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Mooney delivers promising SMC update

Megan O'Neil | Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Citing strong leadership development, increased application numbers and a commitment to diversify, Saint Mary’s President Carol Mooney gave a largely upbeat progress report of the College Monday during a press luncheon in the President’s Dining Room of the Student Center.

After assuming the presidency at Saint Mary’s in June 2004, Mooney said Monday, she realized the wider community was largely unaware of the academic and personal success of Saint Mary’s students. Occasionally she must answer the frequently posed question of whether a women’s college remains relevant.

“My answer, of course, is absolutely,” Mooney said. “I believe we are more relevant than ever.”

The College is particularly strong in the sciences, Mooney said. Saint Mary’s graduates have performed so well in medical school in recent years, she said, the College now receives requests for applicants from outside programs.

“We expect a lot from our students,” Mooney said. “We don’t coddle them. Their academic experience is rigorous.”

Mooney said her 1972 class included many women who went on to exceptional careers. She attributed her own success to her experience at a women’s college, saying “not only was I prepared [for life after college], I was super-prepared.

“I can say the leadership skills that got me where I am today I learned as [a student at Saint Mary’s].”

Mooney said Saint Mary’s also has the most graduates from any women’s college (four) in the House of Representatives, though most would guess Massachusetts institutions Wellesley College or Smith College held the distinction.

Application numbers for next fall are strong, Mooney said. The College has received 22 percent more applications than last year, the most at Saint Mary’s in 17 years.

“We’ve adopted some different tactics in the admissions office [like the use of the Common Application for our applicants] that I think have been successful for us,” Mooney said.

The College’s endowment fund also has risen, albeit slightly. When Mooney took office 18 months ago, the endowment stood at roughly $100 million and she publicly stated it was one of her top priorities to double it. As of Monday, Mooney said, the total was $107.5 million.

In an effort to diversify the College’s faculty and staff, Mooney said she implemented a policy that requires a member of a historically underrepresented ethnic group be among the final pool of candidates for any position at the College. If there is no such candidate, Mooney said, there must be documentation as to why not.

The Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees is also taking progressive steps to include alumnae of color, traditionally absent, among its ranks, Mooney said.

The challenge now, Mooney said, is to open the College to the larger community and publicize its students’ accomplishments. Campus facilities are already being used for non-college sponsored events, Mooney said, and she hopes that will increase.

“I think the misconception that I would like to correct is that the community is not welcome on campus,” Mooney said.

Mooney said big campus events, especially those sponsored by the Center for Women in Intercultural Leadership, generally have received appropriate attention from local media outlets.

“I think our newspaper coverage has actually been quite good,” Mooney said. “We have realized in some sense we aren’t always the biggest story in town because we aren’t the biggest [school in town].”

College spokeswoman Melanie McDonald added that although journalists don’t always have the time to do the research on certain types of stories, she would like to see coverage that is less event-driven.

“I think that it would be great to expand Saint Mary’s [coverage] beyond events and who we are and what we are,” McDonald said.

Responding to a question about “The Vagina Monologues” and academic freedom in light of the controversy at Notre Dame, Mooney clarified that the play has never been banned at Saint Mary’s. Mooney attended “The SMC Monologues,” skits written and performed by members of the College community, during the weekend and said silencing students would not be an appropriate action to take at Saint Mary’s.

“I believe [“The SMC Monologues”] are extremely powerful simply because they are our own stories,” Mooney said. “I think they are more powerful than [using the words of other women].”

One of the biggest events for the College in the upcoming year will be breaking ground on the new academic building, Mooney said. The unnamed building will be located on the far northeast corner of campus and serve as the primary academic facility on campus. Although fundraising has not been completed, the start date has tentatively been set for fall of 2006.

Two searches are currently underway to replace outgoing Vice President and Dean of Faculty Pat White and outgoing Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Timm, Mooney said.

Members of the search committee expect to name a new dean of faculty by graduation on May 20, she said.

“The Vice President of Student Affairs is behind but we still hope to have that position [filled] before school starts,” Mooney said.