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Timeline: Town & Gown

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During the past decade, Middlebury College has engaged with the local community on a number of landmark initiatives:

The College and the town renegotiate a “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) agreement in which the College will make an annual contribution to the town, the sum of which is tied to the performance of Middlebury’s endowment. (In 2013, this payment was $251,617.) Middlebury annually pays around $690,000 in taxes on property being used for purposes not directly tied to the mission of educating students.

The College pledges $1 million to complete the renovation of the Town Hall Theater (THT), an ambitious community effort to renovate and restore a 19th-century building—which once housed the town hall and later an opera house—in the heart of Middlebury. The $1 million pledge, on top of an earlier $250,000 gift, capped off the $5 million project. With this partnership, Middlebury students are afforded the opportunity to work with community members on theater productions, while THT also commits to working College productions—including summer Language School performances and a winter term production—into its seasonal lineup.

The College pledges $9 million to help fund the construction of a new in-town bridge, which will provide a second major crossing of Otter Creek. Designed to ease traffic congestion and provide an additional route for emergency vehicles, the new bridge carries a cost of $16 million; with the College’s contribution, the project is fast-tracked, ending more than 50 years of stalled efforts to construct a second in-town crossing. The bridge opened in 2010.

The town and the College reach an agreement to jointly fund the construction of a new town hall and town recreation facility, with the College contributing $5.5 million toward the $7.5 million project. In addition to the new construction, the College and the town agree to swap land parcels. The new town office will be built adjacent to the Ilsley Library on land once owned by the College. The College will acquire town land at the intersection of Main and College Streets, turning this area into a triangular public park and green space. The town of Middlebury voted to approve this proposal in 2014.

The College and town finalize a project in which the College acquires and conveys to the town an empty building on Main Street, which will be razed and turned into pedestrian access to the town’s Marble Works commercial district.

The College conveys to the town more than an acre of riverfront property behind the Ilsley Library, which the town will join with its own land holdings to develop future retail, commercial, and residential projects.

The College renegotiates its PILOT with Ripton, agreeing to a 10-year deal to pay the municipality $157,000 annually in recognition of the nontaxable property the institution owns there. In addition, Ripton schoolchildren are to be provided free ski lessons at the Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center.

This Is Not Business As Usual

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Jamie Gaucher, Director of Business Development, Town of Middlebury

Jamie Gaucher, Director of Business Development, Town of Middlebury

How an innovative partnership between the College and town is boosting the local economy.

Just after breakfast on a warm fall morning, Jamie Gaucher walks down the steps of the Middlebury Inn and around to his Honda minivan. He noses the car out of the parking lot, following an itinerary that’s become very familiar. “I like to start downtown,” he says, pointing out the white façade of the Congregational Church, driving past the town green and down Merchant’s Row, then heading left on Main Street and up toward the College campus.

He’ll take a visitor inside the Davis Family Library before returning to the car. Then he continues out past the athletic facilities and back toward Middlebury’s industrial park on Exchange Street. All the while, he asks polite questions about the guest’s business, what resources it needs to be successful—and offers subtle guidance on why setting up shop in Middlebury would be a great way to help the enterprise grow.

Gaucher may seem an unlikely tour guide: Before 2012, he’d never been to Vermont. But since April of 2013, when he became the town of Middlebury’s first-ever director of business development, he’s been talking up the region at trade fairs and on cold calls—and when he finds a receptive business owner, he invites them for this nickel tour.

Gaucher, a 6-foot-4-inch New York native who came to Middlebury after 14 years as an economic development official in West Virginia, is the most visible evidence of an unusual initiative that’s the culmination of years of work by College officials. The aim: to bring new economic vitality and more jobs to the town of Middlebury in an attempt to reduce tax burdens, assist with faculty recruitment, and create new opportunities for students. “We have a guiding principle that what’s good for the College is good for the town, and vice versa, so to the extent we can help each other, all the better,” says College President Ronald Liebowitz. “Jamie Gaucher’s position is part and parcel of that.”

