Office of the President

State of the College

State of the College Address

By Joseph Urgo

Welcome to the 2011 Alumni Weekend!

For many of you, this is your first introduction to me as President of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a place that you love—and a place where I am committed to being caretaker.

As we engage with one another during this weekend, I hope you will learn I take that commitment and my charge as President very seriously—and sometimes playfully. Let’s take a look at me at work, often playfully with the students who energize me on a daily basis and whom I regard as the heart of our campus community.

Joe fencing

Joe and students

During this first year, the projects, the exchanges, the questions, the challenges, the partnership. I get all of these from the students on a daily basis, and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful that student engagement is not a one-way street nor dead-end. I have seen the efforts of all we do to prepare our St. Mary’s youth, matched and then surpassed by their desire to make this campus, this community, and this world a better place. That desire has borne innovation and leadership. For example, the Student Government Association created a revolving loan program in 2010 called the Green St. Mary's Revolving Fund (GSMRF).

Students voted to increase their student fees by $25 and to allow the College to buy renewable energy credits to cover 100% of the electrical consumption on campus. The revolving loan fund helps finance on-campus projects aimed at reducing the College's energy consumption and carbon footprint. GSMRF projects must promote environmental stewardship and fiscal responsibility to provide a quantifiable return on investment to allow for future projects. The students’ environmental conscience extends into their food and their waste. The students established the Campus Farm in the spring of 2010 on a 1/4-acre of the Bean Farm in Historic St. Mary's City. The farm is cultivated and harvested by students and much of the produce is served to the campus community in the Great Room. They also manage the residential recycling program.

During the next academic year, three major student-led initiatives will get underway:

The Peer Health Educator Program is being reinstated for the 2011-12 academic year. Current students who are interested in helping to educate their peers motivated the return of this program. St. Mary’s has not had peer health educators since 2005. We have 15 students participating for the upcoming year. The key topic areas that the peer health educators will focus on for this year are Alcohol Use and Abuse, Wellness/Health and Nutrition, and Sexuality. 

Also in the fall, we will be starting a student-initiated group, The Student Judicial Advisors, formalizing the judicial advisor role in our judicial process. This will be a group of students trained to assist their peers when going through the judicial process as a complainant (person bringing charges) or respondent (person accused of an alleged violation of the code of conduct).

The Office of Judicial Affairs will design and implement a Peer Mediation Program to train a group of students in mediation techniques to help their peers resolve student-to-student conflicts without having to go through the judicial process or the residence life staff.

Though I’ve used this opportunity to boast a little about St. Mary’s students, I understand that campus engagement happens on many levels. To build and maintain the St. Mary’s community we must also engage our board, our faculty, our staff, and of course you—our alumni—all are essential in the continued success of this institution and is the reason we are here today.

A College community is distinct from other communities because it is purposeful in that we have an educational mission as a residential liberal arts college. Everything we do, every structure, program—right down to the way we handle our trash and manage our landscape—everything—represents a teachable example of human endeavor. We strive always to model for the future ways of being and acting that may offer the world some improvement, some hope. As you journey throughout your weekend, I encourage you to reflect on what has bought you back and why you continue to find this place so inspiring.

Also, think about what you can do to maintain what you regard as sacred on this campus so that generations to come will also want to come back. We have generations of “St. Marians” represented here today, from the 1950s  to month-old alumni. I am not sure if you know this or not but this is the largest attended alumni reunion weekend on record. We had more than 900 alumni registered and I am sure when it’s all over, we will have welcomed 1,000 participants!

Many of you were students under various campus leaders and I want you to know that I am cognizant of the work of St. Mary’s presidents and principals who have preceded me, visionaries who have guided us from 19th & 20th century seminary to 1960s junior college to 1970s public four-year college—and to today’s glimpse into the future, of what will become an “elite” liberal arts education, where “elite” refers to brainpower, not family wealth.  I follow men and women of remarkable dedication and courage, and am humbled by their accomplishments. The most brilliant of their accomplishments was the work they did in helping to shape each of you into who you are today.

And perhaps you’ve asked yourselves, is this new President going to change the St. Mary’s I know and love to the point where it is unrecognizable to me? Simply put, no. Let me assure you that I understand and respect St. Mary’s as the public trust of its founding. My goal is to make the academic rigor of an elite residential liberal arts education available to all members of the coming generation who possess the will and the capacity to meet its challenge. If I were pressed to pinpoint change then it would be in our focus, not in our mission. Our mission is to combine the two greatest educational accomplishments of American civilization: public education, and the residential liberal arts college. I think we have and will continue to do that piece well.

