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College Presidents Series:
President Judson Shaver:
Marymount Manhattan College

By Marylena Mantas

Four years ago when Judson Shaver assumed the presidency of Marymount Manhattan College (MMC) he was eager to learn what it would be like to be responsible for an entire institution. Today he reports that the process has been “challenging, intriguing and very rewarding” and that “with each step up in a career you discover how much of the success of an institution depends on other people.”

The realization prompted Shaver to uphold teamwork as he sought to raise expectations of administrators, students, faculty and staff during this first four years in office. His efforts have produced positive results for MMC, a liberal arts college of an undergraduate student body of a little over 2,000, which Shaver calls a “little jewel box” on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Over the course of the past four years, the six-year graduation rate has increased from 34 percent to 45.5 percent and the first to second year retention rate from 62.2 percent to 72.2 percent.

“I am thrilled to see this College building on its past,” said Shaver.

Gift giving has also increased substantially in recent years. During the current academic year, MMC has received over six million dollars, five of which came from a donation made this past December by the Carson Family Charitable Trust, at the initiative of MMC alumna and trustee Judy Carson. The donation, which Shaver calls a “huge gift” constitutes the largest ever received by MMC and will be used to enhance resources and opportunities for faculty and students.

 “The pool of people who will donate money to keep an institution going when it has a lot of needs is a dedicated hearty band of few people. [They] are the pool who want to support something that is making giant strides,” said Shaver.

Among other things, donations have been used for infrastructure improvements such the refurbishing of classrooms and the dance performance space, as well as a new entryway.

Changes have also been instituted in the curriculum, as the College has enhanced its focus on incoming students. First-year students now benefit from an intensive writing course, as well as a peer-mentoring program.

Shaver has also sought to increase the number of full-time faculty. Seven new tenure track positions will become available this academic year and ten more will be added over the next ten years. According to Shaver, MMC has been able to raise faculty salaries and, thus, has managed to retain and attract permanent faculty members.

“On every front there has been significant improvements,” says Shaver.

Driving MMC’s success have been the initiative of Shaver, as well as the recommendations of a Strategic Environmental Assessment conducted during his first year in office, which allowed the College to create a comprehensive plan whose vision, according to Shaver, was to make MMC a “value-added College.”

“We went down the path in spades and found that we had outstanding students, faculty and programs, but a lot of upside potential for improvement,” said Shaver. “The College, a little jewel box on the Upper East Side that has struggled for a decade, was a community aspiring to academic excellence; so we set out to become a first rate academic college.”

The vision of this comprehensive plan complemented that of Shaver’s personal ideology.

“I found, as a professor and an administrator, a calling and a personal mission…I grew up believing that fulfillment in life would depend on the extent that you could use your time and energy for the benefit of others,” said Shaver.  “I internalized the notion that joy and fulfillment in life are based on how you could help others.”

His ideology assisted him in overcoming the three primary challenges he has faced during his time as president, including arriving at MMC immediately after 9/11, finding a way to go from open admissions to admitting students who best fit MMC and finding the financial resources to compensate staff and faculty. Shaver appears to welcome challenges and claims that the “bigger the challenge the better the reward.”

“I am energized by this sort of College,” he says. “We don’t serve a population that takes education and employment for granted.” He contends that in terms of professions that provide individuals with the opportunity to something meaningful “nothing surpasses higher education.”

To retain a connection to MMC students Shaver last year taught a course entitled “Bible as Literature” and has lunch with student groups about once a month. He also likes to include students in most MMC committees. Not surprisingly, therefore, he identified commencement ceremonies as some of the most gratifying moments during this time at MMC.

According to Shaver, future plans include additional facility improvements, such as the possible construction of a 4,000 square foot roof over MMC’s theater, which would serve according to Shaver as the “urban equivalent of a quad.” In addition, he plans to focus on further improvement of graduation rates and on a fundraising campaign.

 “Beyond our vision we have a sense that we are very distinctive,” he says. “We are a small College in a big city…and we like to learn how to do that really well.”#



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