It’s an effort that goes far beyond the hiring of the man the local press has dubbed “Middlebury’s jobs czar.” It’s an opportunity to leverage burgeoning student interest in entrepreneurship, a passion fueled by academic programs that have grown over the last decade. It’s also aimed at convincing a growing class of telecommuters—who, in theory, can live anywhere—to consider relocating to Middlebury. Although the various initiatives, some of them funded by the College, are not yet a clear-cut success, most observers are encouraged by early results. The effort seems likely to be one piece of what people in Middlebury will recall about Liebowitz’s decade-long presidency when he steps down in 2015. “This is one of Ron’s legacies,” says Jon Isham, an economics professor who’s been a central part of the efforts. “It wouldn’t have happened without him, and the reason it happened is that he brought us all together, then let us all run with it.”

Indeed, the efforts underway today are only part of a broader strategy that emerged a decade ago. Though Middlebury is sometimes referred to as the “Town’s College,” the relationship between the two hasn’t always been so symbiotic. For generations, while many students moved back and forth between the College and the town without a thought, there was little cooperation at an official level. It was almost as if the two existed in different worlds.


Middlebury President Ronald D. Liebowitz

Soon after Liebowitz took office, Bruce Hiland, a former McKinsey consultant and publishing executive who had moved to Addison County in 1987, approached the College’s new president and proposed a meeting with a group of local business leaders. Even today, Liebowitz recalls that he was skeptical given the often-stated “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” reality when it came to greater College engagement in the town. But Hiland was persistent and challenged the group to come up with some “big ideas” for the town. Once they started talking, progress came quickly, though the project first identified was not feasible and came to naught. Within three years, though, the College had pledged $1 million to support the $5 million renovation of Town Hall Theater and then $9 million to help fund construction of an in-town bridge over Otter Creek, an idea that had been a seemingly unachievable dream for 50 years. The bridge opened in 2010.

But even with the investment in infrastructure and amenities, the need to bring more jobs to the area remained. In 2006, the College hired Spencer Cox ’08 as a summer intern to work closely with Dave Donahue ’91, special assistant to the president of the College, and Hiland to study the issue. “Although the town of Middlebury is not in a state of crisis, long-empty storefronts [and] a slowing economy have sparked concerns that Middlebury is falling behind,” Cox wrote in a report that examined how other institutions—including Dartmouth, Marlboro, and Colgate—were partnering with their towns.

Within months of Cox’s report, concern over the lagging local economy spiked. In January of 2007, two of Middlebury’s largest employers, Standard Register and Specialty Filament, announced plans to close their local facilities, resulting in a combined loss of 287 jobs. (The College, with approximately 1,200 full-time employees, remains the largest employer in both the town and in Addison County.) Middlebury has just 6,588 residents and 1,996 households (according to the 2010 Census), so that scale of job loss had a giant impact. The fallout from the plant closings served as a reminder of something Liebowitz had been saying for years: that beneath the “veneer of prosperity” created by its rural beauty and picturesque campus, the town of Middlebury isn’t as affluent as it might appear. According to census data, 17.5 percent of town residents live below the poverty line, and its median household income of $47,849 falls below the state average by more than 10 percent.

Cover Essay: What’s on His Mind?

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harlowWebFor many years, my parents had a rough-coated Jack Russell terrier, a breed of dog known to be tough, tenacious, very smart, and extremely moody. (About the only quality he shared with Harlow, our cover dog and model on this page, was his smarts. Harlow is chill and very sweet; and very sweet; Woody, most definitely, was not.)

In his later years, as Woody’s energy began to wane, it seemed that his mental acuity—which would occasion behavior best described as devious—increased. Jack Russells are an active breed; when Woody’s stamina started to slide, his mind took over. Or so it appeared.

When my sister was getting married, my parents threw a cookout for out-of-town guests; my family being from the South, barbecue was the featured fare. It was a casual gathering, paper plates on laps enjoyed outside in the mid-spring weather. Of course, paper plates on laps subsequently became paper plates on the ground. And this is where Woody comes into the story. At one point that night, I witnessed Woody trot by with a half-eaten barbecue sandwich in his mouth. I chalked it up to him having received a right generous snack from one of our guests—until a few minutes later when I saw him trot past with another sandwich. I followed him this time, watching him scamper under a bush, only to emerge moments later with no sandwich. After he had trotted off again, I looked under the bush and discovered a pile of sandwiches, in various states of being consumed. Woody had been pilfering sandwiches off the plates of unsuspecting folks and . . . was saving them for later? Are dogs capable of planning ahead?

