Sharoan Cohen: Stop sale of Marlboro campus

Editor's note: This commentary is by Sharoan Cohen, of Peaks Island, Maine, who is a 1994 graduate of Marlboro College. 

In late May, the Marlboro College board of trustees announced the sale of the campus in Marlboro to Democracy Builders, a charter school incubator. This transaction may be finalized mid-June unless Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan intervenes.

The sale of the campus is necessary to complete the closure of this small Vermont college. All assets, archives, and its valuable collections will be dispersed despite alumni opposition and donor intent. Faculty emeritus, alumni, neighbors, and supporters of the college immediately spoke out in opposition and were swiftly silenced, while Town Meeting remained devoid of discussions regarding the future of the college, contrary to a community defined by self-governance, open dialogue, and equal voice. Offers of support from alumni were unilaterally dismissed, while an increasingly fatal narrative undermined the community and adeptly kept critical voices echoing in the woods where none could hear.

Instead of engaging in an inclusive process that respected Marlboro College’s effect on its community and higher education, with EY-Parthenon at the helm, it became like a war game of division, coloring alumni ambassadors wishing to preserve the college as emotional interlopers. 

The campus sale and dissolution of the college is a direct result of leadership that compromised the integrity of the community by depleting the endowment, investing in irrelevant branding, and unnecessary infrastructure projects regardless of mounting operational costs. 

Leadership actively severed connections with the broader community by ignoring alumni and failing to uphold the self-governing and democratic community intrinsic to the college. The removal of Marlboro College from Vermont under these circumstances is unnecessary. 

My guiding questions remain: Are the board of trustees and current president capable of conducting the business of preserving Marlboro College? Are they demonstrating appropriate due diligence by dissolving the institution they are charged to preserve? Has this process exemplified the founding tenets of the college, self-governance, and equal voice? Do their decisions reflect the community values of the town of Marlboro and this state? Does it preserve the self-guided approach to education where living and learning are inextricably tied, allowing students to delve deeply into a sense of self, purpose, citizenship, interdisciplinary learning leading to lifelong engagement? I do not believe they have and am not alone in my concern. 

The top-down decision making is as antithetical to the core of Marlboro as is the idea that the college’s essence could be preserved on the crowded banks of the Charles River. I urge those interested in saving Marlboro College to contact their elected officials, in particular Vermont’s attorney general, who can pause this transaction long enough for legitimate scrutiny. To learn more see details at: 

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