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Cho Yin Rachel Lo/The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton speaks at Town Meeting during a recent visit to Marlboro College.

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Emerson president visits Marlboro, addresses college community

College continuing in Vermont ‘not the most credible option,’ Pelton says

The Berkeley Beacon is Emerson College’s student newspaper, which is partnering with The Commons to cover the emerging relationship between Marlboro College and Emerson College.

MARLBORO—Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton spoke about the future of Marlboro College’s campus and the cultural similarities between the two institutions during a visit to Vermont last week.

He spoke at Town Meeting, the college’s weekly community gathering, and during a roundtable discussion with students in the library, addressing a concern at the forefront of the college community: what will become of the campus if, as envisioned, Marlboro’s programming and assets are absorbed into Emerson.

Pelton said during the roundtable that the likelihood of the Marlboro campus remaining open is slim.

“I don’t want to mislead anyone in saying that Marlboro will continue here on the hill after July 1,” Pelton told students. “Obviously for us, that’s the preferred option, but that is probably not the most credible option — [but] we want this to work for [students].”

Pelton earlier addressed the issue at the college’s Town Meeting, noting that he is aware of outside offers to purchase Marlboro’s land.

But he said that neither he nor Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley would make a decision about the future of the campus by themselves.

“I know that the state of Vermont and the community has some interest in the future of this campus,” he said. “And all I can say right now is that we are aware of that, and that all of those perspectives and points of view will be taken into consideration as the campus is developed, and it’s my hope [...] to keep the campus open and alive and vibrant in some way.”

Marlboro senior Adam Weinberg, who asked Pelton about his plans for the future of the campus, said that the answer was sufficient for him.

“I think that he answered my question [about the campus] in the sense that it’s not a closed-door thing,” Weinberg said. “I think a lot of people in the Marlboro community are feeling like, ‘Oh my God, the sky is falling, it’s a done deal.’ It kind of is, but also kind of isn’t.”

‘Elephants in the room’

“I really do come here with a sense of humility,” Pelton told the Marlboro College community during Town Meeting.

“I also come here with a sense of gratitude. I’m humbled by what is ahead of us, but I’m also grateful that we will be able to move forward on this journey and create out of our two communities something really remarkable and outstanding and singular in higher education.”

Pelton also addressed some criticism he has received since the merger announcement, which included a video message from him to the Emerson College community.

“Sometimes there’s an elephant in the room — I think there are two elephants in the room right now — and I want to address them,” Pelton said.

“One is the question of, ‘Well, Lee, why did you describe this as a gift?’ I really struggled with how to describe this transaction, not only among us, but to broader audiences. And I felt that ‘acquisition’ was not only wrongheaded, it just wouldn’t describe this alliance that we seek to establish.”

Pelton also said he believed the merger would be more than a college acquisition.

“For me, I believe that this transaction is much more than financial — it’s an alliance,” he said. “It’s an intellectual alliance, a cultural alliance, of two communities that share many common values.”

The Emerson president expressed a willingness to work with Marlboro faculty and students to ease the transition for members of the community wishing to come to Boston.

Pelton then addressed an article where he was quoted saying that Marlboro College is closing.

“I recognize now what I should have said is that the campus is closing, not the college,” he said. “Marlboro is a magical place, it is a national treasure — I believe that — and I feel humbled and grateful for the opportunity to participate in its future.”

Pelton said there would be physical space on Emerson’s campus for the Marlboro community to honor theirs.

“I am highly confident that we will be able to get to a place where we can create something that we’re all proud of, and also a place where we are respectful of the past, but also very hopeful for the future,” Pelton said. “I’m confident that that will happen.”

Pelton was accompanied by Provost Michaele Whelan, Dean of the Institute for Liberal Arts Amy Ansell, Vice President and Dean of Campus Life James Hoppe, and Vice President and Special Assistant to the President Anne Shaughnessy.

Once Town Meeting ended, members of the Emerson administration took a tour of the Marlboro campus, accompanied by Quigley.

After the tour, Pelton and Hoppe held a roundtable discussion in the library to answer student questions.

In addition to further discussion of the fate of the Marlboro campus, topics ranged from fraternity and sorority life on Emerson’s campus, to study-abroad opportunities for Marlboro students, to the process of transferring a Marlboro major in progress to a new college.

Visit ‘didn’t scratch the itch’

Head Selectperson Charlie Hickman, a junior, said in an interview with The Berkeley Beacon that they were pleased by Pelton’s Town Meeting speech, but that there’s still work to be done.

“[Town Meeting] went better than I was expecting,” Hickman said. “[Pelton] is a good speaker and I think that he was correct in addressing the two elephants in the room because there were many hurt feelings around those comments, but I don’t think that it has solved or ameliorated those feelings completely.”

Hickman also said they think students at Town Meeting needed to voice their concern and discontent rather than ask questions.

“I think that maybe there are less questions and people just want to be able to say that they’re pissed about what has been said about this,” Hickman said. “The kind of information that has been put out is not representing this agreement in a light that feels authentic to Marlboro students. And while there was an allusion to that in Town Meeting today, it didn’t scratch the itch like we needed it to.”

Hickman said the current climate on the Marlboro campus makes it hard for students to ask questions.

“It’s also such a difficult time to ask questions because there are no good answers right now, and I know a lot of students have so many feelings of anger and dissatisfaction,” Hickman said. “I think in Town Meeting a lot of people were looking to voice those feelings to [Pelton] in this public space. And that didn’t quite happen.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #538 (Wednesday, November 27, 2019). This story appeared on page A4.

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