Chestertown Spy Editorial: Find the Local Flow Madam President

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It is with delight that the greater Chestertown community welcomes Sheila Bair as the 28th president of Washington College. It must come as a tremendous relief that the last remaining glass ceiling has been broken with the appointment of Ms. Bair as the first woman to hold that position in 233 years. To be able to do so with someone as qualified and dynamic as Ms. Bair speaks volumes for the quality of the institution as it does her faith in WC’s historic mission and purpose.

As a student of Washington College, the Chestertown Spy, having watched college presidents come and go since the Daniel Gibson era of the 1960s, does have a modest observation worth sharing as President Bair prepares for her inauguration.

To start, it might be helpful to recall a few years back a poll was done of new university and college presidents after their first year in office. The study found that a high percentage of them turned out to really hate their jobs after twelve months. While that might be the experience for many in their first year of employment, regardless of the profession, it can be said that college presidents have a particularly good reason to feel this way.

For the disenchanted, it is sometimes budget issues not known during the hiring process or perhaps the sudden loss of personal privacy. Others experience the kind of fatigue normally reserved only for candidates in retail politics. And all of them seem to combat the very high, and often times unrealistic, demands of trustees, major donors, prickly faculty, and marginalized alumni. This all happens at the same time the students (and their parents) press to see more value-added results for their six-figure four-year investment. Even with a high salary and sense of professional accomplishment, those college presidents were pretty unhappy campers.

It’s hard to blame them. The stakes have become so high in higher education, even for small, rural liberal arts colleges like Washington College, that it is hard for a new college president not to feel like T.S. Eliot’s poor character Prufrock who was on track to become a “predestined failure,” as a scholar of Eliot’s work once suggested, with no roadmap to navigate these treacherous and sometimes unforgiving waters.

Of course, these men and women would have our unending sympathy if it were not the case that throughout history, at least for Washington College, there has never been a roadmap for college presidents. And it has been our observation that those who genuinely enjoy the task of setting a new, uncharted course for this institution are the ones who love their jobs the most.

From Smith to Douglass Cater, Cain to Johnny Toll, these individuals saw their tenure as a great cause rather than an assignment – they knew where they wanted to take this school. They could withstand the pettiness and folly that comes with all institutions because they saw a bigger picture in front of them. That sense of direction not only acted as a force shield against the daily irritations of leadership but created for themselves a zone of fulfillment and usefulness that results in their own personal happiness.

This phenomenon is not new and does have a name. As defined by the writer Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, it is those that have found the “flow” in their work, and thereby are “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

And part of the trick for a Washington College president is to know how this must be found locally. The intertwined relationship braiding the college, the community, and the river together yields the greatest gifts when seen collectively as the source of that flow. And by grasping the power of the region’s three greatest virtues, and the importance they play in the education of a student creates sense of pride and purpose for all.

And that zone is available for all who seek it. We wish President Bair grand tidings and heroic stamina to do so.

Editorial: The Community’s Talbot Boys

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As the Spy has noted before, it was inevitable that after the tragedy of Charleston and the banning of the rebel battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds earlier this year, every municipality in the United States was going to take a second look at how it honors the veterans of the Confederacy. And Talbot County has not been the exception here. The 100-year-old “Talbot Boys” Memorial, which gives tribute to those who fought for the South, was an extraordinarily good candidate for this kind of scrutiny.

And scrutiny has indeed been the case. The local chapter of the NAACP has formally asked for its removal, the Star-Democrat has advocated a similar position while the Talbot County Council has had at least one open meeting on the subject. In addition, the Talbot Association of Clergy and Laity has scheduled a four-month program of events, workshops, and social gatherings built on the theme of race awareness to continue the conversation as well.

Let there be no doubt how constructive this kind of community dialog is for all who live on the Mid-Shore. While it is surprising it took a century to have a regional discussion about the appropriateness of the Talbot Boys Memorial as it stands now, this prolonged examination of the past provides an extremely useful, and perhaps even healing history lesson for all who choose to participate. Painful as such subjects are like slavery and racism, they are nonetheless collectively the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed often and with great care.