I hadn’t thought much about this particular episode until I found myself sitting in on Jason Arndt’s first-year seminar on animal cognition. On the morning of my visit, the class was discussing mental time travel. The question being examined: “When animals plan, are they imagining the future?” I was barely sitting down before I was wondering, Was Woody imagining himself in the future chowing down on those sandwiches?

While my thoughts were on Woody, the attention of the class—eight women and five men, plus their instructor, arrayed around a long table—was focused on a chimpanzee that lived in a zoo in Sweden. On the days when the zoo was to be opened, this fellow would gather rocks, store them in specific, strategically located piles, and then, hours later, hurl them at gawking visitors.

“I don’t know how strong of an argument this is, but he had to have thought this through,” one student said. But does planning ahead equate to mental time travel? Arndt wondered. Is the chimp thinking, as he’s gathering rocks, I’ll show them! “As far as I know,” he added, “chimps don’t cache things in nature.”

The consensus  was that yes, this chimp was picturing himself throwing those stones as he gathered them. (“He’s thinking, I’m so pumped.”) The scientific community seems split on the subject of
mental time travel in animals. But I know where I land. I’m convinced that Woody was thinking, on that spring evening, I’m so pumped.

Regarding Stameshkin

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StameshkinWebAround Middlebury, the name Stameshkin is more of a proper noun. As in, “Check Stameshkin,” or, “Here’s what I found in Stameshkin.”

David Stameshkin is the author of The Town’s College: Middlebury College, 1800-1915 and The Strength of the Hills, 1915-1990, a two-volume set that serves as our official history. Many, though, no longer link the name to an actual person and instead simply affix the moniker to disembodied authority. So on an otherwise languorous summer afternoon, I had a hard time reconciling this accepted definition of “Stameshkin” with the bushy-haired, mustachioed, spectacled fellow who had just popped into my office and good-naturedly introduced himself as David Stameshkin. My confusion only deepened when he proffered his latest book: not the long-awaited (in some quarters) third volume of Stameshkin—see!—but a slender paperback whose title immediately signaled a twist on the now-familiar conceit of people listing all the activities they wish to do before shuffling off their mortal coils. Playfully tweaking the form—even after strategically inserting asterisks, we’ve chosen to leave the actual words to your imagination—and announcing “things I will not be doing before I die,” David Stameshkin’s new book left me briefly speechless. But not for long.

Since reading this riotously funny, yet also poignant and reflective book, I’ve been recommending it to friends, colleagues—even strangers. It’s refreshing how Stameshkin (the man) has prompted me to think about what I wish to accomplish in ways that the myriad and plentiful “bucket lists” never have.

Before leaving my office, the author told me he still wants to write one more historical monograph before he kicks the…you know. It won’t be volume three, he said, but it will be Middlebury-centric: a biography of Joseph Battell, one of the more pivotal characters in this institution’s history. Not to knock the 19th-century benefactor or what will surely be an insightful account of his life, but doesn’t this news make what Stameshkin doesn’t plan on doing with the rest of his years more enticing?

Map: The Trail Around Middlebury

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Click to enlarge

Road Taken: Finding Mom

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momfinalMy father was raised a Jew; my mother, a Quaker. Neither had much use for religion, though, so my childhood weekends were spent doing yard work. Our house sat on three acres of land, and my siblings and I were the yard crew, raking up weeds, rotten apples, and dead leaves.

In third grade, when Jay Follensbee insisted I’d go to Hell when I died because I didn’t attend church, I decided I’d better get religion. I told my parents I needed to go to Sunday school. After much discussion, they finally agreed to send me to a Unitarian Church about 10 miles away.

I lasted three Sundays. My dress had an itchy petticoat, and I spent class squirming in my chair, scratching my stomach. So despite Jay Follensbee’s threat, after the third Sunday I told my parents I wasn’t going anymore. I can’t remember if I ever told them why.

Not long after my Sunday school experiment, my mother announced with great indignation that the congregation of the local Episcopalian Church had fired their assistant minister because he had helped the first African American family move into our community. The hypocrisy of the congregation’s action was not lost on me, even at eight years old. Between this event and the itchy petticoat, I decided I didn’t need religion. And I managed to live my life well enough without it.

