Tag Archives: Winter 2014

Liebowitz Presidency to End in 2015; Board to Restructure

Middlebury College President Ron Leibovitz at Mead ChapelMiddlebury President Ronald D. Liebowitz’s term as president will end June 30, 2015, when his current contract concludes.

Middlebury’s 16th president, who has served in the office since 2004, shared his news with the College community in an e-mail at the conclusion of the December Board of Trustees meeting in New York City.

“It has been an honor of the highest order to serve as the 16th president of this remarkable institution,” Liebowitz wrote. “With its dedicated and committed staff, superb faculty, and outstanding students, Middlebury has never been stronger or better positioned for the future.”

Liebowitz noted that the institution “will continue to pursue the ambitious agenda we have set for ourselves” through the presidential transition and beyond. He stated that announcing his own transition plan now would provide the Board of Trustees with “the time necessary to select a search committee, to conduct a thoughtful search to identify the finest candidates, and, ultimately, to select Middlebury’s next leader.”

In addition to announcing his decision, Liebowitz informed the community of another important initiative that will affect the way the College is governed—a bold revision of Middlebury’s trustee structure that will go into effect July 1, 2014. While the size of the 35-member board will remain the same, how it is organized and how it approaches its responsibilities will change. In its coverage of the announcement, online publication Inside Higher Ed noted that while “some things unique to Middlebury prompted the change . . . other changes could fix an American higher ed board structure that many administrators believe is broken and unable to guide institutions ably in the 21st century.”

Among the notable changes is a reduction of 15 standing committees to six, with each carrying a range of substantive responsibilities. (The six consist of the Prudential Committee, which acts as an executive committee of the board; Trusteeship and Governance; Strategy; Resources; Risk Management; and New Programs.) In addition, the new governance structure establishes three boards of overseers—one for the undergraduate college, one for the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and one for the “Schools,” which includes the Language Schools, Bread Loaf School of English, C.V. Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad, School of the Environment, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. These boards will be charged with focusing on the academic and student affairs operations of their respective institutions; membership will include current trustees, “partner” overseers (individuals who typically have some connection to Middlebury), and “constituent” overseers (one faculty, one staff member, and one student).

The governance changes come a year after Liebowitz and board chair Marna Whittington had initiated a review of the board’s structure and appointed a Governance Working Group to make recommendations on how the board should best be organized. These recommendations were subsequently turned into a set of proposed bylaw revisions that were unanimously approved by the full Board of Trustees in December.

For more on the changes in governance and what it means for Middlebury, please see Ron Liebowitz’s Q&A, “Board, Restructured.”


While there will be more opportunities—in this magazine and elsewhere—during the next 18 months to discuss the impact Ron Liebowitz has had on Middlebury, it’s worth noting several significant achievements at this time.

During his presidency, Middlebury acquired the Monterey Institute of International Studies; opened 23 new Schools Abroad sites; added 120 endowed student scholarships for financial aid and 15 endowed faculty positions; established the School of Hebrew—Middlebury’s 10th intensive summer language school—and the summer School of the Environment; sent two successful teams to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition; inaugurated the Franklin Environmental Center for the study of the environment and sustainability; created the Center for Social Entrepreneurship; and initiated an array of programs to help students acquire leadership and communication skills and to cultivate creativity and innovation.

For context, many of these accomplishments took place against the backdrop of a deep economic crisis that began in 2007. Liebowitz guided Middlebury through that recession while maintaining a balanced budget, sustaining the institution’s commitment to need-blind admissions, and without resorting to layoffs.

He will be missed. But not for another year and a half. As he will be the first to tell you, there is still a lot of work left to be done.

Old Chapel: Board, Restructured

'M' at workAt its December 2013 meeting, the Middlebury Board of Trustees unanimously approved revisions to its governance structure, which will go into effect July 1, 2014. We spoke to President Liebowitz about what it all means.

What led the Board of Trustees to decide to revise its governance structure?
There were many factors, but I think they fell into two categories: internal and external. Externally, the world has changed dramatically since Middlebury, and its board in particular, has had a chance to step back and review the way in which it governs itself. The business of higher education has become infinitely more complex. Colleges and universities today face an array of challenges, from important questions of cost and competitiveness to applications of technology and issues relating to the management of large endowments, just to name a few. These require strong governance structures.

