New buildings, new attitude

“I think, in general, Colby has not done a great job of telling its own story and being out in the world much more broadly,” President Greene commented to start off his presentation at the State of the College address on Wednesday, November 2. Greene went on to say that he knew Colby was a terrific place after spending time on the Hill, but that there were still things that he saw could be improved to solidify Colby’s place among the best colleges and universities in the country.

Greene continued to talk about some of the changes the administration has already implemented since his first year at Colby. Most notably, he discussed the fact that Colby has in the past been inadequate in reaching talented students from all over the globe, citing the fact that Massachusetts is where most students live. He said in the address that “[the College] wanted to make sure we were reaching talented students all over the globe, no matter their background, no matter where they came from, no matter their ability to pay, and be able to see whether or not a place like Colby might be right for them.”

Greene commented that in the past few years, with an increase in recruitment strategy, Colby has seen an increase in applications from 5,000 in 2014 to 10,000 in 2016. The application pool is also more diverse. Students are applying from all over the United States and the globe now, with a surge in applications from California and Texas.

One of the most special things about Colby is the relationship that is formed between students and faculty members, due primarily to small class sizes. However, small class sizes come with a high cost. Greene stated that “the education that a place like Colby provides is extraordinarily expensive. It’s very labor intensive… it’s a really expensive model.” He continued by saying that, with such an expensive model, the only way the College will be able to protect small class sizes and world class faculty members is if Colby is among the very best colleges, and is recognized as among the very best colleges, in the country. Greene highlighted one of his main objectives of making Colby one of the top tier liberal arts college in the nation.
To do this, the College aims to enhance academics and hone in on what it means to be a liberal arts college. “To work across our programs and departments in a multidisciplinary way can allow us to address some larger questions that are really begging for answers in this world,” Greene said.

One of the reasons students come to Colby is to receive a world class education. Greene echoed this sentiment by saying that “we always begin with strengthening our departments and programs, making sure that were able to support faculty at the highest level, that we can recruit great faculty, that we can promote them while they’re here.”

The State of the College address devoted a large portion of time to talking about a strengthening of academics and academic programs. Greene pointed to emerging areas such as human health and evolution, arts creativity and innovation, global cultures and languages, large scale data structure and analysis, and public policy. All of these areas the college hopes to either create or enhance in the years to come.
The future of the Environmental Studies program was also discussed. Greene started by saying that Colby has “long had a great environmental studies program,” but he went on to say that, as a liberal arts college, Colby wants to move towards “thinking within and beyond the environmental studies program to create something that reaches into the humanities, that reaches into the sciences, and so forth.” Greene went on to say that Colby is in the process of hiring three new faculty members: a marine geologist, a biologist, and a physical chemist—all of whom will be focused on issues involving the environment. Greene also pointed to the recently announced $800,000 grant received from the Mellon Foundation which will go towards expanding Colby’s already strong Environmental Studies program. Opportunities like the Bigelow lab, the new partnership with Allen island, and more will benefit from both the Mellon Foundation grant and the College’s future goals.

Greene also briefly discussed increasing the presence of the arts and innovation programs at Colby. Greene stated in his speech that as the College has been thinking about expanding the arts and innovation program, they decided it may need a new space. “We want to create a building that will support our programs in theatre and dance, music, cinema studies for sure. But we also want to create a building that will be as equally supportive to students who are studying economics or biology, or physics, or philosophy,” Greene stated. The proposed new building, which will be located where the Mary Low lot is currently, would be a place for students of multiple disciplines to interact and learn. Unlike Runnals, which is devoted primarily to the performing arts and sectioned into private rooms, the proposed building would contain large open spaces where students could both perform and collaborate across different disciplines. The new building is in its conceptual planning stage in the process.

Colby is also planning to invest in academic areas such as genomics and computational biology with three new faculty hires in biology, computer science, and statistics.

However, even if Colby students have the access to the best education on the Hill, if they are unable to experience the rest of the world around them, they are not able to fully realize the importance of their education. One of the primary focuses in this years State of the College address was the need for Colby to become more connected to the globe. “If [students] have global experiences, research experiences, internship experiences, [students] will ask different questions in the classroom, choose different courses, be more engaged, and ultimately increase the odds to have exceptional opportunities when leaving Colby,” Greene said. He continued by saying that he does not want Colby to be an “isolated, insular place that sits on a hill” that, to him, is “one of the worst models of education you can have.” Greene hopes that these global opportunities will be available to all students—not just those who can currently afford to do so. To aid in this endeavor, Greene previewed the new career center, which is currently in construction where the old Grossman dorm was. The new career center is projected to be completed this coming fall. Greene said that the idea for the new building was to have “one place for students to go to help think about and plan global experiences, internship experiences, and research experiences” while at Colby and after.

The new athletic facility was also previewed. The facility, like the proposed creative arts building, has a large focus on open spaces by using glass and high ceilings. As you walk into the new athletic facility, you will be able to see all the venues. The facility will house a new multi-floor weight room that is projected to be three and a half times larger than the current weight room, as well as an aquatics center, hockey rink, basketball courts, and squash courts. The building will also have a large external courtyard in the middle. Three new fields will be created behind the current athletic center, along with a fourth field which will be located across from Johnson pond. The plan is to begin construction on the athletic facility this coming summer.

Greene closed his talk by talking about Colby’s proposed investments in Waterville. He addressed some questions as to why Colby is investing in downtown Waterville in the first place. Greene said that one of the main reasons that Colby is investing in Waterville is to create a place that would enhance students and faculty experience. Greene pointed to the experiences that students miss out on when faculty decide to not live in Waterville, citing faculty attendance at evening functions and sporting events. Greene also commented that Colby’s investment in Waterville is “out of basic fairness,” mentioning a time in the early 1930’s when the city of Waterville came together to raise $107,000 to buy the piece of land Colby currently sits on. By investing in Waterville, Colby will bring “hundreds of people onto Main street that are working, hundreds of people onto Main street that are living there” which will change the feel of the street into a more vibrant and lively space.

“Our intellectual culture, the way we really think about our academic life here, the way you should live your life here, as well as a diverse and inclusive community. To me, these go together and can’t be separated from one another—and everything flows from that. If we do those things really well, a lot of good things can happen,” Greene said. The State of the College address indicated lots of changes in the near future—changes students should be excited about.

  • Max

    Great to see Colby advancing but I mourn the loss of the insular culture – looking back, it was one of the things that made my time at Colby so special – a few years in a happy, fun, beautiful bubble. If you don’t get that in college, there is really no other place to experience it.