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Laurie L. Patton Named Next President of Middlebury

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The Middlebury Board of Trustees today named Laurie L. Patton, dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion, as Middlebury’s next president. Patton will take office on July 1, 2015, succeeding Ronald D. Liebowitz, who has served as president since July 2004.

Patton, a distinguished religion scholar and translator of classic Indian Sanskrit texts, joined Duke in her current position in 2011. Trinity College is the largest of Duke’s undergraduate schools, with 5,200 students, 36 academic departments and programs, and 640 faculty members. It awards nearly 80 percent of the university’s bachelor degrees. As dean, she is responsible for overseeing the educational mission of Duke’s core undergraduate liberal arts programs, including curriculum, faculty hiring and development, student research, assessment, and the College’s $370 million annual budget. Under her leadership, Trinity College raised more than $300 million for professorships, financial aid, educational initiatives, and other priorities.

Patton’s selection followed an extensive, six-month search conducted by a 20-member search committee chaired by Middlebury trustee Allan Dragone Jr. ’78. The committee engaged in a process of broad outreach to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. From an initial list of more than 250 individuals nominated or put under consideration, the committee gradually narrowed the pool to a dozen and then to a small list of finalists, before unanimously recommending Patton to the full board on Tuesday. Patton will be the first woman to lead Middlebury in its 214-year history.

“I can’t imagine a place that more fully exemplifies my interests and commitments to higher education than Middlebury,” said Patton. “These last five months have been a wonderful experience for me as I have had the opportunity to learn more about this great institution and the values it holds dear. I have so many people to thank, starting with the search committee and Al Dragone, and I am truly honored with the confidence the Board of Trustees has shown in me today. I look forward with anticipation to joining this community of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends.”

Marna C. Whittington, chair of the Middlebury Board of Trustees, called Patton an “outstanding choice” to be the next president. “Laurie is an accomplished scholar with a deep commitment to the liberal arts and a global perspective on the value and role of education,” said Whittington. “She lives the values of Middlebury, and I am confident she will provide the leadership and innovative thinking required to maintain the positive momentum and success Middlebury has experienced during Ron Liebowitz’s tenure as president.”

Patton, 53, is married to Shalom Goldman, professor of religious studies and Middle Eastern studies at Duke. The two met at Emory University. Goldman will become a tenured professor in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College.

Dragone, who led the search process and spent many hours with Patton in recent months, said the search committee was deeply impressed. “Laurie combines qualities of scholarship and leadership to an extraordinary degree,” said Dragone. “She is enthusiastic and passionate about students and the totality of their experiences, from the classroom to the lab, from the performance space to the playing field, from the time they spend abroad to the way they can participate in the life of the Middlebury community in Vermont. We have found an exceptional leader in Laurie Patton and I know she is committed to building upon the institution’s strong foundation.”

Patton earned her undergraduate degree in comparative religion and Celtic languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1983. She received an MA from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1986 and her PhD in history of religions from the University of Chicago in 1991. Patton’s first teaching position was at Bard College from 1991 to 1996.

Before she joined Duke, Patton taught from 1996 to 2011 at Emory University in Atlanta, where she was the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Religions. While at Emory, Patton served as chair of the religion department from 2000 to 2007; founded and co-convened the Religions and the Human Spirit Strategic Plan; was the inaugural director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence; and from 2000 to 2010 was founder and co-convener of Emory’s Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding Initiative. In 2005 she received the Emory Williams Award, the university’s most prestigious teaching honor.

Patton is the editor or author of nine scholarly books on South Asian history, culture, and religion, includingMyth as Argument: The Brhaddevata as Canonical Commentary; Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice;and Jewels of Authority: Women and Text in the Hindu Tradition. From 2008 to 2011, she served as president of the American Society for the Study of Religion.

In addition to writing two volumes of original poetry, Patton has translated the classical Sanskrit text, The Bhagavad Gita, for the Penguin Classics Series.

