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Surviving Room Draw

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Our guest blogger today is Doug Adams, associate dean of students, writing about a topic of great interest to most students: Room Draw.

—Shirley M. Collado

I have to confess that I was a bit reticent when I was asked to be a guest blogger. I thought, what do I have to share that will ease the minds of students around Room Draw? Even more distressing was the thought that I might add to confusion in some way and actually increase your stress levels!

So I took a quick walk around the campus to think about what I might say. As I strolled through the beautiful fall foliage, seeing students hurrying off to class, laughing in a group outside Proctor, enjoying the sunny day, or sprinting past me on an afternoon jog, I reflected that Middlebury is so much more than the bricks and mortar of its buildings. Middlebury is its people and its community. The same is true of the College’s housing. In the end, it really doesn’t matter which building you are living in but rather the people you are living with.

This fall began my 13th year at Middlebury. Over the years I have had a many different levels of contact with residential life—from my early days of advising the social houses to more recently developing Res Life staff training and assisting with Room Draw. Through all this time, I have learned one very important thing, and let me be perfectly clear: Middlebury is not a Hogwarts. Despite all the evidence to the contrary (Quidditch anyone?) and a certain Commons coordinator’s awesome sorting hat, Room Draw at Middlebury has nothing to do with magic. It is instead a process of computer systems, hard work, late nights, and amazing attention to detail, which combine to create a fair and equitable process for everyone.

So let me take a little of your time to help debunk some of the myths, rumors, and stressors that seem to perpetuate each year:

  1. The random numbers really are random. Residential Life does not see the numbers until all of the matches have been made.
  2. Online Room Draw is run through a computer program, not a person.
  3. All students who will be on campus in the fall semester receive a random number— even those who live in social or academic interest houses, apply to live off campus, or join the Res Life staff. That way if someone’s plans change, they may still participate in the Draw process.
  4. Residential Life staff cannot tell you how “good” your number is or what room you might get. There are just too many variables. Don’t ask.
  5. Do not get caught up in finding the “perfect” room—the one on the fourth floor with sunset views of the Adirondacks. It’s not about the real estate; it’s about the people.
  6. If it should happen that you do not get a block or house together with your friends, the campus is not that big. You will still be near them.
  7. Having a plan before Block Draw is essential and can help you avoid the stress.
  8. There is no such thing as putting down too many applications for room choices, but every year there are some students who enter too few and then wonder why they didn’t get an assignment in that draw.
  9. Don’t rely on your friends to know all the answers. Take some time to get to know the system and your options. Keep reading the Room Draw website—and then read it again. And do the practice session! It really does help.
  10. Rather than hope you did something the correct way, double-check. Karin Hall-Kolts, residential systems coordinator, is one of the most helpful people on campus and is happy to help.

What I hope you take away from this brief post is that Room Draw is just a process. It does not need to be overly stressful. Through a bit of advance planning and talking with your friends, it is even possible that it can be fun!

Shameless Plug:

Residential Life continually makes strides to improve and streamline the Room Draw processes and our communications. To support those efforts, the College has created a new Residential Life Committee as a part of the Community Council. This group will host open meetings about campus housing so that we can get your input on how things are going. Keep an eye out for meeting times later this fall. And, if you can’t make it to a meeting,
e-mail your ideas to me at reslife@middlebury.edu.

—Doug Adams

 

 

Engaging with Middlebury

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Our guest blogger today is Charles Arnowitz ’13, who I have the pleasure of working with in his role as the president of the SGA. —Shirley M. Collado

As Student Government Association president this year, I’ve dealt with campus issues that run the gamut—from student programming to funding to college governance to communications to the most mundane elements of student life. Across these diverse issue areas, I’ve found that one theme predominates: the need for student engagement with Middlebury as an institution.

Our campus is full of potential leaders and creative thinkers. I know. I’ve worked at the Admissions Office for four years and have observed for myself the new additions to the student body; moreover, I engage on a daily basis with friends and peers who rarely cease to amaze me. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of being a student at Middlebury is how much I learn from those peers and how much my friends surprise and impress me.

Nonetheless, despite the quantity and quality of potential leaders here at Midd, our campus suffers from a lack of student engagement with institutional policy. In fairness, students are busy—we have challenging academics, usually a few extracurricular activities or a sport schedule to navigate, and social obligations as well. This is part of the lifestyle we choose when we choose Middlebury, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

But while I know most of us are proud and grateful to spend four years here, few of us are fully satisfied with Middlebury institutionally—whether it is social life, endowment policy, academic policy, or anything in between, many students feel there are areas where Middlebury could improve.

