Monthly Archives: February 2011

Five Questions for Maria Stadtmueller

Maria Stadtmueller is the Senior College Advancement Writer. She also portrays a certain red-headed dish-thief huntress.

1. As Senior College Advancement Writer, you are responsible for writing web and print materials and working on multimedia projects for Middlebury fundraising and recruiting. In the course of your work, what is your favorite Middlebury story that you have told?

I couldn’t point to just one story. But a particular type of story always gets me: students who couldn’t have come here without financial aid. (And I don’t think it’s just because I had a similar experience, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, at another NESCAC school). These students could be undergraduates, Bread Loafers, maybe Language Schools graduate students—but their potential is tightly leashed due to family circumstances the students don’t control (especially in the case of undergraduates). And then someone they don’t even know slips the knot with a scholarship, and they’re off! The best is when the student falls in love with something he or she had never met before—Northern Renaissance art, particle physics, the geology of Antarctic ice cores, Arabic poetry, Beckett plays¾and wants to explore it in depth.

2. You live in a solar-powered yurt on a 10-acre permaculture homestead and are soon launching a podcast ( about creating a Nature-based cosmology. How did you develop your own environmental ethic?

I think everyone has this ethic, if deep down, since this is our home and we’ve evolved over billions of years with everything around us (except for those things made by Monsanto). For many people, though, that natural ethic lies under the waxy yellow build-up of cultural stories about human superiority, our anointed dominion, and our exemption from nature’s limits. I got heavily waxed with all that, but it didn’t stick. It helped that my parents were conservationists—my late dad grew up farming and my 85-year-old mom’s a total commando. But the primary reason it didn’t stick was that nature got to me first. I grew up on a homestead with gardens and lots of animals in a beautiful rural area of New Jersey. Most of the adults I knew were nuts, so the flag went up early that Nature made more sense.  Another flag went up in adolescence that the human/nature relationship was in deep trouble. Watching bulldozers tear up and diminish—aka “develop”—land that was as intimate a friend as any human broke my heart. It’s in a million jagged pieces by now, with this sixth great extinction that humans are causing. The more I know about this industrial growth society and the failure of the U.S. government to act as these times demand, the greater the rage that enters the mix. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, although it may manifest differently in others. Glad you asked?

3. You have worn many hats (even wigs) throughout your career. You used to run a chamber music series in San Francisco and direct chamber music grant programs in New York. Who are your favorite composers?

I love Anonymous and early music. I grew up singing Gregorian chant and it just transports me, although probably not where the nuns wanted me to go. Des Prez, Lassus, Monteverdi—love those guys. Bach! All Beethoven. Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert Lieder. Stravinsky. Mahler. Richard Strauss. Bartok. I’m out of the loop on living composers but favor John Adams, who was a pal in San Francisco, and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.  I also love Indian classical music although I’m pretty ignorant about it.

4. We also hear that you used to do a little stand-up comedy on Comedy Central, VH1, and MTV. What is your favorite joke to tell (one that can be repeated on this blog)?

I did clubs almost every night for six or seven years, but I didn’t do jokes. Most comics don’t—you do “chunks”–little stories on a topic that peak and ebb through punchlines and rhythm. I never did stuff about dating or “hey, guys, what’s with that remote?” –ugh.  And I didn’t work blue, so I could repeat it here if I remembered it (fortunately, it was before the interwebs so I can’t remind myself). I recall talking about being a vegetarian in a world of meat, the confusion of little Catholic kids being taught fantastical stories in class that they must believe and being read fantastical stories at night they’re supposed to shrug off, that kind of thing. It was a weird life, pulling in to a mining town in Pennsylvania and playing a club called “the Coal Hole” or playing to a roomful of sailors at the Improv during Fleet Week in New York. But when you get enough practice to make it work, when people are venting their beverages nasally and the room becomes this creature you can feel and shape, it’s better than anything.

5. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently un-wigged you as the woman behind Aunt Des. What do you enjoy most about playing this character?

This’ll sound like some NBA player talking post-game about being part of “a good ball club” but the really fun part of Aunt Des is the collaboration. Yeah, I knew Des and do accents and am willing to make a spectacle of myself, but I have such creative colleagues, without exception. On the Des project, Nikhil Ramburn ’10 does all the lighting, filming, and editing, and Stephen Diehl helps with the script and produces our little jaunts. I blame Diehl for the nails. Some of the ideas we come up with that we can’t use are hilarious. What I like most about Des’s character, though, is that she can call it as she sees it.

