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

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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.

Editorial: One Way to Kill a YMCA in Queen Anne’s County

If Google Earth could display such things, the map program would have shown thousands of Queen Anne’s County kids crying and parents shocked in disbelief after hearing that QAC Commissioner President Phil Dumenil single-handedly killed any chance for a public pool being built in Centreville anytime soon.

He did that by informing the public on April 8th that he was withdrawing his support of an agreement between the county and Chesapeake YMCA to share the cost of constructing a new recreation center and indoor pool across from Queen Anne’s County High School.

By reneging on his commitment for the agreement, which was approved by a 3-1 vote in December, Mr. Dumenil has, in essence, frozen the project for the foreseeable future.

It doesn’t seem to take much for Mr. Dumenil to turn on a dime. After signing the agreement with great pride in November by saying, “this will be a great benefit to the families of our county,” Mr. Dumenil made a complete flip on his position with a statement at the end of the Commissioners’ meeting last week that he had changed his mind after talking to some constituents.  No specifics were given and nor were there suggestions on how to improve the agreement to move forward.

This was the same council president who only five months prior had boldly said:

“While some may question  why the County is providing funding for a Y, the lack of an indoor pool in this county would have eventually led us to funding one at one or both of the high schools,. Through this partnership though, the county will not be burdened with the operating/maintenance/staffing costs associated with an indoor pool which can be extremely high. We see it as a win-win.”

And yet, after talking to “some constituents,” he announces at the end of a two hour meeting that he had changed his mind.

Here is his statement which runs two minutes in length:

One is left only to imagine what those “constituents” had said that so quickly changed the mind of a once passionately committed proponent of the project. Mr. Dumenil does not say what wisdom was offered that led him to now call it, “not a good partnership.”

In short, Mr. Dumenil is saying that he does not have confidence in the Young Men’s Christian Association to fulfill their part of the agreement. Having first understood that time was needed for the Y to raise $4 million in individual gifts and foundation grants in order to reimburse the county after the building was completed, the councilman now is demanding all of that up front, presumably in cash rather than personal checks.

Remarkably, almost out of the blue, he also suggested that the YMCA might need to contribute more than the 50% they had already committed to raise, but did not indicate why and for what reasons. And this was done with full knowledge that the YMCA had also committed be providing the operational support for the building.

But the most troubling in his statement was his lack of respect for YMCA community leadership and their ability to fulfill their financial commitments.  Nor did he seem it fit to mention the YMCA’s extraordinary current contributions in the lives of thousands of QA County children and adults.

This is the same YMCA that voluntarily took over the management and costs of running the only existing public pool at Chesapeake College after the school could not operate it.  When they heard the pool building was to be torn down, it was the YMCA that invested staff time and financed the feasibility studies for the Centreville project to replace it.

For Mr. Dumenil to blindside such an important friend of QAC without warning is a action that he and his constituents will need to morally evaluate in the months ahead.  But to turn away from a project that would provide the only public pool and recreation center for over 10,000 kids in Queen Anne’s, in partnership with a world-class nonprofit organization willing to put up half the money for the building, as well as cover the costs of its operation, is unconscionable.

Perhaps Mr. Dumenil’s other “constituents,” like the children and parents of Queen Anne’s County, might have a word with him. It seems to work. He can be reached at:

410.758.4098
email: pdumenil@qac.org

 

 

Editorial: Ending the Stigma of Recovery

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When it comes to alcohol and drug addiction, American society is of two minds: On the one hand, we recognize addiction as a chronic brain disorder and primary medical disease; on the other, we perpetuate the notion that addiction is a moral failing — a weakness to be shamed and punished.

We know you are sick… but why have you made such a bad moral choice?

Such is the “logic” by which addicts are branded with the red hot “A” of stigma, and by which our response to addiction is as dysfunctional and damaging as the disease itself.

For 23 million Americans now living in long-term recovery from addiction, a sense of second-class citizenship still prevails. The culture and language of addiction recovery remains tied  to the concepts of “failure,” “suspicious” and “loser.” Time and time again, we see a judicial system punishing addicts in the name of a failed “war on drugs,” and continuing to punish them by restricting their access to the fundamental needs that constitute a recovery environment. For example, food stamps are withheld from mothers with previous drug convictions, the right to vote can be uncertain in the case of a drug conviction, medical insurance can be cut off or denied, children of parents with drug convictions can be placed in foster care, and employment opportunities are greatly diminished

For each one of the millions now in long-term recovery, it is estimated that there is one actively addicted person who is not seeking treatment. Two-thirds of U.S. families are personally affected by addiction.

However, there is a light shining through all this darkness – a light that is growing stronger and brighter. The stigma of addiction is being challenged by those with the most intimate understanding of its price: people in long term recovery. And it’s catching fire nationwide, thanks in large measure to the documentary film, “The Anonymous People,” which focuses on the new recovery advocacy movement.

“The Anonymous People,” produced by manyfaces1voice.org, is the clarion call of a nationwide grass-roots, social justice movement dedicated to helping  “transform public attitudes and policies affecting people seeking or in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs.”

The film is a shared narrative by people in long-term recovery. Its power lies in the courage of those individuals who stepped out of the shadow of stigma into the public discourse in order to offer hope for the untreated. Often, the screenings – which are taking place all over the U.S. — are followed by a short talk given by a member of the community who describes his or her experience in long term recovery from addiction. Here on the Eastern Shore, the film was screened in late February at The Avalon Theatre in Easton, to a near-capacity and extremely appreciative, enthusiastic audience. More screenings around the region are scheuled, including one to be announced in Chestertown. Caroline County will be screening the movie 6:30PM on Friday, May 9 at the Denton Public Library, 100 Market Street.

