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Category Archive for 'Social life'

I don’t know how many times one can revisit a topic before it collapses under the weight of words, but today’s announcement by President Liebowitz that accepted the Budget Oversight Committee’s recommendation that 51 Main continue—under significant qualifications—has brought me back to this subject one last time.  I believe strongly in the mission of 51 Main and think the campus and town need the kind of cosmopolitan atmosphere that the venue is trying to foster.  Yet “need” is a relative concept that finally has to be measured by the number of people, especially students, who choose go to 51 Main for food, conversation, drinks, entertainment, or whatever.  So vision must now yield to reality.

I’ve included a copy of President Liebowitz’s email to the community below, and can say as a member of BOC that this outcome was the result of intensive discussion and compromise.  For a number of reasons, 51 Main has become a lightning rod for the current fiscal situation, town/gown relations, administrative initiatives, and student social life.  This convergence of factors makes 51 Main a worthy topic for anyone interested in the cultural politics of small-town life and academia.  But most importantly, 51 Main is now in the hands of the people who are meant to enjoy it.   I look forward to following its progress.


To the Middlebury campus community,

The Budget Oversight Committee (BOC) has recommended to keep the student activity space at 51 Main Street open until we review its operation again in December of this year, and I have accepted its recommendation.

The BOC proposal requires that 51 Main demonstrate that it has a viable business plan and can operate without a subsidy from the College.  In addition, under this plan, 51 Main needs to record two consecutive months of profitability between now and December.  If it is not able to meet this goal, the College will close 51 Main.

Toward that end, 51 Main will extend its operating hours and begin advertising immediately, which is why I am announcing this decision now instead of waiting until the next round of BOC recommendations are completed.

51 Main has proven itself to be a valuable social alternative for a mix of students, faculty, staff, and townspeople.  It is funded by a donor who specifically wishes to support social life at Middlebury, and with this support, giving the project more time to prove itself seems worthwhile.


What Have We Learned?

This week marks the anniversary of Nick Garza’s disappearance, and the beginning of the almost four-month search that led in May to the discovery that Nick (class of 2011) died during the February break, after apparently walking off from campus and falling into Otter Creek.

We have mourned Nick’s passing, and struggled to understand how such a vital, promising young person could be here one day and gone the next.

And as our community has grieved, we have moved on to a critical follow-up question: what did we learn from Nick’s death?

There are many possible answers to this question, so I will begin with a few and hope that others chime in with their own.

  • We learned how fragile life is and how quickly it can be taken away, despite the resiliency of youth and the safety of Middlebury College.  We learned that we should not take our well being for granted.
  • We learned that northern New England winters are not to be taken lightly, that we must respect the elements when we traverse the campus and the landscape beyond, especially after dark.
  • Finally, we learned—or, more accurately, we were reminded—that use of alcohol can lead to tragic consequences.  This truth, so brutal in its impact, remains the hardest to engage.

But, of course, we can’t evade this last point, and in fact we—and here I speak as an administrator—have not ignored it.   The President’s baccalaureate speech last May, the conversations that we hosted with student leaders in the Old Chapel board room this fall, and the proposed changes in alcohol policy recently discussed in Community Council are all aimed at increasing the sense of accountability and responsibility that students feel for one another.  For this is the most important lesson of all: in order to deal effectively with dangerous alcohol use and to develop a more successful social life, students must be willing and able to watch out for one another and care for each other.   To follow up on this lesson, the administration will therefore convene a task force of students—chosen from all parts of campus life—to develop a peer-to-peer leadership program that addresses drinking and irresponsible behavior under terms that students can accept as their own.

If not this and if not now, then what have we really learned?

51 Main has been open since last May, providing a social alternative for a mix of students, faculty, staff, and townspeople. The venue is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights for drinks, food, and entertainment. Recently they’ve begun to host special events on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This Tuesday, for instance, President Emeritus John McCardell gave a presentation on the drinking age.

51 Main appears to be filling a niche, but given the current fiscal situation, the establishment may be a program that the College should reassess. Although revenues are on the rise, the establishment does operate at a deficit, which is covered by a gift that the College received from a donor. The gift is restricted, which in this case means that the funds must be used to support student social life. On this point, it’s worth noting that the idea for 51 Main—and the occasion for the gift—came from an all-student task force that spent much of the 2006-2007 year brainstorming ways to improve social life on campus. So the funding for the venue is targeted. However, we could go back to the donor, and ask that he redefine the terms of the gift so that it can be used for other purposes. If we were able to redirect the gift, the money would then be put toward general budget relief.

President Liebowitz and I are willing to pursue this option, but not without first hearing from students. Is 51 Main succeeding? Should the College support its continued development?

We want to use this blog as a forum for soliciting student input on this matter. So offer your comments—anonymously, if you like—and please let us know what you think. Is 51 Main is worth keeping?

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.

Fire away.