“Laurie Patton’s commitment to the success of students and faculty has made her an extraordinary leader at Duke,” said Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth, the James B. Duke Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology. “She is energetic, creative, and passionate about scholarship and learning. We could not be more proud of her appointment at Middlebury.”

Liebowitz announced in December 2013 that he wished to step down following the 2014–15 academic year. By that time he will have served as president for 11 years and as a member of the Middlebury faculty for 31 years.

“Ron Liebowitz has been a transformative leader and his impact upon this institution will be felt for generations,” said Whittington. “Middlebury students have a richer experience than ever before because of the innovations he championed, and the institution is stronger than it has ever been.”

Liebowitz called Patton a “remarkable scholar whose deep commitment to her field would be an example and inspiration” to students and faculty alike. “I look forward to working with Laurie in the months ahead to create a smooth transition to what I am sure will be an outstanding presidency,” he said. “Jessica and I look forward to welcoming both Laurie and Shalom to Middlebury.”

Road Taken: 90 Minutes

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Stouffer: Now that the pregame work is done, we can finally catch up. I’ve had this [Major League Soccer] game circled on the calendar—two Midd alums in the same press box, in the same role as directors of communications—since I joined D.C. United.


Lindholm: Yellow…that’s not a good start. So, Craig, we’ve known each other since I got into MLS seven years ago, and you noticed I was a Middlebury grad. How did you come to the game?

Stouffer: I didn’t play soccer in college, but it was a rare home game or NESCAC postseason visit to Williams when I wasn’t on the sideline. MLS was in its first year when I began my senior year, a time when I wasn’t sure about my own path—so I decided to carve out an unlikely career writing about the game. As you know, I covered soccer for a while before landing this gig this year.


Lindholm: Nice! They’re supposed to be sending me out on a high note! (This is Lindholm’s last game with the Rapids. He has accepted the position of assistant coach for the University of Massachusetts’s men’s program.)

Stouffer: Silva is the future of the game in the U.S., I believe. He’s of Mexican heritage, raised in the U.S., and starred in college at UC Santa Barbara.


Lindholm: That’s trouble—Moor’s our captain.

Stouffer: How about you? What made you stay in the game after playing at Midd?

Lindholm: Coach Saward doesn’t just teach you how to play soccer, he also instills in you a great love for the sport. I had followed MLS since the day it started, so after graduation I wanted to join the league and help its growth.


Lindholm: It seems like you’re getting into MLS just as it’s ready to hit the big time. Did that play a role in joining D.C.?

Stouffer: Absolutely. As a reporter, I spent a decade investing myself in the sport—now I get to do the same on behalf of Major League Soccer. It’s an amazing opportunity.


Stouffer: So with that being said, why are you leaving MLS now?

Lindholm: In 10 years, there will be more teams, and more jobs in coaching, scouting, analysis, and business. At UMass, I’ll study the game and also get a graduate degree. There might be a new role for me in MLS down the line.


Lindholm: What a strike, from 40 yards! That will be on Sports Center in the morning!

Stouffer: Think you’ll miss MLS, where you see skill like that every week?

Lindholm: Definitely. But I’m joining a crowd of Midd grads in college coaching and helping foster passion for the sport in younger players. That’s exciting, too.


Stouffer: Just missed! That might’ve taken Goal of the Week away from Serna had it gone in.

Lindholm: We’re living dangerously here.


Stouffer: There it is!


Lindholm: You know, this feels like my senior spring at Midd: trying to savor all the moments—even the negative ones, like a D.C. goal—because I know things are about to change.


Lindholm: Can’t you tell your guys to let me finish my thought before scoring again?

Stouffer: I’ll let them know.


Lindholm: There it is: a consolation goal as a going away present. Congrats on the win, Craig, and on joining MLS!

Stouffer: Thank you! Congratulations—well—on leaving MLS for your new opportunity. And good game.

Lindholm: Good game.


Exhibit: Resident Artist

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Arthur K.D. Healy "Cecropia" Watercolor on paper, 1951

Arthur K.D. Healy
Watercolor on paper, 1951

“Arthur Healy & His Students,” the title of the exhibit at the Henry Sheldon Museum in downtown Middlebury, is an apt one—not only because it’s a literal description of the artists who have contributed work for the display, but also because this exhibit is intensely personal.