Looking at Middlebury internally, we haven’t made many substantive changes to how we are organized and how we run things in the past 50 years. But in that time this traditional, small, residential liberal arts college has been transformed into something quite different. In the 1960s, we had 1,200 students; now we have 2,500. We had about 80 or 90 faculty; now we have almost 300.

Geographically, we were overwhelmingly a local, Vermont institution. The Bread Loaf campus was the farthest extension of the College, save for a small number of programs for our Language School graduate students in France, Spain, and Italy. Now we have operations in almost 40 sites around the world. One of those is a graduate school in Monterey, California, with almost 700 students.

These internal changes required us to step back and ask some critical questions: Is our board organized in the best way possible to know what it needs to know about this dynamic institution? And is it properly positioned to guide Middlebury through what many have said are likely to be turbulent times going forward? Our trustees carry the ultimate responsibility for the long-term well-being of the institution. Understanding this, it made sense to ask the fundamental question of whether our current board governance structure was helping the trustees be good fiduciaries of the institution.

We’re fortunate that we are undertaking these adjustments from a position of strength. The College has never been stronger, and it has a great future. But we can’t sit back and not engage in the broader issues affecting higher education. We thought now would be a good time to make this governance change.

Tell us about the process, how long it took …
The process began shortly after the College’s 2011 ten-year reaccreditation review. That was an important driver because the review highlighted just how complex Middlebury had become. And it noted that our governance structures in some cases hadn’t kept pace.

In the summer of 2012, I wrote a lengthy letter to the faculty, about the dual challenges of cost and relevance in higher education. I think that also played a role in the decision to move forward. Trustees began asking the question that so many outside the academy are asking: Why is higher education so expensive, and are students and families and supporters of our institutions getting all that they should for that type of investment? Are there ways to control those costs? The other key issue from that letter had to do with relevance.
Is a BA degree the same today as it was 200 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years ago? Or do we need to start thinking differently about higher education, especially within the context of the changing, more competitive global environment? Are our graduates getting an appropriate mix of theoretical and hands-on applications given the realities of their post-college lives?

The combination of the reaccreditation review and the letter to faculty led to a series of discussions, influenced by the impact of the 2007–10 recession. The vulnerability of even the most wealthy private educational institutions cannot be dismissed and certainly affected how we assess risk and how we think about governance. It was largely these issues that led Marna Whittington, our board chair, and me to engage the trustees on a process that would allow them to better understand—and engage more meaningfully—the emerging trends in higher education and the demands placed on Middlebury.

In these conversations, we thought about governance in many ways. We thought about faculty governance. We thought about trustee governance. We thought about broader institutional governance. We decided that it made sense to start with the Board of Trustees due to the role it plays as the fiduciary body of the institution. We engaged an educational consultant, well known in higher education and familiar with Middlebury, and together we created a process that would identify what we wanted to achieve and how we would go about achieving it. This led to the appointment in the fall of 2012 of a governance working group, which included veteran trustees, two faculty members, and two staff members. Marna and I laid out a charge for the group, which was to think broadly and long-term—and not to be afraid of bold change.

Two notable changes in the governance structure were paring the 15 standing committees down to six, while making them broader in scope, and creating three boards of overseers—one for the undergraduate college, one for the Monterey Institute, and one for the “Schools.” What will this mean for the individual trustees?
For many years, trustees have sat on anywhere from three to six committees, which forced us to divide up the available time into short blocks—about an hour and 15 minutes for each committee. That made it very hard to go deeply into a subject. That was a major deficiency of the old system.

The working group examined the current committees and their respective charges and reconfigured them into a smaller number of committees based on the overlap of their respective purviews. This will allow trustees to take deeper dives, to think about issues as they relate to one another rather than in isolation from one another, and to do so over a longer period of time, a three-hour block of time. The boards of overseers will work largely as program committees that relate to each of the major areas of the institution: the undergraduate college, the (graduate) Monterey Institute, and then all of the “Schools”—the Language Schools, Bread Loaf School of English, the Schools Abroad, the School of the Environment, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. And, I suspect, future endeavors we may pursue.