To those students, I say: On a campus as small and as codependent as ours, engagement really matters. Pushing through the relevant institutional channels (and, occasionally, outside of those channels), individuals can have a lasting impact on College policy or student life. Our carbon neutrality initiative, Alcohol and Social Life Task Force, Middview, the new Pass-Fail option, and others are the products of student engagement with the institution. And yet, when the dean of the College announces a meeting to talk about alcohol use on campus, just 20 students show up. When the SGA has a meeting on something controversial that touches on all of our lives, only a handful of students will attend.

The administration and the Board of Trustees are not the enemy of student welfare—not only do they want student input, they often beg for it. Being busy is legitimate, but we all abdicate the right to complain when we don’t attempt to make our voices heard.

In conclusion, I encourage students to engage more actively with institutional policy by attending open meetings, providing feedback when requested, and making student viewpoints clear. We all have opinions on the issues that Old Chapel deals with. Sometimes, there will be student consensus around an issue; other times, a split will exist. But no one with power to change policy can act on our views if they don’t know they exist.

There are open SGA Senate meetings on Sundays at 7:00 p.m. and open Community Council meetings on Mondays at 4:30. The Office of the Dean of the College, Community Council, and the SGA will be pioneering a new Campus Forum event in an effort to encourage student input. We would love to hear from you.

—Charles Arnowitz ’13

Being in it rather than getting through it

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Our guest blogger today is Jonathan Miller-Lane, associate professor of education studies and head of Wonnacott Commons. His post explores a challenge of trying to live “mindfully.”

If there is a reason why it is worth coming together at a residential liberal arts college in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, rather than, say, staying home and taking all your courses online, it might have something to do with the intellectual community that is made possible when we come together to learn, listen, talk, and share meals. However, at this time of year, in the heart of fall semester midterms, it is so easy to slip into the “Just let me get through this midterm / this day / this week and I’ll be fine” mind-set. Line ’em up, knock ’em down. Two weeks to break. Then one month, and Thanksgiving; two weeks, then winter break. Line ’em up, knock ’em down. We come all this distance, spend all this money, spend huge amounts of human energy to prepare and maintain an extraordinary physical environment and organize a complex series of courses and events, so that we can all say how little time we have for each other because we are all so busy, busy, busy. Huh? Yes, we live in a fast-paced digital world. But, as an educational community, do we have nothing to say regarding how we might reflect upon, interrogate, and engage this 24/7 lithium-battery-charged life?

We sometimes seem to be overly focused on performance at the expense of valuing the power of practice. Students perform papers, exams, presentations, etc. Professors perform lectures, office hours, etc. The idea that by coming together we might be practicing something sometimes seems to get lost in our communal efforts to demonstrate normative forms of academic competency. What would things look like if we were to value practice over performance? By practice, I mean something like when we say, “Doctors practice medicine.” Generally, hopefully, the idea that doctors “practice” medicine does not mean that when doctors see their morning patients they are practicing for the big game patients in the afternoon. We do not say that doctors “perform” medicine any more than teachers “perform” teaching.

I think when we say lawyers practice the law, or doctors practice medicine, we mean that there are a set of principles, a body of knowledge, prior experiences, and other elements that an individual brings to bear when addressing any individual case. Each moment is a moment when all these elements come together uniquely. Practice seems to emphasize engagement with another. Practice suggests a sense of reciprocity—there is listening involved. Performance, on the other hand, seems to emphasize presentation for another—listening is done primarily by the receiver.

Maybe, one reason we are too busy for each other is because we see no need for reciprocity. I mean, really, who has time for that? I have my normative academic performance in five minutes, tomorrow, next week. I have no time to be in this thing here, because I have to get ready for that next performance over there…

If the value of coming together lies in the potential that our communal engagement offers, can we imagine embodying practice? Would we allow ourselves greater intellectual risk-taking as a result? Is there a Way of being a student or a professor that is different from the mere performance of those roles? 

Footnote: The title for this reflection was, like practically every other good thing in my life, my wife Karen’s idea.

Factoring-in Race

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

On October 10, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the University of Texas exceeded its right to consider race and ethnicity in its admissions decisions (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin).  Institutions of higher education flooded the Supreme Court with amici curiae briefs supporting the University of Texas. Middlebury joined with other liberal arts colleges in filing a brief because the court’s decision could have significant ramifications for higher education.

Many—and as time goes on, more and more—consider it imperative to create diverse campus communities using as many facets as possible (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, religion, worldview, country of origin, gender identity, and so on), so that our students can engage others who reflect the real world, and so experience the global environment they will live in for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, as our brief notes (see pages 27-30), researchers have demonstrated that diversity improves learning outcomes, resulting in significant gains in educational attainment for both white students and students of color; it also leads to curricular and pedagogical innovations. Achieving wide-ranging diversity on campus requires us to look at, among many things, race and ethnicity. Not only must we admit students who can excel academically but also who, taken as a group, will make our community well rounded.