The fact that the Talbot Boys has been the catalyst for all this activity testifies to the powerful symbolism monuments have, consciously or unconsciously, in our society. While many times lost in the daily lives on those who pass these statues, they still convey the importance of history, particularly when located on the sacred grounds of a courthouse of justice.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 10.01.26 AMIn the case of the Talbot Boys, the symbolism seems at first rather clear. With large initials spelling C.S.A. to indicate the Confederate States of America, the memorial lists the scores of local men who lost their lives fighting for the South. With no mention of the similar number of Talbot’s Union soldiers who were also killed, the statue welcomes the impression that Talbot County’s pride has only been reserved for the boys in gray. And by extension, this one-sided tribute could logically be seen as not only honoring the South’s veterans, but to also mourn subtly the death of the Confederate cause itself.

While there could be a legitimate debate on what that “cause” was, for the vast number of Americans living today, many of whom rely exclusively on Hollywood as their primary source for history, the only motive for the South’s secession was to preserve the institution of slavery and racism in our laws. And this consensus of opinion has enough facts behind it that any effort to formally highlight that “cause” can only be seen for many, and particularly African-Americans, only as repugnant reminder of the evil that slavery has caused humanity. It seems reasonable therefore that all of these potent symbols  should be eradicated from the public’s property.

But if only it were as simple as that. Real history inconveniently reminds us often that with the Civil War very few things were black or white or blue or gray. As our interview with local historian Russell Dashiell last week highlighted, there was perhaps no other region in the country, nor Maryland for that matter, who was more evenly divided between secessionists and unionists than the Eastern Shore. As Dashiell points out, newspapers and local elections show almost a clean 50-50 split during the lead up to the Civil War.

Adding to the complexity was the frequently seen paradox of local slave owners, or their sons, enlisting with the Union while known anti-slavery advocates felt compelled to serve in the Confederacy to support state rights. Similarly, local newspapers echoed this strange dichotomy with editorials supporting the South’s right to leave the country while being on record as abhorring slavery; others wanted Maryland to continue as a slave state but remain in the Union. In short, the Eastern Shore was profoundly conflicted on both the cause and purpose of the war.

Keeping in mind that the majority of those who held those debates were rarely candidates for military service themselves. The call for enlistment targeted teenagers and young men of Talbot County to join both sides of the war. And in the keeping with the local values of duty, loyalty, and family tradition, most of those boys had no choice in determining on which side they would serve. In the isolated world of a rural Eastern Shore town in 1861, their allegiance had been conditioned and sealed decades before they were even born.

Those Talbot boys marched into battle for the simple reason that they loved their family and their community. To attribute any other motivation would be exceedingly difficult and unconvincing. For every man that had the critical thinking skills to debate the moral or political pros and cons of a war, there were twenty to thirty illiterate and poor farm boys only doing what was expected of them.

And in that sense, those boys do need to be honored by our community. They possessed an unconditional sense of responsibility and courage that should stand out as something worthy of special acknowledgment in Talbot County. Those values were important then, and they are important now. To honor those who possessed that sense of duty, regardless of the tragically flawed thinking of their elders, is the right thing to do on the courthouse lawn.

But the same holds true for the Union’s Talbot boys. Those qualities of bravery and loyalty were equally present with those in blue uniforms. Their noticeable absence from the lawn cannot be compensated by the presence of Frederick Douglass nor any other leader of the Civil War era. Those young people had their own names and their own families. They deserve the same honor of public acknowledgment, not because of the righteousness of a cause, but because they were our community’s boys.

They were all Talbot County boys.











Editorial: The Mid-Shore’s Future Healthcare

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As is the case with all small communities, words (fact or fiction) travel fast when it comes to a potential threat to nearby hospitals and medical centers. A perception of not having ready access to primary health services is troubling and stressful for many, and particularly those of retirement age. So, it wasn’t surprising to witness rumors fly from Dorchester County to Kent County on the future of the University of Maryland’s Regional Shore Health as the institution enters the final planning stage of its long-term strategic reorganization.

The issues related to the allocation of health services in rural regions is not a new one, but that doesn’t mitigate the fact that these kinds of debates strike at the very core of one’s sense of quality of life and security. As older people face the balance of their lives intertwined with ongoing medical needs, service locations and who their providers are, are not of secondary importance. Indeed, it is this kind of critical information people weigh when deciding where to retire.

With that in mind, it is understandable that even the mention of losing health services activates an instinctive response on the part of many to resist that perceived change. In a community like Chestertown, which had already lost a maternity ward to downsizing three years ago, there also had been a collective perception that what remained of services at the Chester River Health Center would be preserved. The news that this may not be the case has predictably set into motion a climate of anxiety and apprehension.

