CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy to Retire After Lifelong Career Dedicated to Community Colleges, Students and Equity

April 21, 2022

CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy to Retire After Lifelong Career Dedicated to Community Colleges, Students and Equity

maureen-murphy-april-2022.jpgCollege of Southern Maryland (CSM) President Dr. Maureen Murphy has announced that she will enter retirement Dec. 31, 2022. During her five years with CSM, Murphy has repeatedly proved herself as a dynamic problem-solver and forward-thinker with a deep commitment to equity in education and to executing the mission of community colleges. 

In her announcement letter, Murphy told CSM faculty, staff and students that her time at CSM has been the best part of her career.  

“My decision was difficult, largely because my time working here alongside all of you has been the best part of my career,” she shared. “Our college is among the best in the country—and that’s because of the passion that all of you bring daily to the work of serving our students.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to reassess our priorities,” she continued. “Honestly, the distance from my family over the last two years of pandemic work has been difficult for me, and like many others at the college who have recently announced their retirements, I look forward to the flexibility to spend time with family.” 

Murphy and her husband Joe McArdle have two sons, one living in the southwest and one living abroad. Last week, they were reunited as a family in Germany for the first time in five years. 

“Together we have accomplished much these last several years, and I know all of you will continue the essential work of helping our students achieve their goals,” Murphy continued in her message to the CSM team. “The College of Southern Maryland is critical to the economic health of our region and your collective drive, passion, and innovative spirit make it possible.” 

A Legacy of Equity Work 

Murphy’s career in public higher education spans more than 35 years, including 15 years as a community college president. In July 2017, she became the fifth president of CSM – a multi-location, regional college in Maryland with four campuses, the Velocity Center at Indian Head and the Center for Transportation Training. Since her arrival, CSM has twice been recognized as among the top 150 community colleges in the country by the Aspen Institute in its Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Program. More recently, CSM joined the Achieving the Dream Network supporting the college’s commitment to equity in educational opportunities and outcomes. CSM also received top ratings in 2020 from Wallet Hub for providing students with affordable and accessible programming while maintaining good teacher-student ratio, transfer rates and outcomes – landing CSM in the number 15 position of “best community colleges” out of 698 community colleges across the nation.  

“It is with mixed emotions that we celebrate the news of Maureen’s retirement,” said CSM Board of Trustee Chair Jay Webster. “She has changed for the better the structure, value, and accessibility of our beloved community college in Southern Maryland, and for that, we will be forever grateful.” 

Webster went further to laud Murphy for her guidance during a global pandemic and the social justice issues that have faced the nation in recent years.  

“Many community college presidents navigated these perilous times, but in my opinion, none did so with the degree of confidence, clarity, vision, and humanity that I attribute to Maureen,” he said. “Each time a disruption to students’ lives erupted due to the changing political landscape or the pandemic, Maureen immediately focused on her students’ safety and holistic well-being. She leads by example, and the board witnessed first-hand as she communicated her vision and empathy to staff and faculty that elicited a sustaining response, ensuring students had emotional support, food, technology, access to support systems, and financial resources – again and again. Our staff and faculty have experienced the comfort of having a leader who created connection and security during a very tenuous time as we navigated the pandemic together.”  

Referring to Murphy as “a passionate leader for equity and social justice,” Webster expressed gratitude.  

“We are going to miss her immensely,” he said. “Her leadership style in pursuit of those principles has always been thoughtful and inspiring.” 

Further demonstrating her commitment to equity Murphy donated a legacy gift to CSM to launch the now fully endowed Distinguished Professor of Equity in Education. She created the $75,000 endowment in fall 2021 to support a selected professor each year who will mobilize equity programming for faculty, staff, administrators, students, and Southern Maryland. 

“CSM is social justice through education,” Murphy explained of her gift. “It exists solely to provide programs and services that support the social and economic mobility of people in the Southern Maryland region. We put equity in action, and the root of that action is in the classroom – irrespective of discipline – between professors and students. This work requires the continual commitment and professional development of excellent and committed faculty.” 

“Equity has been her life’s work,” Webster added. “And Southern Maryland has benefited greatly because of it.” 

A Winding Road of Learning 

Murphy’s own educational journey was neither direct nor traditional. “You come to education when you’re ready,” she shared. “Once I got going in college, I kept going and became a lifetime student.”  