The local screenings have been organized by Recovery for Shore, a new, regional advocacy group that includes individuals and organizations involved in the prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol addiction and in providing support services for individuals and families dealing with related issues. Following their lead, The Community Newspaper Project (Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy) believes that the recovery advocacy movement should be a fundamental community health project. To that end, and with the support of Recovery for Shore, we have created a Recovery section that will now appear on the front pages of the Talbot Spy and Chestertown Spy.

The section banner will read “Recovery for Shore — Ending the Stigma” to acknowledge the umbrella organization of medical, mental health, social and family services professionals involved in addiction recovery, and also to promote the group’s mission to end the stigma of addiction. Articles, interviews, first person accounts and essays, and regional recovery resource information (including specific initiatives, programs, services and schedules) will be ongoing themes in the Recovery section.

Our goal is to help end the mythologies and prejudices regarding alcohol and drug addiction, as well as the ongoing marginalization of people in long-term recovery. We encourage you, our readers, to follow this important social issue as it evolves in our local communities by checking in on this new page, Recovery for Shore, and we also invite your feedback.

Again, there are 23 million Americans living productive, meaningful lives in long-term recovery – our hope is to provide information that will support the strategies that have made their success possible and enable many more to join them.

 

 

Editorial: Chestertown’s FUBAR Moment

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It is a particularly painful moment when an editorial writer must reach back to an old World War II epitaph to adequately describe the calamity associated with the Washington College/Chestertown Task Force.

The Spy will leave it up to Wikipedia to help our readers understand the precise definition of the military acronym, FUBAR, but indeed this is the only accurate description of how Chestertown’s elected leadership, administrative management, and a local newspaper shot themselves in the collective foot last week.

The facts are simple enough. The town and the college recruited eight of Chestertown and WC’s best and brightest to help “fix” Chestertown’s economic woes with the necessary assurance they could conduct their work in private.

This dream team included a highly regarded former Maryland Stadium Authority chair, a former high ranking Pentagon official, and one of the county’s most respected historic buildings and land conservationists. Add to the list the locally revered names of Athey, Massoni, and Kuiper, and you begin to realize how successful and thoughtful the council and the college had been in balancing the composition of the task force.

Now, after a year’s work, which included dozens of meetings with over 150 different people from in or near Chestertown, all seven remaining members resigned last week* after being served a FOIA request by the Kent County News, and at the same time were told by Town Manager Bill Ingersoll and the town attorney that they should seek their own legal counsel just days before their final report was to be presented at the Jan. 27 council meeting.

Say what? How could this possibly have happened?

The simple part of this puzzle is understanding the motives of the task force members. Any citizen volunteering time and expertise to a economic development study, with the complete and full assurance of their confidentiality by the local government, and then suddenly be subjected to a hostile FOIA request, left only one rational option, resign with an appropriate Bronx cheer.

This is what the KNC asked for in their FOIA letter:

1. From Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, member of the “task force.”:

Waterfront Task Force “draft report” and drawings of “waterfront concepts.” All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to Margo Bailey Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014. All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to John Moag Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.

2. From Mayor Margo Bailey:

Waterfront Task Force “draft report” and drawings of “waterfront concepts.” All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to any task force member Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014. All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to John Moag Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014. All emails/memos between Margo Bailey and Mitchell Reiss, over the same period.

3. From Mayor Chris Cerino/Planning Commission Chairman Chris Cerino”

Waterfront Task Force “draft report” and drawings of “waterfront concepts.”All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to any task force member Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to John Moag Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.

4. From John Moag, Chairman of the “task force.”

Waterfront Task Force “draft report” and drawings of “waterfront concepts.”

5.  All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to Al Massoni Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.

6. All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to Matt Tobriner Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.

7. All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to Rebecca Flora Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.

8. All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to Linda Kuiper Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.

9. All emails/memos addressed, cc’d or bcc’d to Mitchell Reiss Oct. 1 to Jan. 6, 2014.

No sane person could respond to this kind of witch hunt request and not decide they had much better ways to spend their free time.

The piece of this puzzle that is more hard to understand is why the town’s leadership, both elective and administrative, allowed this disaster to unfold.

Why, for example, did the mayor and council, after agreeing to allow the task force to deliberate and consider options in private for twelve months, not protect or forewarn the volunteers of potential legal and other liabilities as a direct result of council’s May vote to re-define the obligations of the town’s volunteer-led committees?  How could they allow their own volunteers to be exposed to this kind of disclosure requirement?  And why did the town manager and town attorney, Stuart Barroll, recommend to the volunteers that they obtain their own legal counsel to deal with the FOIA request?

Even more troubling is understanding the motivation of the Kent County News. Why did a local newspaper make the careless choice to intentionally endanger Chestertown’s long term economic future by dropping this bomb only one week before the task force was to present their report to the public?

One can only guess why institutions and people shoot themselves in the foot. But this is truly Chestertown’s FUBAR moment.

The test now is to see how Chestertown’s new mayor and other town leaders can possibly resurrect the task force and its important work. The community will find out at the next council meeting on Monday night.

But perhaps it is not too late to have another kind of FUBAR moment, which is Fixed Up Beyond All Recognition.

* Rebecca Flora, a town-appointed task force member, resigned in December on professional grounds after the task force began the process of requesting public funds from the town council for conceptual drawings.