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At the  “We Are One” gathering on the National Mall yesterday, Barack Obama observed that “Only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now.”  President-elect Obama wasn’t referring only to the economic crisis—his administration confronts plenty of other problems—but the recession, like the Iraq war, has touched many Americans directly, and so it’s hard, given the turmoil of the last six months, not to think of the fiscal challenges first.

These challenges resonate broadly, and speak to our own efforts here at Middlebury to contain costs.  Though the comparison breaks down at the level of scale, certain ideas or themes join our efforts to the larger national challenge.  One of these themes is the notion of sacrifice: what are we willing to give up in order to uphold and sustain the College’s educational mission?

In answering this question, we must first address the basic question “what is central to our mission?”  This is easier said than done since the education we offer at Middlebury is a multi-faceted experience.  Academics are at the center of this education, but surrounding that core are the many other experiences that constitute the liberal arts—the arts, athletics, student orgs, social activities, and the list goes on.

So, given our need to make budget cuts and trim back programs, how should we determine what is critical to our mission and what is marginal?  What—and on this point, I would especially like to hear from students—are we willing to let go?

8 Responses to “Center or Periphery?”

  1. Tim – I’d recommend using a tool like what Ryan’s been doing to manage student input on the web resdesign: http://middblog.uservoice.com/ . Emphasizing that there are finite resources, and that prioritizing one thing means that something else has to go, will offer more meaningful input than asking everyone to brand something central or essential. And then you need to remember that some aspects of Middlebury are essential to a small number of people, and that might be worth more than something that is mildly useful to everyone.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A residential College is first and foremost a learning community. All communities are greatly enhanced by the sum of their parts. Deeming particular parts “more/less” essential followed with subsequent actions upon the “less” essential will certainly damage the community. There are some other “communities” in the local private sector who have reacted to the current situation as a community. These folks have agreed to progressive reductions in pay- so that they could remain a whole community. They concluded they were strongest by keeping all of their parts intact.

    When Mr. Obama speaks of shared sacrifice these are the folks who are actually embracing the message- If somehow everyone can take a bit less – that will keep the greatest number of folks working -paying mortgages-buying cars etc. (ensuring our graduates have jobs when they graduate), keep the tuition burden a bit lighter on our students, and best of all would allow Middlebury to focus on what it does best. Producing well prepared, well rounded graduates.

    We are in an economic cycle which will continue downward without bold actions- I believe we all must be cautious in our actions that not add to this negative downward momentum. If through shared sacrifice we are able to lose only 50 positions rather than the 100 and shout that message through our PR department- Middlebury again leads by doing the “right” thing.

  3. Annon says:

    Over a 208+ year history, this college has achieved its honored status in the higher education world.

    Over that same time, the college has faced economic ups and downturns. No serious person would suggest that when viewing economic good times with bad, Middlebury hasn’t steadily moved forward on average. Nothing in current times leads me to believe that the above formula is not still in place & valid. To paraphrase our previous President, “No one 4 year cycle should be allowed to unduly effect a 200 year old institution”

    Cut if you must, but at the same time show real harm certain to befall the “Center” were that “Periphery” maintained instead of cut.

  4. Friend says:

    Rumor has it that Al Sharpton’s appearance is costing $40,000. Sacrifice?

  5. Tim Spears says:

    Regarding the question posed by Friend about Al Sharpton:

    Mr. Sharpton is not receiving $40K for his lecture–the press reports were incorrect–but significantly less.

    It’s also important to point out that the financial support for this lecture comes a fund overseen by the MCAB Speakers Committee, and that the money in the fund derives from the student activities fee, which all students pay. The Speakers Committee likewise made the decision to bring Mr. Sharpton to campus. And, for those who are wondering, the College administration has no oversight authority for how students spend the activities fee.

  6. On Staff at Midd says:

    Al Sharpton is a drain on society! He has done nothing to better anyone but himself. It is a shame that we are putting people’s (our own) money into such a worthless person. Students why would you put money into such a worthless human being? Your parents worked hard for their money.. why waste it on filth like this? I’m sorry but nothing worthwhile comes from hearing this man speak! MCAB you would be better off throwing a kegger… the brain cells damaged would be less then listening to his rhetoric!!

  7. Molley K says:

    Mr. Spears,
    The above comment is amusing.

    To answer your question, though–
    Marginal:
    1)Having the mail center open on Saturday morning before any of us wake up. Unnecessary over time if you ask me.
    2)Having custodians clean 3 times a week. (especially since those cleanings don’t take place on Saturday and Sunday mornings)
    3)Having a full fleet of 15-, 7- and 4- passenger vehicles available 24/7 for any type of college-related event…are they ever used up to capacity?
    Public art displays
    3)The museum–I’ve ventured in there twice which, I think, is twice more than most college students.
    4)So many public safety officers. I can understand having 5 or 6 on staff on Friday and Saturday nights and during move in and move out. Otherwise there just aren’t that many parking citations to write.
    5)Free parking

    Central:
    1)SNOW PLOWERS
    2)Great professors
    3)Pub night
    4)Social spaces including 51 Main. How did the meeting go, by the way? I couldn’t attend, unfortunately.
    5)J-term workshops (not necessarily j-term courses…)
    6)Counseling center
    7)tech desk
    8)Inter Library Loan
    9)private music lessons
    10)the operator
    11)Hepburn zoo

    Thank you,
    Molley

  8. Molley K says:

    oops, I don’t know how to count.

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