Murphy “got going” in academia after high school, but she labels that decision as “a non-decision.”  

“I went to college because you were expected to do something after high school,” she explained. “I had an option to work as a bank teller, but back then there were actual bars on the teller windows, and I couldn’t imagine a work environment with metal bars between me and my customers.” 

crowd-shot-4.jpgAs a declared theater major, Murphy said she “did not do well” during her first attempt at college. “In fact, I was invited not to return. I really thought I was going to do great, but there were theater students who were so much better than me, and they weren’t getting jobs. Frankly, I was tired of going to school and realized I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I wanted to experience some things in life – much like our students want too today.” 

Eventually Murphy and McArdle married, and she became a new mom to their infant. It was then she realized her thirst for more challenges and change. Thirteen years after her first attempt at college and weeks away from delivering her second son, Murphy graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Louisville. She developed a deep love for writing and reading literature and became a lover of all things English. Soon after, she earned her master's degree in English from the University of Missouri—Columbia and almost 10 years later, she earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from Saint Louis University (SLU). She authored her dissertation, entitled “Daughters of Same Spade,” on American female private eyes in fiction. It was during her master’s program that her university offered her a teaching job with a stipend and tuition assistance. She said that offer is when she almost immediately understood her calling: “Turns out, I really liked teaching and was good at it.”  

But it wasn’t until an expensive home improvement project required extra finances in the Murphy/McArdle home that she discovered her true passion. She picked up a couple of teaching sections at her local community college and “it was akin to St. Paul being knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus,” she laughed. “It was my conversion. There were so many students from so many backgrounds. I fell in love with the notion and mission of community college on the spot.” 

So, Murphy applied for a full-time English professor opening at St. Louis Community College and was selected for the position from more than 400 other applicants. She calls her time there transformational.  

“I was the first English professor hired there in seven years and I had this amazing cadre of experienced professors who wanted to mentor me,” she shared. “I am forever indebted to them. I learned how to be a coach and received phenomenal personal and professional development.” 

After numerous faculty experiences, she rose to administration at the St. Louis Community College District as the dean of Mathematics and Communications. From there she was promoted to vice president of Instruction and Student Development at Wytheville Community College, then to vice president of Instruction and Student Development in the Virginia Community College system. Her first college presidency was at San Jacinto College district in Texas. Before coming to CSM, she spent five years as president of Brookdale Community College in New Jersey.  

mbz_8876.jpg“For my first presidency, I was the fourth woman to hold the position,” she explained. “When I was at Brookdale, I was the first woman to ever hold the position. It was an interesting paradigm shift for me to go from ‘one of many’ to ‘the first,’ and it was a stark reminder about how far we’ve come as women in the workforce. I learned important lessons along the way that allowed me to be even better prepared to take the helm at CSM.”  

Reflections on Changes in Community Colleges 

From where Murphy sits today, she said the biggest shift in community college education over the years has been watching its mission shift from focusing solely on access, to focusing on student success and measuring outcomes.  

“It has absolutely flipped how we do work and what we see as valuable,” she said. “Examining data has elevated our equity work in a way that is palpable. It is irresponsible not to do something with the data, but when I first started, we would have looked at the numbers and said, ‘Oh, that’s just the way it is.’ 

“Another change is when I started in community colleges, we were truly anti-establishment and revolutionary, and that really appealed to me,” she shared. “Honestly, we thought we were saving the world. We were fighting for people who would not have otherwise had an education. But today, we’re the main show! Today there are doctorates being offered in community college administration and leadership. How amazing is that?” 

z9m_1598.jpgAnd the president said she is still surprised that some people don’t realize the inherent value of CSM.  

“This college is excellent,” she said. “It has a great reputation although it was one that wasn’t widely known. Now we are getting national attention as being among the best.” 

Murphy cites geographical isolation as CSM’s challenge.  

“CSM has little competition,” she pointed out. “Our competition is students not going to college, and unfortunately right now that is fierce competition. We are not competing with the four-year institutions for our students. We’re fighting with the job market for our students. That’s why it is so important for community colleges to retool themselves to further support our businesses – large and small. We must recognize ourselves as economic drivers.” 

