April 25, 2019

UMW Adopts 2019-20 Budget, Tuition and Fees

In its sustained effort to control costs for students, the Board of Visitors of the University of Mary Washington accepted a recommendation for minimal cost increases in the next academic year.  President Troy Paino’s proposal, which received unanimous approval, sought to address the increasing cost of serving students primarily through budget reductions and reallocations.  Paino […]

UMW Celebrates Special Olympian ‘Amazing Grace’

“Positive.” That’s how UMW sophomore Maddie Shifflett summed up her on-campus hero yesterday at the University Center. Her response to NBC 4 reporter Dave Culver’s request to describe longtime Mary Washington dining associate Grace Anne Braxton in one word made it to the 6 p.m. news. “Just like a ray of sunshine and happiness,” Shifflett, […]

Multicultural Fair Brings Culture to Campus

Once a year the whole world comes to the University of Mary Washington. The 29th annual Multicultural Fair will bring a crisscross of cultures from around the globe to campus this Saturday. Think bellydancers and breakers, gospel and blues, tacos and funnel cakes, tapestries and tie-dyes. The event is one of the largest Mary Washington […]

Michael Spencer: Courageous Conversations

Michael Spencer, associate professor and director for the Center for Historic Preservation

Michael Spencer, associate professor and director for the Center for Historic Preservation

If you step into Michael Spencer’s office in Combs, you’ll pass through a massive antique wooden doorframe. His mentor, Professor Emeritus Gary Stanton, salvaged it from Nottingham, an 18th-century plantation home that was recently destroyed.

Questions about what pieces of history should be saved and salvaged are what led Spencer ’03 to study at Mary Washington, one of only four institutions in the country with a bachelor’s degree in historic preservation. Now, as associate professor and department chair, Spencer and his fellow professors are opening doors to new conversations in the classroom about what is worthy of conservation and preservation in the 21st century.

“We’re moving beyond focusing on the history of a singular ethnic and gender group and broadening the spectrum in terms of what we should be looking at from a preservation standpoint,” said Spencer, who said the department frequently works with local African-American groups and Native American tribes to help address oversights of the past. “Now we are asking, ‘What story do we want to tell as a country?’”

The voices of preservationists like Spencer are becoming increasingly valuable as America – and our own historic city – navigates the debate over artifacts, relics and monuments from our nation’s past. From Confederate monuments in Charlottesville to the slave auction block in Fredericksburg, we have monumental decisions to make about what stays and what goes, and more importantly, why? It’s these questions that motivated Spencer to take part in Courageous Conversations, a new series of videos featuring UMW faculty exploring topics of diversity and inclusion.



Q: What drew you to the field of historic preservation in the first place?
A: I’ve always been interested in historic buildings, and most history programs are not building-centric. I found Mary Washington with my dad’s help – and the rest is history.

Q: How has the historic preservation department changed since you were a student?
A: We were doing ink on mylar drawings and had only just acquired AutoCAD, a computer-assisted drafting program. You had to sign up to use it on the computer in Trinkle’s basement. We still teach hard-line drawings, but now use new technologies such as 3-D modeling and virtual reality.

Q: Has preserving history always been a controversial topic, as it has been in the last few years, or is this a new phenomenon?
A: There will always be debates because every object and site is unique, so each brings different perspectives. It often becomes controversial when you talk about how to preserve things. As preservationists, we have seven aspects of integrity to help us decide if an object or site is significant, and location is one of them. If you move the block to the Fredericksburg Area Museum and have to pay to see it, is that conveying history in the way we want, or do we want it to be accessible to everyone? But there are also personal stories and conversations – feeling is another aspect of integrity we consider – and it might warrant a change in our preservation approach. As a department, we’ve participated in the discussions in Fredericksburg, but the community must delve into the actual preservation issues at hand, and we hope to be a part of that.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Confederate monuments at the center of the national controversy, particularly those in your hometown of Charlottesville?
A: Many of the monuments were put up at the 50th or 100th anniversary of the Civil War in honor of the Southern myth and “lost cause” and embody many of the racist beliefs of the time. Lee and Jackson didn’t have direct ties to Charlottesville. But some of the older memorials list names of the local dead and it’s harder to advocate for their removal. There are differences in how you approach and evaluate these monuments. But if you dig deep enough, you can always find out intent. Newspapers are always publishing editorials, and when you read them, you can really see what people wear on their sleeves.

Associate Professor Michael Spencer, who is chair of the Department of Historic Preservation, discovered the original door to the Mary Washington House using infrared thermography.

Associate Professor Michael Spencer, who is chair of the Department of Historic Preservation, discovered the original door to the Mary Washington House using infrared thermography.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your profession?
A: Seeing students with whom I’ve made a connection excel at UMW and beyond. I also find the “discovery” aspect of my job particularly rewarding. My wife was driving me around at 4 a.m., during one of the coldest days of the year, and we stopped at the Mary Washington House. I used infrared thermography tools, which show the way heat is transmitted through objects, and it led us to discover Mary Washington’s original front door.

Q: What is the most challenging?
A: Continually advocating for why historic preservation matters, here at UMW when it comes to securing resources, and within the community.

Q: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
A: While I’m big on technology, I just got my first iPhone. Frankly, I hate using it, except when I’m taking pictures of my daughter.

