Metro State inaugurates new president


Marjorie Otto/ Review One of the first things new Metropolitan State University president Virginia Arthur put up in her office was a blanket given to her by Native American elders, pictured behind her. She said it was given to her last spring, after she was named president, during a White Buffalo Woman Ceremony. She said she was wrapped in the blanket and individuals came up to give her good wishes. “It has a lot of meaning,” she said. Arthur is the university’s seventh president, and said she looks to continue the institution’s involvement in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood.

Virginia Arthur is the university’s seventh president

Marjorie Otto
Review staff

“It takes a woman to move the earth,” said Virgil Mountain Blacklance, a member of the Standing Bulls Singers, who started the April 7 inauguration of Metropolitan State University’s new president with a Dakota blessing. 

Virginia “Ginny” Arthur was inaugurated in a Friday afternoon ceremony at the university’s St. Paul campus in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. 

Though the ceremony was this month, Arthur, 63, was named the new president by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees on April 20, 2016, and the appointment took effect July 1. Arthur succeeds Devinder Malhotra, who had served as interim president since 2014, following president Sue K. Hammersmith’s retirement. 

Arthur previously served as the school’s executive vice president and provost, and has been at the nearly 50-year-old university, a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and University System, since 2012. 

The inauguration included remarks from MnSCU Board of Trustees chancellor Steven Rosenstone and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. 

 

A first generation student

Metropolitan State University often serves older students, students who may be parents and first-generation college students — Arthur herself was a first-generation college student.

“It can just be so overwhelming to come to the university and to understand who can help and where to go to get things taken care of,” she said.

During her inaugural address, Arthur said she remembers struggling during her first year of college. “I cried myself to sleep nearly every night of my first semester.” 

Arthur said she makes a point to connect with students, to help them feel welcome. She connects with faculty to make sure they understand how to help students and she will hold open office hours for students to come to her.

“She says hello when she passes you on campus,” said Bukola Oriola, a first-generation student at Metropolitan State.

“I want to make it so that they feel safe to ask questions,” Arthur said.

Arthur’s path to the presidency has been a winding one. Originally from upstate New York, she attended Syracuse University, earning a degree in economics and business management. She then went on to get her law degree from the Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., a college that was started by women in 1890 after they had been denied acceptance to Columbian College because of their gender. 

“I love the fact that they made it happen for themselves,” she said.

While Arthur is not the first female president of Metropolitan State University, she does acknowledge that female university presidents are still in the minority. 

She said she has never had a problem with anyone not taking her seriously due to her gender at the university or in the state; she has attended conventions and meetings across the U.S., noticing, “there’s a lot of men here.”

Arthur practiced law for a few years, but wasn’t satisfied by the work. She visited a career counselor who suggested that teaching in higher education may be a good fit. 

And it was. She taught for 24 years before she moved into an administrative role during her time at the College of St. Benedict’s in Collegeville.

In 2009 she applied and was accepted to be the associate provost for faculty affairs at the University of Northern Iowa and in 2012 moved to Metropolitan State.

 

Maintaining community connections

Metropolitan State University has been an active member of the Dayton’s Bluff and East Side communities.

In the past three years the school has expanded its footprint, constructing a new parking garage, student center and science center. 

Arthur said she doesn’t foresee many more expansions — instead she said the university will focus on its partnerships with other MnSCU colleges, especially Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

As for connecting with the neighborhood, “I see that as a very symbiotic relationship,” Arthur said. 

The Dayton’s Bluff Public Library, part of the St. Paul library system, is housed in the university’s library. 

Across the street, First Lutheran Church hosts a community dinner open to the neighborhood. Nursing students from the university provide wellness checks during dinners to help those who may be without homes to receive some simple health care. 

“This is a living laboratory,” Arthur said. 

The university is also securing funding to fix up its dilapidated greenhouses and will partner with Urban Roots to have year-round gardening and food education programs. 

“We really see ourselves as a citizen of the neighborhood,” Arthur said “We’re driven by what the community needs.”

 

A college for those without a college

Arthur said one of the things she is most proud of is serving at a university that was established to serve traditionally underserved populations — populations consisting of later-in-life-learners and racially diverse populations.

This year’s entering class was 50 percent peo

ple who come from communities of color. 

“We are seeing tremendous transformation centered here at Metropolitan State University,” Coleman said during the inauguration, commenting on the partnership with St. Paul Public Libraries. “Education is the key to get through anything.”

During the inauguration, Rosenstone said the start of a new presidency serves as a moment “to remind ourselves of the shared sense of purpose” and to “treat all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or sexual identity with dignity and respect.”

“We are a college for those who don’t have a college,” Arthur said. “I’m excited about the future of Metro State.”

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

 

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