The good news is that the Regional Shore Health’s CEO Ken Kozel quickly responded to these heightened concerns and made clear this week that no final decisions had been made on how the health care organization would be reallocating services throughout its five-county market. By all accounts, including our own conversations with board trustees and staff, that statement rings true as the organization’s leaders wait for the final report from consultants and their own internal committee tasked in making recommendations to the Regional Shore Health’s governing board.

The bad news is that the hard work has just begun for Regional Shore Health’s leadership. Over the next several months, those leaders will not only determine plans based on the committee’s findings but also evaluate the tangible and intangible community health, social and economic impacts of those plans. It is hard to imagine a more challenging place for nonprofit leaders to find themselves in than at the center of what will be a very complex and difficult decision process.

In the midst of these kinds of circumstances the only adequate response for the Spy* is to provide the same kind of in-depth coverage we have applied to other regional concerns of this magnitude, including our recent work on the Conowingo Dam. Over the next few months, we plan to share with our readers a full portfolio of material and stakeholder interviews to provide the kind of information needed for any individual to make an intelligent assessment on Regional Shore Health’s options and final decisions.

The Spy believes that real public education is best served when everyone has access to the best information. That will be our job over the next few months.

* Full disclosure: The UM Regional Shore Health Foundation sponsors, in part, the Spy’s ongoing news coverage of health and addiction recovery issues on the Mid-Shore.

Op-Ed: When Is Washington College Going to Show the Love for James M. Cain

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I’m throwing down the gauntlet, Washington College.

In 1934, James M. Cain shocked the nation with his best-selling The Postman Always Rings Twice, a book his biographer Roy Hoopes would call “one of the first big commercial books in American publishing.”

psotmansIn the 1946 cinema version of Postman Lana Turner and John Garfield scorched the silver screen with smouldering eroticism as they planned the murder of her immigrant husband. Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange would ignite that scene 40 years later.

Twenty years earlier, James Cain was listening to bricklayers talk as they constructed the sidewalk along Washington Avenue in Chestertown, where his father was president of Washington College. Eastern Shore dialect and “real talk” became a trademark of his dialogue.

Cain graduated from the college in 1910—he entered at 14— and went on to work as a road inspector, teacher, singer, police reporter and soldier during WWI before finding newspaper work with various publications including The Baltimore Sun where he was a protégé of H.L Mencken. He also had a brief stint as editor of the New Yorker Magazine.

During the Depression, Cain went to Hollywood to scratch out a living as a screenwriter. In the company of Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner, and encouraged by the great publisher Alfred Knopf, Cain also worked on Postman.

A year later Double Indemnity became an immensely popular serialized novel—influenced by his police reporter’s eye on a sensational 1927 murder trail—and amplified his  fame with the movie by the same name, scripted by none other than Raymond Chandler. Chandler called Cain, “Proust in dirty overalls.”

The infamous Mildred Pierce followed, along with the movie version that gave Joan Crawford her only Academy Award. HBO recently revived interest in Cain with a five-part miniseries starring Kate Winslet. The production upheld Cain’s dialogue almost verbatim.

But for decades following Cain’s last big book, it seemed as though thoughtful criticism of his work required wearing an intellectual Hazmat suit. Many critics dismissed him as a lightweight, even as a moral leper.

To noirish authors of his day, Cain represented a deformed vision of life, godless without heroes or heroic goals. Moral compasses, they felt, were buried under landscapes of obsession and depravity. His gender roles became legitimate targets for feminist’s disdain, and the shock value of his plots, from incest to adultery, seemed shopworn to a readership cynical enough to praise  Fifty Shade of Gray.

Others, however, consider James Cain a master of the Noir or “hardboiled” genre. Edmond Wilson called Cain “one of America’s poets of the tabloid murders.”

In a way, Cain hinted at an emotional-dystopian world similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. His characters were never in a well-lighted place. If he’d been a musician—and he wanted to be—he might have foreshadowed punk rocker, Johnny Rotten.

Iconoclasts are usually appreciated after the sting of the whiplash subsides.

Seven months before he died in 1977 in Hyattsville, Cain granted an interview to Paris Review’s David Zinsser,  the Art of Fiction No. 69.