Until my mom died.

During the final days of her life, my father, siblings, and I huddled around her hospital bed in the intensive care unit, stroking her hands and hair. In a morphine haze, she suddenly asked my sister, Nancy, who had found religion in her 40s, to pray. As Nancy did, Mom began to whisper, “Take me home, God. Take me home.” At some point, she drifted into unconsciousness. Over the next 24 hours, her breathing became slower and more labored, until one breath became her last.

Without religion, I found no comfort in thoughts of Mom in some kind of happy afterlife, reunited with family and friends who had arrived before her. For 57 years, she had always been there for me, but now I had no idea where she had gone. Not knowing consumed me.

Three months after Mom died, my father, Nancy, and I drove to Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to spread her ashes in the arboretum there. Mom had been a “lifer” at Westtown and had loved that school with all her heart.

Pulling into the arboretum parking lot, I was sure we were in the wrong place.  Mom had spoken about the arboretum with such reverence that I expected stately wrought iron fencing and a gate guarding the entrance. Instead, we saw a simple wooden sign and a seemingly random stand of specimen trees planted on a sloping hillside.

Nancy found the spot. Three evergreens had grown together over the years; their lower branches formed a natural shelter. Stepping into it, I inhaled the sharp scent of fresh pine needles. My father removed a plastic bag from the black box he had carried into the arboretum. Undoing the twist tie, he turned the bag upside down. As Nancy and I steadied him, he began to spill the contents onto the ground. We rotated clockwise, and as we did, the ashes formed a chalky circle on the bed of pine needles. When the bag was empty, we stood inside the circle, held each other tight and wept. At that moment, I knew where Mom was. She was there with us, under those three evergreens that had grown together.

She was home.

Carolyn Rundle Field ’78 is a freelance writer, the former editor of Wilton Magazine, and a reformed advertising executive.

Guide to Summer Reading: On Our Faculty’s Nightstands

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With the summer months meaning a hiatus from the classroom for most Middlebury faculty, we were curious to learn what books they would choose to help pass the time.

Katy Smith Abbott, Dean of Students; Assistant Professor, History of Art and Architecture
Molly Caro May’s newly published memoir, The Map of Enough: One Woman’s Search for Place. Molly is a former student (Class of ’02) who has remained a friend since her graduation, and I find her sense of adventure and her fearlessness are sources of real inspiration. In addition, she’s a beautiful writer—I am savoring this book.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. This book was recommended to me as the favorite book of my son Elliott’s favorite English teacher at Middlebury Union High School, Kate Carroll ’92, English MA ’99. With limited time and the haunting knowledge that I’ll never read all I would like to, a ringing endorsement from someone whose taste and teaching I respect can be just the nudge I need.

Mary Ellen Bertolini, Director, Writing Center; Senior Lecturer, Tutor in Writing
I’m reading Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe. I hope that it will give me new insights into Austen, who is my specialty, and will help me learn something about game theory. And the book was a gift from my wonderful husband.

Rick Bunt, Joseph Burr Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Organic Chemistry by Joel Karty. We are using this textbook for our new—and, we think, highly innovative—organic chemistry curriculum that starts in the fall. Among many benefits, it will allow premedical students (and others) to only take one semester of organic chemistry before taking biochemistry. This contrasts with the current two semesters of organic chemistry typically required at most schools.

Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids by Vicki Hoefle. We have four- and six-year-old children. Enough said.

Reading anything else? (See second paragraph)

Jack Byrne, Director of Sustainability Integration
Biology Is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life by Robert H. Carlson. I’ve been following the evolution of synthetic biology now for quite a few years, which is an interest that comes from my training as a biologist and in environmental law and policy. I like Kevin Kelly’s definition of technology (anything produced by a mind) and it seems that our minds are quickly developing the technology to design, write and “print” up a specified set of characteristics that can be expressed in a form of life arising from our coding of ACGTs. And it’s already playing a transformative role economically. Carlson’s book is a good introduction to this rapidly evolving technology and its implications for a sustainable future.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. As a career environmentalist, I am woefully ignorant of the works of one our more famous American writers who was also an environmentalist. I have been a frequent traveler to the West now that I have a daughter who has been living in Wyoming for several years. From the novel I’m gaining a better appreciation of what it was like to raise a family in the Wild West through the eyes of a cultured Victorian Easterner as interpreted by her grandson through his take on her many letters and illustrations of that experience.

