Audible gasps filled the Cutler Majestic Theatre Wednesday morning as President M. Lee Pelton announced a merger between Emerson and Marlboro College, a small liberal arts college in southern Vermont.
Marlboro will donate its $30 million endowment and its real estate, valued at more than $10 million, to Emerson’s Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies program. The program will be renamed the Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College.
Each college will form working groups to discuss various aspects of the merger, including academic affairs, student life, administration, human resources, and financial matters. Marlboro previously planned to merge with Bridgeport University in Connecticut until their discussions ended Sept. 13, according to a September statement on Marlboro’s website.
Marlboro’s students and faculty can choose whether they want to come to Emerson at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. Those who choose to come to Emerson will join the liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies program with the same tuition rate they currently pay at Marlboro.
Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe said in an interview that both colleges are still working out the details of the merger and that the Emerson community responded positively.
“I’ve been heartened by the sense of concern for the wellbeing of the community at Marlboro,” Hoppe said. “We all want them to be as successful as possible in this, and it’s nice that I’ve seen students, faculty, and staff express concern about the people who are in Marlboro and that they have the best support they can get.”
Marlboro’s undergraduate and graduate programs combined hold less than 500 students. Hoppe said the culture that Marlboro students will bring will enhance the Emerson community.
Marlboro plans to close its campus at the end of the spring 2020 semester, according to a statement released by the college.
Dean and Professor of Liberal Arts Amy Ansell told The Beacon in an emailed statement that she views the merger as an opportunity to grow the liberal arts program at the college.
“From my perspective, this is a terrifically exciting opportunity to explore how the proposed Marlboro alliance can boost or, in the words of one faculty member, ‘super-charge’ the Institute’s building of a flexible, progressive and rigorous liberal arts community through IDIP and support Emerson’s overall mission and academic excellence,” she wrote.
Pelton said the endowment from Marlboro will help fully fund a revamped Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies.
“This is an extraordinary alliance and a quintessential win for both of our commonwealths of learning,” Pelton said at the announcement. “For Emerson, the gift will permanently fund Emerson’s Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies program. For Marlboro, their legacy will live on, their students will benefit from enhanced educational programs, and their tenured and tenure-track faculty will continue to teach in an environment that supports intellectual creativity, innovation, and experiential learning.”
The Student Government Association’s Class of 2021 President Arasha Lalani, an individually designed interdisciplinary program student at the college, said she believes the merger will provide the program with a needed boost.
“I think it’s wonderful that Marlboro is a college with an ‘unconventional approach,’’’ she wrote in an email. “Students have an opportunity to tailor their own field of study, and it’s exactly like our interdisciplinary program at Emerson. This merge is hopefully going to bring more awareness to the IDIPs, because not a lot of people know that the program even exists.”
While some students expressed enthusiasm, SGA Executive President Raz Moayed maintained a tone of caution.
“I think it’s definitely exciting for us, and I think the Board of Trustees know what they’re doing, but I do really hope that they took into account every human being who would be affected by this,” Moayed said in a phone interview. “I really hope that this solution was the best for everybody involved, including their staff and their institution. But I’m assuming that if their institution agrees with this, then it was good for them as well.”