The Most Valuable Legacy
Twelve colleagues retired from the faculty this past December as part of the College’s early retirement program offered to employees during the 2008–09 recession. Jessica and I hosted a dinner in honor of the retirees at Kirk Alumni Center on November 30th, and then the entire faculty had the opportunity do the same at the December faculty meeting one week later. Both events were extraordinary for reasons that reflect so well on our College and, over time, have helped to create an atmosphere that is hard to beat for a student’s undergraduate education.
The dinner, at which each of the retirees had with them a table of invited guests, numbered more than 100, and there was wonderful warmth to the atmosphere in the room. During the reception, colleagues who, over the years, had shared the same facility (Kirk Alumni Center) for countless faculty meetings—many of which included a number of testy and quintessentially “academic” exchanges—reminisced in groups that defied departmental affiliations and harkened back to a time when the faculty was small enough that everyone on the faculty knew one another, knew what they taught, and was familiar with each other’s area of scholarship or artistic endeavor. Roaming the room, prior to taking our seats, it was difficult to tell which honoree had invited which guests to the dinner, as the familiarity and comfort among all those at Kirk that evening was so genuine and undeniable. It would have indeed been a fun parlor game to see how well one could place those invited by each retiring colleague at the correct table.
As presidents often do on these occasions, I had the honor of “emceeing” the event. But because of my 26 years on the Middlebury faculty, the evening was no regular gig: I was unable to see these retiring colleagues only as employees who deserved to be recognized and thanked by the institution for all their years of service. I was a colleague of theirs for more than a quarter of a century, and I had deep and meaningful experiences with each and every one:
- the colleague who initiated and developed what is today the premier Chinese department among liberal arts colleges (John Berninghausen);
- the coach-mentor who won six national titles in women’s cross country, and who was as proud of the prodigious number of phi beta kappa graduates on his teams as he was of their titles (Terry Aldrich);
- the entrepreneur-faculty member, who, in addition to fixing clocks, raising sheep, and founding an institute that was deeply involved with the democratization of the former Soviet bloc, year after year challenged our students to draw upon their creative and innovative talents both inside and outside the classroom (Michael Claudon);
- the French professor who taught and administered in meticulous and supreme fashion in three parts of the College—in the undergraduate program (the French department), in our School in France, and in our summer intensive French School (Bethany Ladimer);
- the political scientist whose unbounded intellectual curiosity led him to develop and teach a wider range of courses than anyone else over the past four decades (David Rosenberg);
- the alumnus, Class of ’67, who founded the College’s counseling center and who, behind the scenes, and, because of the nature of his work, without much recognition, helped scores of students overcome personal challenges during their time at Middlebury (Gary Margolis);
- his classmate, roommate, and teammate (varsity basketball), who taught American literature and served as dean of students, dean of advising, and dean or faculty head of each of our five commons (Karl Lindholm);
- the artist who, in addition to his remarkably consistent, excellent studio teaching across more than three decades, taught as his final winter term course an innovative outdoor environmental-art class on site at a spectacular ranch near the four corners in southern Colorado (Eric Nelson);
- the gifted physicist who, because he was so committed to conveying the wonders of science to pre-college students, transformed our teacher education program by directing the program for five years in order to ensure better K–12 science teaching (Bob Prigo);
- the mathematician turned computer scientist who founded our computer science program and was instrumental in developing the annual Middlebury-Williams “green chicken” math competition (Bob Martin);
- the superb translator of Russian literature and texts and greatly admired teacher of Russian, who also served as dean of the Language Schools and Schools Abroad at a pivotal time in College’s pursuit of internationalizing its curriculum (Michael Katz);
- and the beloved teacher of Spanish language, literature, and culture, who also directed our School in Spain, taught in our Spanish Language School, served as vice president of the Language Schools, and was the intellectual inspiration to so many colleagues and students (Roberto Veguez).
Combined, these 12 colleagues accounted for 404 years of teaching and mentoring Middlebury students, and a good fraction of that time they also mentored faculty who began their careers after them, including me. It was easy to provide sincere words of thanks to each of them during the dinner; it was difficult to keep my comments brief or to avoid injecting them with personal recollections of each colleague as I remembered their contributions in my role as faculty colleague, dean of the faculty, provost, and now president.
The impact of their time at the College was, to put it mildly, enormous, yet a most important part of their legacy leaves me, as it should our alumni and current and future students, extremely grateful for their contributions and confident about the future of our College. In addition to how well these faculty educated generations of Middlebury students during the past 40 years, they also solidified and passed onto their colleagues a strong faculty culture that, without question, places our students and the institution at the center of their professional pursuits. Despite the rising demands and pressures on the professoriate within the academy, and the ramifications of specialization within academic disciplines, Middlebury faculty retain their unwavering commitment to undergraduate education and to educating our students in the tradition of the liberal arts. Such a commitment is not typical today, and I, indeed all of us, owe a great amount of gratitude to the 12 colleagues we recently honored for leaving such an invaluable legacy and gift to the College. We wish them all a long, satisfying, and happy retirement.