In their respective speeches, Gov. Shumlin and Marlboro College President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell situated a Vermont college education within the context of shifting trends in higher education and encouraged graduates to challenge these trends.
“You studied at Marlboro during the era of the Great Recession,” said McCulloch-Lovell in her presidential address, citing rising student debt and increasing questioning of the liberal arts model as threats to college education in the United States. McCulloch-Lovell also identified federal-level approaches to higher education as a source of distress.
“I have an argument with President Obama and his Department of Education,” McCulloch-Lovell said, pointing to the Obama Administration’s “White House Scorecard” for higher education success as a degrading model of measuring undergraduate achievement. The scorecard, introduced after President Obama’s State of the Union address this year, generates scores for colleges based on the criteria of costs, graduation rate, loan default rate, median borrowing, and employment after graduation. “It’s all about money. We need to redefine ROI—return on investment. What about the other returns—the return on the individual? The return on the community? Research reveals that the person with a college degree not only earns more, but is more likely to vote, to give to her favorite causes, and to volunteer.”
McCulloch-Lovell’s speech echoed critiques of the White House Scorecard which she has offered in venues from The New York Times to the Huffington Post to meetings of the National Association of Independent Colleges.
“Our sense of liberal is liberation,” said McCulloch-Lovell of the liberal arts. “Why don’t we have a scorecard for becoming an educated citizen?”
Gov. Shumlin also spoke about the political challenges that graduates will soon inevitably face. “As one who’s paying two college tuitions, I know how relieved you feel today,” Shumlin told graduates. “You’re a group of students who have rejected the traditional way of knowing things. You’re a group of critical thinkers who have said ‘Yes’ to a way of learning that only Marlboro offers.”
Shumlin focused on the theme of education in his speech, citing examples in his own life as a student and as a governor where education had been critical. “I am dyslexic. I had a terrible time learning how to read,” said Shumlin. “As I listened to my fellow Tea Party governors and got to know them and hear their ideas on labor, economic development, tax policy, women’s rights, reproductive rights, climate change, and others,” he joked, “one might think they can’t read, but they can.”
Focusing on Vermont, Shumlin pointed to efforts at marriage equality, single-payer health care, and reducing “climate-induced catastrophes” as areas where the state has shone over the past decade and which continue to represent challenges to college graduates. “There has never been a generation of graduates who had a bigger responsibility,” he said.
Shumlin recalled his involvement in the founding of Landmark College in Putney in 1985. It was the first college in the country “dedicated to educating people like me,” said the governor. Shumlin’s early involvement in the founding of Landmark was directly entwined with his political aspirations. As a member of the Putney Selectboard, Shumlin told graduates, he not only promoted the founding of Landmark but also resisted the construction of a federal prison on the site.
Speeches were also delivered by graduating senior Evan Lamb, elected by his peers to give an address, and outgoing Dean of Students Dr. Ken Schneck. Schneck will leave his position as dean after six years of working at Marlboro, as well as two years on the Brattleboro Selectboard, to take up a faculty position in education at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland, OH.
Also leaving Marlboro College, after decades of teaching, are sociologist Jerry Levy and theater professor Paul Nelsen.