Arthur K.D. Healy was a beloved member of the Middlebury community for more than 40 years. He was a Princeton graduate, though he had attended Middlebury as a freshman in 1921 and would come to make Vermont his home in the early 1930s. In 1943, he became the College’s first artist in residence, an appointment that preceded postings on the teaching faculty and as chair of the fine arts department.   

As the Sheldon exhibit attests, Healy mentored an impressive array of students who would make their mark in the arts world; their paintings share wall space with Healy’s watercolors in the museum’s second-floor galleries. It’s a beautiful display, yet it is the collective reflections of the alumni, presented with their work, which make the biggest impression.

“He made the career of an artist seem so seductive and so admirable that it never occurred to me that I should not try to be one,” wrote Sabra Field ’57.

“Your job is not to render everything in its entirety, but to suggest it,” Ken Delmar ’63 remembers Healy telling him. “Try to capture your subject with the least amount of drawing, least amount of brushwork, least amount of color, least amount of work.”

Nancy Taylor Stonington ’66 recalls the three colors—alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow deep, and Payne’s gray—that Healy insisted they use and relates that 50 years later she relies on these palette choices in her own teaching.

Much of Healy’s work was lost in a studio fire, so the paintings on display are largely loaned from family and friends, many of whom have their own stories of Arthur Healy, stories of his generosity, his fierce intellect, his presence. This bit of detail—the provenance of the artwork—is perfect, really. It’s in keeping with the very nature of the exhibit itself.

Online Learning: Next Course

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Prod-Stills-Middlebury-300dpi-39671A digital course for alumni—Years of Upheaval: Diplomacy, War, and Social Change, 1919–1945—is slated for a winter release and will be taught by Russ Leng ’60, the James Jermain Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Law. The course will consist of 10 video classes, each featuring a short lecture and augmented by documentary images, recordings, and videos. To conclude each class, Leng will converse with Frank Sesno ’77, the award-winning journalist and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.

The alumni course follows two other digital ventures recently launched by Middlebury entities. Last summer, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute auditioned its first online course, a six-session series titled Global Trade and Weapons of Mass Destruction. And this fall, students in Middlebury’s master’s degree program in Hebrew are taking advantage of the opportunity to supplement their traditional instruction with video-conferenced class meetings.

Susan Baldridge, vice president for strategy and planning, sees these projects as invaluable opportunities to explore how best to construct learning experiences—“experiences that reflect the institution’s commitment to educational excellence”—which will allow instructors to connect with students and the broader community in new ways.

With the production of Years of Upheaval nearing completion, Leng says that he found the subject matter particularly suited for “an online multi-disciplinary and multi-media approach.”  He adds, “I hope that those who take the course, will find it half as compelling as I did in creating it.”


Download: Why I Love Socrates

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Socrates statueEverything about Socrates is ironic and enigmatic: He is one of history’s most famous teachers, yet he claimed not to be a teacher. He stands at the beginning of more than 2,000 years of texts, yet he wrote nothing himself. Universities have canonized Plato’s Socratic dialogues, yet Socrates was never in an academy, but on the streets of Athens—the city that sentenced him to hemlock.

The Delphic oracle called Socrates the wisest person in Athens, yet Socrates felt he possessed only an ironic wisdom, an enlightened ignorance: “I know that I do not know.”

Of all the versions of Socrates, Plato’s remains the most compelling and influential. Plato’s phrases have entered contemporary English: we speak of “the Socratic method,” “the gadfly to the state,” and “the examined life.” Instead of rigidly defending a single position, Plato’s Socrates shows us how to question all positions rigorously. The Socratic position reminds us—lest we be in a rush to judge others—to recognize how much we do not know. Searching itself is meaningful; questions become as important as answers.

Plato’s Socrates continues to inspire students today, as well as creative minds across cultures. The young Nietzsche called Socrates “the vortex of world history.”