What I would love to enjoy about playing Aunt Des is hanging up the wig knowing that she’s helped convince people to bring their plates back. I mean really. Such a no-brainer.

The Difference Made by Capping the Max: Guest Post by Patrick Norton, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer

As VP for Administration Tim Spears has mentioned on a few occasions, much work needs to be done between now and July 1, 2012 to ensure: (1) that all staff are in their correct band and level and (2) that all the midpoints (or targets) are calculated correctly. We need time to get this work done, and patience is required.

Some staff colleagues have asked whether enforcing maximum salaries will actually make a difference in the additional amount available to the pool for increases for all staff. I have reviewed the data, and the answer is yes.

If, for the sake of this planning exercise, we assume that the number of staff members who are currently at the max (118) is reduced by 50% as a result of re-pricing jobs and expanding some of the salary ranges, we would still be able to set aside a significant amount of money by enforcing maximum salaries. Below I have itemized the additional resources as a percentage of the overall increase pool, and I have extended this list over the next five years–beginning in 2013, the first fiscal year of the implementation of the new increase process.

  • 2013: 0.00% (obviously, no additional money will be available as the amount of the single sum payment to those over the maximum will equal the money saved as a result of enforcing salary maximums)
  • 2014: 0.23%, or $115,000
  • 2015: 0.45%, or $230,000
  • 2016: 0.67%, or $350,000
  • 2017: 0.88%, or $475,000

Now this is simply a model–the actual proof will be seen after we complete our review of the band and levels, as well as the midpoints (or targets)–but I expect the results to be pretty similar to the percentages and amounts listed above. Significantly, these additional resources would be used to augment the pool for annual salary increases.

More Thoughts About Maxes, Midpoints, Bands, and Levels

A number of people commenting on the salary increase plan have expressed concerns or asked questions about the plan to cap maximum salaries and calculate percentage increases on the midpoint of the salary range. I appreciate all this feedback, and want to emphasize the importance of the review that Human Resources will be conducting during the next year to make sure 1) that our salary ranges, bands/levels are accurately tied to the market; 2) that staff positions are placed in the correct band/level. We have undergone a lot of change over two years, and some staff members have seen their jobs change quite a bit as the overall size of the staff has been reduced.

We did not talk in much detail in the open meetings about what this review will look like, but we will certainly be looking at the possibility of expanding the salary ranges, which would shift the minimum, midpoint, and maximum salaries upward. We will pay special attention to the maximum salaries at the bottom end of our wage structure.  It is unlikely that staff members in the lower salary ranges will see their wages capped.

Finally, I want to stress that these changes will not go into effect until July 1, 2012, so we have a full year to make sure we get the details right.

Turf Battle Update & Open Forum

Back in November, the Master Plan Implementation Committee invited students to submit proposals to Turf Battle, a competition to redesign the landscape at Atwater. Although the committee had no specific vision for how this area should look and feel, they imagined a space with additional vegetation and recreational opportunities.

Three groups of students heard the call and submitted their plans last week. One group would like to create the Garden of Scholarly Delight to promote “dialogue between members of the faculty, community, student body, and the environment.” Because this design is inspired by Chinese gardens, the students imagine that such a landscape could “further the College’s aims to promote respect and learning of other cultures and broaden the scope of building traditions on campus.”

Another group of students contrasts their design with Battell Beach and seeks to develop a “more urban ‘plaza’ and flexible entertainment or gathering space.” Central to their plan is a “terraced seating area that looks out over a retention pond/stage/ice rink” whose use would respond to the seasons and the desires of the community.

Finally, a third group of students has developed a plan whose primary goals include encouraging overall use, improving drainage, creating privacy, and establishing an outdoor classroom/performance/gathering area. These students noted that “while [Atwater] currently provides ‘open space’ for potential recreation, it is under-used because of its sloping turf, oddly shaped spaces and heavy pedestrian traffic.” In turn, their proposal calls for the creation of distinct environments to support a variety of uses.

The community will have the opportunity to learn more about all of these proposals at an open forum on Tuesday, March 1 at 4:30 pm in Dana Auditorium. Each group will be allotted 15 minutes to present their plans. Up to 30 minutes total of feedback and Q&A will follow. The Master Plan Implementation Committee, which will consider the community’s response to these proposals, expects to make a final decision by the following week.

If you wish to view the proposals ahead of time, you may download the PDF copies below.

