Posts by Timothy Spears

 
 
 

On Staffing, Mission, and the Challenges of Reorganization

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

To illuminate one aspect of the staffing changes the College has experienced during the last two years, we asked Jeff Cason, Dean of International Programs and a faculty member in the Political Science department, to describe the benefits and challenges of reorganization.

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As everyone knows, we have been going through a great deal of change on campus lately as we have dealt with a reduction in staff, changing expectations about what staff should do, and reassessing what we all do, in many ways.

I have found it particularly interesting—as well as challenging and rewarding—to work with staff in the “international” area as we have dealt with the need to readjust our expectations over the last year and a half, and as we have consolidated operations in the area. In this international area, we’ve seen a staff reduction that mirrors the overall staff reduction at Middlebury, which is about 15%. This has not been easy—how could it be?

In the consolidation, we have brought together staff in the International Programs and Off-Campus Study office, the International Students and Scholar Services office, and the Rohatyn Center for International Affairs. Bringing these three areas together makes a great deal of sense, given their affinities and related and cross-cutting purposes.

The consolidation has brought both challenges and opportunities. Since we are an area of the college that has certain “non-discretionary” service requirements (we can’t stop providing services for international students who need visas to come to Middlebury, after all!), we have to figure out how to do things more efficiently, and figure out what we have done in the past that we no longer need to do.  And in some ways we are doing more.  For instance, over the last few years we have been increasing the number of students from other colleges and universities who attend Middlebury’s Schools.  This makes both financial and reputational sense for the College, so we know we will continue in this direction.

A key component of our reorganization effort has been to make sure that communication happens throughout our area and the entire organization.  We have done this by making sure that everyone is at the same table every two weeks, in a general staff meeting. While this might be seen by some as a new time commitment, by bringing colleagues together, we have been able to learn from one another and save time in other ways. At these meetings we have also increased cross-campus dialogue by inviting colleagues from other departments (most recently, the office of Student Financial Services) to meet with our full staff and discuss topics related to the entire group’s work. The individual units also continue to have their standard meetings to discuss nitty-gritty and routine work in their areas. This is still a work in progress, but we have made progress.

Very importantly, this consolidation has led to colleagues doing new things, which almost everyone has found beneficial. As one colleague put it to me in an email, responding to a query about what I might include in this post: “I think the thing most worth mentioning is how the consolidation has forced us to think differently about ‘our jobs.’ We have people who have traditionally always done certain tasks/projects, but as we consolidate, different people have been given the opportunity to dabble in areas of interest where they may not have had experience before.” Noting that there are different needs (and different crunch times) in the different offices, this staff member concluded: “The challenge is identifying these needs and availabilities and matching them with staff interests enough in advance to capitalize on the opportunities, but we’ll get better at that.”

I do think we’re getting better at that, as our staff knows more about what everyone in the broader area—and outside the area—does. It is not a simple process, of course. And it’s interesting, to say the least.

Five Questions for Missy Foote

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Our guest this week on Five Questions is Missy Foote.   A member of the Athletic Department for more than thirty years, Missy currently serves as Director of Physical Education, Senior Women’s Administrator, and women’s lacrosse coach. 

Our questions come from a variety of sources, including the women’s lacrosse team.

On December 3, we will be profiling Gary Margolis (Executive Director of Counseling; Associate Professor of English), and  Karl Lindholm (Dean of Cook Commons; Assistant Professor of American Studies).  If you would like to ask Gary and Karl a question (or two), please send your submission to vpadmin@middlebury.edu.

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1. You’ve coached a number of sports during your career at Middlebury. If you had the chance to coach a sport which you haven’t yet coached, what would it be and why?

Since I’m a wanna-be Nordic skier, I would love to coach that sport. Of course, the problem is that I know nothing about Nordic skiing from a coaching standpoint, but I do love that the sport demands that the athlete be in great physical shape while also focusing on the intricacies of both classic and skating technique. I think it would be a fun challenge to figure out how to best prepare athletes in those ways. Besides, without a doubt Nordic ski coaches own the best gear!