Virginia Woolf, in an essay on the Greek classics, wrote that reading a Socratic dialogue provides “the greatest felicity of which we are capable.” And Martin Luther King, in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail, invoked the spirit of Socrates when he called for reform and for “nonviolent gadflies.”

Today, when it comes to humanistic inquiry and hard conversations about controversial issues, Socratic dialogue can provide a valuable model; there’s so much we do not know, and so much we can gain from questioning and searching together.

Symposium: Tech’s Role

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middlebury_finalThis year, at the annual Clifford Symposium, the keynote address was given by John Palfrey, head of school at Phillips Academy and author of four books on education in the digital age. The conference’s theme was “Transforming the Academy in the Digital Era,” and Palfrey’s address touched on the need to blend digital tools and face-to-face pedagogy.

“When we figure out the sweet spot in the combination,” he said, “we can do some really interesting work together.”

People often think in either/or constructs. But at this symposium, as attendees discussed technology’s role in education, they consciously strove for more of a both/and method of thinking, something that was readily evident in all the lectures, exhibits, panel discussions, and performances. (The symposium concluded with a mind-bending performance by Paul Miller, also known as DJ Spooky, in which the artist channeled electronica to interpret algorithms that mirror the geometry in ice crystals and the math of climate-change data. He then melded this iPad composition with a violin solo to construct a suite of music that most attendees surely never thought possible.)

“What we wanted to avoid was the rhetoric of utopia or dystopia when talking about technology in the academy,” Jason Mittell said a few days after the symposium had concluded. Mittell, a professor of film and media culture and American studies, organized Clifford this year. As regards technology and pedagogy, he said he subscribes neither to “knee-jerk boosterism” nor “dystopian skepticism.”

“In my mind, it was critical that we approached technology within a context, recognizing all the other factors that affect teaching, learning, and scholarship,” he said.

“We’re living in an era of change,” he continued, “and all too often it seems that people are quick either to celebrate or blame technology in ways disproportionate to its impact. We wanted to bring a realist approach to understanding the role of technology in the academy.”

Mittell saw this year’s Clifford as the launch party for Middlebury’s new digital liberal arts initiative (DLA). This effort will involve people from geography, history, and library sciences working to foster a campus-wide understanding of technology and the liberal arts.

Throughout the year, DLA will host workshops and reading groups pertaining to open-access publishing, digital archival research, and emerging interdisciplinary movements such as the digital humanities.

Said Mittell: “We want to give visibility to new tools and approaches in teaching and scholarship while also providing support and guidance for faculty who’re interested in experimenting, trying different things.

“Digital transformations have caused us to rethink what’s a given,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re putting technology at the center of what we do. We just don’t want ignorance to be an excuse or fear to be an obstacle when considering how technology can be best used in the academy.”          

Colophon: Where Do Fanatics Come From?

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_D3_7358Despite being a part of the generation that in World War II defeated fascism, Eric Hoffer was never a member of U.S. armed forces. Rejected as an enlistee when he was 40, the Bronx-born, working-class Hoffer turned to laboring as a longshoreman along the docks of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Always considering himself more a reader than a writer, Hoffer nevertheless distinguished himself with his first book, garnering acclaim with the 1951 publication of what scholars and laymen alike continue to regard as a classic.

In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Hoffer focused on explicating the collective psychologies underpinning Nazism and Stalinism, the two dictatorial movements that had risen to prominence, and very nearly to world domination, during the prime of his life. Others, of course, had wrestled with how nearly half of humanity could ever have been led down totalitarianism’s senselessly destructive path. However, no one had yet explored the issue with the incisiveness, lucidity, and wit that Hoffer’s prose offered. Hoffer had an abiding respect for the common people and yet discovered that they continued to allow themselves, with alarming predictability, to be blindly misled.

While generally in favor of religion, Hoffer nonetheless professed lifelong atheism. He was wary of the descent into fanaticism that, now, has become a hallmark of extremist sectarian and terrorist movements. Fanaticism facilitates abandoning one’s fundamental humanity or, as Hoffer wrote: “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”