Tag Archives: Featured Dispatch

Old Chapel: The Next Level of Discussion

LaurieWEBThis has been a year of uncomfortable conversations on campus. And that makes me comfortable.

This year, the administration, the student body, and campus as a whole had some difficult conversations with each other. We talked, sometimes calmly, sometimes heatedly, sometimes quietly, and sometimes loudly, about diversity and inclusivity, and what that means and should mean at Middlebury in 2016.

These conversations at times have been painful for those in the center of them, and for those who were closer to the edges, listening in. We heard truths, and sorrow, and impatience. We heard hopes, and fears, and dreams, and frustrations. And we heard moments of real engagement and possibility.

Why does this make me comfortable? Because these are important conversations, and our ability to have them reveals our strength as a community. We all, from time to time, must speak uncomfortable truths to one another. That is what it means to have “arguments for the sake of heaven,” as I mentioned in my inaugural address. These are discussions worth having. Part of the nature of a college campus, and certainly a campus such as Middlebury, is that a free exchange of ideas is not only expected but encouraged. Uncomfortable truths are a matter of course. Professors present ideas to their students that make them uncomfortable. Students in turn can present ideas to professors that make them uncomfortable. Students can also wrestle with  course material, or class discussions, or campus events, or with each other. Staff have also played critical roles in these tough conversations.

But  discomfort is not a reason to avoid free expression, even when it comes to expressing thoughts and ideas and beliefs about  inclusivity. Supporting free speech and supporting inclusivity in our language, our conversations, and our actions are not goals that are at odds with each other. In fact, they are helpful complements to each other. Supporting both allows us to take our discussions to the next level, where we can make mistakes without fear because we want to become more aware than we are today. We want to be stronger. We want to do better.

Diversity and inclusivity are not “problems” that we’re going to “solve.” They are part of an ethos that we need to hold up every day, even if we might fail to fulfill that ethos on a regular basis. They’re values that we live by. They are values for us to talk about, and consider, and embrace, as we grow in our understanding of what they mean today—at Middlebury and in the wider world.

There are many ways to have these conversations. We talk in person, one on one, in groups, in meetings, in symposium. We talk on the phone, through text and email. We put our names, our voices, our faces to our words. We humanize them. We own them.

But we must be more mindful, I believe, about our conversations when we talk through social media, which has an ever-increasing multitude of channels for us to communicate though. There are so many ways to speak one’s opinions. But there are also so many ways to be silenced. Tap a few keys and you can shut down a conversation you disagree with, or mute a voice you don’t like, or send a message of shame without ever having to own your words. The worst conversation is the conversation that isn’t allowed to be. My rule for us is: Face-to-face conversation first. Social media second.

We have had uncomfortable conversations, and we will keep on having them. And we’re bringing our conversations to the next level: The Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury is planning a spring conference titled “Activists, Allies, and Accomplices: Responses to Racism Today.” The conference will consider contemporary responses to racism and examine historical precedents. Middlebury students will discuss white ally-ship and student activists from other colleges will discuss their experiences this last year and the issues they faced. Rinku Sen, the editor of Colorlines, will be the keynote speaker and Rashawn Ray, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, will discuss racial uplift through activism and social policy. JusTalks will be working with every incoming student next year in workshops helping them live in community while developing the crucial skills of engaging with real differences.

Yes, some of our conversations have made  us uncomfortable this year, but I’m comfortable that we’re having them. I’m comfortable knowing that we are learning from our mistakes, and we’re holding each other accountable—to own our words, to push us to the next level of inclusive excellence. We have so much we can learn from each other—as long as we keep talking, and keep listening.

Patton can be reached at president@middlebury.edu.

Old Chapel: Vibrant Research at a Liberal Arts Institution

LaurieWEBOne of education’s great aims is to help students see beyond a world of black-and-white and to perceive and be comfortable with the various shades of gray surrounding us. We teach our students to consider ambiguities in scientific, historical, moral, and many other forms of reasoning; in artistic critique; in the digital worlds we all now inhabit. 

And yet, ironically, we still encounter black-and-white perceptions within the world of higher education. One particularly tenacious perception is the difference between the aims of a liberal arts institution and those of a research university. I spoke to a prominent foundation leader who had recently led a meeting between faculty and administrators from liberal arts colleges and research universities, and he said, “Despite their good intentions, everyone still stereotyped the other side, and we at the foundation still had to interpret each side to the other.”

These stereotypes he referred to are ones we encounter all the time: liberal arts colleges are only about teaching and universities are only about research. Universities are supposedly filled with professors who have little time for their undergraduates’ needs. Professors divide their attention between their graduate students and their research—with the classroom a distant third in their priorities. Liberal arts professors, on the other hand, supposedly spend all their time teaching and never think about research. They seldom look up from their pedagogical tasks to engage the outside world, and they’re not committed to intellectual inquiry except as character formation for the young.

