Editorial: A Call to Create the Janet Morgan Riggs Center for Global Citizenship

Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs (Photo Mary Frasier/The Gettysburgian)

Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs (Photo Mary Frasier/The Gettysburgian)

By The Gettysburgian Editorial Board

In Gettysburg College’s 186-year history, its campus has benefitted from the indelible impact of thousands of distinguished individuals, but it is difficult to imagine one whose influence has been as outsized as Janet Morgan Riggs. She will retire in May after 11 years as our president, which were preceded by a 27-year stint on the faculty that culminated in her appointment as provost and four years as an undergraduate student.

President Riggs has brought new meaning to the “Gettysburg Great” ideal through her large-scale efforts in leading a prolific fundraising campaign that yielded more than $160 million to support the college, promoting diversity and inclusion through a landmark climate study and appointment of a chief diversity officer, and advocating for the liberal arts through leadership at both the state and national levels, as well as her small-scale efforts in being available to students, faculty, and employees alike and in being a frequent face at events across campus.

“She is the archetype of what it means to be a Gettysburgian, and, for that reason, we urge the Board of Trustees to eternalize her massive contributions to the campus community over more than four decades by renaming a building on campus in her honor.” – The Gettysburgian Editorial Board

She is the archetype of what it means to be a Gettysburgian, and, for that reason, we urge the Board of Trustees to eternalize her massive contributions to the campus community over more than four decades by renaming a building on campus in her honor.

One component of the recent campaign that did not reach its target was a plan to refashion Plank Gym into a global center focused on providing a physical space for the campus community to engage in dialogue and action on global issues. Given President Riggs’ relentless leadership in the areas of inclusion and internationalization – one of three tenets of our current strategic plan – we believe it would be a fitting honor to reimagine the project of renovations to Plank as the construction of the Janet Morgan Riggs Center for Global Citizenship.

Surely, a dynamic venue focused on intentional collaboration and deep engagement with complex issues would be a fitting tribute to the legacy of a president who has challenged us all to dig deeper in our pursuit to understand the world around us one conversation at a time.

And, we imagine that, if put in those terms, many of the very same benefactors who helped the GettysburGreat campaign succeed so spectacularly would be keen to top it off with a lasting tribute to a visionary leader that led Gettysburg in pursuit of something greater. Furthermore, all Burgians of the Last Decade (BOLD) benefited from her leadership, so this would be a strong rallying cry for young alums and first-time donors to honor a beloved campus celebrity: someone who spoke at their convocation, went to their sporting events, attended their concerts, listened to their concerns, led their alma mater, and wished them well at commencement.

It is worth noting that President Riggs would be the first woman to be honored as the sole namesake of an academic building on the Gettysburg College campus. Her accomplishments certainly deserve to be heralded alongside those of the deserving men in whose honor our current academic and campus life buildings are named.

Since its founding by abolitionists, Gettysburg College has been concerned about the unfinished work ahead. President Riggs would be the first to admit that the work that she has done to expand opportunities for global citizenship is just the beginning of the long journey towards becoming a truly international center of higher education, yet we believe it would be altogether fitting and proper that we should commemorate her efforts in this way.

This editorial reflects the collective opinion of The Gettysburgian’s Editorial Board: Benjamin Pontz ’20 (Editor-in-Chief), Joshua Wagner ’19 (Managing Opinions Editor), Alex Romano ’20 (Associate Editor), Katherine Lentz ’20 (Arts & Entertainment Editor), Mary Frasier ’21 (Director of Photography), Madeleine Neiman ’21 (Features Editor), Lauren Hand ’20 (Lead Copyeditor), Gauri Mangala ’21 (News Editor), Charlie Williamson ’19 (Sports Editor).

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  1. Gettysburg College

    Greetings. This an update to an earlier alumni conversation. If I had the money, I would change the school from a very expensive prep school, attended largely by students who quickly become preppie, — think the spoiled Kavanaugh, the Duke lacrosse team, anyone now attending Holton Arms, Bullis Prep, et. al.. ; without attribution, the likening of Gettysburg to a prep school (“rich snobs”) comes from students I have talked to and online comments from students — to a high-value enterprise. Today it is the opposite.

    The campus looks pristine; it is neatly laid out, with highly visible athletic fields and venues (some named by donors from our era). The largess extends to the “old” Majestic theater, renovated by another classmate, David Levan. Even an unprejudiced eye would see that tens of millions are spent on recreation, and wonder how much is being spent on education.

    This “attractiveness” flies in the face of the data. Predictably, at and near the top, the US college and university endowment-per-student ranges from 2 to 1 million dollars. Among “ranked” (USN&WR) schools, Gettysburg sits — and sits and sits — very low, a little over $100,000 per student, near Allegheny and Juniata. The school’s endowment has lost 6% in two the last three years, mostly from investments in startups in foreign markets.

    Despite glowing pronouncements from President Riggs, grants, donated by alumni and occasionally funded from the endowment — over and above the normal 5% drawn down yearly for operations and salaries, hardly approach the rapidly ascending comprehensive fee, at $70,000 per year. The grants are available to 55%-60% of students. They cover about a third too half of fees, but are withdrawn if a student does not maintain a “cum laude” GPA. Grants run to $57,000,000 max each year. An impressive number; the administration informs students that the College would like those receiving grants to repay them as alumni.

    Only the wealthiest families do not need loans. The Pell Grant averages about $5700 per year, is based on need and need not be paid back. Federal student loans run from $5,000 to $12,000; the interest rate today is 5.07 percent, also need-based and prorated. The rest of the fee amount is paid from family cash and private loans, the interest rate for which run from 6% to 14%. The loans must be paid back. Private loans cannot be forgiven, even through bankruptcy. For Gettysburg students and their families, the cumulative indebtedness is profound. The College keeps no track of these liabilities, nor do they follow up on student outcomes.

    In the less visible arena, the fraternities are awash in alcohol, hazing, and date-rape. If they were to be investigated, as the Catholic church is being investigated, the numbers would be alarming. According to students I have spoken with, a student must pledge fraternities or sororities or live as a social outcast. Of course the town is bereft of culture.

    President Riggs is second only to Donald Trump in believing that she has done an outstanding job. This is not surprising. As is the case on most American campuses, the administrators have made their careers, beginning in Kindergarten, through graduate school, and onto jobs in academia, on charitable contributions and taxes, the largess. When their turn comes to run things, they expect no less. In fact, they do not run things at all. They rely on what they know: marketing, fund-raising and spending. As a regent from the University at California told me, “cost” is a four-letter word.

    Managing to objectives within budget surfaces behind close doors in the Business Department; some students hear about it there. But they are immersed in, see, and feel something quite different. Then there are the objectives. President Riggs has embraced them to the core, as her experience confirms: keeping up with the Jones’s.

    A clue for things to come should have been, if noticed, her first act as President-to-be: insisting that a new home be built for her, as she found the Hansen house not fitting. Now there are two presidential homes, one next to the other, at the end of Broadway, like lost bookends. This management philosophy and approach prevailed for twenty years, until the school became as impressive as Princeton, at least the fine patina atop the mystery. Incredible admissions selectivity and a huge budget for foreign travel amid “other cultures” has helped round out what is called the “college educational experience.” And for those who have always confused value and high price (haven’t we all done that at times), the enormous price adds to the “attractiveness.” Gettysburg is a beautiful setting.

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