Did you know there was a class offered in the fall 2010 semester titled How Sustainable is Marlboro College? Well, that’s okay because you’re not too late to miss the sequel, Sustainability 2, Son of Sustainability, or Sustainability Strikes Back. Actually, the new class this spring semester is called Campus Sustainability: Analysis and Action, and is taught by the dynamic duo of math professor Matt Ollis and student life coordinator Clare Hipschman. The class picks up where Matt’s tutorial left off last spring, when it calculated Marlboro’s “ecological footprint” and found it was quite a bit bigger than a Birkenstock.
This year’s class will build on those footprint findings by wiggling the toes of particular areas of environmental impact, say energy use, or solid waste, or generating massive amounts of hot air debating phenomenology and perception on the smoking porch. But even better, the class will look for ways to conserve resources and implement these ideas right now—that’s the “action” part of the course, naturally. I mean, harnessing methane from the compost pile? Insulating the OP with shredded junk mail? Raising emus on the campus center lawn? Turning the soccer field into a solar farm? Who knows what outlandish ideas students will come up with, but it is sure to be better than most sequels.
Of course you know that the Plan of Concentration is the hallowed rite of passage for Marlboro juniors and seniors, an integrated course of study going where no student has gone before. It’s Marlboro’s version of a vision quest, scarification ceremony, lion hunt, Bar Mitzvah, Sun Dance, Ethiopian cow jumping ritual and master’s thesis all rolled into one. But did you know this academic mountain called Plan was not always part of the Marlboro landscape, and that in the beginning it involved traditional three-hour written exams? I didn’t until I sat down with former president Tom Ragle in his cozy old farmhouse in Guilford.
Tom and I chatted about everything from construction projects at Marlboro to parietal rules, which actually had nothing to do with the brain’s parietal lobe as I had suspected. It had instead to do with arcane laws to regulate boys visiting girls’ dorms, and visa versa, something that now seems as old-fashioned as the Florida law against showering naked (I’m not kidding). But the part that really struck me was Tom’s description of coming up with the idea for the Plan, starting with when he came to Marlboro in 1958. Just like today, the faculty back then was trying to teach students to think critically and independently, even if they had to hunt lions or jump cows to get there. As Tom says, “We were not graduating students who were round pegs to go in round holes.” You can hear it from himself below.
You probably think that when all the students are away for winter break that Potash Hill is as cold and lifeless as Dante’s frozen Lake Cocytus, where treacherous sinners are buried in ice up to their necks, but you’re only half right. Sure it’s cold, I mean, what do you expect in January in Vermont? The fire pond is solid ice, the foursquare court is dusted with snow and the farm is frozen under a mulch of hay. But lifeless it is not: many of the buildings on campus are busy, bustling beehives of activity, as Marlboro prepares for another semester of academic fervor.
For starters, the dining hall (above) is being transformed by workers with massive forearms who are scrubbing the walls to remove 60 years of grease, smoke, food, soda-pop and other liquids and semi-liquids. Who knew that somewhere under all that culinary history the walls were a beautiful golden pine paneling? The dining hall floor is also getting a fresh finish, and the building has new radiators that are part of the conversion to a more efficient furnace. Renovations to the interior of the admissions building (right) are almost complete, the basement of Dalrymple is getting an extreme makeover and the first floor hall of the library is now carpeted so you can hear yourself think there.
But the upgrade that is most arresting to me, and the reason for my oblique title, is the new paint job on the floor of the campus center game room. I’m not kidding, it is so blue and shimmery and shiny that my first impulse was to take my sandles off and wade in. It gives the impression of an open-air beach cafe somewhere in the Caribbean, you know, where you can hear steel drums playing and eat mahi mahi with jerk sauce, whatever that is. I’m sure that once the new pool table and ping-pong and foosball are installed it will magnify the illusion of tropical leisure. What with cozy new furniture for the coffee shop upstairs, the campus center will once again be a welcoming spot for all the pawpaws and breadfruits and pigeon peas and “droppers” (dumplings) on this outlandish island we call Marlboro.