Each trustee will sit on one standing committee, which will meet for three hours in the morning, and one board of overseers, which will meet in the afternoon, also for three hours. What will it mean for these trustees? We expect the experience will be one of greater focus. Their committee work will probe more deeply into the issues and questions facing the institution. We know from our trustee surveys that this is what they want. They want to be more of a “doing board” rather than a “listening board.” They believe that by developing more expertise and a deeper understanding of the issues, they will be better fiduciaries for the institution.

What is the charge given to the overseers?
They will focus on curriculum and academic programs, the quality of the student experience, fundraising, and those unique characteristics and qualities that distinguish each of our programs. The College board of overseers will do this for the undergraduate College, which is the core of our identity as an institution. The Institute board will focus exclusively on those same issues as they pertain to Monterey. And so on.

The overseer boards will vary in size, but trustees will comprise a majority of each. The College board will have 18 sitting trustees, the Monterey Institute board will have 9, and the Schools board will have 8. And then every one, two, or three years, trustees will rotate from one board to another so that over a five-year term or even a 15-year or lifetime term, each trustee will become much better acquainted with each of our programs. In addition, each board will have “partner” overseers and “constituent” overseers. Partner overseers will be individuals who have particular expertise or who are invested in the institution in some meaningful way. Constituent overseers will be students, faculty, and staff who will bring their own unique perspective to the membership. Each board will have one student, one faculty, and one staff member as constituent members. The inclusion of non-trustees brings diversity of experience and expertise to these boards, which I think is crucial.

Overseers will make recommendations that will then flow into the appropriate committee on the standing side. If one has a proposal for staffing or for a new program, that would go from the overseer committee to a standing committee or to the full board. All board-level decisions will ultimately be made by the full board, after recommendations come from the board of overseers or from a standing committee.

The creation of the boards of overseers is really quite significant for the institution. Historically, trustees–most of whom attended Middlebury as undergraduates–have tended to focus their attention overwhelmingly on the undergraduate experience. The complexity of Middlebury today demands we broaden that focus. Fortunately, our trustees are eager to learn more about the Monterey Institute, the Language Schools, Bread Loaf, etc. They are eager to engage issues pertaining to these areas of Middlebury. That’s another great benefit of the new structure.

Road Taken: On Teaching

RoadTakenMy husband and I never dreamt we’d teach at Middlebury.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that we met as students. Rob Ackerman ’80 was in Spain on a junior-year abroad, and I was getting my master’s in Spanish. We met in a graduate theater class in Madrid.
Our homework was to see a play. Rob and I saw the play—and began seeing each other. This was in 1978. By 1990, we were married and had two daughters. In 2008, our second, Emme, applied early decision to Middlebury. One tense December morning, she leaned into her laptop and pressed in a code. She got in!

Two years later, Rob and I drove from Manhattan to Middlebury to hear her sing a cappella and to ski at the Snow Bowl. (Rob’s and my pre-nup agreement had been that I’d learn to ski. Why? Because if I skied, I might enjoy winter rather than hunkering down like a bear in a cave waiting for it to be over.)

January 2011, however, was brutal. After three freezing runs, I decided to warm up in the lodge. Rob kept skiing and met an alum, Sam Silver ’86, on a chairlift. Sam was teaching a J-term class and said it was incredibly hard, incredibly fun, and that his course on the death penalty ended with a mock trial at the Addison County Courthouse. When Sam learned that Rob and I are writers, he said we should think about teaching too.

Emme, Class of 2013.5, approved the idea, bless her. So we applied, sending in proposals and résumés. Rob would teach Writing American Theater; I would teach Writing First Person. When we heard back in June, it was the old-fashioned way: thick snail-mail envelopes. We got in!

Now we had to consider two important matters: (1) Who would take care of our cat? (2) How would we teach writing? Finding a cat-sitter proved easy, but preparing our syllabi took weeks. It was not easy to figure out how to squeeze everything we knew into just 16 seminars.
In November 2012, as I was sipping my coffee, I opened an e-mail: “I was really hoping to get into your J-term class,” it read.

