The Commons Factor in the Atwater Landscape Design Competition

Last week, I cross posted—technically, the term is “syndicated”—a blog post in which Tim Parsons describes the Atwater “Turf Battle” competition.  More recently, Tim asked me to say a few words about how the current Commons configuration might affect designs for the landscape.  I am happy to do so, and I think I can be brief.

When the Commons system was developed in the late 1990s, it was with the expectation that each of the five Commons would serve as self-contained entities—communities within the larger Middlebury community, if you will.   Each Commons would have its own dining hall, its own library and lounges, even its own outdoor spaces.  Indeed, early discussions of Commons spaces focused on the need to develop “front” and “back” yards, landscapes that were both public and private.  To a certain extent, we achieved that separation of spaces at Ross.   On the west side of the dorms there is a basketball court that is keeping with back-yard or driveway recreation, while on the east side—in the elbow and on the plaza—the space feels more public, and open to the entire campus.

Atwater was conceived with similar goals in mind, though the surrounding area could not be so easily divided into front and back yards (however, the barbecue pit next to the dining hall does gesture toward small-scaled social functions).  Needless to say, the College did not make great progress developing the spaces between Hall A and Hall B; otherwise, we would not be holding this design competition.

Fast forward to the past couple years, and these early conceptions of the Commons no longer have the same meaning.  Allen and Coffrin belong to Atwater in that first and second-year students reside in their Commons neighborhoods.  But the Chateau and Hall A and Hall B include students from all five Commons; those buildings do not belong to Atwater.

The significance of all is that the Atwater space mentioned in the Turf Battle guidelines is not really Atwater’s.  I am not sure this distinction matters very much since no space on this campus, even with the development of the Commons system, has ever been limited to a certain population.  Still, it’s worth noting that any design that attempts to mark this space as Atwater’s—and there are subtle ways of doing this, short of emblazoning an “A,” Hawthorne style, in the grass—will be tossed aside.

On the other hand, I think the notion or public and private space, or front and back yards, still have currency in this design process.  As designers approach this open space, they should give careful thought to how the landscape of the future will be used and who in the community will want to use it.  And remember that this community also includes the summer language schools.

Five Questions for Barbara Hofer

Another week, another installment of the new Five Questions series. This time around, the Middlebury Campus Editorial Board posed questions to Professor of Pyschology Barbara Hofer, who recently co-authored The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up. Many thanks to them both for taking the time to craft questions and responses.

But before we get to Barbara’s reflections, I would like to announce that the next Five Questions subject is Missy Foote, who is the Head Coach for the Women’s Lacrosse team and the Assistant Director of Athletics for Physical Education. I turn to you, Across Campus Readers, for questions. Send them to We’ll pick the best five.


1. You spend a lot of time working with and studying adolescents—what is your most awkward adolescent story from when you were growing up?

I grew up on an island and at 14 I got a job as a clerk at the local beachfront convenience store. Amazingly, the law said that 14-year-olds could sell beer – and check IDs. There I was, barely tall enough to see over the counter (ok, I was a bit bigger than that), checking IDs of sailors, surfers, party-goers, and everyone else who thought they could pull a fast one on a kid. I was very good at spotting fakes, but it was often a very awkward moment when I denied adults. I quickly learned to be assertive and authoritative at a young age!

2. In your professional opinion, what is the one technological development that has changed the transition into adulthood the most, and why?

The cell phone, since the advent of unlimited calling plans. College students are able to stay constantly connected to their parents, and if not used well, the phone can become an electronic tether. In our research, the students in the most contact with their parents were the least autonomous and self-regulating. College is a time to learn to develop some independence, while remaining closely connected to parents, of course, but in a healthy way. Daily calls just make it too easy to process everything with parents and to get advice about all sorts of problems and decisions students once resolved on their own or by seeking support from college resources.

3. You’ve been at the College since 1998. How have Middlebury students changed since then?

In many ways, not at all. For me it has always been an enormous privilege to teach such remarkable students who come to class prepared, interested, curious, eager to learn – even at 8am this semester.

