What if Martha’s Vineyard had a college?


It could be named Caleb’s College, to honor the first native American graduate of Harvard, who grew up near Tashmoo Pond in the mid-17th century. It could specialize in marine biology and oceanography in collaboration with the great Woods Hole institutions. It could have an amazing music department, drawing on the talent that continues to flourish here. It could be strong in native American and African American studies, to reflect the diversity of the Island.

It could also offer Brazilian-American Studies and Portuguese-language programs.

It would offer excellent, sustainable, year-round jobs. The dorms, empty in summer, could be used to house the transient summer workforce.

—Geraldine Brooks is an author; she lives in West Tisbury.

Editor’s note: A similar idea was promoted by Island writer and former Vassar literature professor Frank Bergon in the Early Summer 2015 issue of Martha’s Vineyard Arts and Ideas Magazine. Frank included some details:

UMass MV

By Frank Bergon

A doubly appropriate connection between the Vineyard and UMass in environmental studies lies in the commitment of both to the study of agriculture. The university was initially established as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, and maintains its “Mass Aggie” origin with a Center for Agriculture at Amherst, and extension offices and farms around the state, but not on the islands. The Vineyard’s Island Grown Initiative in all the schools is already one of the country’s leading programs in helping students understand local agriculture in relationship to health and a sustainable community. Its mission suggests a natural connection with the UMass Center for Agriculture.

We need the arts. In advocating an emphasis in creative writing, I’m pushing my own field as well as one that will generate considerable interest among aspiring writers. Programs in creative writing that now include “creative nonfiction” along with poetry and fiction have exploded across the country in the past dozen years. Any issue of Poets and Writers Magazine reveals hundreds of recent programs, residencies, and institutes. Applications to the Vineyard’s summer programs at the Noepe Center and the Institute of Creative Writing signal the enthusiasm that would greet the study of creative writing on an island already identified with a tradition of accomplished writers ranging from the Harlem Renaissance to the present.

A four-year college could bring such programs to the Vineyard. An early effort to introduce “college-level courses for adults of all ages” did begin locally in 1972 with the Nathan Mayhew Seminars, a form of adult continuing education held in two buildings across the street from the Vineyard Haven library. For two decades the Mayhew Foundation sponsored an impressive range of popular programs that enriched Island life, until its leadership “basically ran out of steam,” as former president Ted Box explained. “There was attrition. Some of the founders realized that they were getting old. When you start pushing 90, something’s going to give.”

A renewal of the Mayhew Seminars would be welcome. Similarly, a two-year community college, which draws mostly from a local and occasionally an older population, would also be a wonderful addition at some point; right now I’m advocating for a four-year college and an influx of energy and youth from off-Island. Some MVRHS graduates would attend, but most students would be from elsewhere in the state and beyond. At UMass Amherst, 22 percent are from out-of-state.

What a pipe dream! you say. Really? If so, then consider this: The five existing Massachusetts campuses also began as pipe dreams. Reality starts with vision, and as scriptures remind us, “Without vision the people perish.” I’m aware that you may see Vineyard college programs evolving in a different way, and they certainly may, but my hope for suggesting what could happen is to stimulate ideas for what will happen.