“Unfortunately, somehow I was too late, even though I registered right at 7 am.”

Huh? I had a waitlist? I e-mailed Middlebury. Yes, 12 registered students, 14 hopefuls. Whoa. This was official.

Emme urged me to throw the classroom doors wide open. But I liked the idea of just a dozen Midd Kids discussing style and story, verbs and voice. We would read excerpts of memoirs, essays, and fiction, writing up a storm, and critiquing our pages together.

When I told Helen, who cleans our apartment each week, that Rob and I would be away in January, she asked,  “How will you teach writing?” I said that I’d give a prompt, the students would run with it, and we’d share the work aloud in a supportive atmosphere.

“A prompt?”

“If I say, for instance, ‘your grandmother’s hands,’ the kids might look perplexed, but then they’d start writing a mile a minute—for 10 minutes.”

Helen nodded. “My grandmother, in Trinidad, had one hand that was bigger and stronger than the other. She never went to school, but she delivered all the babies in our village. All of them! I was one of nine siblings. Once, I was playing with my sister, and my grandmother and mother were in the next room. Suddenly we heard a cry, and we knew we had another baby…”

“Wow,” I said. “You get an A.”

Rob and I had a great time teaching writing last January. Full disclosure: We did some skiing too.

Carol Weston, MA Spanish ’79 is the author of 13 books including Ava and Pip (Jabberwocky), Girltalk (HarperCollins), and The Diary of Melanie Martin (Random House). She has been the advice columnist at Girls’ Life since 1994.

Pursuits: Vision Quest

CurryDan Curry ’68 can realize anything—and by realize, I mean make, build, render into being. He can turn shampoo bottles into spaceships. He can cajole friends into modeling for a recreation of the Cherry Valley Massacre of November 11, 1778 (a bicentennial commission for a museum in Massachusetts). He can paint whole universes on a single canvas if the job calls for it—or a Christmas tableau, with chimney smoke and blinking lights, for a holiday episode of Laverne and Shirley.

When Curry—a veteran visual effects supervisor/producer with seven Emmys (out of 15 nominations) on his shelf and an arm belonging to Star Trek’s Borg Queen in his workshop at his home in Studio City, California—enrolled at Middlebury nearly half a century ago, he had “no idea” what he was going to do professionally. “There was a movie theater on our corner growing up, and I began drawing storyboards for imaginary movies before I knew what storyboards were,” says the Bellerose, New York, native. “When I played with toy soldiers, I wasn’t playing war—I was playing making movies about war.” When he saw The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad in 1958, “there was a little display in the lobby about how Ray Harryhausen did the effects, and I said, ‘I think I can do that.’”

Coming to Middlebury on scholarship, from a high school more accustomed to dealing with parole officers than admissions officers, “I didn’t realize how incredibly good it was,” Curry says. Chandler Potter, who taught production design for theater, was an important influence; and a Midd production of A Streetcar Named Desire “opened my eyes for what live theater can be—the settings were very abstract, but they were so right on for the tone of Tennessee Williams’s play.”

After Curry graduated with a fine arts major and a theater minor in 1968, he joined the Peace Corps. He built little farms and bridges on the banks of the Mekong, “which actually had a positive impact on people’s lives,” and designed a nearby marketplace. He experienced Thai village culture just as it had existed, unchanged for centuries, “before The Flintstones was dubbed into Thai,” he says.
Fast-forward a decade or so to graduate school at Humboldt State University, where Curry pursued an MFA in film and theater. A one-man show of his paintings caught the eye of visiting lecturer Marcia Lucas (an Oscar winner for editing then-husband George’s Star Wars). She referred Curry to Universal Studios, which was looking for artists who could do photo-realistic work in oils—“because in those days there were no computers”—so he moved to Los Angeles, joined the Illustrators and Matte Artists Union, and went to work on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica.