I have seen increasing numbers of students in the psychology department interested in research and that has been a true pleasure. I could not have done much of my research without the kind of teams I’ve had, and it has been fun to work together toward common goals, and to see the kind of problem solving skills students bring to this work. I treasure the opportunities I’ve had to develop research projects with students who have such energy, focus, creativity, and commitment. The most positive change in my time at Middlebury has been the increase in the diversity of the student body and that has immeasurably improved the campus and enriched the learning/teaching experience here. One of my roles is as a cultural psychologist and I am deeply appreciative of how different it is to teach here now than it was just 12 years ago.

However, I think as Middlebury has become increasingly selective, we draw more students who are highly perfectionistic, and focused on grades. That sometimes has troubling consequences when they see their role as “doing school” and have perfected the process but have less interest in real learning, don’t take intellectual risks, and are too focused on the next rung in the ladder of achievement. I’m impressed by what I’ve heard about the proposal some students are drafting for a pass-fail option and think it could help students venture into new areas without the usual fears of failure (even though “failure” is sometimes defined as a B+). I hope as a community we can continue to think about ways to keep making this the best educational environment possible – and that means much more than just a place where students “succeed” academically.

4. If you had 140 characters to give a message to Middlebury students, what would you say?

Take time for reflection and contemplation. Don’t pull out the cell phone as a defense against being alone with yourself.

5. How did your relationship with your children as they went through college compare to your relationship with your parents as you went through college?

I went off to college on my own and my parents, busy with my younger siblings, didn’t even visit. I think I felt like an adult from the day I left home, and I was treated like one. We were much closer than this sounds, however, as my mother actually wrote me every single day of my first year of college. I still have her letters in a box. We only talked by phone rarely, as calls were quite expensive then. When my kids went to college, we were more connected and I saw them fairly often, visiting frequently, and we talked by phone about once a week. They both graduated just a few years ago – but before the current trend of parents and kids talking all the time. I think the progression of our relationships was quite similar to my own with my parents, in that we stayed connected and close but I tried to support their developing autonomy as emerging adults. The big changes in communication seem to have happened not between my generation and theirs but in the last five years, surprisingly.

Music Library to Davis, HARC to MCFA—Some Background on the Project

I received a request for further information about the plan (recently approved by the Board of Trustees) to move the Music Library to the Davis Family Library, and then to house the History of Art and Architecture Department (HARC) in the space vacated by the Music Library. Although the CAMPUS carried this news, and MiddBlog picked up a LIS blog post on the project, these reports were pretty general. So it makes sense to provide a more detailed account of the project here.

The most important thing to know about this project is that it is aimed at strengthening two areas of the arts curriculum, and that it will unfold in multiple stages. In the first stage of the project, the music library collection will be relocated to Davis Library; that will happen some time this spring or early summer. Then, over the summer, the Music Library space will be renovated for use by HARC, and the department will move out of the Johnson Building, thereby freeing up space in Johnson for the Studio Art Program and Architectural Studies (though this program is part of HARC, it will remain in Johnson). HARC’s newly configured space in the MCFA will include an office suite, and at least one classroom. After the design for that space is complete, a program committee—including faculty from all the arts departments in MCFA—will undertake a review of the teaching spaces in the building to make sure that the classrooms adequately support the full arts curriculum. In a final stage of the project—discussed but not yet formally approved—we plan to renovate the Johnson Building, improving the studio spaces for Studio Art and Architectural Studies and upgrading the building systems.

There are several benefits to this project:

• Moving HARC to the MCFA will bring the department closer to the Art Museum, which is an important teaching resource for Art History, now one of the larger majors on campus. When the program for MCFA was first conceived, the College planned to include HARC in the building, but had to drop that part of the program due to budget constraints in 1988. Returning to that original plan now will be a clear gain for students and faculty.
• Relocating HARC to MCFA will also increase traffic in the building, which is off the beaten path for most students. The atmosphere in MCFA will not change overnight, but over time, I think we can realistically hope to see a significant uptick in the energy
• Creating more and better studio space in the Johnson Building for Studio Art is a major enhancement for that program, as the College has struggled in recent years to find adequate space for the art curriculum. The Architectural Studies Program will likewise benefit from the improved studio space.

