MARLBORO — Although there has been very little time to respond to the Emerson College–Marlboro College bombshell announcement, a small group of residents, alumni, and supporters with long and deep ties to the Marlboro College community has formed to work to create a viable and vibrant alternative to the current plan (the “Plan”) to close Marlboro College and transfer its endowment and campus to Emerson.
What we know
What we know of the detailed Plan and the process used to generate it is limited. The Plan was developed in secret, avoiding input from the vast majority of the Marlboro College community: students, faculty, staff, and thousands of alumni, college supporters, and townsfolk.
When the University of Bridgeport deal was announced in July, many alumni and supporters contacted the school asking how they could help the college through its difficulties, including offers of significant financial assistance and new, innovative programs and approaches that had not been considered. The college sidestepped these offers, and the deal fell apart in two months.
Currently, the college says that a term-sheet agreement exists between Marlboro and Emerson. A term sheet is a non-binding agreement setting forth the basic terms and conditions under which a contract may be developed.
If a term sheet is the only current agreement, then there is currently no legal obligation between the two institutions. We suspect, but do not know, that the upcoming emergency board meeting on Dec. 14 is a hasty response to the groundswell of opposition to the Plan, designed to sign a more-binding agreement with Emerson before opposition can solidify.
What we believe
• We believe that the deliberate and willful exclusion of many people with significant relevant expertise and resources (both professional and financial) guarantees that significant, viable, and preferable alternatives to the Plan were not, and should have been, considered.
• We also believe that the Plan is a great deal for Emerson and a terrible deal for Marlboro College. Stripping the Corporation of Marlboro College of all its assets and the campus ($55.5 million in 2015, according to the latest available IRS figures) ensures that no funds under local control will be available for developing viable uses for the empty campus. The Plan can and should be abandoned or, at a minimum, renegotiated.
• We think that sending Marlboro College's entire (or nearly entire) value to Boston will have a profoundly damaging effect on this entire region of Vermont for many years to come, with even more damage to the town of Marlboro. We are also highly skeptical that anything significant of this college will remain long at Emerson, so that there is a further loss to higher education of what Marlboro represents.
• We believe that if we harness the support and resources of the entire Marlboro College community, it may well be possible to develop a transformed Marlboro College that can continue with the values, culture, mission, and community that has flourished for 70 years and that is critically important to support at a local, regional, and global level.
• We further believe that 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.
How we will work together
We start under the tremendous disadvantage of a profound power imbalance between the college board and the wider college community.
The former has the advantage of a long period devoted to developing the Plan, access to information they have not shared or will not share with the Marlboro community, plus ample access to paid professional consulting and legal advice. We have none of these advantages and very little time to act.
Our best approach seems to be convening a working group that is small enough to work effectively under severe time constraints and has the necessary skills and resources to develop strategy and tactics that slow down the headlong rush to ram through an unacceptable Plan while simultaneously developing a practical, viable, and preferable alternative.
We will work together privately while communicating with the Marlboro community as much as possible on a regular basis. Unlike the board, we are committed to sharing appropriate information uncovered by our work.
What we need
To create a viable and preferable alternative to the Plan, we need a small number of individuals who:
1) Agree with the beliefs outlined above.
2) Will commit significant constructive time to work on a viable and preferable alternative to the Plan.
3) Can work cooperatively and intelligently as a team under our leadership.
4) Can and will supply the following specific, urgently needed support:
i) Legal expertise: both Vermont licensed attorneys and attorneys with specific expertise in this educational environment.
ii) Financial support of two kinds:
a) Immediate support for legal fees and other expenses that are about to be incurred.
b) Confidential and conditional offers of significant financial support for alternative plans for Marlboro College.
iii) Trusted relationships with Marlboro board members that can be used to obtain information about board activities and act as a condition for alternative plans for Marlboro College.
If you fit the above criteria, we would like to hear privately from you as soon as possible. Please email Adrian Segar only, and only with offers of assistance that fall into the categories listed above. (We have been inundated and deeply touched by expressions of support, which we love and appreciate, but need to concentrate on focused and effective action.) He will respond as quickly as he can. It's possible we won't be able to work effectively with everyone who might respond, so please understand our limitations in this very complex situation.
We are committed to an honest and principled effort to save a transformed Marlboro College. We pledge to keep sensitive information and offers shared with us confidential. We are prepared to lead the work described, and commit significant time to doing so, despite having other professional and community-service commitments.
We aim to be servant leaders for the Marlboro community, while realistically constrained by time limits and the existing power imbalance to maintain a minimal autocratic perspective so we act purposefully as needed, rather than endlessly discuss.
Ultimately, each of us in the Marlboro community gets to choose whom to trust in this unfortunate and complex situation. We will do our best to ensure that your trust in us, should you choose to give it, is vindicated.