Jobs in visual effects and main title design occupied much of the 1980s, until Curry got a call from Paramount asking him to supervise visual effects for Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1989. “Who wouldn’t?” he says. Curry worked on the Star Trek franchise for the next 18 years (through Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise), eventually directing second-unit shoots and many fight sequences as well.

Then he spent a single year on Moonlight for CBS, four years on Chuck for NBC, and wrote a white paper for NASA as a member of its vision team. His latest project is a new series starring Gillian Anderson and Dermot Mulroney called Crisis, which is expected to premiere on NBC sometime after the Winter Olympics.

“Whether it’s designing a dam, or creating an oil painting, or figuring out shots for a movie, I look at it all as an extension of the same thing,” Curry says. “It’s a reaction to the phenomenon of life. And sometimes there’s greater truth in fiction than there is in reality. We are all at the center of our own imaginary universe.”

Dick Anderson is a writer in Los Angeles. He learned all about special effects through the pages of  Starlog magazine before there was an Internet.

Uncle Donnie Takes On the World

David "Donnie" Donaldson, skier


Skier David Donaldson ’13 takes a leap of faith, from the carnival circuit to the World Cup

The Georgian Peaks Club is a small ski area in Ontario, carved out of a section of the Niagara escarpment that runs along the south shore of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. A couple of hours northwest of downtown Toronto, Georgian Peaks has a modest vertical drop of 820 feet. Think of a ski area slightly smaller than the Middlebury College Snow Bowl (1,000 vertical), but with stunning lake views.

David Donaldson ’13, one of the best alpine skiers ever to compete for Middlebury, is a Toronto native and got his start skiing and racing at Georgian Peaks. His parents, Paul and Catherine Donaldson, and his older sister, Sarah, were regulars at the Peaks by the time David came along. His first stop was the day care program. That lasted till he was two and a half.

“I think I made such a fuss in the Peaks day care while my parents, my sister, and all the other kids were out skiing that they finally couldn’t put up with me anymore,” Donaldson said, “and they just let me go, even though I was probably too young to start. The ski areas are all pretty tiny, and you can just let kids go and ski as much as they want. So I was able to just go as fast as I wanted, and I guess I learned how to do that pretty well.”

Well enough to excel in junior racing, make it to the cusp of the Canadian national team, and become one of the most decorated college skiers ever. Now he’s taking on a new challenge: Jumping from NCAA competition straight to the World Cup, hoping to make Canada’s Olympic team for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. And he’s doing it mostly on his own.

Update: Uncle Donnie’s Dream on Hold

A talented athlete, Donaldson played soccer, hockey, golf, and baseball, all at a high level, in addition to skiing. “David played every sport full tilt,” says Catherine Donaldson. “In skiing, you couldn’t get him off the hill. The lifts closed at 4:00 or 4:30, and the kids would always take the last ride, and it would take them forever to come down. They’d go off in the woods, build their own jumps.” Sarah Donaldson Kennedy says it helped her brother to have “an older sister, and all her friends, that he needed to keep up with.”

After thousands of hours on snow at the Peaks, Donaldson rose through the ranks of junior skiers in Ontario. He’s now about 5′ 11” and 175 pounds; at 15 he was tiny, weighing maybe 85 pounds, when he began skiing in races sanctioned by the International Ski Federation, known by its French acronym, FIS. But he persevered—and grew—and soon was competing for a spot on the Canadian national team. He never quite cemented a place on the team, though, and after some frustrating seasons, he was ready to give up on skiing when an old friend from Ontario, Johnny Davidson, called to suggest he consider skiing on the NCAA circuit for the University of Vermont, where Davidson had skied and was then a coach. Two years at UVM ensued, including a fistful of carnival wins, two All-American awards, and an NCAA giant slalom championship.

He spent the next season again trying to make the Canadian team, during which his eligibility at UVM ran out. Then Stever Bartlett, head coach of the alpine ski team at Middlebury, reached out to Donaldson, offering him the opportunity to use his remaining college eligibility skiing for the Panthers. Because of NCAA rules, Donaldson couldn’t ski right away. “First, he had to spend a year in residence at Middlebury,” said Bartlett. “He couldn’t race in carnivals. But he hit the books, and he was out there every day, working with the other skiers. [Assistant alpine ski coach] Abby Copeland and I were floored: Here was a guy who couldn’t race; he could have been pissed off and grumpy. Instead, he pitched in and helped out. He showed some pretty good maturity.”