When asked about his writing style, specifically his dialogue, Cain answered—now famously—with his story about the bricklayers at Washington College.

“Let’s talk about this so-called style. I don’t know what they’re talking about—“tough,” “hard-boiled.” I tried to write as people talk. That was one of the first arguments I ever had with my father—my father was all hell for people talking as they should talk. I, the incipient novelist, even as a boy, was fascinated by the way people do talk. The first man I ever sat at the feet of who enchanted me not only by what he told me but by how he talked, was Ike Newton, who put in the brick walk over at Washington College, right after my father became President. My father decided we needed a new brick walk down the side of the campus instead of the boardwalk they had. …But he had Ike Newton put in a brick walk and I would sit out there while he worked, listening to him. He was a stocky man, rather nicely put together. He had a hammer with a screwdriver in the end of it that he’d tap the bricks with. Well, Ike Newton put the bricks in, gauging them with his eye, and doing a beautiful thing, and as he worked he talked. The way he’d use language! I’d go home and talk about it, to my mother’s utter horror, and to my father’s horror, too, because he was such a shot on the way people should talk. My childhood was nothing but one long lesson: not “preventative” but “preventive”; not “sort of a” but “a sort of”; not “those kind,” but “that kind” or “those kinds.” Jesus Christ, on and on and on.”

Here’s my challenge.

Washington College prides itself for its creative writing program. Scholarships and awards are offered to students promising bright talent. Authors, famous and emerging are invited to read and work with the students while recognition has been  given to alumni who have succeeded in the publishing world.

But still, Cain continues to languish as if in the company of “embarrassing family members” where even a waiter would cringe to deliver a glass of water.

And yet, he may be one Washington College’s most famous authors.

It’s too easy to dismiss Cain for his moral ambiguities, his billboard size characters or the appearance of their lack of self-reflection. In Cain’s universe, redemption was thrown off the bus at noon. Life played out in the shadows.

Why should there not be a College sponsored weekend honoring James Cain as a master of Noir fiction, who learned his craft in the classrooms of Washington College and on the streets of Chestertown?
The Folio Society writes in their introduction to The Postman Always Rings Twice:

“ Today it is seen as one of the most important crime novels of the 20th century – translated into 18 languages and listed in the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels. Described by the New York Times as a ‘six-minute egg’, it epitomises the hardboiled roman noir.

How about it, W.C.? A Noir Weekend, a limited edition of one of his stories?

James Dissette is managing editor of the Chestertown Spy, a Washington College graduate and was awarded the school’s Sophie Kerr Prize for Literature in 1971.

Editorial: Larry Hogan’s PMT and the Chesapeake Bay

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As Maryland’s General Assembly winds up its work for 2015, it is still way too early to assess Governor Larry Hogan’s overall environmental record, but it can be said that it is turning out to be something quite different from what many had predicted during the 2014 election.

During the campaign Larry Hogan was painted, quite effectively it seems, as someone who would pull many of the conservation initiatives and policies enacted during the Martin O’Malley administration. Hogan was cast as one who would be a careless steward of the Chesapeake Bay and a friend of big agriculture.

And nowhere was this more in evidence than the fate of the phosphorus management tool (PMT), Maryland’s template to have farmers reduce their use of phosphorus and limit how much manure could be used for their fields.

Many conservation organizations had good cause for concern. Hogan repeatedly vowed that he would put a freeze on the PMT rollout. The idea of railroading these hard-won policy changes, some of them taking up to eight years of planning to implement, gave rise to profound pessimism within the conservation ranks.

And yet even with a full court press on Hogan’s environmental positions, the Maryland voter didn’t seem to share the same level of worry when they elected him governor in November. Nonetheless, there remained grave concerns that the change of administrations would delay, or even eliminate, the implementation of an essential strategy to reduce nitrogen and phosphate contaminants in the Bay.

Not so surprising was the heightened anxiety after Hogan took office. The new governor, as promised, quickly imposed a moratorium on the PMT. And, just as predictably, Maryland’s environmental organizations quickly responded with attacks on Hogan and his commitment to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) announced that, “Governor Hogan’s decision has hurt the rivers and streams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.” The Clean Agriculture Coalition suggested that Hogan had “turned his back on clean water and sound science.”

Typically, the story ends there. The new governor would keep the PMT in the “policy review” freezer while conservation organizations would continue to cry foul through the media.

