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State of the College preview

As we run the final leg in a daring bet that our small Maine college can outmaneuver a virus that has killed 226,000 Americans to date, President David Greene admits his initial worry: “I definitely had my breath held for August and September, and maybe the first part of October. I feel much more comfortable now.”

But Greene—sitting in the Eustis boardroom on the dull gray afternoon before his State of the College address—discussed how he wants this to be a time of growth, not decay.

In this moment, fraught both in terms of health and injustice, Greene sees a chance for  sweeping new academic and cultural programs. Following this fall’s conversations and lectures on race, Greene hinted at launch of a signature anti-racist program within the humanities. According to Greene, it would be the first of its kind nationwide.

This expansionary thinking lies in striking contrast to the radical financial austerity gripping other American centers of higher learning.

“Many colleges and universities, including the wealthiest in the United States, are cutting back significantly on programs and personnel. We’re not doing that.”

The well of opportunity from which Greene draws his enthusiasm is certainly not dry. A recent gift of $101 million from the Harold and Bibby Alfond foundation has invigorated with new capital two new artistic and performing arts spaces in Downtown Waterville: The Arts Collaborative and the Paul Schupf Arts Center. The former is expected to be completed by the spring, the latter has yet to break ground.

With these two additions to the Waterville arts scene, the President hopes the city will return to its economic apex—only this time without mills.

“Portland has taken off in Maine, but Maine needs another great city,” Greene said. “Waterville has had a great tradition and is poised to really reinvent itself at

this time, too.”

 Greene envisions the College playing a central role in this revitalization, transitioning the town’s economy from post-industrial to intellectual.

Though Colby currently only offers a bachelor’s degree, the president didn’t rule out the possibility of expansion.

“Could we have a small number of focused graduate programs?” Greene asked. “It’s

not inconceivable.”

As of now, the faculty has compiled and proposed a one year master’s program in aquatic studies, designed in collaboration with the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, a marine research institute in Boothbay, ME. The program hasn’t been launched yet, and an artistic counterpart looks even more distant.

The question remains, then, whether these initiatives will see the same success enjoyed by the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center—a multi-hundred million dollar behemoth that has drawn some criticism for its excessive cost and over-allocation of resources for a Division III sports program.

At Wednesday’s State of the College, David Greene’s ambitious plans will contend with a school anxiously awaiting next week’s election and repeated efforts to suppress and discount ballots throughout the country.

Two cases of this nature have already appeared for argument in the Supreme Court, one from Pennsylvania-the other North Carolina.

In several emails Greene has affirmed the school’s apolitical stance while making a clear exception when a law or policy threatens the school’s mission.

 This summer, in response to two civil suits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against several Ivy League schools over their affirmative action practices, Colby involved itself on behalf of the defendants, offering legal aid and support.

 The administration also offered broad legal counsel in opposition to a Waterville lawsuit challenging the ability of Colby students to vote in the city. The case made its way to the Maine Supreme Court, where it was ruled unconstitutional.

Anticipating a large flock of legal action regarding the results of next week’s election, Greene affirmed the rights of students and faculty to free expression surrounding the election’s outcome.

 “In [the] case [of disputed election results], we would love for our faculty and students to make their voices heard,” Greene said.

However, he did not commit the school to engage in any legal recourse should some constitutional jiggerypockery arise in the democratic process. The College would only throw its weight behind a voter suppression lawsuit if Colby students were personally involved.

Encircled by political turmoil and the worst pandemic in a century, Greene still sees the state of the college as strong.

While concerned for the world and the country, he remained optimistic about Colby’s ability to maintain its steady course.

“I think what we’ve demonstrated this fall is different from nearly every other college and university in this country,” Greene said. “Our ability to deal with the toughest challenges that come our way and be able to focus on our mission in preparing people for lives of purpose and meaning.”


~ Donovan Lynch `22

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