But counterevidence of these stereotypes exists all around us. Universities house extraordinary teachers who frequently are also top researchers in their fields. And, as you will read in this issue of Middlebury Magazine, liberal arts colleges have extraordinary researchers active in their fields and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in exciting ways. Nowhere is this more true than at Middlebury College.

Indeed, I believe liberal arts colleges have the potential to rethink and reclaim some of the original purposes of research. So many researchers I have known in higher
education—no matter the institutional context—have said to me, “What I really wish I could work on is this question, not the question I know will be funded or the question the current trends in the field suggest I ask.”

Because research foundations don’t drive the funding structure of liberal arts colleges, researchers in liberal arts often can work on research without being burdened by its “fundability.” They’re not constrained by intellectual fashions, nor the ability of their inquiries to fulfill the common good. While all institutions have to pay attention to questions of funding, larger intellectual contexts, and peer review, liberal arts institutions exist in a space that encourages independence from trends—and thus, creativity.

In addition, because we often exist in smaller, more intense communities of inquiry, we have opportunities to think about and conduct interdisciplinary research in exciting ways.  And because we work in closer proximity to other disciplines than do our peers in research universities, we’re generally much more interdisciplinary in our classrooms—something we can take advantage of in our research as well.

Finally, the research we conduct can be more responsive to the questions of local concerns. It’s no accident that alumni, students, and townspeople collaborated on the hydrogen-powered tractor created one winter term. Nor is it an accident that the levels of toxicity in our region’s lake water concern students in our School of the Environment and our science classes. And it’s no accident that some of our  classics professors teach students to research the ancient world in part by bringing them to the Vermont legislature to see the continuity of certain democratic traditions.

Research can and should be a vibrant part of our lives in an institution like Middlebury
College. What’s more, Middlebury can be a place for a different kind of research that inspires colleagues at different kinds of institutions in higher education—and that breaks stereotypes along the way.

Patton can be reached at president@middlebury.edu.

Old Chapel: Vibrant Research at a Liberal Arts Institution

LaurieWEBOne of education’s great aims is to help students see beyond a world of black-and-white and to perceive and be comfortable with the various shades of gray surrounding us. We teach our students to consider ambiguities in scientific, historical, moral, and many other forms of reasoning; in artistic critique; in the digital worlds we all now inhabit. 

And yet, ironically, we still encounter black-and-white perceptions within the world of higher education. One particularly tenacious perception is the difference between the aims of a liberal arts institution and those of a research university. I spoke to a prominent foundation leader who had recently led a meeting between faculty and administrators from liberal arts colleges and research universities, and he said, “Despite their good intentions, everyone still stereotyped the other side, and we at the foundation still had to interpret each side to the other.”

These stereotypes he referred to are ones we encounter all the time: liberal arts colleges are only about teaching and universities are only about research. Universities are supposedly filled with professors who have little time for their undergraduates’ needs. Professors divide their attention between their graduate students and their research—with the classroom a distant third in their priorities. Liberal arts professors, on the other hand, supposedly spend all their time teaching and never think about research. They seldom look up from their pedagogical tasks to engage the outside world, and they’re not committed to intellectual inquiry except as character formation for the young.

But counterevidence of these stereotypes exists all around us. Universities house extraordinary teachers who frequently are also top researchers in their fields. And, as you will read in this issue of Middlebury Magazine, liberal arts colleges have extraordinary researchers active in their fields and pushing the boundaries of knowledge in exciting ways. Nowhere is this more true than at Middlebury College.

Indeed, I believe liberal arts colleges have the potential to rethink and reclaim some of the original purposes of research. So many researchers I have known in higher
education—no matter the institutional context—have said to me, “What I really wish I could work on is this question, not the question I know will be funded or the question the current trends in the field suggest I ask.”

Because research foundations don’t drive the funding structure of liberal arts colleges, researchers in liberal arts often can work on research without being burdened by its “fundability.” They’re not constrained by intellectual fashions, nor the ability of their inquiries to fulfill the common good. While all institutions have to pay attention to questions of funding, larger intellectual contexts, and peer review, liberal arts institutions exist in a space that encourages independence from trends—and thus, creativity.

In addition, because we often exist in smaller, more intense communities of inquiry, we have opportunities to think about and conduct interdisciplinary research in exciting ways.  And because we work in closer proximity to other disciplines than do our peers in research universities, we’re generally much more interdisciplinary in our classrooms—something we can take advantage of in our research as well.

Finally, the research we conduct can be more responsive to the questions of local concerns. It’s no accident that alumni, students, and townspeople collaborated on the hydrogen-powered tractor created one winter term. Nor is it an accident that the levels of toxicity in our region’s lake water concern students in our School of the Environment and our science classes. And it’s no accident that some of our  classics professors teach students to research the ancient world in part by bringing them to the Vermont legislature to see the continuity of certain democratic traditions.