2. For what fault do you have the least toleration?

Seeing someone with lack of passion might be the thing I have the least tolerance for. It probably boils down to the fact that I like being around people who simply say “yes” to more things than “no”, and who live their lives with intention, willing to dig in to see the possibilities of most situations.

3. How do you think athletics contribute to the overall culture of Middlebury?

Whether for the spectator or for the participant, athletics gives one the chance to lose oneself in the simplicity of an arbitrary goal. For Middlebury students, where intellectual pursuit can sometimes feel all absorbing, athletic events can draw people into the joy of being physical or the commonality of rooting for ones classmates towards an uncomplicated end.

4. What’s your favorite childhood memory?

My dad was a Navy pilot for the first 16 years of my life, so my family moved every 3-4 years while I was growing up. I loved living in different states and making new friends wherever we lived, but I especially loved the constancy of visiting my grandparents in Alabama for summers and holidays. Those days seemed endless, filled with the ways of the old south; gathering for big mid-day dinners, making home made ice cream, sitting on the front porch on hot summer nights listening to the grown-ups talk, water skiing and fishing on the lake, and walking on endless stretches of deserted beaches on the Gulf.

5. What do you think about when you run? What’s your favorite run near/on campus?

I think about NOTHING and EVERYTHING at the same time when I run! The reason I love running so much is that thoughts float in and out during the course of the run. There is no conscious effort to choose a topic, or solve a problem, but inevitably by the time the run is over the problems have diminished and my outlook is always more positive. And, what is my favorite run? That’s easy. It’s Chipman hill. It’s a playground with all kinds of possibilities and challenges, and I always feel so good when it’s over!

An Overview of Internal Communications: Tips and Challenges

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As I suggested in my October 15th post, internal communication can be a challenge. In an effort to improve communications on this front, the President introduced the topic at a meeting with Senior Managers this morning, with the promise that we will return to the issue in subsequent meetings.

To frame the discussion, Deans, Directors and Vice Presidents asked Managers to explain how they communicate within their areas, to identify the challenges they face, and to offer suggestions for improving communications at the College.  Here is a summary of their responses.

Meetings

  • Weekly meetings for management teams and groups with a “report out” model
  • Regular all staff meetings (monthly), mostly report out with some question & answer
  • One-on-one with direct reports at some interval (weekly, quarterly)
  • Quarterly meetings on topic of interest or importance
  • Annual retreat to set agenda and discuss strategy (full staff)
  • “Just in time” meetings, immediate and brief as needed
  • Meeting by subject, project, or topic, group follows the subject rather than hierarchy
  • Weekly teleconference to set agenda

Tools

  • Minutes and agendas should be shared broadly, within department and across
  • Departments should develop an annual communications plan
  • Outlook calendar as preferred way to manage meeting invitations and schedules
  • Regular email updates, weekly or less frequently, to serve as a complement to meetings
  • Email bullets from direct reports to managers on a weekly basis
  • “Just in time” or urgent email with timely information
  • Informally float and “visit” with staff
  • Vary the medium to reach different audiences, blogs not for everyone, and not everyone has convenient access to a computer
  • Shared web-based project chart or management tool

Style

  • Communications often mirrors the hierarchy in terms of how information gets out
  • Important to hear from the top with clear direction and priorities
  • Important for leadership to be open to questions and model openness
  • More “before the fact” communication with key stakeholders

Challenges and Suggestions

  • Lateral or “department to department” communication is frequently noted as concern
  • Changes in organizational structure don’t really tell you how to get things done
  • Impact of decision not always thought through in terms of all stakeholders
  • Need to be more clear in setting expectations for those who are communicating out
  • Should be considering who needs to know what by when and state clearly
  • Must balance amount of time with benefit, more communication requires more time
  • Invite people from other departments to attend meetings from time to time
  • Create a community email digest with important updates to minimize amount of email
  • Pick up the phone, don’t use email when a phone call or a “face to face” can work

The Commons Factor in the Atwater Landscape Design Competition

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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 vpadmin@middlebury.edu. We’ll pick the best five.

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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

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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.

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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.