The Supreme Court affirmed in 2003 that colleges may use race and ethnicity in a limited way to ensure diversity on their campuses. Because Texas University, as a public Texas institution, must admit any applicant who graduates in the top 10 percent of his/her high school class, and because many Texas high schools are composed of large populations of various ethnic groups, the university can achieve racial diversity almost automatically.

The attorneys for Abigail Fisher, the student who filed the complaint, contend that race should not be considered for students who fall below the top 10 percent because the university already has a means to achieve racial diversity.

The court may decide to rule narrowly about this question—just focusing on Texas and the 10 percent policy. Or, as some fear, it could decide the issue more broadly and overturn its 2003 decision.

At Middlebury, we feel very strongly that our extraordinary liberal arts education is anchored in having the rich diversity we have on our campus. October 10 will be the beginning of a national discussion about this topic, and I encourage you to pay attention.

This issue is not without complexity, and both sides have honest and sincere reasons for their positions. You can read more about this in an article in Inside Higher Ed, which contains numerous links to other documents and articles. It’s a subject that is highly relevant to all of us, and I welcome hearing your views.

—Shirley M. Collado

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Class of 2016

Categories: General, Midd Blogosphere

Recently, I had the pleasure of welcoming the Class of 2016 to Middlebury. They are now full-fledged members of our wonderfully vibrant community.  For some of them, it may seem like a long way from home and a stark contrast to all that is familiar. But I believe they will find their time here to be both challenging and rewarding.

When I first came to the College in 2006, I felt instantly at home. One wouldn’t think that a Dominican woman from Brooklyn, New York, would find in rural Vermont what I found here—an inviting and supportive community that demands the best from us. I want every student to feel as much a part of this community as I do.

I’d like to introduce the newest class: Chosen from an applicant pool of more than 8,000, it represents 44 states, D.C., and 50 countries. Five percent of its members didn’t have to travel too far from home because they are already Vermonters, and 12 percent are first in their families to attend college. Out of approximately 690 students, 72 are internationals and 142 are U.S. students of color.

But the numbers only tell part of the story.

They don’t show the diversity that comes from all of the layers that make up who we are as individuals and what we bring to the table collectively. So here are some other facets of the class: Among them are—

  • out-of-the-box thinkers
  • musicians
  • a bee-keeper
  • a unicyclist
  • spoken word poets
  • artists
  • photographers
  • a maple sugar maker
  • adventurers
  • a budding meteorologist
  • environmental advocates
  • multisport athletes
  • a Guinness World Record setter for kayaking
  • scientific researchers
  • polyglots
  • young entrepreneurs
  • activists

Middlebury has a long-standing tradition of attracting all kinds of students and of supporting and fostering student leadership in community service, creativity and innovation, activism, excellence in athletics and academics, spiritual and religious engagement, and encouraging personal and social responsibility. The Class of 2016 is now part of this rich legacy. And the unique voices they bring will add depth and texture to our community.

Please join me in welcoming them to campus and helping them feel at home. I look forward to seeing you and engaging with you over the course of the year. I want everyone to bring their energy, ideas, and life experiences to make us shift and change and create more learning opportunities for all.

My office, the Office of the Dean of Students, and your Commons offices are always open to support you and to hear about your ideas, achievements, and proud moments, as well as your challenges.

—Shirley M. Collado

 

 

Blog on Blogs

Categories: General

As everyone on campus should know, Middlebury will soon launch a new website.  The new site, designed by an outfit called White Whale, will support videos, slide shows, enhanced search features, and other bells and whistles.  I won’t try to explain the significance of these enhancements—why this build out will be better than our current web—since people who know far more about the design than I do have already done so (for instance, check out the web makeover discussion or MiddBlog).

But I do want to engage some of the assumptions that have guided the development of the new website, and ask some questions.

Assumption #1:  as we transfer more and more content from print to the web—an inevitability, given the ever-increasing importance of the internet—the ways in which we communicate as an institution may change.

Conventional wisdom has it that writing on the web should be more concise than writing in print since reading big chunks of prose on a screen is difficult and peoples’ attention spans are more limited.  On the other hand, the web is an ideal platform for video and audio, which means that much of the storytelling on the new site will take shape as pictures and sound.   This shift is already evident in the press releases that our Communications office sends to external news agencies.  While these news releases were once pure prose, and perhaps some pictures, they are now likely to include video.  For instance, check out the story that recently appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education; the video in this story was made by Stephen Diehl.

The implications of this shift are interesting to consider.   How would students like to receive an email from the President that contains a video message rather than a written memo?    To what extent should administrators and college offices experiment with multi-media in communicating with the campus?  As our web evolves to accommodate new forms of media, how should our internal forms of communication change?  This is a real question, but please, no Twitter.