One could say—as someone commenting on Middblog already has—that music students and people who just happen to like the Music Library are the losers in this proposition. This is true only in an absolute sense, for while the Music Library will certainly be missed, it is also true that the library’s collections and functions will be well supported in the Davis Family Library. When the Music Library was planned two decades ago, we did not have a cutting-edge, almost new library or one large enough to house music and dance materials. We do now, and so taking advantage of this resource to meet other pressing curricular needs—without constructing new facilities—is the smart thing to do.

Some have asked whether the administration surveyed students to see how they would feel if the Music Library disappeared. We did not, and the details offered above suggest why. We are moving forward to address significant curricular gaps that have been long in the making, and making full use of all our facilities to strengthen the overall profile of the arts at Middlebury without having to build costly new buildings and expand the College’s physical infrastructure.

Five Questions for Ronald D. Liebowitz

I am indebted to Mackenzie Beer ’12 for suggesting that I use this blog to profile members of  the college community.  Readers of Time will recognize the format—though five questions seemed more reasonable than ten—and I thank Mackenzie and the other editors at MiddBlog for sending me these questions, which we’ve put to Ron Liebowitz.

The hope is to run this feature on a weekly basis.  Wish me luck in staying organized enough to get this done on a regular basis.


1. If you could have a picnic on any roof of any building on campus, which would it be?

Assuming all the roofs were flat and could accommodate a picnic, I would have to go with Mead Chapel.  The view from there would be superb, and the inscription on the building, “The Strength of the Hills is His Also,” would resonate more deeply than from the ground level.

2. If you could change the Middlebury mascot into any mythological beast, which would it be?

A hard one, since as far as I can tell, all beasts were conquered/killed by one of the gods . . . but having said that, I guess the Middlebury Minotaur (man’s body, bull’s head) might be the best of the lot: the Middlebury Minotaurs has a nice ring to it (and the our uniforms would be something to see).

3. Due to competitive admissions at liberal arts colleges, there is a common sentiment that creative and athletic pursuits are merely gimmicks for a resume, and less substantial skills in the spectrum of learning.  How would you challenge that assumption?

I would invite anyone who believed such nonsense to come to any one of the many lunches that Jessica and I host at 3 South Street and just listen to our students.   Just last week, we had 26 captains of our varsity sports teams for lunch, and that lunch alone would dispel that “common sentiment.”  Likewise a lunch earlier this month was with the student board of the Old Stone Mill, and that lunch, too, would debunk any such sentiment about “creative and athletic pursuits” being “mere gimmicks.”  What creative and athletic engagement offer liberal arts students are things that benefit one for life.

4. What are you most excited for this month?

Thanksgiving, a holiday focused on family that I have always loved; and, the beginning of (ice) hockey season, my favorite spectator sport.

5. Who is your favorite US president?

Another hard one, and between two predictable ones: Lincoln and Kennedy.  I will go with JFK, perhaps, on balance, for sentimental reasons more than any other (for who could not identify with and admire what Lincoln did, and when he did it?).  But I select JFK because he was the first president I remember.  I remember him winning the election, remember the Cuban missile crisis and the confidence he inspired in the country, and remember his assassination and watching the emotional funeral procession, and remember his meaningful challenges to the American people, including the goal to improve science and put man on the moon by the end of the decade (the 1960s)—which he did.  He represented a huge generational transition from the post-War 1950s, and gave the country great hope and energy, even if his list of accomplishments was short because of his brief presidency.

Competition Guidelines

Seasoned blog readers will notice that this post is syndicated from Turf Battle, the official Atwater Landscape Design Competition blog, written by Tim Parsons. If you wish to comment on this, please click the title to visit the post at its original source. -Tim


In September of 2004, Middlebury College completed construction of an area of campus known as Atwater Commons. In the process of construction, several basic natural systems in the area changed, and the extensive landscape plan was never fully realized. We would now like to re-landscape the space, and turn the area into a more functional, educational, and enjoyable space for the Middlebury College community.

The Atwater Design Contest is open to all Middlebury College students. Designs are due no later than Monday, February 7, 2011, and are to be submitted to the Office of the Vice President of Administration in Old Chapel 207. The winning plan will be will be implemented over the spring and summer of 2011 by Facilities Services.