Copy of Catalano-Madson-Moritz

Copy of Webster-Hsieh-Maher

Copy of Webster-Hsieh-Maher-sketches

Copy of Lee-Rosenblatt

Five Questions for Grace Spatafora

Grace Spatafora is the Given Professor of Biology and Pre-Medical Science.

1. You tend to invite a lot of students to join you in your research. How is this symbiotic relationship mutually beneficial?

I am committed to providing as many students as I can with an opportunity to engage in research first-hand, but only if they express a genuine interest in the research process and can articulate why they choose to explore microbial pathogenesis as their research topic. This year I have 8 guys working in my laboratory, all committed to better understanding how Streptococcus mutans, an oral pathogen, reaps havoc in the oral cavity. The students benefit by committing to a senior capstone experience that could earn them graduation with distinction, a chance to communicate their research findings at a professional meeting (this year’s meeting will be held in New Orleans, LA), and the opportunity to contribute to the published literature (one of my student’s work recently made the cover of the Journal of Bacteriology). I benefit from the students’ hard work which moves the research along in a way that continues to earn major funding from the National Institutes of Health, and by being able to showcase undergraduate research at national meetings. I also get to watch these students grow as independent researchers and problem solvers, some of whom go on to pursue research careers of their own. What could be more gratifying?

2. If you were an organelle in an animal cell, which one would you be and why?

I’d be the nucleus for sure. I guess you could say that I like to control things….not in a bad way though. I don’t consider myself to be at all bossy or a control freak…but given the opportunity I do like to take charge of a situation and manage it so as to ensure the best possible outcome. Second place would go to the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, since I am rather “energetic” in the classroom where I have been known to “walk like a bacterium” and mimic Z-DNA.

3. Which living person do you most admire?

This is a tough question. I’ve given this some thought and I’d have to say it would be Christiane Amanpour, former Chief International Correspondent at CNN and current head anchorwoman at ABC News. Christiane’s work over the years as a journalist has included direct coverage of the Persian Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Siege of Sarajevo, Hurricane Katrina, and most recently Egypt’s revolution in Tahrir Square. She is seemingly fearless of reporting the news from areas of great conflict, not to mention the many exclusive interviews she’s conducted with world leaders from the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. She isn’t a two-time recipient of the Peabody Award for nothing! This is not to say that she isn’t a controversial figure in the world of news casting; indeed she is. But in my view she holds strong to her convictions. She is committed to telling the truth and giving all sides of a story equal coverage. I have always thought that in another life I’d come back as a journalist, and if this were the case, then I’d want to be Christiane Amanpour.

4. Last year, the American Association of University of Women released a report about the challenges girls and women encounter in studying and working in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This is a complex issue, but what is one thing that STEM programs could do to attract and retain women?

I think one of the most important things STEM programs could do is see to it that only the most outstanding science and math educators are hired into our elementary and secondary schools. Our teachers need to make math and science more approachable for both boys and girls. I had fabulous teachers in grade school who made learning in these disciplines fun! STEM programs also need to bring more flexibility into STEM careers so that women won’t be penalized for taking time “off” to have children.

5. You teach courses in cell biology, microbiology, molecular genetics, and microbial pathogenesis. What sparked your interest in studying structures invisible to the human eye?

Well, if you were to ask my Microbiology students they’d tell you that I became a microbiologist because you can’t hear the bacteria scream when you place them in the autoclave! But seriously, I was a young scientist in training just as the genetic engineering revolution was getting underway. At that time, bacteria were the workhorses of genetic manipulation. But then in the early ‘80’s emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases took center stage and bacteria regained their identity. I guess you could say that I was in the right place at the right time….a time when everything was about microorganisms…and not only about how they can make us sick, but how they make the world as we know it. Let’s face it, without microbes, we would not be here.

A Note on College Finances and the Pool for Staff Salary Increases: Guest Post by Patrick Norton, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer

Given the questions raised about the College’s financial situation in my recent posts on the staff salary increase program, Patrick Norton provided the following commentary on what the pool for staff raises might look like.


While the financial markets have recovered somewhat, the college is still $300 million short of what it planned to have at this time in the form of one of its major funding sources: the endowment.  The reduction in endowment value, caused by the large drop in the value of the endowment in 2008 and 2009, translates into a shortfall of $15 million in annual funding to the operating budget. We addressed the loss of $15 million in annual funding through a combination of efforts—mainly through voluntary staffing reductions and cost controls in several areas—but we continue to face increased pressure on fundraising, financial aid, and various other expenses. The financial environment for higher education is much different now than it was before the recession.