But the story did not end there. Within days of fulfilling his campaign obligation to put the PMT policy on review, Hogan not only immediately gathered his own policy makers to create a new plan, he invited the same organizations that had been highly critical of him to help determine its outcome.

This turn of events came as a surprise to most Chesapeake Bay stakeholders. Not only was Hogan not suffering from “willful ignorance” on the condition of the Bay, and the root causes of its pollution, he purposely sought out the opposition to resolve the issue.

Within two months, Hogan had reached agreement that a new PMT would move forward with four primary changes from the original plan:

1) Ensure adequate time for farmers to fully understand and plan for new requirements, shifting the seven-year implementation of the PMT one year later, effective 2016, with full implementation in 2022.

2) Assure agricultural producers that critical elements are available for implementation, including: markets to relocate additional amounts of manure; adequate infrastructure to handle and transport manure; and alternative uses and new technologies to begin to provide new outlets and markets for animal manures.

3) Enact a ban of additional phosphorus on soils highest in phosphorus. Fields with a soil Fertility Index Value (FIV) of 500 or greater will be banned from receiving additional phosphorus until the PMT is fully implemented.

4) Provide comprehensive information on soil phosphorus conditions statewide. Soil test phosphorus data will be collected for all farms in Maryland.This data will provide the Maryland Department of Agriculture with accurate soil fertility rates to monitor phosphorus levels and help identify potential areas to redistribute newly available manure.

Nothing earth-shattering can be detected in those modifications, and yet as a result, a real consensus was built with all interested parties to allow the implementation of the PMT to move forward.

To the credit of those participants, these organizations came out of these negotiations with high praise for Larry Hogan. CBF quickly issued a statement noting that “these revised regulations represent progress toward reducing pollution from agriculture — which we absolutely must do to protect the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways, as well as public health… We thank the Hogan Administration for listening to our concerns and trying to address them.”

Rarely do debates on the environment and bay restoration turn out happily these days.  When it does, it not only removes the toxicity and finger pointing that comes with differing views, but sets the stage for further progress down the road.  If Governor Hogan can continue this kind of leadership during his full term as governor, bipartisan support to restore the Chesapeake Bay can become a reality again.

Editorial: Acts of Forgiveness and Bishop Cook

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While the entire Episcopal Church community remains profoundly shocked over Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook’s arrest last week for manslaughter after she struck and killed cyclist Thomas Palermo, Mid-Shore Anglicans are surely feeling even more acute agony since Rev. Cook had served with the Diocese of Easton before her historic appointment as Maryland’s first woman Episcopal bishop in May of 2014.

News reports indicate that the 58-year-old Cook was driving intoxicated in the Roland Park section of Baltimore on December 27 when her car hit Mr. Palerno’s bicycle from the rear. She was texting at the time of the accident. The impact caused the cyclist to be thrown directly into the windshield of Cook’s automobile before landing curbside on Roland Avenue. As confirmed by police records, Rev. Cook left the mortally wounded victim and drove instead to her home. She returned to the scene twenty minutes later.

Sadly for all, this was not the first time Rev. Cook was involved with drunk driving. In 2010, she had been arrested for driving under the influence on the Eastern Shore, when Maryland State Police found her driving with an empty bottle of liquor, several wine bottles, and two bags of marijuana in her car.

The consequences of that particular violation were remarkably modest. Rev. Cook was ordered by the court to pay a fine of $300 and received probation before judgment on the DUI charge, therefore avoiding the offense recorded in her driving record. The same kind of discretion was shown more recently by the church leadership electing not to reveal her past to the clerics and lay delegates who elected her to the post of bishop.

The motivation for both the legal system and the Episcopal Church in this case was to allow Rev. Cook the proverbial second chance. These were, in many ways, acts of institutional forgiveness which aligned closely to the values of justice and religious creeds. But should not the courts and church match these acts of compassion with common sense, non-punitive support to help Ms. Cook, and others like her, with this lifelong affliction?

Is it not reasonable in this era of enlightenment about the biological causation of this devastating disease to expect government and religion to proactively assist someone like Heather Cook in her recovery by keeping her history open and accessible? If Rev. Cook had a history of epileptic seizures, heart issues, or any other condition that could unexpectedly impact one’s ability to drive a car or cognitively function, would those same institutions not take protective measures to ensure her health and the public’s safety.