You may have already identified one shift to our focus; I am working to ensure that St. Mary’s becomes a more student-centered community. Just this past spring we opened our first campus pub on the north side of campus. After an intense naming competition and deliberation process—the students so perfectly decided to name it—The Pub. My goal in creating The Pub was to have a place on campus for students, faculty, and staff to interact beyond the classroom setting, and to model responsible drinking to of-age students though, it also offers soft drinks and late-night food choices to all students – burritos and nachos until 2am, eliminating the need to drive to Sheetz for sustenance.

Every Thursday at noon, I do an hour-long radio show on hawk radio where I invite a variety of guests and a host a number of topics from the campus community. Also, every Wednesday I sit in front of the Daily Grind (the campus snack bar) and avail myself to students and staff members wanting to discuss any topic. I host campus-wide Presidential Forums on a variety of topics. The last one was prompted by the students wanting to discuss civility and how to keep it at the forefront of the St. Mary’s way. In an effort to proactively engage student leaders, I have weekly meetings with both the Point News editor and the SGA president. And, my wife Lesley and I often play host to students, as well as faculty and staff at our house, which is across the river from campus.

As you can now tell, I desire to offer current students a robust residential experience much in the same way, I desire to offer prospective students, high-capacity students without the financial means, the opportunity to receive an educational program more typically reserved for the wealthy. Making most effective use of financial aid is at the top of my initiatives list. Here at St. Mary’s we seek to be an engine of class mobility, helping to end the cycle of educational deprivation that afflicts too many American families. At St. Mary’s College we do not make class distinctions for education deemed as “appropriate” to the wealthy as apart from that “appropriate” to the general population.

Much attention is paid these days to the way this nation provides financial assistance to students at various income levels. By far the lion’s share of financial aid goes to wealthier students—not to students deciding whether to attend college, but to students deciding which college to attend. A recent study by The Education Trust found that “Private nonprofit colleges and universities spent almost twice as much on students from the top quintile of family income as they did on those in the bottom quintile. Even public institutions spent roughly the same amount on students from the wealthiest families as they did on those from low income backgrounds.” 

You may have heard about President Obama’s call for higher college completion rates, asking states to set goals where 55% of the population has a college degree. Higher education financial aid policies may be the primary obstacle to reaching that goal. Given what we do now, “is it any surprise” that 82% of students from the highest income quartile have a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 24, but only 8% of those in the lowest income quartile do? (“Priced Out,”p.12)

While we are on the topic of funding. It is no secret that tuition prices have increased – faster than the cost of living, driven largely by the cost of technology – when some of you went to college, there was no Instructional Technology department, personnel, or budget.

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In 1992, a Maryland House Bill designated St. Mary’s College as the state’s public honors college and granted its Board of Trustees autonomy over its personnel, procurement, and budget, along with a stable and predictable level of funding from the state, known as “the block grant.”

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Although the grant increases slightly each year, its relative impact on the college budget is shrinking and thus, we have had to seek additional revenues from other sources like tuition and fees, grants and gifts.

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We’ve had conversations with state leadership on this issue and they have in-turn invited us to explain why our tuition has risen so much, and how the state can help us do something about it. We look forward to making our report in September of this year and we will report back to you the result of our effort.

Another one of my initiatives this year has been both environmental and beautification efforts. At St. Mary’s College, more than 300 acres of developed and undeveloped land showcase a variety of southern Maryland plant life. The St. Mary’s Arboretum has begun labeling trees and plantings on the campus grounds and will continue to identify, create and protect habitats for native animals and plants as a designated Audubon International site. If you want to learn more about the arboretum, find ways you can get involved, or simply take a tour, visit the “Not Your Grandmother’s Idea of an Arboretum, for a lecture and a walking tour. The session will begin at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow morning in Cole Cinema.

Here are just a few highlights from the year that I wanted to leave you with:

(1) Inauguration

(2) Board News

Shown on the screen is our new St. Mary’s Board of Trustees. Twenty-six trustees serve St. Mary's College, of whom the Governor appoints 23. The alumni council president, one student trustee and a representative from Historic St. Mary's City fill the remaining three positions. The board also selects the President of the College, who also serves on the board. This year we welcomed a new Chair, Molly Mahoney Mathews.

