Feb 152011

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts President William Fahey

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts President William Fahey

Details of the proposed establishment of a campus of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Groton are emerging while residents weigh an enabling article to be considered at a Special Town Meeting February 28th. The college, a private Catholic school with 87 students, is now in Merrimack NH.

The college is negotiating to purchase 33 acres at 122 Old Ayer Road, better known as the J. Geils farm or estate. The property is currently owned by attorney Scott A. Lathrop and is listed at one and two thirds million dollars. The parcel includes a four bedroom, six bath colonial house, stables, and several outbuildings. According to TMCLA President William Fahey, a purchase and sale agreement is in place and the college is raising funds to close the deal.

To occupy the site and construct a campus for up to 120 undergraduate residents, the college would require a connection to the town sewer. The pending town meeting article grants permission to connect the Old Ayer Road site to the town sewer system. The cost of the extension of the town sewer line and the connection of the campus to the system would be paid by the school, according to the town meeting warrant. The Groton sewer system currently has unused capacity that would support the campus because planned housing developments for which capacity was reserved years ago have not been built.

If the college succeeds in purchasing the tract and builds a new campus here, between 12 and 20 full time jobs would be created as well as several adjunct faculty positions,according to Charlie McKinney, Vice President for Institutional Advancement. (Charlie McKinney is not related to Chuck McKinney of Groton. — Ed.) The college would probably maintain its New Hampshire campus to house a new graduate student program, spokesmen said.


Editor’s Note: Since The Groton Line identified the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Not Thomas More College, the name of the Kentucky college reported in other local media) of Merrimack, NH, as the college negotiating for a new campus in Groton, we’ve been trading emails with college President William Fahey. This article is a question-and-answer format from our communications:

At what stage is the proposed purchase of the “J. Giles property”? Offer, P&S, something else?

WEF: The Purchase & Sale was recently made and accepted on the “Giles” or Lathrop property. Now we are in the midst of a restricted fund-raising campaign to acquire the site.

Are any other locations being considered for purchase?

WEF: The Old Ayer Road property in Groton is far and away our preferred site. Yes, other potential locations have been examined during the search period. There are options, but we are hoping that this site works out. Groton is ideal for our vision. I think that if readers go to our website and poke around they would immediately see why we are so excited about the prospect of relocating to Groton.

If any property is purchased, would that mean that the TMC campus would move from Merrimack, or would the new site be operated as a second campus?

WEF: Groton would be the campus for the undergraduate College, the center of things.
My intention is that the Merrimack campus would be operated as a Thomas More College Center for Graduate Studies. I have already had initial conversations about this with the Post-Secondary Commission in New Hampshire. The heart of our current campus is a 1726 homestead; it is lovely and, in fact, well-suited for a center that would offer an MA program in Humanities, and perhaps one or two other degrees. Also, we maintain a campus in Rome, where all our sophomores are required to study. But, again, Groton would be the center.

Does TMCLA have sufficient endowment/funds available for purchase, or would the purchase be dependent on a fund-raising effort yet to be launched or concluded? Is the Boston archdiocese involved in the financial arrangements?

WEF: We do not have an endowment that would allow for a simple and immediate purchase. Our plan had been to conduct the silent phase of a capital campaign first and then purchase property. The Lathrop property had another potential buyer and so we have had to move on that ahead of schedule. A second longer capital campaign would be launched shortly after a purchase to secure funds for building a new campus. Cardinal O’Malley has expressed warm interest in the project, but the Archdiocese is not a source of financial support. It would be unusual for the Archdiocese to support an independent college.

If everything went as well as it could, when would you expect classes to be conducted in Groton?

WEF: Autumn of 2014, perhaps sooner, contingent on fundraising. The building of a beautiful and permanent college campus is something that must be done with care, and we envision that a number of local constituencies should be involved in the process.

Are you planning any kind of presentation to Groton voters either before or during the Special Town Meeting that will consider the sewer extension article?

WEF: I am currently trying to complete arrangements for Jane Bouvier to interview me and other members of the College for the cable show “Around Town”. I believe that Connie Sartini of the Groton Herald is going to participate in the interview as well. I was interviewed by Pierre Comtois of the Groton Landmark and would be happy to do so again. Working with the local media seems to be the easiest way for everyone to become informed.

Assuming the purchase of a Groton property is concluded successfully, what problems need to be resolved in order to move the Sacred Heart Church building from its current location to the proposed campus site?

WEF: I would need to approach the Town on this again to be sure. I believe it is a matter of working out a good time table for the movement of the building, which will require temporarily adjusting or lowering power and phone lines. I want to make sure this is minimally disruptive for the town center. We have already had a structural engineer from a company that specializes in this kind of relocation look at the building. His study found it sound and he was confident it could be moved to the Old Ayer location. So far, the Archdiocese and the local parish have, by every indication, been supportive of our desire to save Sacred Heart. I don’t think anyone wants to see the building lost. It has a great history both as the center for Catholic worship in Groton, but also as the Groton School’s original chapel.

What conditions would permit a college move to Groton but prohibit the move of the church?

WEF: I am not sure. We are hopeful about moving the church. I believe that all those locally who have affection for the building and would like to see it continue to be used as a site for worship are supportive. Part of our initial interest in Groton had to do with the vision of saving the Sacred Heart church building. We live in an age and in a region that often has sad stories about parish closings or the decline of faith. The College hopes to be an agent of renewal and hope. Moving the church building and giving it a new foundation and a new life is symbolic of that hope.

Please explain the reasons behind the resignation of Jeffrey Nelson and your appointment as president.

WEF: Jeffrey Nelson was appointed the second president of the College immediately after the retirement-from the presidency-of the first president and founder. I am sure you can imagine the challenging dynamic of new leadership at a College which had experienced no change in leadership for thirty years. In his third year, Nelson chose to accept a senior-level position at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Delaware. Many of the changes and new ideas he envisioned were good and needed.

I was asked by the Board to become president in spring of 2009. At the time I was Provost of the College. I know that the Board chose me because of my relationship with the faculty and students. I very much represented the rank-and-file of a College. Prior to coming to Thomas More College I had been the founding chairman of the Classics Department at Christendom College in Virginia, where I was also President of the Faculty Senate. The Board also knew that I had an abiding commitment to New England. My father’s side of our family is from Maine and has been there or in Massachusetts since the 18th century.

Are there any statistics available on the number of Thomas More College students who are registered to vote locally instead of in their home communities?

WEF: We do not keep any statistics on Thomas More students registered to vote locally versus in the home state of their parents. It is a rather academic place. The students may, in fact, be more passionate about the politics of Periclean Athens or colonial New England than local municipal elections.

Thomas More College is currently on probation with your primary accrediting body. Could you explain the circumstances surrounding that and your, or the college’s plans, to remove that status?

WEF: As you know, the College is fully accredited. Part of the presidency of Jeffrey Nelson, my predecessor, was dedicated to addressing over-due capital expenses at the College. President Nelson also hired a number of new faculty and staff-both to restore previous student-to-faculty ratios and to launch a series of new and exciting initiatives. All of this was very expensive, and skewed our debt-to-asset ratios. For that reason, our regional accrediting body (the New England Association of Schools and Colleges) approached us and after a review of the financial difficulties facing Thomas More College, NEASC could see that the best way to assist Thomas More College in maintaining stability and growing into a more hardy business enterprise was to give the College a two-year probationary status for improving its financial strength. In its review of the College’s internal controls and reform, NEASC determined that we “moved vigorously to re-stabilize the institution.” To date, the College has satisfied NEASC in all its reports and is moving to the successful completion of its financial probation.