This horrific story is also how the stigma of addiction can lead to deadly consequences. The church, wanting to protect Rev. Cook’s reputation and career advancement, decided that any association with this illness was so damaging — even within an institution known for acknowledging substance addiction as a disease — silence was the only morally right course to take.

Perhaps it takes the needless death of a father of two young children to allow for a rare teachable moment to take place in Maryland. Both institutions must use this tragedy to look carefully at what forgiveness means for victims of this illness and their communities.

Editorial: Washington College’s Letter to Chestertown

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Late last week, Washington College Interim President Jay Griswold sent off a ten page letter to Chestertown’s mayor and town council outlining not only the 238 year-old school’s current strategic plan but also specific goals for expanding the college’s physical footprint on campus as well as along the Chester River waterfront. It is an extraordinary document in a number of ways.

In the first place, it is exceptionally transparent. The college has made very public their needs in student enrollment, faculty expansion, and campus infrastructure, and also relatively firm numbers of what those projects will cost to remain a sustainable and competitive institution.  It has also shared with the community its fundraising goals and progress to date well before making a public announcement to launch an unprecedented $200 million capital campaign, something very few colleges or universities have been willing to disclose.

The letter also asks in a very public way for specific assistance from the town. The college openly requests consideration for very specific zoning changes and the town’s comprehensive plan. And many of those recommendations, if implemented, would have serious and far-reaching consequences for all who live here.

Even before the debate starts on Washington College’s proposals, school leadership should be thanked by the community for providing such a comprehensive and useful summary of need and circumstances. Gratefully, there will be no backroom rumors here.

But if there was one fault in President Griswold’s message, it was that the letter did not clearly state the troubled waters Washington College faces. Perhaps not today nor tomorrow, but in the not too distant future, Chestertown’s liberal arts college, without a sustainable number of students, capital enhancements, and seriously needed campus maintenance, will indeed become, as former WC president Douglass Cater famously warned, a very endangered species.

While parent outrage of higher tuition costs for both public and private schools is well documented in the media, the less frequently reported reality is that a number of these institutions have simply ceased to exist as a result of remaining stagnant or lack of planning.

This can already be seen nationally. Schools that are the most vulnerable, those with no/low endowments or accreditation issues, have already started to disappear. And in time, marketplace forces like supply and demand and return on investment will place hundreds of other higher education institutions at serious risk of experiencing a similar fate.

To be clear, it is in Chestertown’s paramount interest to make sure Washington College is not one of those institutions. One can only shudder at the thought, and the devastating economic, cultural and intellectual consequences, of an anemic and faltering school on Washington Avenue.

Nonetheless, the college is asking for much in their letter. Their proposals regarding land use, as well as residential and commercial development, are not exercises in subtle tweaking. Collectively, they represent fundamental changes in policy that would have a lasting impact on Chestertown’s landscape.

It is also important to note that zoning regulations and the town’s comprehensive plan are purposely designed to resist modifications, even good ones, particularly if they are being sought by large institutions, for profit or nonprofit, now commonly referred to as “special interests.” National town planning history is filled with countless examples of those kinds of special interests manipulating local governments to make zoning changes that have ultimately lead to degraded communities. These protective roadblocks make good sense in this regard.

But these tools can also be used to create a constructive conversation about the future of the town and its college. It is hoped that will be the case for our town council, its planning commission, and Washington College itself, as they enter into serious discussions over next few months.

A healthy dialogue with the town and WC on the future of North Chestertown, Morgnac Road, the Chester River waterfront, Stepne Manor, and the downtown historic district, has been long overdue. With both Chestertown and Washington College both facing many years of serious and numerous economic threats, the time for a meaningful and long term collaboration is now at hand.


Op-Ed: Nothing to Fear but Fear, Itself by Rich Levy

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Fear is an internal alarm – that beast chasing you is an immediate mortal threat! But fear is useless when dealing with the abstractions and nuances of modern life, where rationality is the survival skill.

· After 9/11, government fed our fear, railroading into a bloody foreign policy failure – without leaving a mark on 9/11’s true perpetrators.

· Splinter factions and fundamentalist shock troops are now equipped with tons of US ordinance we left behind.

· The ranks of ISIS are filled with Iraqi-military, after we pushed them into involuntary exile. This is lawless fundamentalism, armed and staffed by our intentionally groomed fear.