Katelyn Barclay ’15 was one of five first-year women on that year’s team. “We had a fairly young team, and Donnie was coming in at 25,” said Barclay. “At a place like Middlebury, you don’t usually see a 25-year-old athlete of Donnie’s caliber. . . . We all saw him as the ‘cool uncle’ . . . and we started calling him Uncle Donnie, and eventually the name really stuck around campus and then on the carnival circuit.”

When Donaldson did get a chance to ski for Middlebury, in the 2013 season, all he did was win six carnival races: five in GS, including the first four in a row, and one in slalom. He had a rough time in GS at the NCAAs, held at the Snow Bowl, but rallied to finish second in slalom, leading the men’s team to its second straight slalom title.

The biggest news for Donaldson came after the NCAAs were over. Based on his performance in Nor-Am Cup giant slalom races, he earned a starting spot in every World Cup GS for the 2013–14 season. That made some slightly amazing things at least theoretically possible: He could use his World Cup results to qualify for the Canadian team and perhaps even make the Olympic team for Sochi.

He spent the off-season getting ready, both in the gym and training on snow, in New Zealand and Chile.

His first-ever World Cup start came in Sölden, Austria, in October, and while he had a good first split, his day ended early when he skied out in the first run. In December, the World Cup circuit moved to Beaver Creek, Colorado.

Giant slalom day, December 8, on Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey course dawned cold, with enough snow coming down to cause a race postponement. Once things got going, the fireworks came early. U.S. Ski Team star Ted Ligety demolished the field, and teammate Bode Miller finished second.

For Donaldson, starting 48th in his first North American World Cup, the goal was to finish in the top 30, to qualify for the second run, which is where you can score World Cup points: 100 points to the winner, down to one point for the person who finishes 30th. But even with his parents, his sister, and his brother-in-law in the stands cheering him on, it didn’t happen. He had a good top split on the demanding Birds of Prey course, but he got late and low on a gate about halfway down the course. He finished—the first time he’d finished a run on the World Cup—but missed the second run by four-tenths of a second.

“I just had nothing left in the tank,” Donaldson said in the finish area. “I spent it all up top and got down here and just had to fight to get to the bottom. I felt like I had a good run going. But then I made a big mistake. I had no legs, and I just couldn’t get high enough. I lost my speed there and had no speed for the whole bottom section.”

The day after Beaver Creek, Donaldson was on a plane for Europe and the iron of the World Cup schedule. He competed in GS on the tough track at Val d’Isère, France, known to racers, for good reason, as Val Despair. He didn’t finish the first run. Then it was on to Alta Badia, Italy, one of the most storied GS hills in the world, where he again was a first-run DNF.

The rough start illustrates why skiers rarely jump to the World Cup from college racing. World Cup courses are much tougher, half again as long, with surfaces that are often snow in name only. Race organizers firm up courses by injecting water into the surface or by tilling the snow and hosing it down. It’s not quite skating-rink hard, but close.

And for Donaldson, there is also the matter of tackling the World Cup on his own. Catherine Donaldson says her son “has been his own coach for a long time. He had a brief cup of coffee with the Canadian team. But otherwise he’s had to do it all on his own. He sets up his own trips, rents his own car, works on his own skis.” He does connect with the Canadian team at World Cup sites, but he’s otherwise a one-man band.

Forest Carey ’00 also came to college ski racing after chasing World Cup success. A three-time All-American and later head alpine coach for the Panthers, he’s now head coach of what’s called the World Cup multi- group for the U.S. Ski Team. His charges are Ligety and Miller, arguably the two best skiers in the history of the U.S. men’s team. “It’s cool to see David coming from college to earn a World Cup spot on his own,” Carey said. “He’s got eight starts on the World Cup that no one can take away from him. That being said, the challenge is enormous. The Nor-Am circuit is a good one, but it’s all in the comfort of North America. The courses are shorter and not typically prepared with water; you don’t get the gnarly conditions that you find regularly on the World Cup.”

