, Tweets and Facebook pages, we all have a hand in shaping the content of OurTube. Let’s reflect on our interaction with others, just for a moment, and decide how we want St. Mary’s story to be told throughout the community, the state of Maryland, the country—and the world.

Joseph Urgo

President

St. Mary’s College of Maryland

 

URGO WEIGHS IN ON THE AMETHYST INITIATIVE

To the St. Mary’s College Campus Community: as your president, I am considering signing on with other presidents around the country to the Amethyst Initiative. The initiative asks that we reopen a national discussion on the drinking age.

From their web site, http://www.amethystinitiative.org/: “Launched in July 2008, the Amethyst Initiative is made up of chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States. These higher education leaders have signed their names to a public statement that the problem of irresponsible drinking by young people continues despite the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and there is a culture of dangerous binge drinking on many campuses. The Amethyst Initiative supports informed and unimpeded debate on the 21 year-old drinking age. Amethyst Initiative presidents and chancellors call upon elected officials to weigh all the consequences of current alcohol policies and to invite new ideas on how best to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.”

I share a number of concerns with presidents and chancellors who wish to reopen the debate on the drinking age. I am concerned that we, as professionals responsible for the education of young adults, have created an atmosphere where students who choose to consume alcohol often do so in ways dangerous to their health.

They do so not because they are ignorant of health issues, but because they seek to avoid criminal charges they would incur if they were “caught” in a commercial establishment or in a public space consuming alcohol. As a result, we have conditions in place where binge drinking, tragically, is one logical response to an atmosphere the professionals have created.

The current policy creates an equally tragic situation where the decision to drink or not to drink is one that defines the social scene. Because purchase and consumption is illegal for most students, it cannot be casual and incidental to a social occasion, but must be planned and schemed as one would a criminal activity.

A social divide ensues between those who have chosen to drink and those who have chosen not to do so – as a result, having a glass of wine or beer is not a casual affair but an intense activity, not dissimilar to the way an alcoholic might encounter the disease.

Not all students care about alcohol consumption, but enough do to make it a major issue on college campuses. We are educating young adults, providing them opportunities and challenges that we claim, with confidence, will serve them throughout their lives and careers.

The Amethyst Initiative asks that we reconsider how the current drinking age sets up a distinctive atmosphere in which students learn about alcohol consumption as a part of their socialization as adults. It also places a prohibition on adult modeling of socially responsible consumption of alcohol to 18-20 year olds—in fact, makes it a criminal activity.

Current policy drives young adult drinking underground, implicitly defining it as an illicit activity, encouraging the kind of drinking associated with diseased behavior.

I agree with the signers to the initiative in that I think it is time to reopen this discussion. As I consider signing the Amethyst Initiative, I want the campus community to understand my reasoning, and to hear those who have contrary opinions.