America stepped up from economic collapse to defeat history’s most advanced military and depraved political force, in World War II. Now we’re told to shudder before the “greatest threat since the Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich” – a band of desert sociopaths who, every last one of them, couldn’t fillCamden Yards.

Since 2010 (when DEFICIT!!! was the preferred panic of fearmongers)congress has cut Ebola vaccine research spending by half. They watched WallStreet loot your retirement, but *hooray!* less funding for science pimps. Political hacks will set public health policy on the fly, demanding dramatic travel boycotts that medical experts oppose, and theatrically harassing health workers; this fear response is from the fear of losing an election. Some gullible pols so fear their president, they boycott his nominations. When political grifters commandeer public health policy:

· We face the challenge of Ebola without a surgeon general.

· Vaccine research on Ebola is years behind where it could have been.

· Harassment of health workers becomes a political gimmick, and isolating the part of the world in most dire need of western expertise, as well as economic activity, hampers containment of this epidemic exactly where doing so is most critical: in western Africa.

From fear of a president’s nominees, fear of problems unaddressed by an empty office, to denial of educated expertise, so goes the nation that could once marshal resources, under a handicapped president, to defeat polio.

· We fear the virus from which one person has died in America.

· Flu kills as many as 49,000 annually, especially those without access to health care. Yet…

· The Tea-stained GOP House majority, rhetorically incontinent after the Affordable Care Act, barked through over 50 failed votes to repeal health care for tens of millions of people.

As firearms carnage mounts, our fearful/angry caucus breaks into the kindergarten bathroom dance, demanding more weapons everywhere.Elementary school shootings? Up-Arm the teachers! University slaughter? Concealed carry for campuses! Unhappy populace, jaywalking teens, you’ve watched too much“COPS”? Militarize the police! America no longer holds the lamp that lights the golden door; America twitches in fearful crouch, clutching so many guns wedon’t know which ways they’re all pointing.

Politicians sell fear because they think they’re selling to cowards. Whether telling epidemiologists to stay away (Thanks, Gov. Jindal!), birthing “democracy” in Iraq, “showing those thugs who’s in charge” our streets, or packing heat to buy a sandwich, when imagination extends only to fast, fearful responses, we hand our fate to Murphy’s bloody Law every time.

Editorial: A Different Kind of Groundbreaking in Easton


Next Friday afternoon at 3PM, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy plans to break ground on a $5 million restoration and repurposing of the old McCord and Brick Row buildings on South Washington Street in Easton. It might be said that it will be the first important building project of the 21st Century for Talbot County, but not necessarily as a result of saving an important historic asset, nor for the cleverness of an creative urban renewal effort. In this particular case, it will be “function” over “form” that makes the new conservation center unique.

The function in this case is the creation of a physical hub for the region’s multitude of conservation organizations to directly and indirectly collaborate with each other for the very first time. That is, in itself, groundbreaking for the Eastern Shore and needs to be celebrated.

The McCord Building plans to provide affordable office and meeting space for a dozen or more other conservation groups with a focus on the Chesapeake Bay region. And with this new common ground, organizations that have at times not always agreed, let alone collaborated with each other, perhaps even to the detriment of the Bay’s health, there is real hope for more coordinated, sophisticated partnerships to respond to the grave environmental threats the Delmarva faces.

Credit for this great new possibility goes to the ESLC and their partner organizations— the names of which remain confidential— for jointly seeing the wisdom and great potential of cohabitation. It is not an instinctive characteristic for any corporation, profit or nonprofit, to seek out housing arrangements with potential rivals. The partners have also seen the benefit of bringing up to fifty professionals to work, shop and eat in downtown Easton.

But a special shoutout must be given to the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy for taking the financial leadership for the Center. The idea of having a land conservation organization, devoted to saving the Shore’s greatest landscapes, raising over $5 million for a blighted former dry cleaning building, clearly does not sit well with some of their land-loving donors. There were also major bumps in the cost of completing the project as a direct result of previously undetected pockets of chlorine and petroleum-based chemicals in the building. A less courageous organization would have folded based on those findings.

But the ESLC has not caved in, but will literally be digging in on Friday for a brighter future for the Chesapeake Bay. It takes a special group of board members and staff to risk their mission and reputation on such a project. And yet, time and time again, the ESLC has shown that kind of leadership from the day they formed in 1990.

