Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


How does Arlington, land of citizen involvement on steroids, fare as a university town?

Town-gown relations are pretty good if you ask James Bundschuh, the debonair president of Marymount University who is set to retire to St. Louis next month. After 10 years running Virginia’s only campus to rate mention on a Metro stop in Arlington (Ballston, but you could count George Mason’s satellite campus at the Virginia Square stop), Bundschuh has nothing but appreciation for the nation’s smallest county.

“Arlington adopted us during the last 10 years,” he says, noting that his vice presidents are active in the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Arlington, Marymount staff volunteer at the free clinic, and its students tutor.

Asked for the biggest change in Arlington, Bundschuh, a chemist, noted that he arrived just two months before the Sept. 11 attacks. “It was a terrible catastrophe, but afterwards it brought lots of government agencies and education institutions together so we communicate better,” he told me. “I can’t say enough about Arlington County managers, police and firefighters. We have good relations with them, and we’re all now more on alert.”

Marymount, which I wager is one of the few college campuses abutting a country club, has been a charming presence on North Glebe Road since its founding in 1950 by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. I have enjoyed numerous Committee of 100 banquets there (Bundschuh attends faithfully), and I once covered a conference on child labor put on by Marymount’s famous fashion department. (TV stars Kathy Lee Gifford and Richard Simmons talked of how their clothing lines address exploitation of overseas workers.)

Plenty of Marymount’s growth from a small women’s college to a graduate-level university was fulfilled on Bundschuh’s watch. The school brings to Arlington 3,600 students from 40 states and 70 countries, and has branches in Ballston and Reston. In recent years, it added an undergraduate honors program and two clinical doctoral programs–physical therapy and nursing. Undergraduate offerings expanded to include forensic science and computer security.

The boom hasn’t been without friction. In 2007 Marymount won county approval for construction of a now-open 52,000 square-foot academic hall and six-story residence hall built over underground parking.

But some neighbors objected to the threat of increased traffic and the decline in open space. “Four neighborhood associations were impacted,” Bundschuh said, “and we went through a facilitated process, so relations have grown to a pretty good level of understanding. There was some tension and uncertainty, but we were forthright, and they appreciate that. They’re an open and positive community.”

More recently, Marymount clashed with some neighbors surrounding O’Connell High School. They objected to the high school’s proposal to add stadium lights and its renovate baseball, football and track facilities – with Marymount athletes slated to share in their use.

At a March 15 hearing, after dozens of speakers warned of nightly noise and declining property values, the county board’s voted 3-1 to reject the plan. (Board member Barbara Favola recused herself because she works for Marymount.)

“We continue to pursue relations with O’Connell, but the policy is not ready to be announced,” says Bundschuh. “We would benefit, and O’Connell students would benefit, too.”

Marymount’s role in that contretemps will be left to Bundschuh’s successor, announced this month as Matthew Shank, the dean of business administration at the University of Dayton.





Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com