Marlboro merger still on track as COVID-19 pandemic disrupts life


Jakob Menendez

“We remain determined that an agreement will be finalized in May by both Boards of Trustees and implemented by June 30th, and will provide a net benefit to Emerson College, from inception,” President M. Lee Pelton wrote.

By Jacob Seitz, Staff Writer

The Emerson-Marlboro merger remains on its initially scheduled timeline despite the COVID-19 outbreak that forced both colleges to move classes online, vacate residence halls, and postpone commencements, according to both college’s presidents.

The proposed merger was originally slated to be finalized by early May, with both colleges’ Board of Trustees voting on terms by the end of June. Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton told The Beacon the COVID-19 outbreak has not shifted that timeline.

“We remain determined that an agreement will be finalized in May by both Boards of Trustees and implemented by June 30th, and will provide a net benefit to Emerson College, from inception,” Pelton wrote in an emailed statement.

The Joint Curriculum Committee created a final proposal in March for what a Marlboro-style curriculum would look like at Emerson, which is currently working its way through the Emerson curriculum approval process. Pelton said many Marlboro students have already met with academic advisors, and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan said 23 of the 24 tenure or tenure-track faculty at Marlboro have expressed interest in coming to Emerson.

“We continue to work with Marlboro students on transferring courses and planning for new Emerson courses, and our deans have drafted sample appointment letters for incoming Marlboro faculty,” Pelton wrote.

Marlboro President Kevin Quigley echoed Pelton saying that the merger is on track despite the failure to meet an aspirational goal set by Marlboro Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Saudek in February to have a legal document finalized by late March.

“I believe that progress is being made,” Quigley said in a phone interview from his office on Potash Hill. “Clearly that aspirational goal that Dick [Saudek] set wasn’t met. But I believe we’re on track and on deadline.” 

The merger has garnered increasingly strong backlash from Marlboro alumni, who have organized a letter-writing campaign to the Attorney General of Vermont imploring him to take a look at the proposed deal. Will Wootton, one of the most vocal opponents of the merger, said if the Attorney General gets involved, he could see the deal spiraling.

“I would think there’d be potential for it to fall through,” Wootton said in a phone interview.

Other alums have been vocal online about their opposition to the merger, with Lieutenant Governor of Vermont David Zuckerman releasing a letter imploring the college to stay in Vermont. Recently, a Marlboro student wrote an op-ed asking alumni to “leave [students] the hell alone to grieve the loss of our home in peace.”

However, Quigley said the college is continuing to work on options to sell the Vermont campus, which has been valued at $10 million.

“In January, we hired a consultant to work with a number of groups who had expressed some initial interest [in the campus],” he said. “And that consultant has been working hard to firm up some potential proposals and, in some cases, to weed out ideas that wouldn’t either have been financially viable or didn’t fit well with what our community wanted this very special place to be used for going forward.”

Marlboro’s $30 million endowment would be used to shore up the Institute of Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson, which will be renamed in honor of Marlboro. According to Quigley, Marlboro will use the endowment to pay off the college’s remaining debt and formulate severance packages, and the rest will go to Emerson.

The deal will also see that the Vermont college’s remaining student body can transfer to Emerson while continuing to pay Marlboro’s tuition rate, roughly half that of Emerson’s. Marlboro students will be required to pay Emerson room and board costs if they live on campus, an average of $5,555 higher than what they pay now. Approximately 70 students have expressed interest in coming to Boston, according to Marlboro’s website.

If Marlboro students don’t wish to come to Emerson, they have the option of transferring to five other northeastern liberal arts colleges, which Marlboro signed transfer agreements with earlier this year. The agreements will see students have their credits honored at these colleges, but pay higher tuition than they did at Marlboro.

Overall, Quigley said he is confident the merger will continue to remain on track.

“One of the terms [on the term sheet] was that we’d get to a final agreement by May 15, and I’m very, very optimistic that will happen,” he said.