With all that said, as part of the annual 2012 budget process, we are currently planning for a 3% staff pool increase, which would be 2 times the change in the consumer price index for the 12 months ending December 31, 2010 (1.5%). The change in the consumer price index is a basic measure of the increase in the cost of living.  We will have a clearer sense of what the salary increase pool will be later this spring, once the 2012 budget is finalized.

Revising the Staff Salary Increase Program: Implementation

The College will implement the staff salary increase program in two phases over the next 18 months.

First Phase

This year, all employees who consistently meet expectations or significantly exceed expectations will receive the bi-level percentage increase. However, the percentage increase will be calculated on individual salaries instead of the midpoint. (We will implement increases calculated on the midpoint in the second phase, described below).   During the first phase, we will also begin giving bonuses to employees who do exemplary work.

Second Phase

During 2011-2012, Human Resources will do extensive market research to review bands, levels, and salary midpoints. At the end of this review, a third party will verify the results to ensure we are on target.

Successful completion of the review will allow us to move in to the second phase. By July 2012, the bi-level percentage increases will be calculated on the midpoint of the salary range. We will also cap salaries at the maximum. Employees at the top of the salary range will be eligible for annual increases; however, these increases will be distributed as single sum payments (at the beginning of the fiscal year), and will not be incorporated in the base salary. One-time bonuses for exemplary work will continue.

Read more about the staff salary increase program’s background and plan.

Again, if you have questions or just want to weigh in, you may use the comments section.  Or, if you prefer, you may email questions to me at

Revising the Staff Salary Increase Program: The Plan

Between June and December of 2010, the SRC and the Wage & Salary committee met regularly to consider how best to administer the funds available each year for staff raises. Our discussions focused on 1) finding a way of moving more staff members toward the midpoint or target of their salary ranges and 2) establishing a fair and effective method of rewarding strong work performance (merit pay).

The first objective grows out of the College’s stated goal of paying staff in the top 20% of the market for their jobs. Years ago, this goal was expressed through the benchmark system, which explicitly linked the growth of salaries to the 80th percentile in the market. In 2006, the College modified its compensation structures by grouping similar positions in bands and levels, each one with its own salary range. The ranges were constructed around midpoints, which Human Resources derived from a market analysis of the jobs included in the band/level. In these analyses, HR identified the 80th percentile salaries for the jobs in the band/level, added the salaries together, and then averaged them to determine the midpoint of the range. Then they dipped down 20 to 25% to set the minimum salary and ratcheted up 20 to 25% to set the maximum.

The midpoints are meant to serve as targets. Though they do not correlate precisely with the 80th percentile salary that a given job would command in the market (local, regional, or national). Rather, they represent the salary that an accomplished employee should expect to make at mid career.

When the SRC and Wage & Salary reviewed the spectrum of staff salaries, it discovered that 808 employees were at or below the midpoint of their salary ranges; 366 were between the midpoint and the maximum; and 118 were at the maximum. (Note that these 1292 employees also include part-time workers). In order to move more employees in the lower half of the salary range toward the midpoint, the committee realized that it would need to find a way of redistributing the funds going to the top of range. For instance, while we identify maximum salaries in our ranges, we do not enforce those maximums. Because annual raises are structured as percentage increases on individual salaries, staff at the top of the ranges receive a significant portion of the dollars available in the pool for raises.

To address this situation, the SRC and Wage & Salary proposed the following changes, which President Liebowitz has approved.

  • Annual  increases will be calculated on the midpoint salary, meaning that all staff members in the same band/level will receive the same raise in terms of dollars.  This shift will enable staff to make greater progress toward the target the College has established for staff (that is, salaries in the top 20%) of the market. This change will also slow the growth of salaries for staff between the midpoint and the maximum.
  • Maximum salaries will be capped. Employees at the top of the salary range will be eligible for annual increases; however, these increases will be distributed as single sum payments (at the beginning of the fiscal year) and will not be incorporated in the base salary. It is important to note that single sum payments will count toward the College’s retirement plan.  Two caveats are worth stressing here. One is that maximum salaries are at or near the 100% of the market for a given position. The other is that HR conducts regular reviews of salary ranges, and when the market for a particular job evolves upward, HR will adjust the ranges (the minimum, midpoint, and maximum) accordingly.

