Ron as President By Dena Simmons ’05
In January 2006, I wore Middlebury regalia to the inauguration of the incoming president of Teachers College, Columbia University. Ron could not make the trip to New York City, so he asked me to march in the traditional procession in his place. While Ron’s invitation may seem insignificant to some, to me, it’s indicative of the type of leader Ron is—and has been—for Middlebury. Three years prior to his asking, I wrote, in my application for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, that I wanted to attend Teachers College as a graduate student; Ron’s invitation made clear that he took the time to notice me, to know what I was doing post-Middlebury.
However, I didn’t need this invitation to know what I’d already learned about Ron: he’s an attentive and considerate leader, with New York City flair. He and I would frequently share stories of the Harlem and Columbia University he knew as a graduate student and the ones I was currently getting to know. We bonded over our love and connection to New York City. When I’d see him at the annual alumni holiday parties, he and Jessica always made time to share their support and advice. I felt held in their presence. Similarly, when I was a student, Ron supported me. He met with me when I requested it, and he stopped to say hello when we passed each other on campus.
Most impressive, Ron shows up for his students. There were some tumultuous periods during my time at Middlebury, and Ron never failed to create a safe space on campus for students and faculty to air out their concerns, their problems, and their demands to make Middlebury better. He was available to meet with students during these trying times, and although Ron did not always get it right, he was open to learning and improving. Once, on a cold, dark January evening, Ron traveled up to Shelburne, Vermont, to support me at an awards ceremony when I received the Vermont Student Citizen Award. He shared laughter and stories with my friends and family and made Middlebury as special for them as he did for me. He made them feel a part of our Middlebury family.
Eventually, when I returned to Middlebury as a teacher, bringing with me my students from the Bronx, Ron carved out time to welcome my students and share some words of wisdom. My students were timid about taking such a long trip to a place where very few people looked like them but left Middlebury with the feeling of home. Essentially that’s the type of institution Ron fostered for us—one that smells, tastes, and feels like home.
Dr. Dena Simmons ’05 is the associate director of school initiatives at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
Ron as Neighbor By Victor Nuovo
There are deep ties binding Middlebury College and the town of Middlebury. The town and the College have a common identity: they bear the same name and are situated in the same place. This came to be because over two centuries ago the town created the College, begot it, gave it its name, supported it financially, and nurtured it. The College’s founders, who were the town’s first citizens, believed that a town without an academy could not aspire to greatness, and they desired what was best for it. Hence, sentiments of kinship, of mutual affection and good will, and a common public interest arose between the town and the College. And they continue to this day, rising and falling in intensity, but never absent.
So it happened that during Ron Liebowitz’s presidency, a splendid mutuality flourished between the town and the College, which has resulted in major public works completed or underway in town—all with major support from the College. They include the financing and construction of the Cross Street Bridge, a new town office building (the first net-zero municipal office building in Vermont), a gym and recreational center, the widening of Printers Alley to accommodate pedestrians and motor vehicles going to the Marbleworks, a public park that will occupy the property where the current town offices and gym now stand, and the commercial development of property behind the library.
Much of the credit goes to Ron Liebowitz, although he did not work alone. He and members of his staff met regularly with the town administration and its governing body, the Board of Selectmen. In these meetings, town and College officials reviewed the institutional and economic needs of the town and considered long-term plans for meeting them. They sought and gained public support, along with the approval of the College Board of Trustees. The result was a complex plan involving financial transactions, property exchanges, and construction schedules, and before long, the work will be done. It will be a token of the enduring relationship between the town and the College. It will also be Ron’s legacy.
Victor Nuovo is the Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and a former member of the Middlebury town selectboard.
Ron as Teacher By Jason Merrill ’90
I met Ron Liebowitz when I was a sophomore at Middlebury and had enrolled in his Soviet Geography course. He filled Warner Hemicycle with a friendly, positive energy, looking around the room and encouraging interaction, even when he was listing facts and figures about the ethnic composition of the Soviet Union or the types of minerals found in Siberia. He encouraged us to ask questions and to think more deeply, to draw our own conclusions about what we had heard or read.
In a senior seminar two years later, Ron challenged the class to create one research project on Soviet ethnic policy. He guided us while group members not only wrote their own portions of the larger work but also worked to assemble the pieces into a cohesive whole.
By the time I returned to Middlebury as an instructor in the Russian School, and later as its director, Ron was devoting his energies to administration. He often speaks of his experiences as a student in the Russian School, where the teachers—whose names he still remembers—demanded much from him but taught him much in return. Every time I meet him, at summer receptions or at winter directors’ meetings, Ron asks the kinds of detailed questions about our courses and future plans that show he’s still a teacher at heart.
Lev Tolstoy, for whom pedagogy was a lifelong interest, said that “if a teacher has both love for teaching and for his students, he is a complete teacher.” I believe most everyone in the Middlebury community would agree that Ron exudes both kinds of love, setting an example for teachers or anyone who works with them. In my roles as teacher and director, I strive to show the same level of interest and support I receive from him.
My wife and I are excited that our son will be starting at Middlebury this fall. His Class of 2019 will be the first in the post-Ron era. But because of Ron’s insistence on uncompromising cutting-edge teaching, Middlebury is well positioned to continue to occupy its deserved place as one of the top undergraduate experiences in the country. Like so many throughout Ron’s years at Middlebury, I am proud to have been his student and to have worked with him.
Jason Merrill ’90 is an associate professor of Russian at Michigan State University and the director of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis School of Russian at Middlebury.
Ron as Colleague By Patricia Zupan
Here at Middlebury, colleagues are often much more than those with whom we work. Being in such close quarters, and almost always under the pressures of time, we become professional friends. Side by side, we simultaneously raise our careers and our lives.
Ron and I both came here in the early 1980s. My late husband Franco Ciccone and I arrived in 1982. Ron came in 1984. Ron was our upstairs neighbor at 3 College Street, and his arrival coincided with the birth of our first daughter, Marisa. Franco and I found that Ron liked kids—along with good coffee and good food. He thus became a regular guest at our open Italian table.
Aided and abetted by Franco’s superb cooking skills, unfailing hospitality, and astonishing intelligence and humor, a true friendship was born around that kitchen table. The three of us shared similar backgrounds (large cities, large universities), as well as a common love of intellectual and political controversy, music, and literature. Ron and I faced similarly challenging professional circumstances, building our departmental programs and teaching like maniacs. Incessant work—along with the traditional social environment—made Middlebury a tight fit for both of us at times. As high-energy talkers with quick wits, we frequently sent up what ailed, irked, or tickled us—a survival tactic others didn’t always appreciate. But in learning to live and work at Middlebury in more and more mature ways, Ron and I became true colleagues, talking out our issues, helping each other understand what we each had to offer here, staking out our intellectual territories, celebrating our victories when we won, commiserating with each other when feeling discouraged or defeated.
Ron is at his collegial best when the hour is darkest. His forte seems to be standing strong in the face of serious crises, particularly when colleagues must confront serious or terminal illness, or that of their loved ones—something I know by both observation and personal experience. In recent years we have lost, quite prematurely, dear colleagues and family members. I myself have lost my dear husband, Franco, to terminal illness. At that time, Ron listened as a friend. But as a colleague he also offered me the practical means to face courageously and humanely this incredibly great challenge. His support empowered me to return to this intellectual community, this other important part of my lifework, with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.
Patricia Zupan is the Charles .A. Dana Professor of Italian at Middlebury.