Scope of the Project

The area we consider “Atwater” is a quad formed by the two dorms, Atwater Hall A and Hall B, the Atwater Dining Hall, and the back sides of Chateau and Allen. When redesigning the landscape, however, many factors outside of this quad also play a role as well, and may be considered as part of the design requirements. The map below shows what we would consider when looking at a landscape plan for this area, but, as with many parts of this project, you may change or modify this as you please. Please note that while the Atwater Dining roof is still a work in progress, it should not be considered in the redesign.

As Tim Spears wrote in his introductory email, we have in mind plans for improving the landscaping, planting additional vegetation, and creating recreational opportunities. At present, the Atwater landscape seems like a vast unfinished open space. We would like to see the landscape become almost a livable outdoor room, an area more welcoming and usable to the campus population. The project will need to be sustainable, both environmentally and  institutionally. Any design should follow Middlebury’s Master Plan, as well as our Sustainable Design Guidelines as they may apply.

Facilities Services already has some plans for renovating the area next summer–a baseline of improvements that need to be made to fix the area. These include pouring two sidewalks that are only crushed stone at present and fixing drainage along the west sidewalk next to Atwater Hall B. These baseline improvements will be spelled out in another post. And don’t forget, like other parts of the project, this may be modified by your design if desired.

Requirements & Expectations

The Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC) is looking for a landscape design plan to guide the development of the project. This should include a master overview drawing, as well as detailed drawings necessary to complete the project, including sectionals or elevations if you consider them appropriate. A brief, 1-2 page narrative of the project, including an overview of the plan and design goals, should accompany any drawings. Furthermore, a material list and rough budget should be provided as well.

Plans should be either hand drawn (no larger than 11×17) or electronic in PDF format. The contact information form should accompany the submission. A select group of projects will then be invited to present their plan to the MPIC, so a brief presentation (5 minutes) should be prepared.

The MPIC will choose no more than 3 finalists to present their plan at a Campus Forum to be held in early February. A winner will be chosen by the MPIC based on strength of design, sustainability, and feedback from the college community.


Many people on campus are available for help and questions. These include Tim Parsons, Landscape Horticulturist in Facilities; Luther Tenny, Assistant Director of Maintenance and Operations in Facilities; Pieter Broucke, Professor of History of Art and Architecture; and John McLeod, Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture. See the Resources page for the complete list.

Next Steps

A site visit to launch the project is scheduled for Friday, November 5 at 4:00 pm beginning in front of the Atwater Dining Hall. Tim Parsons will be there to walk through the site, discuss some of the history of the landscape, and address some of the deficiencies. A one-on-one meeting can be scheduled if you are unable to make the site visit, but this will have to take place during regular business hours.

This blog will also host more information on the project. See the Resources page for maps of the area and advisor contact information. Future posts will detail the history of the present landscape, deficiencies of the site, the master plan as it relates to Atwater, and more. The Middlebury Landscape blog will also host some posts on this project, more general in nature, with topics that not only relate to the project but to our landscape in general.

Turf Battle: The Atwater Landscape Design Competition

Dear Students:

I write to invite your participation in a student design contest to revamp the north end of campus, specifically, the open landscape between Hall A and Hall B. The remainder of this memo describes the scope of the project and explains how students can get involved, so please keep reading.

In September of 2004, the College finished work on Hall A, Hall B, and the Atwater Dining Hall, and these buildings became part of the Middlebury landscape. In the design of Atwater Commons, the architects gave special attention to where these buildings should be sited and how they would relate to the surrounding area. For instance, the landscape architects engaged on the project imagined the open space between Hall A and Hall B functioning like a town green or “outdoor room.” For a variety of reasons, the potential of this open space has not been realized. The space sits vacant and underutilized—a far cry from Battell Beach, which is a magnet for student activity.

We would like to change this by encouraging students to submit plans for how this open space and the pathways surrounding it should be developed. By “developed,” we do not mean to suggest that the College should build in this open space. Rather, we have in mind plans for improving the landscaping, planting additional vegetation, and creating recreational opportunities. We do not have a set vision for how this space should look and feel—just a conviction that it can and should be enhanced.