‘The Country Wife’ Woos Audiences With Elaborate Costumes

The lilac-purple and daffodil-yellow hues spied on campus this weekend aren’t necessarily spring flowers. They also could be spectacular pastel wigs donned by talented students in University of Mary Washington Theatre’s production of the saucy 1675 satire The Country Wife. “The costumes are, indeed, stunning – brightly colored and 17th century in design,” said Professor of […]

UMW Events Promote Sexual Assault Awareness

Tomorrow, a rainbow of T-shirts will hang from a clothesline on the University of Mary Washington’s Ball Circle, each individually designed and crafted to publicly express the personal experience of a survivor of gender violence. The Clothesline Project is just one of the events UMW is involved in and hosting this April to recognize Sexual […]

Anand Rao: Courageous Conversations

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

Anand Rao, professor of communications and director of the Speaking Intensive program and Speaking Center

No topics are off-limits at Anand Rao’s dinner table. The communications professor and director of UMW’s Speaking Center said he encourages his four children – whom all have been members of debate teams – to share their opinions. He has one rule: they must be willing to defend their ideas and open to listening to others.

Rao brings this philosophy to all the courses he teaches at Mary Washington, which include public speaking, rhetoric, argumentation and social media, as well as the First-Year Seminar classes. “I hope my students bring a variety of different political, philosophical and social opinions to our class discussions because I want us to learn from each other,” he said. “That’s not possible if we all have the same perspectives.”

It’s also why he chose to participate in UMW’s Courageous Conversations series, a collection of videos featuring faculty exploring ideas of diversity and inclusion. Rao tackles the topic of free speech in the 21st century and discusses the role colleges and universities play in preparing students to engage in civil discourse in a polarized world.

“A university campus is a place where students are engaging in courageous conversations daily,” said Rao, who holds a B.A. in philosophy and an M.S. and Ph.D. in rhetoric and communications from the University of Pittsburgh. “This project demonstrates not just that we need to engage, but that we must learn how to do so in a respectful and professional way that helps us seek out the best answers. It reflects how we can collaboratively develop and test new and different ideas.”



Q: What brought you to Mary Washington?
A: I became acquainted with UMW when I visited the campus as an undergraduate when I was on Pittsburgh’s debate team. Though they were fierce competitors, I had great interactions with UMW students, who were bright, hard-working, energetic and motivated. Tim O’Donnell, who is a communications professor and now Associate Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Success, told me about the position in 2002. Because I held UMW in such high regard, I knew it was an opportunity that I wanted to explore.

Q: How do institutions of higher education find the balance between free speech and allowing inflammatory discourse on campus?
A: There are ideas that could be offensive to others, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider them. We should critically engage those ideas, discuss what may make them offensive, and we should always be willing to engage in civil discourse. A college campus that doesn’t allow free speech isn’t really participating in the intellectual enterprise that we take pride in at Mary Washington. But in the same way you can’t shout “Fire!” in a public theater, you can’t encourage violence or harm toward others. Public safety is always a consideration. Our words have consequences and we should show concern for how our words impact others.

Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: I love helping students develop their own voice, particularly those who are apprehensive about public speaking. Through my role as director of the Speaking Center, I haven’t experienced anyone who we aren’t able to help speak confidently in front of an audience. We hear all the time from employers and graduate schools how prepared UMW students are to succeed.

Q: What role has social media played in creating conflicts and can it be instrumental in finding a way out of them?
A: There are reasons to be pessimistic, because the echo chamber reinforces the worst of your own ideas. But social media also provides great opportunities for reaching out of those silos in ways we were never able to do in previous generations.

Q: What is the one thing in your office that means the most to you?
A: I have a picture of my son, who is a sophomore at UMW, giving a speech outside of Harvard’s Widener Library, and a picture of my daughter debating the British National Debate team. I also have photos and art work by my younger son and daughter.

Q: What is one of your favorite Mary Washington memories?
A: When Congressman John Lewis spoke at commencement, right after the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. I took him to see the bust of James Farmer, and he shared stories about him and the work they did together.

Q: What are you currently reading or have read recently that inspired you?
A: I just started “When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink, and I’m reviewing a variety of open educational resources for public speaking.

Historic Preservation Students Dig Into Native American Tale

It could have been just any old rock. There were thousands of them under John Lightner’s feet at the edge of Aquia Creek. But this one was different. For Lightner, chief emeritus of Stafford County’s Patawomeck Indian tribe, it was a piece of the past. And, on a cold day last month, he smiled as […]

UMW Finds Zen with First Study Abroad Program in Japan

Maybe it was the beautiful campus. Or that it was nestled in a small town rather than a huge metropolis. Perhaps it was because it was a public university with a strong emphasis on the liberal arts. Whatever the reason, the Japanese school reminded Kevin Hockmuth ’00 of his beloved alma mater, almost 7,000 miles […]

UMW Debate Team Topples Harvard in National Competition

University of Mary Washington dynamic duo Parker Coon and Gabriel Lewis, both seniors, used their debate team super powers to outperform top contenders – including Harvard – last weekend. As first-year students, Coon, who hails from Bakersfield, California, and Lewis, a Salt Lake City native, traveled across the United States to join the award-winning, nationally […]