Letter: T. Hunter Wilson responds to President M. Lee Pelton’s “Marlboro Promise” letter

Pelton: “The Marlboro Promise to its students is also our promise to Emerson students: to learn to write and communicate with clarity and precision; to learn to live, work, and collaborate with a wide range of people; and to learn to lead ambitious projects from idea to execution.”


By T. Hunter Wilson, Marlboro College Faculty Emeritus

Marlboro College Faculty Emeritus T. Hunter Wilson responds to President M. Lee Pelton’s letter to Marlboro College President Kevin Quigley sent in December. Pelton’s letter is available here

Dear President Pelton,

Much of the first part of your letter recites the very general case for the challenges and difficulties that face a great many liberal arts colleges, especially small ones. What it does not do is establish any link between those general problems and the specifics of Marlboro’s circumstance. You acknowledge that “Marlboro is a treasure . . . a very special place with a very special history.” You do not mention that it also has a very substantial endowment, more per student than Emerson, I understand. If you have relied upon assurances from our president, you might consider the letter recently quoted in The Berkeley Beacon, in which he wrote to the Attorney General of our state that the merger with Emerson would absorb “all faculty and staff” from Marlboro. Neither you nor our own Board has made a persuasive public case that the particulars of Marlboro are necessarily overwhelmed by the challenges that have closed other small colleges.

If you can with any confidence say that “the Marlboro Trustees embraced the future” of the proposed absorption into Emerson only “after careful deliberation and exploration of all opportunities,” then the Marlboro trustees have shared with you details of their deliberation and exploration that they have been unwilling or unable to share with the Marlboro community itself. It seems quite evident that Emerson has some sort of agreement with our Board that prevents our trustees from consulting directly with members of the extended college community – alumni, former faculty, even former and current staff –  who have campaigned for a renewed analysis of Marlboro’s strategies and decision-making with the hope of maintaining and rebuilding what you describe as the “curricular and pedagogic experiences . . . profoundly linked to and influenced by the Vermont rural landscape. Its setting is the raison d’être – the animating spirit that brings to life, in full measure, the teaching and learning that takes place on Potash Hill.” 

Even before it had a faculty or a curriculum, Marlboro College had a dedication to a democratic and inclusive governance. It saw a significant part of its mission to build and practice effective citizenship at a time when, as now, democracy and effective participation was under threat. You do not mention it, but that tradition, modeled on the New England Town Meeting, and the failure of the present college administration to observe and strengthen that process is part of how we arrived at this juncture and a large part of why the decision to “merge” has been greeted with wide resistance. In the spirit of a dedication to democratic process, perhaps Emerson could consider releasing our Board from whatever constraints you have upon them. 


T. Hunter Wilson

Marlboro College Faculty Emeritus