Carey pointed out the importance of equipment at this level. “He’s probably preparing his own skis, and that adds a lot to the burden. And he’s having to ski on new equipment,” thanks to some FIS rule changes governing World Cup GS skis, making them longer and thinner, with less sidecut. “The guys on the World Cup have it pretty well sorted out. They’re skiing as well now on the new stuff as they did on the old skis. Donnie will still be getting used to them. With all that, and having to deal with his own finances, it’s just a huge challenge. To be ranked in the top 30 on the World Cup at the end of the year would be a huge success.”

Those who know him best will tell you that Donaldson is nothing if not persistent. Which is why he’s determined to come back and finish up the courses he needs to get his Middlebury degree. But first, there’s the matter of chasing the dream that began at Georgian Peaks almost 25 years ago.

Kip Harrington, head coach of the Canadian development team, has coached Donaldson and known him for years. If Uncle Donnie’s quest seems at times quixotic, Harrington reminds us that Donaldson, once just a skinny kid, “has been a little bit behind the curve all the way along. But he’s always gotten there eventually.”

Tim Etchells ’74 is a freelance writer in Ferrisburgh, Vermont. In the winter months he’s more likely to be found on the ski slopes—either at the Snow Bowl or at ski racing events near and far, covering the sport for national magazines.

Update: Uncle Donnie’s Dream On Hold

David "Donnie" Donaldson, skierDavid Donaldson’s pursuit of a spot on the Canadian team for the Sochi Games (“Uncle Donnie Takes On the World” ) came to sudden and painful end in Val d’Isere, France, on January 21.

In a super G (short for super giant slalom, which is, speed-wise, just short of a downhill race) at Val d’Isere, Donaldson, Class of ’13, had made a few mistakes at the top, but was determined to finish the race, to learn more about the hill in advance of another race the next day. He actually thought he skied the bottom of the course pretty well, and was four turns from the finish when, well, we’ll let him tell you the rest, in an excerpt from his blog at theuncledonnie.com:

“The turn was in the dark, hidden from the sun by the peak of Val d’Isere that was now above and behind me. My right ski broke away and I began to fall inside. Instinct and reaction made me fight for it immediately. My left ski took the load. Still carving on my inside ski and having lost my outside ski I was forced into a pretty deep squat and was also twisting away into what might have turned into a pretty nasty high-side (fall) into some A-netting. Fortunately, I held. My left ski with my ankle and knee driving into the turn held on the ice and I began to come up out of the squat and into my tuck. I even began to roll the left ankle and knee over in preparation to attack the top of the next turn. For three ski lengths. The bottom of one turn, transition, and the very hint of the top of the next turn … I felt and heard the grind. Like tin foil being crushed and scraped against itself. And for the briefest of moments. Enough time for just a thought to cross my mind, I said to myself. ‘Holy —-, I just about tore my knee!’ And just as that thought crossed my mind I heard it and felt it. It felt like an explosion in my knee. POP!”

Donaldson traveled home from France the next day, and has been doing physical therapy ever since, to get his leg as strong as possible heading into surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee. He had the operation on February 20, and is doing his recovery in Collingwood, Ontario, north of Toronto, which is where he grew up skiing at Georgian Peaks. He’ll get back to physio again after the mandatory five days of no activity.

And then decide what’s next.

The Call of the Wild

Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery '14, Katherine McFarren '14, and Alexander Cort '14 (L-R)

Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery ’14, Katherine McFarren ’14, and Alexander Cort ’14 (L-R)

What does it mean to be a Middlebury student—and a dedicated hunter?

At 5:15 am on opening weekend of Vermont’s rifle deer-hunting season, the Mobil Short Stop at the corner of Commerce Street and State Route 116 in Hinesburg is the province of pickup trucks and bearded, camo-clad guys buying coffee from Joanne, the affable cashier who wishes the hunters good luck.

Then there’s John Montgomery ’14, who has a monogrammed bag in the back of his Suburban with Texas plates. A varsity lacrosse player and an international politics and economics major, he already has a job lined up in energy-investment banking in Houston.

