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I am intrigued by the fact that Middlebury, like many colleges and universities, has several “centers” that serve as the headquarters for various academic, artistic, and extracurricular programs. We have the Mahaney Center for the Arts, the Rohatyn Center for International Affairs, the Donald Everett Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, the McCullough Student Center, the Franklin Environmental Center, Freeman International Center, the newly created Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, and—a personal favorite—the Fitness Center.  And I probably missed a couple.

Several years ago, in an effort to locate the geographical center of campus, the College did a survey and discovered that the center is located in the middle of College Street, in front of Forest Hall.  Consequently, whenever someone asked, “Where is the center of campus?,” we could gesture in the right direction.

Of course, that’s not what the question is really asking.  The inquiry is figurative in nature.  When we wonder where the center is, we want to know where the action is, where members of the community are most likely to see and be seen, where the heart of Middlebury may be found.

But the proliferation of named “centers” at Middlebury seems to imply that there is no single, true heart of the campus.  Rather, there are several hearts, each one representing a set of particular interests.  This is the postmodern view of academic life, a culture that lacks a common core and is tilted toward the relative nature of things.   In this world, everyone has their own center.

Now the conversation on this point could go in any number of directions, and get real abstract real fast.   And I suspect that many people would reject the decentered view of campus life, and point to the library, one of the dining halls, or some other favorite site where the true heart of Middlebury beats and bleeds blue.  To be sure, I am interested in hearing from people about whether they think Middlebury does have a genuine center, be it physical, metaphysical, or both.  But my own thoughts have drifted along other, more mundane tangents as we have worked to clarify budgets during these tough economic times.

One thing that has become clear is that we need to develop a process so that the various centers on campus—Rohatyn, Franklin, etc—can more effectively coordinate their activities.   A fair amount of collaboration (sometimes called “co-sponsorship”) already takes place, but formalizing those arrangements could pay additional benefits.  For instance, a coordinating committee that meets regularly to share information (and perhaps resources) could minimize calendar conflicts and reduce costs (fewer events!?).   Over time, this sort of coordination might also strengthen linkages between centers.  Add the Commons and MCAB to the mix, and those possibilities multiply, even if the planning becomes more complicated.

During the past decade, the amount of lectures, symposia, and performances has increased significantly and, as a result, Middlebury is a more interesting place.   With resources contracting, we should work to sustain these interests, but not lose sight of the golden mean that lies somewhere in the middle of campus.

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