The community can show their appreciation on Friday and also by helping close the gap in funding.

Editorial: Mitchell, We Hardly Knew Ye

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At the end of his four year ride, it is sometimes hard to remember that Mitchell Reiss was a college president rather than a management consultant on assignment to Washington College in Chestertown.

It wasn’t that Mitchell Reiss didn’t act like a college president. He cheered lacrosse teams and opened up edgy contemporary art exhibitions at the Kohl. He helped move kids into their dorms, drank beers with alumni, and donned, without hesitation, the school’s slightly flamboyant presidential academic wardrobe.

Perhaps the most notable college-presidency thing he did was to insist on singing Washington College’s horrific alma mater at academic events and demanded it be played on the college phone system when callers were placed on hold. It is not clear if this was a lame effort to recreate a sense of pride at WC, or some kind of terror tactic learned while working with the I.R.A. in Northern Ireland during his time with the Bush Administration.

But only history can judge how well Reiss succeeded with his primary goal—to change the culture of Washington College.

With a mandate from the College’s Visitors and Governors, it was clear that the Reiss years were to be ones of cultural change. While this objective was a reasonable one, tied to the increasingly competitive business nature of higher education in the 21st century, the means to the end can make the difference between a college president and a management consultant.

Perhaps the most famous example of the latter was the short-term career of Timothy Light, a former president of Middlebury College in Vermont. Only a month after taking office, Light started his cultural purge by forcing seventeen administrators from their offices— in full view of their shocked colleagues—into awaiting school buses to be taken to the local gym for termination processing.  While partners at McKinsey and Company might have been impressed by the new CEOs bold tenacity, Middlebury’s board of directors were not, and Light was fired himself within a year.

The counterpoint of the Light example is Washington College’s own John Toll, who, like many of the most successful university and college presidents of an older era, painstakingly plotted over a decade to work with staff and faculty for administrative and academic reforms and higher standards for scholarship. Some would argue that those cultural changes took too long, while others would suggest they didn’t accomplish what needed to be done to prepare WC for the future.

The Reiss response to the challenge seemed to favor the shock and awe model.  Over the course of his four years at Washington College,  Reiss retired, reorganized, or forced resignations from almost every member of the College’s senior management team, including the chief academic officer, chief financial officer, chief development officer, chief enrollment officer, chief technology officer, as well as the student affairs and communications directors.

As shocking as that might be, this tactic has become the norm as colleges start to mimic the for-profit sector. Faced with daunting demands for revenue from student enrollment and fundraising to pay for fancy physical plant improvements, scholarships, and high administrative salaries, the instinctive desire to get “new blood” is a common one.

But the consequences of those decisions are keenly felt. There has been community pain, premature career terminations, personal financial loss, and the creation of a certain toxicity that comes to all institutions where anyone and everyone feels they will be the next head to roll.

Those negative impacts are, in most cases, well anticipated by the change agent. Stakeholders like board members, faculty, donors, students and surviving administrators accept this collateral damage in the belief that a more secure, sustainable future for Washington College will arrive if a president can have his/her own people.

The difference in the Reiss example was his remarkable decision to immediately depart after just building his new management team. It seems that the act of cleaning the deck itself was sufficient enough to suggest that his mission was accomplished, rather than the more traditional benchmarks like a successful fundraising campaign or a higher ranking in US News and World Report’s annual survey.

Apparently this new standard was perfectly acceptable to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation board of directors, who have hired Dr. Reiss as the foundation’s new CEO. But for many in the greater Chestertown community, there remains a moral question of when should a leader leave?  Or, more specifically, for Washington College, “what would George Washington have done?”

The answer to all of this is not known, but there is a real takeaway for many colleges and universities.  And that is that the days of legacy leadership may be coming to an end.  The expectation that an individual can and will be “devoted” to  any institution for a certain percentage of their professional life is becoming an increasingly unrealistic one.

This is partly due to an ever increasing seduction of over the top salaries, but in the end, it suggests a end of a time where the primary calling for a special breed of educators was to leave an indelible stamp on the school they felt honored to lead.

There is a real sadness if this is the new reality. The days of Washington College having those long-term visionaries like John Toll, or Douglass Cater, Dan Gibson, or Gilbert Mead, willing to devote the balance of their working life to serve this special school may indeed be over. And without them, the College could just become another revenue center. With bad theme music.