Office of the President

May 2012 Board Address

Just over one year ago, in March 2011, I stood before you and the College community at my inauguration, spoke about our shared passion for St. Mary’s College, and challenged myself and the campus community to be ready to work together and to move forward in an era of new challenges.

We imagined how the College a generation from now will look back on us and say, “our way was made by the commitments of 2011, and we inherit a college that was loved, nurtured, and cared for by men and women of passion.”

A few months later, we confronted the unprecedented consequences of a natural disaster. While this emergency shifted attention from longer-term work, I am proud of the way we confronted the challenges of fall 2011. Each day provided renewed demonstration of our core values and the strength of our community. We absorbed a tremendous financial impact and emerged stronger and wiser for the experience.

I have been assembling what I am pleased to say is a remarkable leadership team, dedicated to a shared vision for the College. I consider myself fortunate to have had a strong base for the team in Vice President for Business and Finance Tom Botzman. We’ve brought a group of national leaders to campus in all areas of operation, and in each of these areas have seen productive efforts to restructure and redirect efforts in keeping with that shared vision.

Vice President for Advancement Maureen Silva has had a tremendous year, exceeding the ambitious goals we set for her to support faculty and enhance financial aid; Dean of Faculty Beth Rushing has brought renewed emphasis on our core academic mission, about which I’ll say more in a moment; Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Pat Goldsmith has us thinking strategically about our recruitment, enrollment, and aid policies; and we are fortunate to have someone with extensive experience in higher education to serve as interim Dean of Students – Bert Ifill brings a plan to build bridges between student affairs and other campus operations, and we’ll hear more about that in the fall. I have also enjoyed the support, advice, and good counsel of the Faculty Senate, first under Bob Paul’s leadership, and now under the leadership of Alan Dillingham.

And so today I return to the vision of which I spoke last year, and to enlist your help in attaining it. My vision is ambitious, but attainable: to establish St. Mary’s College of Maryland as this nation’s premier public liberal arts college. As the nation’s premier public liberal arts college, St. Mary’s should be a model for emulation in funding, in curriculum, in student learning, in sustainability, as a workplace, as a community, and as a partner to local, regional, state, national and international endeavors.

So what does this mean? At a recent conference of liberal arts presidents sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, six areas of distinction were identified as essential characteristics of a residential, liberal arts college:

  1. A transformative educational program 
    • Faculty engagement in mission of the college 
      • dedication to student learning 
    • Lateral learning among students 
      • collaborative experiences 
    • Academic community = incubator for society at large 
  2. A residential, co-curricular program integral to mission 
    • Student-centered structures 
    • Learning to be responsible to and assume leadership in a community 
    • Focus on student leadership 
  3. Common high-impact learning practices 
    • Faculty interest in pedagogical development 
    • Liberal Arts Core, SMP, research, STEM success, creative endeavor 
  4. An intentional community 
    • Intensely intersectional; purposeful collision 
    • Models progressive, problem-solving community 
    • Students build and maintain communities 
    • Reject consumerist “student services” as too focused on individual needs in favor of community focus 
    • Signs of progress in college communities: sustainability, diversity, civility 
  5. Post graduate outcomes that lead nation 
    • High percentage in graduate school 
    • Success with underrepresented groups, including 1st-generation students 
    • Liberal arts colleges and national leaders 
  6.  Powerful alumni network 
    • Common sense of purpose and integrity 
    • Lifelong lifeline 
    • Continuous investment in the College

The universal sense among presidents is that the model is worth significant and sustained investment as we serve the nation’s most academically inspired and committed students.

There are many ways in which to get a college degree. Adopting mass production models, there is great national interest in producing more degrees in shorter time periods, cheaper, and more efficiently. The goal is quite fine and worthy, but there will remain a segment of the national student body who will desire and profit by the hand-crafted model offered by liberal arts colleges’ areas of distinction.

St Mary’s College shares in these marks of distinction and adds one more: we are a public liberal arts college, or as Dean Rushing has described us, a public honors college in the liberal arts tradition.

Characteristics of a public liberal arts college

  • Mission-driven: everyone in the College community understands how their roles add value to the institution; all programs are mission-focused -- the public trust  
  • Transparent: everyone understands the process for setting priorities and making decisions to allocate resources. Criteria for decision-making are explained publicly.  
  • Public identity: everyone understands what the institution stands for and how it sets its priorities.