Svea Closser, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology
Summer for me means a Nora Roberts paperback, the beach, and a drink. My first book of summer opens, “Elizabeth Fitch’s short-lived teenage rebellion began with L’Oreal Pure Black, a pair of scissors and a fake ID. It ended in blood.” I don’t need to explain why this is fantastic, do I?

Jon Isham, Professor of Economics; Faculty Director, Center for Social Entrepreneurship
To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild. It’s a sobering account of how the world ended up in the Great War, with revealing stories of the women and men who understood its folly and raised their voices on behalf of a better way.

Andrea Lloyd, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Dean of the Faculty; Stewart Professor of Biology
Chicago Dreaming: Midwesterners and the City, 1871-1919 by our very own Tim Spears. This doesn’t quite fit the “beach reading” profile that I aspire to in the summers, but I am coteaching a course on American landscape history with Tim in the fall—and we plan to spend some time talking about the rise of Chicago. Since my knowledge of Chicago does not extend much beyond terminals B and C of O’Hare International Airport, I thought I’d better learn a thing or two. And what better place to start?

Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney. I started reading this collection of Heaney’s poetry last summer, when he died, and have resumed my meanderings through it this summer.  (My progress is slowed by the fact that every time I open it, I start again at the beginning. The first poem, “Digging,” might be my favorite in the entire collection, so I am compelled to revisit it again and again.)  I know of nobody who writes more lyrically about soil, or blackberries, or really anything else for that matter; his words are a perfect way to end a summer day spent tending the vegetable garden.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. This is not the memoir of a wayward scientist, but rather a botanical exploration of the origins of modern-day alcoholic beverages. The text is an entertaining combination of the history of distillation, the botanical basis of different spirits, a bit of chemistry, and an excellent assortment of recipes for those interested in adding a hands-on component to their botanical education.

Kevin Moss, Jean Thomson Fulton Professor of Modern Language and Literature
I’ve been traveling too much to even think about reading, though I did pick up two memoirs in Belgrade, by two different gay activists, that I hope to get to.
Also on the shelf is Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia. I’ve enjoyed the excerpts in the New Yorker and need some kind of amusing reading to remind me that there are still reasons I like Russia, in spite of the current regime and its homophobic policies. If I have any huge yawning gaps, I’ve got Péter Nádas’s Parallel Stories, which should last for quite some time.

Erin Quinn ’86, Director of Athletics
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. With Mandela’s death in December, it seemed an apt time to read his autobiography and celebrate his life.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. I’m re-reading this after about 20 years of first discovering the book. I think of myself as optimistic but am trying to give a little more psychological foundation to it, so I am doing some reading regarding positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and growth mindset.

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. This was recommended by a friend as a good book to read for parents of sons, but also for leaders of men and young men. I’m interested for both reasons.

Jim Ralph ’82, Dean of Faculty Development and Research; Rehnquist Professor of American History
My three-year-old son’s fascination with dinosaurs and his question “Where did all the dinosaurs go?” have led me to The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. I also hope to read two books about the purpose of higher education, Ken Bain’s What the Best College Students Do, and Rebecca Chopp et al.’s Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts. The latter features a chapter by John McCardell.

Michael Roy, Dean of the Library
Gun Guys by Dan Baum. This book explores the complexity of America’s gun culture, and as someone who lives in a community that has a deep history of guns, I want to better understand why this is and what it means.

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson. This book rebuts some of the Luddite claims that new technology is getting in the way of our ability to think clearly.

Jacob Tropp, John Spencer Professor of African Studies
The Circle by Dave Eggers. I’m looking forward to plunging into this critical fictional look at questions of privacy and corporate power in our contemporary world of social media, e-commerce, and digital information.

Cion: A Novel by Zakes Mda. This is a sequel to Mda’s wonderful novel Ways of Dying, which concerns the life and relations of a professional mourner in a poor urban community of South Africa shortly after the end of apartheid. Cion brings this man’s story to the United States, to rural Ohio, and interweaves his life story into the history of America’s slave-holding past and the legacy of the Underground Railroad. I’m curious to see how he pulls this all together.