With regard to merit pay, committee also recommended that salary increases be given in three levels:

  • A percentage increase will be given to staff who “consistently meet expectations” (we expect that 75% of the staff would fall into this category).
  • A higher percentage increase will be given to staff who “significantly exceed expectations” (approximately 25% of the staff).
  • A bonus will be given to 5% of the staff for exemplary work. These employees would also receive the higher percentage increase for significantly exceeding expectations. Bonuses will be awarded through a nomination process that the Vice Presidents will oversee. Bonuses will not be incorporated in base salaries.
  • All percentage increases will be calculated on the midpoint.

The percentage breakdowns that will guide our annual increase program–75% who consistently meet expectations, and 25% who significantly exceed expectations–are not arbitrary. Rather, they are based on the data available from years of performance evaluations.

In following up on President Liebowitz’s charge, the SRC and Wage & Salary committee worked to develop a plan that balances several institutional priorities and seems fair. We also understand that the success of this plan will depend on an effective evaluation system and salary ranges that are accurately tied to the market. To make sure we get both of these items right, we have decided to roll this compensation plan out in two phases. You can read about the implementation process in my next post.

Again, if you have questions or just want to weigh in, you may use the comments section.  Or, if you prefer, you may email questions to me at

Revising the Staff Salary Increase Program: Background

This is the first of three posts aimed at explaining the new salary increase program that the College will put in place during the next two years. Although we are holding open meetings this week to explain the new procedures, I thought it would be useful to put the relevant information online, so people can review the plan and ask questions (you can use the comments section to do that).

There is a lot of information to share about this plan, and the logistics involved are complicated. Therefore, I have divided this overview into three parts. My first post addresses the history behind the plan; the second will describe the plan; and the third will lay out the timeline for implementing the plan.

Again, if you have questions or just want to weigh in, you may use the comments section. Or, if you prefer, you may email questions to me at


In the spring of 2010 President Liebowitz asked the Staffing Resources Committee to review the College’s staff compensation program to ensure that we optimize the funds allocated to this very significant budget item. (A similar project is focused on faculty wages). The SRC began the project by reviewing the 2008 findings of the last Wage and Salary Committee and met with Human Resources to understand how the compensation program has been working since its inception. The committee then recommended to the President that the W&S Committee be re-commissioned to advise the SRC on the new project.

The SRC concluded that while the staff compensation program is working well, there are several areas that could be improved. These areas, which the W&S Committee flagged for future consideration in its 2008 review, include 1) the challenge of rewarding strong performance through compensation (merit pay); 2) the fact that a considerable number of staff salaries are below the midpoints of their salary ranges, while others exceed the maximum pay level established for their grades; and 3) the lack of career ladders for staff members interested in professional advancement.

Given the President’s charge, the SRC chose to focus on items 1 and 2. Although the committee agreed that the career ladder issue warrants further consideration, it felt that the challenges surrounding the College’s annual salary increase process—namely, merit pay and salary distribution (salaries below the midpoint and at the maximum)—demand immediate attention. After consulting with the reconstituted W&S Committee, the SRC developed several possible strategies for addressing these challenges. Following considerable debate and discussion, the two groups settled on the approach outlined below. It should be noted that this approach is not meant to overhaul the current staff compensation system. Rather, it is an attempt to fine-tune one aspect of the program: the annual increase process.

For years, the College has been committed to a compensation structure that moves employees toward a salary that compares favorably with market rates–namely, the top 20% of the market. This goal dates back to the establishment of the old benchmark system, which was aimed at bringing staff to the 80th percentile of the given market for their job. At the same time, the College has instituted an evaluation process that is designed to reward superior performance with enhanced compensation. In surveys taken in 2007-2008, staff members expressed a strong preference for merit-based pay.

Like most salary programs, ours is based on a careful delineation of job responsibilities and market rates. Several years ago, the College instituted a system that placed each staff position in a particular band and level, establishing a mid-range and maximum salaries for all positions that are tied to comparable jobs in the market. Not surprisingly, given the years of experience represented on our staff, some colleagues earn salaries that exceed the maximum level established for their band and level. And because our method for determining annual salaries is tied to percentage increases, staff members at the top of their salary ranges draw a disproportionate number of dollars from the pool set aside each year for raises.

The SRC believes this arrangement is unsustainable and that in order to reward the good work of staff members who are further down in the general salary range, we need to rethink our approach to salary increases.

The situation we face is a sensitive one. While we want to recognize the superior performance of all employees, including those at the top of the salary range, we also need to support the compensation needs of staff members at the beginning and middle of their careers.  The solution we pursue will require a delicate balance of priorities and a clear understanding of the trade-offs involved.

Read more about the staff salary increase program.