The St. Mary’s version of premier also includes:

  • Campus-wide honors criteria: in all areas of the institution, the honors test. We strive to excel not only as a learning institution, but also as a workplace and a community partner. 
  • Stewardship: “critical area” indicates the historic, environmental and public nature of our site, as does our “monument school” status 
  • Collaborative decision-making: shared governance and public, open processes 
  • “Affordable to all”: based on academics, not personal wealth 
  • Community: our status as legacy to the colonial capital implies a strong historical continuity with the county whose name we share  
  • “Thriving on diversity”: Actively encouraging points of encounter so that intellectual collisions contribute to creative responses

St. Mary’s Areas of Pride

  • Aspirational peer public liberal arts college for many if not all members of COPLAC 
  • High reputation among legislators in Annapolis 
  • High reputation among college presidents 
  • Recognized by Mellon Foundation as peer member among private liberal arts colleges 
  • Distinctive national model with an independent, public college board 
    • Private = all alumni, connection is obvious 
    • Public = alumni + those who believe in the public good provided by the College 
      • What is our public purpose? 
      • How do we advance it together?

St. Mary’s Areas of Investment Need

Are we “honors college quality” in all areas?

  • Student quality & student life 
    • Our charge is to be affordable and accessible to all segments of society while maintaining an honors curriculum. By what measures do we distinguish our students as “honors students?” By what measures to we maintain honors co-curricular programs
  • Financial Aid 
    • Affordability is accomplished by some formula of pricing and aiding. How does our mission guide aid decisions, both merit and need-based? How are we meeting our state charge to raise private funds for financial aid? 
  • Facilities renewal 
    • As a residential campus, we maintain facilities for the whole student – living, learning, working, playing. Are our facilities -- including buildings, grounds, athletic fields, classrooms, labs, studios – “honors” quality? 
  • Academic resource allocation 
    • An honors curriculum allows for no programs that are “good enough” while others achieve high standards – an honors curriculum maintains all programs at an honor s level. Have we invested sufficiently in all academic programs? Do we provide resources for interdisciplinary programs to thrive and for all majors to be characterized by small classes? 
  • Comprehensive campaign 
    • The state has charged us with raising private funds to support our mission of access and affordability, and the honors curriculum. Are we sufficiently focused in our use of philanthropic resources?

Areas of challenge: As we enter our next strategic planning process, I see a number of critical issues for us to consider on campus and here, in board meetings. And as we move through this 20th-anniversary year of “the deal” that created the Honors College and established our distinctive budgetary relationship with Annapolis, we should ask ourselves: what do we need to attend to in order to continue to fulfill our public liberal arts mission?

Here are four long-term issues that occupy my thinking:

  1. Size of the College: over the course of 20 years we have grown from 1400 to 2000. Is 2000 the right size for the student body? There are fiscal incentives to growth. If we went to 2200 or 2400, would we maintain our essential community identity?  
  2. New programs: many liberal arts colleges have affiliate programs integrated into their missions, often having grown from unique local circumstances. One such program at St. Mary’s College is our Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. Another is our new initiative in applied physics, a collaboration sponsored by the Patuxent Partnership. Are there opportunities for growth in these areas, or are there additional areas organic to the College footprint where we might pursue our public mission? Areas that have been mentioned in the past involve the creative arts and archaeology, among others. 
  3. New Modes of Delivery: I cannot see us positioning ourselves to compete in the distance learning market – that industry is growing fast in both the for-profit and university outreach industries. But we may consider offering limited online opportunities to our own students in the summer, as an alternative to their taking coursework at institutions close to home.  
  4. Historic St. Mary’s City: we have cooperative practices in place with our museum neighbor – have we fulfilled the promise of this partnership? We also know that the museum faces challenges. Is the College positioned to assist in the evolution of the museum’s state profile?

Here’s what we need from the Board:

  • Commitment: to the model and the mission 
  • Philanthropy: leadership in the campaign 
  • Oversight: mission-driven budget planning 
  • Strategic plan: to guide our shared priorities

We have reached our 20-year milestone as the state’s designated honors college. My goal is to carry that state charge further, and to work toward the reality and the recognition that St. Mary’s College of Maryland is the premier public liberal arts college in the country.

Madam Chair, this concludes my report.