Potash Hill

View from the Hill

It Takes a Community to Turn Challenge into Opportunity
By President Kevin Quigley

All across the landscape of higher education, colleges and universities talk about “shared governance.” What they commonly mean is that trustees, administration, and faculty share some modest responsibility for the institution, principally for academic and co-curricular programs. To the extent that students are engaged in college governance, their purview is usually confined to the use of funds from student activity fees.

Given this common usage of the term, colleagues from other institutions are often confused when I talk about how shared governance is practiced at Marlboro. Since the college’s inception, all community members have been invited to have a hands-on role in crucial matters that affect Marlboro. Issues discussed during Town Meeting last academic year, for example, included policies related to sexual misconduct, safety and security, alcohol and drugs, the college’s financial relationship with investors in the Dakota Pipeline or the Occupied Territories in Palestine, as well as how to have a more transparent budget process.

“Community governance” is perhaps a more accurate description, and less likely to confuse—I’ll give you another example. Here at Marlboro, as at many other small liberal arts colleges, enrollment has been challenged by growing concerns about the cost, and uncertainty about the value, of a liberal arts education. This summer we launched an action-planning process designed to actively engage all community members in crafting strategies and implementing solutions to four immediate challenges: enrollment, marketing, curricular innovation, and student life.

Over the summer months, the Snyder Building and our online network were a beehive of activity as community members organized into four working groups came together to identify problems, debate ideas and approaches, and then craft solutions that will help the college—as a community—meet and overcome these challenges. Doing this hard work as a community is for me a clear expression of what community governance means at Marlboro.

I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this unique and timely approach that helps transform challenges into opportunities—while acknowledging that this process is not always easy, or fast, or certain. This action-planning process fundamentally reflects the college’s basic mission to cultivate the skills and attitudes necessary to be effective and engaged community members and citizens. Stay tuned as the process continues to evolve in the weeks and months ahead.