Coalition forms to 'reboot' Marlboro College

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MARLBORO — Faculty, alumni, students, staff and townspeople are fighting Marlboro College's plan to merge with Emerson College in Boston and is pushing what a newly formed coalition characterizes as "an innovative reboot plan."

Former faculty members T. Hunter Wilson and Adrian Segar, Marlboro town residents, are leading the coalition, which contends the merger, to include a transfer of Marlboro College's $30 million endowment and the campus to Emerson, "would economically cripple Marlboro and the greater southern Vermont community."

The proposal calls for "retooling of management" and a slate of new programs while retaining the current academic tracks.

"We ... believe that [Marlboro College President] Kevin Quigley has proven to be an abysmal leader for the college, and that if he were to step down, rescue efforts would pull a great many disillusioned folk back into the picture," states a "call to action" published online.

In a news release announcing the coalition, Segar said attempts to engage with the current administration and the college's board of trustees have been met "with radio silence."

"Marlboro turns out critical thinkers with enormous personal agency and can-do spirit," Segar stated. "Many alums with world-class expertise in enterprise, marketing, fundraising and higher-ed management have offered their assistance to turn the school around."

Segar noted this is not the first time concerned members of the Marlboro College community have reached out to the administration and the board, stating they "declined to respond to the outpouring of professional expertise from alumni after a failed merger attempt this past summer with the University of Bridgeport."

"Over the past year," Quigley wrote in response to an email inquiry from the Reformer, "we have worked hard and intensively with the community on Potash Hill through a task force with representation from trustees, students, faculty and staff, and the task force's efforts have been informed by focus groups, one-on-one interviews and multiple briefings."

As part of its work to keep the college in Vermont, according to the news release, the coalition is communicating with various Vermont state agencies as it works out its next steps.

"This isn't a merger; it's a closure," Wilson states in the news release. "It would be a devastating blow to the town."

While the Emerson proposal calls for the renaming of Emerson's liberal arts institute as the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, there is a concern that what makes Marlboro College unique will eventually disappear, Wilson stated.

Meanwhile, alumnus David Williamson, a professor of business management at Miami University in Ohio and longtime Marlboro town resident, has developed Marlboro 2.0, characterized as an "innovative revenue-generating, career-track program that will support the college without need for additional influx of endowment."

According to the news release, this new approach will allow liberal arts students to graduate with the mix of research, writing skills and critical thinking for which the college is currently known, together with the opportunity to major or minor in cutting-edge vocations in the arts and sciences.

The news release states that Williamson has reached out to potential collaborators in multiple industries, and has fielded a few offers of program ideas.

"Every new offering has one thing in common," the news release states. "All are designed to operate in the black from the first year."

"Marlboro town and the College are built on principles of democracy I've never seen anywhere else I've lived or worked," Williamson stated. "Students vote in Town Meeting to determine how they'd like the school to be run. So do town residents, in their own meetings. This is so important to me and nearly everyone who is touched by it."

"We are fighting to keep this unique and beloved school open, and we intend to persist," Wilson stated.

In other news, Jennifer D'Agostino, program director of consulting and outreach for the Center for New Leadership and Common Good Vermont, which is on the campus of Marlboro College, sent out a newsletter stating the organization is "here to stay."

"These past few weeks have brought forward a number of solid options that will allow us to carry on with business as usual, and will also allow us to create something bigger and stronger than we'd imagined," D'Agostino wrote in the newsletter. "We're not quite ready yet to make an announcement entailing our next steps, but we want you to know that our team has never lost its passion and belief in what we do. We see the benefits in what we all accomplish together, and we want to let you know how much we value our relationships with you. We believe very strongly in transparent communication and will continue to keep you in the loop as we move forward."

According to the Marlboro College website, the Center for New Leadership is a project of Marlboro College that works with mission-driven individuals, organizations and coalitions to build leadership capacity through teaching, coaching and consulting. The Center for New Leadership recently merged with Common Good Vermont, which offers training in nonprofit management, fundraising and development, women's leadership circle and board leadership.

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"We are looking for a home for these vibrant programs, ideally here in Vermont," Quigley wrote in an email to the Reformer.

Marlboro College has signed a term sheet — a non-binding agreement setting forth the basic terms and conditions under which a contract will be developed — with Emerson College. The agreement hasn't been finalized yet, but it calls for an end of programs in Marlboro at the end of this academic year.

Currently enrolled students will be offered the opportunity to complete their degrees at the newly named institute and Marlboro tenured and tenure-track faculty will continue to teach there as well. Administrative and support staff are not part of the proposed alliance, but severance packages will be offered.

Segar can be contacted at adrian@segar.com.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

To read more, visit the following links:

Marlboro College to merge with University of Bridgeport. Thursday, July 25.

Marlboro merger with University of Bridgeport called off. Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

Marlboro College president: No merger a 'setback, not a crisis.' Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.

Letter: No transparency in college merger proposal. Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

Letter: Is Marlboro doing enough to sustain itself? Monday, Sept. 23, 2019.

Deal with Emerson College could mean end of Marlboro College in Vermont. Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.

'Cultural allies' seek to forge college alliance. Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019.

Town struggles with Marlboro College closure plan. Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.

Letter: Moving forward while carrying a torch for Marlboro. Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

Our Opinion: College alliance a sign of the times. Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

Will Wootton: An open letter to the Marlboro College community. Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.

Mark O'Maley: Unification is needed to stabilize progressive education. Monday, Nov. 25, 2019.

Marlboro residents take issue with 'abominable' process. Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019.

Letter: Marlboro faculty responds to merger proposal. Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

Letter: Keep Marlboro's 'promise' - in Vermont. Monday, Dec. 9.


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