Research can and should be a vibrant part of our lives in an institution like Middlebury
College. What’s more, Middlebury can be a place for a different kind of research that inspires colleagues at different kinds of institutions in higher education—and that breaks stereotypes along the way.

Patton can be reached at president@middlebury.edu.

Welcome, Laurie Patton

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Laurie Patton; her husband, Shalom Goldman, the Pardon Tillinghast Professor of History, Philosophy, and Religion; and their two Great Pyrenees, Padma and Suka.

It was a few minutes after 8:30 on the morning of July 1 when Laurie Patton steered her silver Prius into a parking space on Old Chapel Road. Middlebury’s 17th president was about to begin her first day at work.

“I write to send warm greetings on my first day as Middlebury’s new president,” she had written in an email that was sent out to the community later that morning. “The glorious Vermont summer weather has matched the excitement I feel in coming to work with such an extraordinary community.”

Though that day’s weather was not cooperating with Patton’s sentiments—leaden skies prompted rain showers throughout the morning and afternoon—the excitement of which she spoke was evident the moment she walked into Old Chapel.

Greeting her new colleagues with the familiarity one gains from eight months of visits, phone calls, and correspondence, Patton drew smiles and hugs as she made her way to the building’s third floor.

“Hi, dear,” she said to Barbara McBride, embracing her assistant in a big hug. “It is so good to be here, and one of the best things is that after all we’ve done together already, this feels like just another day.”

“It does,” McBride replied, “but it’s not just another day for Middlebury.”

After a morning spent in meetings, Patton took advantage of a slight break in the weather to walk the campus with her husband, Shalom Goldman, who has been appointed Pardon Tillinghast Professor of History, Philosophy, and Religion, and their two Great Pyrenees, Padma and Suka.

On their stroll, the couple encountered and chatted with a distinguished faculty member; an alumna; a prospective student and her father visiting from Oregon; and two sophomores, from India and the Philippines, respectively, who have stayed on campus for the summer—one to work in Armstrong Library and the other to help a professor revise a textbook. Patton conversed in Hindi with the young woman from India before finishing the loop back to Old Chapel.

More meetings followed, and then Patton ended her day in Mead Chapel, speaking at the opening Convocation for the second session of the Language Schools. It was the second time Patton had spoken in Mead, the first occurring a little more than eight months ago when she was introduced to the community as Middlebury’s next president.  

Laurie Patton will be inaugurated as Middlebury’s 17th president on the weekend of October 1011. Visit www.middlebury.edu/inauguration for info.

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.”

“Ok, Let’s Try This Again…”

SC-2The second story in a three-part series chronicling student-led Middlebury Alternative Trips (MAlt) before the start of spring semester. In this Dispatch, twelve students spend a week at a struggling elementary and middle school in rural South Carolina.

 

Pencils and pens hit the floor.

A teacher yelled at her students.

A classroom door slammed shut.

Before the meltdown began at this small school in rural South Carolina, a sixth grader had raised her hand and asked a question.

“Miss,” she said to her teacher, “I don’t feel like I am learning anything by you just clicking through these slides. I am not understanding or learning anything from it.”

The science teacher responded by throwing down a handful of pencils and pens.

“If you want to learn science, teach it to yourself!” she yelled and stormed out of the classroom.

That was the welcome that twelve Middlebury  students received on their first day on site at the school. The shocked and fearful expressions that spread across the faces of the Middlebury students in no way compared to the reactions of the sixth graders, most of whom shrugged their shoulders, as if saying,

“This is normal…nothing really changes with her.”

What scared us was that it was abundantly clear that this was not the first time the children had been yelled at or walked out on. We had heard that teacher retention was a challenge at the school, something the administration struggled with. And the students? They didn’t have a voice.

This school has a history of threatened closure; it has long been seen as one of the worst elementary and middle schools in this rural county in northeastern South Carolina, an area best-known for tobacco farming. With only about 46 students being taught in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, school administrators have tried valiantly to meet the needs of their students, most of whom come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. After administrative changes and the addition of Teach for America instructors during the past few years, there has been a subtle shifts for the better in the school’s academic standing. A big issue that remains, though, is keeping those teachers who are having a positive influence—and working around those who aren’t.

When that science teacher walked out on our first day at the school, Stuart Green ’16 went to the front of the classroom and began to draw on a white board, sketching  diagrams. He asked students to come to the board to point out the answers to his questions; some  were encouraged to recreate the diagrams that he had drawn and erased.  Slowly, the energy level rose. Hands were raised. Answers were shouted out. Collectively, the class was signalling what that one brave young woman had voiced earlier: they wanted to learn.