We therefore invite interested students to develop mini Master Plans to guide the development of the Atwater open space. Plans should be submitted to the office of the Vice President for Administration (Old Chapel 207) by Monday, February 7. The plans will then be reviewed by the Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC), the body charged with insuring that any future development of the campus is consistent with the College’s design standards. A budget is in place, and Tim Parsons, the College horticulturist, will manage the project once it is approved and will also provide guidance during the competition phase. Assuming that the competition attracts a sufficient amount of student interest, the MPIC will choose no more than three finalists to present their plans at a campus forum, to be held in early February. The MPIC will then select a winning proposal, which the College will implement over the course of the spring and summer.

Design work like this does not take place in a vacuum, but rather must respond to environmental conditions, institutional standards, and budget constraints. Consequently, we will be establishing competition guidelines and assembling background materials to guide student participants in their work. These materials are available here.  We will also hold a series of information sessions, including tours of the site, so that students have the background they need to develop effective plans (note that the first tour will take place this Friday, November 5, at 4:00 pm, and begin in front of Atwater Dining Hall. Please see the website for details about other tours). We understand that students with focused interests in architecture, landscape design, and environmental studies may be drawn to this project. However, we also want to provide enough support so that students without any background or exposure to design work may participate in this competition.

We are eager to work with any and all students interested in this project, and look forward to enhancing this important space on our campus.


Master Plan Implementation Committee:

Glenn Andres
Jennifer Bleich
Pieter Broucke
Jack Byrne
Andi Lloyd
Bente Madson
John McLeod
Tim Parsons
Tim Spears, Chair

Closing the Loop

To shed some light on the ins and outs of internal communication, I asked the directors of two of the biggest operations on campus to explain how their departments manage the communication process.  This is what they had to say.

From Norm Cushman, Director of Facilities Services

At Facilities Services, the pursuit of exemplary customer service is a continual goal. With many details to keep track of in our business, there is always the chance that we will fail or disappoint a customer.  Over time, we’ve come to subscribe to the philosophy that if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.  Consequently, we believe that taking care of the little things is what matters most.  And in order to take care of the little things, we try to “close the communication loop” in our interactions with others.  Simply stated, if I know something that you don’t know, the communication loop is open.  For email, a response of “thanks,” “I agree,” “let’s discuss,” or “understood” lets the other party know that you have read their message and that they have been acknowledged. Similarly, returning phone messages lets the caller know that you take their call seriously. Closing the loop requires little effort and even when the news does not satisfy the other party, it helps avoid the “they never get back to me,” black-hole of communication.  People almost always wish to know that their message has been received and understood, even if they don’t like the reply.  By the way, this philosophy applies to communications within Facilities Services as well communications with the rest of the campus.

From Mike Roy, Dean of Library and Information Services

People frequently contact LIS when something is wrong, something is broken, or they need something quickly in order to get their work done. And because many of our services require coordination among the various parts of LIS, we often need to communicate internally before we can respond with a complete answer and follow up on a request.  This communication loop can be a challenge to manage. We receive requests through multiple channels—email, web forms, phone calls, faxes, walk-ins, paper forms—and we respond in variety of ways.  We strive to blend the friendliness of a hotel concierge and the efficiency of, and avoid the soulless bureaucracy of governmental agencies.  Over the years, we’ve found that the use of queues (like sending email to and allowing patrons to track their requests via the web is the most robust way to manage requests, with the caveat that the best forum for handling a more complicated request is a face-to-face meeting, a phone call, or a series of email.  But the problem with email is that it is fragile. It is usually a one-on-one transaction, and if the thread gets lost, or the person on the other end happens to be on vacation, your request can be forgotten or delayed. More robust systems that allow requests to be routed, managed by multiple people, and allow the requester to check on the status of things are, in principle, far superior to email. That said, such systems are more cumbersome for all involved, and feel much less personal than the phone, face-to-face conversation, and even email.

The Staff Resources Committee (SRC)—Where We Are

President Liebowitz had a lot to say about the work of the SRC in his fall address to the campus, and for good reason—the committee has played an important role in guiding the reductions in staff and reorganization efforts that have taken place during the past two years.

SRC business was also the focus of a recent Senior Managers meeting and a forum hosted by Staff Council, a recording of which is available on the Council’s website.

