Pelton’s term reflects prioritization of community needs

At issue: Past administration marked by fiscal focus

Our take: Under Pelton, now more responsive to student and faculty desires


Few, if any, students at Emerson today were around before current president M. Lee Pelton took office in 2011. The former president, Jacqueline Liebergott, accomplished many important feats—like rescuing Emerson from dire financial straits in the ’90s, buying its current buildings on Boston Common, and envisioning the Los Angeles center—in a tenure marked by strong fiscal discipline. But this dollars-and-cents approach meant community desires deemed superfluous were ignored in favor of major institutional investments. Liebergott was an incredible businesswoman, but she just wasn’t very interested in engaging on a human level.

In Pelton’s first three years, the school has already seen a palpable shift towards openness and community. His new generation of administrators has taken a notable turn toward being receptive to student and faculty requests—and has even begun facilitating some of those changes.

The most recent example of this comes in the form of a fully-equipped science lab that will be on the seventh floor of the Ansin Building this coming spring semester. Many Emerson students might have a gut reaction like, “Why do we need a science lab at our arts and communications college?” But the answer may surprise you. 

According to Elizabeth Demski, associate vice president of the Office of Research and Creative Scholarship, 17 classes—that serve a variety of majors—have an active need for the lab. Some of these courses will now held inside the lab when it’s completed, and an additional number may be retooled to use the new space for specific assignments. With this new lab, Emerson will serve a surprisingly large portion of its student body—a population that previously may not have had the benefits of the bigger academic divisions.

After all, visual and media arts students have their editing labs. Journalism students have their faux-newsrooms. And soon, students whose majors breach the quantitative realm, like communication studies or communication sciences and disorders, will get their own venue to conduct experiments. Emerson faculty will also be able to use the lab for research that could bring in more grant money for the college. It’s a win-win for students who previously felt they didn’t have a proper place to perform their tasks, and for professors who haven’t had the chance to perform their jobs as capably as they could have. 

Comedy has long been a part of the fabric of the Emerson community, with six officially-recognized—and many more informal—comedy groups on campus. At least one student had previously created an interdisciplinary major focused on comedy writing and performance. The School of the Arts was recently able to pass a proposal for a new comedy minor. Both faculty members and administrators recognized a student desire and were able to fulfill it.

The Will & Grace set, formerly housed in the Iwasaki Library, was specifically moved to the Los Angeles campus in 2013 to appease years of student demands for more study space. Though the ideas to refurbish the now-empty room have been misguided at best, like the purportedly entrepreneur-friendly but sparsely furnished “black box” space, and charmingly eclectic at worst, like a bear sanctuary, at least the use of the space is under consideration. (We still suggest the simplest solution: knocking down the glass wall and adding more tables, chairs, and outlets.)

Another visible issue that the administration has addressed is the school’s dining options. Students had noticed that the meal plans didn’t offer any options that would allow them to eat three meals a day at whichever campus eatery they wished. This is on top of complaints of rodents in the dining area and a lack of vegetarian options. The college has already begun changing its meal plans, adding one last year that offers unlimited access to the dining hall, and is conducting a greater number of dining hall inspections. 

These requests have come from diverse parts of Emerson’s community, and their fulfilment reflects positively on these early years of Pelton’s term. We strongly encourage administrators to continue listening to the community in the years to come.