An Innovator Innovating 

mmvelocity-center.jpgUnder Murphy’s guidance and leadership, CSM’s successes have been many. During her tenure, CSM launched the Velocity Center, a collaboration among the college, U.S. Navy and local governments with the goal of increasing STEM attainment in the region and retaining a highly qualified workforce for the naval bases in Maryland. The college’s role in the economic revitalization of Indian Head received national recognition when it earned a Silver Award from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) in the real estate and reuse category. Most recently, CSM earned the Sustainability Growth Award from the Maryland Department of Planning for the center.  

Murphy oversaw the development and current construction of CSM’s Center for Health Sciences. The Center for Health Sciences will be the second building on CSM’s Regional Hughesville Campus and will serve as a central location for the college's health programs and instruction. She was also instrumental in establishing the Senator Thomas V. ‘Mike’ Miller Jr. Center for Leadership at the Prince Frederick Campus. 

Initiating software development and cybersecurity initiatives; developing a new three-year strategic plan; securing more than $6 million in donations; upgrading antiquated project management software; realigning CSM by function to reduce the number of executive positions; and securing resources to build deeper programing for the trades, workforce development, and high school students – are part of the job description, Murphy shared. 

“Those things, along with budget unification, reorganization and such, well that’s my job,” she said. “There are so many other things that we have done at CSM in just five years that I am most proud of and will carry with me always.”  

hawkpantryrc.jpgChief among them, she said, are the teamwork and dedication shown by faculty, staff and students during the pandemic.  

“We’ve experienced a lot together in a short amount of time. And through it all, it was always about caring for our students. You don’t go through a long, natural disaster that basically shut down the world and not come out of it closer.”  

She said she is also gratified by CSM’s commitment to both Achieving the Dream and participatory governance.  

“This college has done phenomenal work not just in its quest for equity for students, but also for equity in their own careers through participatory government,” she said. “I believe in equity and that everyone’s voice matters. Before I arrived, our folks didn’t know how decisions were being made, and it is particularly important to me – and to the success of this institution – that the right decisions are getting made with transparency and input from all stakeholders.”  

To get to these decisions, it is important to surround yourself with experts, she added.  

“I’ve never been the smartest person in the room, but I am most certainly surrounded by the smartest people at this college,” she said. “Now we are making informed decisions based on real data and strategic plans that everyone had a hand in developing and everyone understands. I am extremely proud of these accomplishments.” 

In addition, during her CSM tenure, Murphy was recognized by Diverse Issues in Higher Education as one of 25 influential women in higher education. Her national presence as a fervent advocate for community colleges has been demonstrated on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Additionally, she has served as a commissioner on the AACC Commission for Institutional Infrastructure and Transformation (chaired), the Commission on College Readiness (chaired), and the Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (three terms). She has served on the board of the American Association for Women in Community College’s (AAWCC) and is a past president of AAWCC.  

She was involved with the Board for the Higher Education Research and Development Institute (current chair), and in fall 2020, she was appointed to the Presidents’ Advisory Council for the National Junior College Athletic Association. Her career has garnered her numerous other honors including the Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction by Phi Theta Kappa, the Distinguished Corporate Leadership Award by the Greater Red Bank NAACP and the Carolyn DesJardins CEO of the Year Award by AAWCC, and The Innovator of the Year Award, League for Innovation in the Community College for General Education.   

Locally, Murphy serves on the Southern Maryland Workforce Development Board, Charles County Economic Development Advisory Board and she has been active with Christmas in April in St. Mary’s County. She currently sits on the Board of Advisors for the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland (USMSM). 

Roads Less Traveled 

As for her time in Southern Maryland, she said she and her husband have enjoyed their wanders.  

“Southern Maryland is truly beautiful,” she shared. “There are a lot of roads less traveled around here, and we have loved seeing the countryside, waterways, and end of the roads. I am going to miss everything and everyone. This is a great place to live and work.” 

Murphy’s retirement plans – to date – involve spending extended time with family, adding more rescued fur babies to her home, reading, wandering, cheering for the Green Bay Packers of which she is a proud fan-owner, and of course, learning. 

“Until December, I’ll be here working alongside my team to continue the important work of CSM. I promise I won’t get ‘short-timer’s syndrome,’” she offered. “There’s always lots of work to do!”  

To facilitate the leadership transition, CSM’s Board of Trustees has selected RH Perry and Associates to coordinate a national search. The company’s presidential search work will begin later this spring. The new president is expected to begin Jan. 1, 2023.  

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