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“Marist is not a corporation.” Marist’s new president David Yellen clarified this point immediately as he talked with SPJ about his goals for Marist, and the balance between the college’s business and educational operations. Yellen said that Marist is not driven by a profit motive, but is looking to provide an education to students, as well as grow its endowment over time in order to continue improving the student experience.

Yellen emphasized that he did not come to Marist with an agenda. “I’m figuring out the best opportunities,” he said. “The college is always changing and growing. Things will be evolving.”

Yellen noted that the strategic planning process was an important milestone for the school, and that the next plan is to possibly expand Marist’s presence in New York City.  

“I’m still getting to know the students,” he said. “But from the students I have talked to, I have been told that they wish it was less structured.”

Yellen stated that there are some business practices that Marist implements, and as a result, the school runs “exceptionally well” from a money standpoint. The school, he said, is looking to grow through new programs.

Those who work in educational departments are “constantly thinking” about new programs, and Yellen noted that it is important to remember the faculty’s role at the college. “Most change initiative comes from the faculty,” he said. “So we are working with them on high level goals and changes.”

One of the newest additions will be programs for doctoral work in physical therapy, which Yellen said the school is in the process of final plans for. On the physical side, with new dorms opening up, the next construction plan is the renovation of the Steel Plant Studio in the summer of 2018. The renovated studio will be entirely dedicated to art and fashion majors, who will be moving out of Donnelly. However, Yellen is currently unsure of what will expand in Donnelly with the new changes.

The biggest change that Yellen is proud of is the increase in diversity. The Class of 2020 is the most diverse in Marist history, and Yellen only wants it to continue increasing. “We’ve grown so much in geographical and socioeconomic diversity,” he said. “We want to see more diversity in recruits and enrollment, and start to focus more on faculty diversity.”

In his first year at Marist, Yellen has already handled multiple polarizing issues on campus, from the basketball team’s game against Duke during the statewide boycott of North Carolina sports, to the marching band playing at the 2016 inauguration, to the more recent travel ban that affected students at Marist. Though these are instances that demand his attention, Yellen holds that he acts in the best interest of the Marist community, yet his actions do not make a political statement on the behalf of the college.

There are two main principles, Yellen said, when it comes to politics on campus. “We encourage students to be socially engaged and politically aware,” he said. “There is a great tradition in the U.S. of colleges being hotbeds for social activism.”

One of the principles of college, Yellen stated, is the free exchange of ideas. “It’s not good to be in a bubble where you only hear from people you agree with,” he continued. “Luckily, aside from some isolated incidents, we haven’t had real clashes on campus. But we continue to encourage students to expand what they’re interested in.”

Nonetheless, Yellen emphasized that Marist is not a political actor and that it is “not the college’s job” to take political sides on things, especially because it is a “tumultuous time” in the country right now. When asked about his recent email acknowledging the recent travel ban implemented by President Trump’s executive order, Yellen explained that “it is never difficult” to take a stand on behalf of students. “I signed a letter asking Trump to speak out against hate crimes and another letter to change his mind regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” he said. “Both cases directly affect students and the higher education system.”

Yellen is thinking about Marist locally as well as globally. He said that one of the things he was most impressed by upon his arrival was how involved students are in the surrounding community. “People greatly exaggerate the bubble,” he said, referring to the idea that Marist students do not concern themselves with affairs outside of the Marist gates. Yellen believes that Marist’s reputation among its local business partners and within Poughkeepsie is strong.

 

“Marist is in great shape,” he said. “Strong, but it still wants to get better.”

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