We start the academic year with a new structure for Student Life and a new line-up of deans — in the Commons and in the Dean of the College office. I circulated an all-campus e-mail earlier this summer announcing these changes, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say we’re trying to integrate people and resources in such a way that we can more effectively support student life initiatives on this campus. In fact, one of my objectives in launching this blog is to communicate as openly as possible about critical issues in student life and how the administration is approaching them. I hope students will feel free to comment on these pages about their ideas and concerns so we can expand the conversation about campus life.
We begin the year for real on Wednesday with the arrival of 645 first-year students — about 40 more than expected, and the biggest class in College history. It’s great news that all these students want to come to Middlebury (our “yield” was two percentage points higher than it has ever been), though housing such a large group has been a challenge. As we have in the past when faced with enrollment pressures, we’ve converted lounges to bedrooms, allowed a few more seniors to live off campus, and pulled faculty rentals into the student housing pool. Six or seven years ago, we dealt with a similar housing crunch by purchasing the “mods” (a temporary solution, we thought). We didn’t have to go that far this time — no one is living at Bread Loaf — but returning students may be surprised and perhaps amused to know that a dozen first years are living in Prescott House. If anyone wants to know how we came to that arrangement, it’s because we are committed to housing first-year students together, and there was literally no other place on campus where we could do it.
A continuing question for all of us is how to improve student social life at Middlebury. This is a major issue, to which I will return in future posts. For now, though, I want to mention an exciting opportunity that surfaced over the summer. The College has leased the space downtown that was formerly occupied by the restaurant Eat Good Food (next door to the Alpine Shop), and we’ve held a couple of meetings to discuss how this venue might be used. Ryan Kellett has followed this development on Middblog, and the prevailing sentiment is that this space has great potential as a venue for music, dancing, and other sorts of performances. Just as importantly, it could be a place where the town and the College meet and collaborate on joint programs. We are currently working out the legal and financial aspects of this venture, which I expect will be clarified within the next couple weeks. More on that later.