But right now, Montgomery is after something even more elusive than gainful employment after graduation: a 12-point buck that’s been seen wandering through a marshy meadow not far from this Mobil station.

Yes, Montgomery is a serious hunter. And he’s not alone at Middlebury. In little pockets around campus, students and faculty members are waking up in the dark to pull on orange caps, load up rifles, and pursue wild animals.

Some, like Montgomery, have been doing this their entire lives; others have picked up hunting as first-years because it’s the most sustainable way to consume meat at Middlebury. They are part of a massive rebound in hunting culture across the United States—according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife-related outdoor recreation jumped “dramatically” from 2006 to 2011, with nearly 14 million people now hunting.

And in Vermont, the state’s laws are some of the most hunter friendly in the nation, explains Pat Berry ’91, the Commissioner of Vermont Fish and Wildlife. “Vermont is founded on the theme of the commons, which is that, yes, land is owned by individuals, but there’s a sense of community and shared ethics around communal land use,” says Berry. He points to Lake Champlain, the Green Mountain National Forest, and the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area as rich hunting resources in close proximity to the College.

Today, hunters spend nearly $300 million in the state, which ranges first among the lower 48 states in wildlife-related recreation rates. Just witness Governor Peter Shumlin grinning over the six-point, 186-pound buck he bagged in East Montpelier in November.

Greg Buckles, the Middlebury dean of admissions and longtime hunting and fishing guide, says that when he arrived in the community from Ohio in 2008, he was pleasantly surprised to find how much of an ethical and responsible hunting culture existed at Middlebury. “It’s a low-key, natural way of life,” says Buckles. “Many more people than I ever could have expected hunted. I’d not seen that before in my 30 years in education, where a progressive, academic community coexisted peacefully with a hunting lifestyle.”

Self-reliant, committed—and culinary wizards with game—College hunters just may be part of the most ecologically minded and coolest (if most socially complicated) unofficial club at Middlebury. It’s one that has fostered friendships with the greater Vermont community and one that teaches lifelong skills about hard work—respect, mortality, time management, and discovering joy and gratitude.

“Everybody goes and hikes Snake Mountain,” says Montgomery of his non-hunting fellow students. But it’s another level of commitment to get up “at 3 am to go duck hunting when it’s 20 degrees out—and then go to class.”

But there’s that social complication, one that can push back against the hunting lifestyle that Buckles describes that has existed at the College for generations.

“I think that there are some really misguided perceptions among people who are not from a rural setting and simply don’t understand hunting and have prejudged it,” says Berry. (While all of the students interviewed for this story were comfortable speaking about their hunting experiences, not all faculty and staff were. One longtime hunter asked not to be identified and spoke of hunting companions who wish “to stay fairly closeted, if you will, for fear of push back from colleagues.”)

This troubles Berry. “Hunters play a critical role in wildlife conservation management; there’s a tremendous ecological value,” he explains. “I think people misunderstand the hunting culture, which is easy to do if you ever turn on any of the hunting shows. Hunting is one of the safest activities; there are fewer incidents of accidents with hunting as a sport than most outdoor activities.”

Hunter-safety education is a prerequisite for a Vermont hunting license, and hunters such as Montgomery and Alex Cort ’14, who grew up practicing target sports while at summer camp in North Carolina, have years of experience under their belt. Those students new to hunting describe an intensive learning experience—state-sanctioned classroom and field-study courses must be completed before being issued a hunting license. Hunting rifles, shotguns, knives, bows, and archery supplies must be registered with the College’s Department of Public Safety and either stored there or at an off-campus facility.

“Some people might look at you like you’re doing something bad, but there’s not too many of those,” says Montgomery. “The majority think it’s neat or cool; they just don’t understand it.”

Cort recalls a time when he returned to his suite with four dead geese in plastic garbage bags, and the reaction from his roommates was “wow, that’s a lot of dead birds.” Most of his friends are on board with his hunting, he says, though he also takes pride in how his extracurricular activity can set him apart and allows him to interact with non-Middlebury students.