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And, as of June 30, 2011 there will be six new members who are joining the board, two of which are alumni. The members are:

•    Donny Bryan ’73

•    Tim Broas

•    Elizabeth Graves ’95

•    Tim Heely

•    Sven Holmes

•    Glen Ives

(3) Leadership Overview

On this next slide, I’d like to introduce you to our current College leadership as there are some new faces you may not recognize.

leadership team

(4) Faculty News

In faculty news, you may be familiar with some of our outstanding faculty members that have recently received a promotion and tenured status.

I will read out the names and you may recognize a few:

•    Dr. Sybol Cook Anderson, associate professor of philosophy

•    Dr. Betul Basaran, associate professor of religious studies

•    Dr. Barbara Beliveau, associate professor of economics

•    Dr. Adriana Brodsky, associate professor of history

•    Dr. Cristin Cash, associate professor of art history

•    Dr. Christine Wooley, associate professor of English

•    In addition, one professor was recently promoted from an associate professor to a full professor, Dr. Charles Holden, professor of history.

Also, please join me in remembering a faculty member who passed-away this year. Alan Paskow, professor of philosophy. We held a campus memorial service last semester, in this room.

(5) Facilities

Though we are always working to improve our facilities, the most notable upcoming changes will be to Anne Arundel Hall.


By show of hands, how many of you had classes in Anne Arundel Hall? If you’re nostalgic, act quickly because the building will be leveled in the fall 2013. The good news is that a new facility will replace it. Construction for the new building will begin in fall 2014 and will be completed in fall 2016. The new building complex will provide academic space for the College's programs in anthropology, museum studies, and language/cultures as well as general classrooms and a replacement for the Blackistone Room.


It will also house the Historic St. Mary’s City department of archaeology and include modern archaeological curation facilities.  The goals for the Complex are to: enhance Academic Programs, promote Academic Collaboration between College and HSMC, relieve (or cancel) the maintenance back-log in the old building, enhance Accessibility, connect the academic site to the rest Campus.

In advance of this expansion, the Margaret Brent building will be relocated from its spot adjacent to the Post Office, to the parking lot area of the Campus Center. The move is a major sustainable project effort, known as “preserving the embodied energy,” in which the materials of a building and the energy that it took to create the materials, like the bricks and windows, are preserved in the new structure. The building will be moved this fall and will become home to the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department. Julie King and Chip Jackson will provide a talk about the facility tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the Blackistone Room at Anne Arundel Hall.

(6) Accomplishments in Athletics:

Two weeks ago, St. Mary's finished 3rd in women’s fleet racing, 5th in team racing, and 5th in co-ed fleet racing in the national championships in Cascade Locks, Oregon. St. Mary's was the only school with three top-five finishes during the competition. All-American awards were also announced at the conclusion of the nationals. Five St. Mary’s students received All-American awards.

Also in early spring, the men’s basketball team, led by a ‘97 alumnus, Chris Harney, took Seahawks further than they have ever been before, clinching its third trip to the Division III NCAA Sweet 16 and its first trip to the Elite 8 in 2011. These are exciting accomplishments and I am proud that the rigors of our academic programs can be matched by our physical ones. Take a close look at this last image of a student during the championship game.

Sam Borum

This is Sam Burum, the Capital Athletic Conference Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year  a political science major with a minor in sociology who compiled a 3.773 grade point average.  He was also named the St. Mary's Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year for having the highest GPA amongst the senior student-athletes. He made the Dean's List every semester and the CAC All-Academic Team all four years.  Burum has helped first-years get off on the right foot as a Freshmen Orientation Leader for three years.  As a student ambassador, he presented the best of St. Mary's to high school juniors and seniors who have started their college search process.

Let’s look at the photo. Observe the agility in his reach, the way he manages obstacles—his tense posturing that says, he will not quit.

As you explore the campus this weekend and relive old memories while making new ones, I want you to remember Sam Burum and his fierce determination, and know that we at St. Mary’s have not quit on you. And, we certainly hope, that you will not quit on us. It’s important for you to come back, and stay involved. Send us your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Support us with your presence when our students are in competition or performing. And support us with your financial contributions.

St Mary’s College is still priced at half our private school peers—which means scholarship dollars go twice as far here as elsewhere, and all levels of assistance are impactful.  Help from alumni and friends is the only way we are going to survive and open our doors to those deserving—a fulfillment of our mission.  We need your help in keeping St. Mary’s an obtainable reality for tomorrow’s youth, and a viable model for an “elite” liberal arts education accessible to all.

[1] Priced Out: How the Wrong Financial-Aid Policies Hurt Low-Income Students. The Education Trust, June 2011, p.2