Assumption #2: more interactivity is better, and everyone likes a blog.

Okay, I am exaggerating a little, but it is true that the new website will give more attention to blogs that currently exist and new blogs that have yet to emerge.  The idea here is that blogs are great forums for debate and discussion, and a more “authentic” (read “less institutional”) vehicle for enabling people (especially prospective students) to learn about the College.  And, yes, they can also be important forums for students, faculty, and staff.

A number of community members already run blogs, and some of them are very good.  For a partial survey of Middlebury blogs, see this list and follow the sidebar links on MiddBlog (MiddBlog, by the way, deserves kudos for leading the way on this front).   However, the College blogosphere is not especially thick; some would say we are not really a blogging community.   Is this a problem, a drawback, a good thing, or just the way it is?  I am not asking for a referendum on any particular blog—my own included—but wondering about the concept in general.  If blogging is a good thing for Middlebury, how should we foster its development?

Assumption #3: we can use the web to build community at Middlebury.

The word “community” is heavily loaded, and deserves more discussion than I can give it now, but one promise of the internet—often debated by specialists—is that the internet can foster democratic forms of communication and action (political and otherwise).   This promise is worth bearing in mind as we move forward with the new website.   While on the one hand, the content on the web, especially the front page, will be subject to editorial control, with the Communications office managing the main pages, on other hand, there will be more opportunities for people to upload and post content.  For instance, there is already a process in place for people to submit stories that might be posted on the site.  Theoretically, as this new website evolves, it could become more “wiki”-like in its function, and community members could play a significant role in building the site.  In order for this to happen, however, people will need to be committed to making the web a live and vital site.   Assuming this is a good thing—and maybe I shouldn’t make this assumption—how can the College foster this sort of involvement?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Our Liberal Arts Roots

Categories: General

My post on study abroad generated some good discussion about the liberal arts, and its importance to a Middlebury education.  In order to gain some historical perspective on the College’s commitment to the liberal arts, let’s take a quick tour through the history of the Middlebury curriculum.   Anyone interested in learning more about these factoids can review the College’s course catalogs and David Stameshkin’s two-volume history of Middlebury College (as I did).

  • In 1818, freshmen studied the first books of Livy; Blair’s Lectures Abridged; English Grammar; Sallust; Cicero de Officiis, deSenectute, de Amicitia; Priestley’s Lectures; Collectanea Graeca Majora.  Sophomores, juniors, and seniors likewise took a set curriculum focused on classical subjects.
  • In 1883, the trustees voted to admit women, leading to the following language in the 1883-84 course catalog: “By recent action of the Trustees the College offers the same privileges to young ladies as to young gentlemen.”
  • In 1900, freshmen were still required to take a “classical course” (as were sophomores), but juniors and seniors could now supplement required classes with electives.
  • By 1940, the elective system was firmly entrenched, and Middlebury students were majoring in particular subject areas or disciplines.  Freshmen had the option of electing introductory courses in several subject areas, including Home Economics.
  • In 1955, Home Economics was still in the course catalog, and first-year students were required to take Physical Education.  First-year men also took basic R.O.T.C.   In 1975, R.O.T.C was an elective, and the program included a class in Military Science.
  • In the 1970s, the College expanded its schools abroad program to include undergrads (it had previously served graduate students alone), and by the mid 1980s roughly 40% of the junior class chose to study abroad, making Middlebury a leader in this area.
  • Also during the 1970s and 80s, the College expanded the number of interdisciplinary programs to include classical studies, Jewish studies, the international major, and Northern studies (which no longer exists), a trend that continued through the 1990s and remains a distinguishing feature in our curriculum to this day.

How to describe this brief and incomplete history of curricular change?  What does it tell us about the evolution of the liberal arts at Middlebury?    Few would argue that military science, home economics, or a required classical course—the mainstay of nineteenth-century college education—should return to Middlebury’s curriculum.   But at certain points in the College’s history, these classes were indeed a part of our educational tradition.

In Cultivating Humanity (1997), University of Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum defines liberal education as the “cultivation of the whole human being for the functions of citizenship and life generally.”  As Nussbaum and other scholars have shown, the idea of liberal learning, or the “examined life,” can be traced back to Greek and Roman philosophy.   However, the history suggests that how colleges and universities have gone about realizing this ideal has varied according the educational needs of the moment—and the future.

So, philosophically (which is to say pragmatically) speaking, how should the College evolve to meet the needs of the future?  Given the possibility of a stingier economy, what aspects of a Middlebury education should be preserved at all costs?  Where should we pull back?  How might we build on our historic strengths to prepare students to meet the realities of this century—globalization, environmental challenges, etc?