On our final day in South Carolina, the students held a talent show, an impressive display of wit and candor and enthusiasm. At the end of the show, our MAlt was called to the stage. The sixth, seventh, and eighth graders had prepared something for us, something we did not expect. Every Middlebury Mentor was presented with a white mailbox, each containing  individual notes from every one of the students we had interacted with during the week. The messages varied though shared a common theme of appreciation:

“Thank you for coming.”

“You helped me a lot through the week.”

“I calmed down because of you.”

“Thank you for making everyone laugh and for having a fun time with us.”

At that moment, it was hard to tell if we had made a greater impression on them, or them on us.

In Another County: One Week in America’s Natural Gas Mecca

On January 31, eleven Middlebury students—outfitted with cameras and field recorders—piled into a 15-passenger van and motored seven hours south to Bradford County, Pennsylvania, home to one of the most densely hydraulically fractured regions in the United States. Their week-long Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) Trip in Eastern Pennsylvania was structured as an opportunity to explore energy issues. It was a leap into the unfamiliar, an attempt to humanize the social, political, and environmental dimensions of natural gas extraction.

Two of the participants chronicled their experience.

The first thing we did when we rolled into Bradford County was scan the scenery for signs of hydraulic fracturing: the “frack” pads, the clear cuts of forest, the cesspools, the bulky rigs and power stations. Instead, we saw a community enduring what seemed to be the consequences of the natural gas industry’s “boom-bust” economy. We observed only vestiges of the gas companies: the occasional water truck, a frack pad, or pickup stained packed with pipeline, stained ink black. Landmen had already collected signatures from landowners’ to drill. Wells had been drilled, fracked, and re-fracked. For the lucky few, royalty checks, big or small, were streaming in. The traffic that accompanied the initial fracking boom had thinned. Local shops, hotels, and restaurants, once teeming with contractors, landscapers, and engineers, were emptied.

frack

One of the authors, Zane Anthony, standing at an abandoned fracking site in Pennsylvania

We wondered where everyone had gone. (To the next fracturing sites outside the Marcellus Shale border, we would learn—to North Dakota or Oklahoma where communities were being zoned and primed for drilling, fracking, and extraction.)

It seemed that everyone we encountered had a story. One resident we met was Carol French, a lifelong dairy farmer and Bradford County resident, who along with fellow dairy farmer Carolyn Knapp, founded Pennsylvania Landowner Group for Awareness and Solutions (PLGAS) in 2008. PLGAS provides a forum for community resistance to unjust business practices by the gas industries in the region.

Carol told us that she had never considered herself an activist type. Then, she leased her land to Chesapeake Oil Corporation. Drilling began on her property, and her water turned to gelatin. She and her livestock developed rashes all over their bodies. Her adult daughter became sick multiple times and ultimately moved out of town. Carol sells her milk to many corporations, but she no longer drinks it herself. She said her community was now fraught with environmental health risks as a result of the industry’s unregulated, unrestrained efforts to extract.

Later in the week, we visited the office of the Bradford County Planning Commission. They told us the fracking industry has funneled wealth into the area and enabled farmers to sustain the economic viability of their livelihoods. We asked them about Carol’s and Carolyn’s claims. They said water contamination as a result of hydrofracking was not a prevalent issue, insisting the industry is safe. PLGAS and the Planning Commission’s stances on natural gas issues were fundamentally divided. We were in a dual reality.

We also encountered middle ground. We met with a man at the county’s conservation agency who considered fracking one of the most effective farmland conservation efforts he had ever witnessed. In the county, many of the farmers are elderly, and a farmer’s retirement is his land. We were told that royalties from the industry have allowed many farmers to remain on their land into retirement. Without this option, the conservation agency’s representative told us, developers would have purchased the land, subdivided it, and built “McMansions.”He also noted that the industry has encouraged people to break their conservation easements with the agency to allow for more fracking and paid for the resulting fines. It is not yet understood how fracking has impacted the land and its resources, he said.

We also interviewed a couple who leased their 200 acres at the height of the boom and today earn substantial income from royalties. With this money, they installed a geothermal heating system on their property. Other families, they noted, leased early on for a fraction of the price of those who waited long enough for higher royalties, which has resulted in a substantial wealth gap previously unseen in the area.

On the last night of our trip, we worried that once we returned to  Middlebury our memories of this place would fade, that we would forget that our lives are so deeply rooted in energy consumption, consumption that affects communities like this one in complex and permanent ways. But this concern didn’t last long. We had traveled to a seemingly foreign  jurisdiction to see first-hand the environmental and societal impact of natural gas extraction; when we left, we were determined that our experience wouldn’t be left behind.

Zane Anthony ’16.5 is a biology major from Annapolis, Maryland. Sophie Vaughan ’17 is an environmental studies major from Oakland, California.

This is the first Dispatch in a three-part series chronically student-led Middlebury Alternative Break Trips.