The bottom line coming out of these meetings is mostly good, though the numbers speak to dramatic institutional change.  After two years of attrition—encouraged by early retirement and voluntary separation programs—the College’s staff has shrunk by almost 15% since the summer of 2008. As of October 21, the College employed 856 FTEs (these are “full-time equivalents,” not actual people), down from 1021 in August of 2008. See the graph below for an historical perspective on the size of the staff.

These reductions were instrumental in resolving the budget deficits that the College forecast when the recession hit and our endowment plummeted and fundraising became more uncertain.  They also guided us down to an overall FTE count—in the neighborhood of 850—that the SRC believes is a reasonable threshold or limit going forward, based on the College’s financial resources.

With fewer staff resources, we have also worked to consolidate departments with overlapping responsibilities and reassign staff members from one area of the college to another. Not surprisingly, this initiative has generated anxiety, with colleagues wondering whether or how their areas will be affected, which is why clear communication is so important. That said, we are aiming to complete major consolidations of departments by January 1.

Despite the progress we’ve made, challenges remain.

In particular, Vice Presidents/Deans must continue to work with managers/supervisors to refocus departmental missions, prioritize work, and identify those functions that we will no longer support because of reduced resources, or do differently in light of fewer staff.  This effort—and the vertical and lateral communication it requires (a dept shouldn’t stop doing something without figuring out how that loss will affect other areas of the College)—has been a struggle. Staff colleagues continue to report that their workloads have not been adjusted downward, or that they are doing more with less. As we pull out of this recession, we must do a better job of aligning expectations with our available resources.

Feedback? This has been a broad-brush summary, and I would welcome any comments, questions, or recommendations. You may post anonymously if you like.

Under Construction

What sort of information would be useful to have on this site?

Following up on discussions I’ve had with colleagues and suggestions made at a forum hosted a couple of weeks ago by Staff Council, I would like to develop this site so that it aggregates information and material available on other Middlebury blogs.  I also plan to rework the navigation panels so readers can link to other web sites and campus newsletters.  This effort to centralize information may not result in one-stop shopping, but it may aid in communication efforts.

So . . . more later.  And if you have any recommendations for developing this site, please send them along.

To Students: An Invitation to Manage the Juice Bar

Dear Students:

I write with what I believe is an exciting proposition for student entrepreneurs, and good news for campus life.

As you know, the College has struggled during the last year to find the right staffing model for the Grille and Juice Bar. Given our desire to reduce the operating deficit in that venue—more than $300K per year—we decided to close the Juice Bar last spring, reopening it only for the summer when the Language Schools assured a steadier stream of customers.

None of us likes to see the Juice Bar empty, and so by virtue of this e-mail, we are inviting students to submit plans for establishing a student-managed Juice Bar. Interested students will submit their plans as part of a competitive bidding process, and the strongest proposal will be awarded the contract for managing the Juice Bar, with operations to begin in January.

The ground rules for a student-run Juice Bar are as follows:

• A student manager employed by the Grille and advised by Grille management will run the operation.
• The student manager will create a staffing plan, budget, set the hours of operation (within the time the space is open), and hire and manage the student workers.
• The student staff will create and price the menu, order and prepare the food and beverages, and manage the budget. Some food items may need to be prepared in the Grille kitchen due to equipment and ventilation needs (guidance on this will be provided by the Grille management).
• The student staff will work with the Grille management, MCAB, and CCAL on entertainment/programming in the lower level of the Grille.
• The student management staff will be paid an appropriate wage, and will be employed by the Grille. In that role, they will follow all Grille procedures and policies for the preparation and service of food, cash handling, and general conduct, including regulations set by the Health Department and Department of Liquor Control.
• The Grille management will function in an advisory role so long as the student management team operates within the established guidelines.
• After all costs/wages are covered, any excess profits will be directed to charities or an approved student organization.

Completed proposals are due on Tuesday, November 30, and should be submitted by e-mail to Individuals as well as groups are invited to apply. NOTE: to download the application form, click here: JuiceBarApp

A committee made up of students, faculty, and staff will select the winning proposal. Proposals will be judged on the basis of their feasibility, economic viability, vision, and simplicity. Top applicants may be contacted for interviews in early December.  The winning proposal will be announced on Monday, December 13.

If you have any questions about this process, please contact me at