For the eight or nine years I’ve been involved in administrative work, I’ve been struck by how passionately students feel about decision-making processes at Middlebury. Maybe because I had little or no interest in campus politics when I was in college, I’ve had difficulty understanding why students today get worked up by decisions that have been made without their consent. Maybe, too, because I attended a larger university, I failed to connect in a particularly personal way to the community around me. Or maybe I was just a slacker to begin with and then overly concerned with implementing my own agenda as a 40-something administrator. I don’t know. But I can say after almost a decade of working in student life—beginning with the development of the Commons system—that I’ve suffered the slings and arrows arrows of top-down administration and thereby come to a philosophical view of decision making and its relation to student culture. Which in turns brings me to this question . . . .
If top-down decision making is a thing to be avoided and condemned, then what does bottom-up decision making look like on a campus like ours? How would or should a good idea or policy develop, get discussed, and then be implemented?
For the sake of discussion, let’s say the idea in question is connected to alcohol use on campus. Let’s say more specifically that we all agree that something should be done to curb 1) extreme drinking; 2) the irresponsible, damaging behavior that often follows from such drinking. How should this problem be resolved? More to the point, what solutions might emerge from the student community that are not seen as coming from the powers that be?
Yes, I may have an agenda in framing the discussion in this way, but I am also trying to give this open-ended, philosophical question some focus. For inspiration, feel free to consult anything that President Liebowitz or I have posted on this subject. Or push off from the recent discussions on Midd Blog. Mostly, though, I am interested in hearing how students think this particular issue should be engaged and acted upon by their community.