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The Blue & Gray Press | June 24, 2018

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Letter to the Editor: ‘Resource reallocation’ devalues alumni degrees

Dear President Hurley,

You probably don’t remember this, but I was at the BOV meeting more than two years ago when you were officially appointed president of the University of Mary Washington. The room burst into applause, and, though we tried to maintain our neutrality, my co-editor and I were thrilled to finally have some semblance of stability at our shaky, revolving door university.

But recent news of your and the University’s “plan for the future” leads me to believe that, by appointing you, the BOV was appointing the lesser of two evils.

I understand the need for a “student center” at UMW. I understand getting our name out there and trying to recruit the best students possible. I understand marketing campaigns. But bringing in a consulting firm with a history of revamping universities to “reallocate resources” to more important programs, which one would think is subjective anyway, defies the entire concept of a liberal arts school.

Like many others in my graduating class, I know from experience how hard the job market is right now. However, purging the fundamentals of our education at a school “where faculty, students, and staff share in the creation and exploration of knowledge through freedom of inquiry, personal responsibility, and service,” according to its mission statement, seems counterintuitive. Invest in academics and professors if you want to get higher quality applicants. Invest in currently enrolled students, instead of keeping the university an indefinite construction site. If you invest in the tremendous talent and integrity already in existence at UMW, there shouldn’t be a need to change so dramatically.

The mission statement also requires “high-quality instruction as its most important function,” broad educational experiences and practicing habits necessary for life-long learning. The students UMW needs are not those who complain through every course and do the bare minimum to graduate. UMW needs the students with a thirst for knowledge beyond graduation, who, when they graduate, will carry the strong UMW name with them throughout their careers. They will be the ones to help give UMW a “true distinctiveness in the academic marketplace.”

I urge you to leave institutional learning at the institutions. We don’t win prospective students over with our sub-par, “trendy” course offerings or shiny new buildings; we attract students yearning for community, culture and academia. Purging the school of the courses and the professors who provide these assets to the university would be a tragedy for higher education and UMW.

If you value your alumni, don’t devalue our degrees. The job market is hard enough already, and the whole concept behind this master plan is to produce well-paid alumni for higher donations, right?

For fellow alumni and professors who have invested so much of their time and money in UMW as a liberal arts school, a dramatic change based on the bottom line would do a disservice to their hard work and careers, and the university we have all worked so hard to build.

In choosing UMW, we chose a community. Many of us chose to study the humanities, to study languages and to study abroad. If language programs are eliminated, much of UMW’s language-driven international presence would be driven into the ground.

We chose you. It’s your turn to make the right decision for us and our legacy.

Sincerely,

Anne Elder

Anne Elder is a 2012 alumna.

Comments

  1. Emilie

    Thanks for writing this article, Anne. Since I graduated in 2010, it seems as though UMW has been trying to market itself as a cool school with shiny new buildings and nicknames for everything. If I had wanted that kind of community, I would’ve attended CNU. While both are great schools, what really attracted me to Mary Washington was the sense that people were coming here for an education and environment where they could feel as though their professors valued their input and ideas. The food wasn’t the best, and not everything was state-of-the-art, but I felt like I had found my home when I toured the campus in Fall of 2005.

    When I toured the campus in Fall of 2012, the same buildings were in place, but the environment was different. The lampposts had banners with ridiculous slogans that I find hard to believe were approved by an administration that knows its student body. I absolutely agree that new buildings were needed on campus, and that Mason and Randolph were in dire need of some renovations. What I don’t agree with is this need to try to force a new identity on a campus that already has a great and respected identity.

  2. Emily Fornof

    Thanks for writing this article Anne, I couldn’t agree with you more. When I first toured UMW in the spring of 2004, I wasn’t paying attention to the quality of the buildings or any trendy marketing. What I was paying attention to was the quality of the professors, the beautiful grounds, and the community atmosphere. I was lucky enough to attend UMW when it was largely construction-free and although I think some of the renovations have improved the school (Monroe, Mason, Randolph, all buildings I spent the majority of my time at UMW in), I do not like some of the big changes I’ve seen.

    Anne has eloquently pointed out what’s important to UMW alumni (and hopefully current students)- that the quality of the education we received is far above and beyond other public universities. If I had wanted to attend the type of institution UMW seems to be turning into, I could have gone to a any number of other schools.

    UMW needs to maintain what makes it distinctive: its focus on life-long learning. It can’t and won’t beat larger universities at this marketing game. When I describe my undergraduate education, I am proud to say that I believe I received a higher quality education at UMW than my peers at schools like UVA. My professors were there to teach, not to research, and my classmates were all there to learn. Everyone was proud to be a nerd. I hope that I do not need to qualify my praise in the future to explain that the school was much different when I attended.

    My fellow alumni have expressed similar concerns with the direction of the university and we agree that it discourages us from donating. If the bottom line is what you’re worried about, I think you’ll find that the direction you’re heading is not going to make matters better.

  3. Arnold

    Emily: “focus on life-long learning” should be the university’s new marketing campaign.