51 Main has had a rollicking summer! Many wonderful musicians have performed, a new chef came on board and is cooking up great desserts and light refreshments, and townspeople as well as tourists have been coming to enjoy the experience. We had a “grand opening” for the town on July 12th that included music from the Alex Levin jazz trio, a group in residence at the Bread Loaf School of English, as well as a set by Atlantic Crossing—the place was packed! The language school students also used the space for Japanese Karaoke, Italian pop-opera, a Hebrew sing along and readings in Arabic and Spanish. While these evenings were performed in-language, townspeople came and enjoyed.
Old Stone Mill is also beginning to take shape. The call for students to participate in the “review board” brought a response of over sixty applications. Six students were selected, and they will serve with three faculty/staff to review requests for space, to oversee the programs, and to promote the building as a place to develop creative and innovative projects. Applications for reserving the spaces will be sent out within the next few weeks. On September 7th, between 2 and 4 PM, Old Stone Mill will have an open house with dessert samples from 51 Main. All are welcome.

Barbara Doyle-Wilch, Director of Cultural Activities, and Liz Robinson ’84, Director of the Innovation and Creativity Project, share an office on the top floor of the Old Stone Mill building. They invite students, faculty and staff and community members to either email them at oldstonemill@middlebury.edu to arrange a tour, or just drop by and check out the space!

Looking Ahead

Ever since Commencement I’ve been meaning to close out the year with some comments about the past eight months at Middlebury and some thoughts about what’s in store for next year. Rather than repeat what I’ve already covered in other posts, I will try to distill these thoughts into an agenda that we are likely to pursue next year.

  • Alcohol: This is a perennial topic on college campuses, and President Liebowitz gave it special attention in his baccalaureate speech at Commencement. The critical issue here is not whether students should or shouldn’t drink, but how we as a community address the irresponsible behavior that frequently comes with extreme drinking, and reaching agreement on the role of each individual in setting the standards of behavior for our community. This subject needs to move off the blogs (mine included) and become a topic of discussion on campus.
  • Self-governance and collective responsibility: I’ve been a broken record on this matter, but the subject encompasses so many of the challenges that arise on our campus that it is hard not to return to it. As one of my colleagues put it, we need to think “creatively and deliberatively about what friendship and loyalty and mutual responsibility mean in the context of a residential college. Only in those broader conversations (about community) will we be able to address alcohol issues (along with sexual assault, homophobia, and other campus problems).” Look for these themes to guide campus discussions, beginning next fall.
  • Social life and creativity: The two concepts are connected, or they should be, especially as we continue to develop additional venues in downtown Middlebury for student social life and artistic expression. By the end of the summer, Middlebury students will get an email about how they can get involved (and why they should care) about three interrelated projects: 51 Main, the Mill, and the Town Hall Theater.
  • 4/2 Commons: The top item on next year’s to-do list is probably the development of a sophomore year program in the Commons. But as the Commons sifts into quasi separate realms for first years and sophomores on the one hand, and juniors and seniors on the other, we will need to sort out the implications of these changes for Commons councils.

As the date on this post suggests, I will be blogging less frequently during the next couple months but plan to return to weekly reports once the academic year begins. In the meantime, I wish everyone a relaxing and productive summer.

The pics below give you an idea of what this venue now looks like (for additional detail on the program, see my earlier posts). But the best way to experience the place is to vist.

During the next two weeks, we will be open

  • Saturday, May 10: 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Live music from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, May 15-17: 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Music to be determined.

Front window

A Closer View of the Rear Corner

Looking Toward the Back

Looking Toward the Bar

51 Main Opens

The downtown venue once occupied by Eat Good Food is set to open as a bar/lounge, with the rest of the program to roll out more gradually.

On Friday, April 25, we’re holding an open house from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. for community members to preview the space and share ideas. Light refreshments (coffee, juice, and cookies) will be served.

The next weekend, we will begin a series of “soft openings,” listed below:

  • Friday, May 2: 6:00-10:00 p.m.: musical performance starting at 7:00; beer, wine and food available.
  • Saturday, May 10: 5:00-1:00 a.m.: full service, with live music
  • Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, May 15-17: regular service.

51 Main is located next to the bridge on Main Street, just down from the Alpine Shop. All are welcome!

Update on 51 Main

Given my earlier posting on plans to establish a social venue downtown in the space formerly occupied by Eat Good Food, I figure it’s time for an update.

First of all, I admit that as much as I have enjoyed working on this project, I did not fully appreciate the amount of time it takes to get an enterprise like this up and running. To get it all right—program, staffing, and physical space—is not an overnight job, especially when amateurs such as myself are involved (albeit very enthusiastically). Anyway, this is where we are:

We intend to open by the end of April, and hope to hold at least one open house in advance of our official opening. When we do open, we will open as a bar-lounge operating on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. As we get established, we will roll out the other parts of the programs—town/gown collaboration on weekday afternoons, and chocolate bar functions in the morning.

We have been working with a designer to decorate and furnish the space with bistro tables toward the front, and soft seating in back. We’ve also ordered some heavy drapes (burgundy, in a kind of Henry the VIII style) for the windows, and several very cool light fixtures (large globes) that will hang from the ceiling. Imagine a large living room and you get the concept.

We’ve also posted ads to hire staff. If you are interested in a job—and it would be great to staff the place with students—you can follow up on the Human Resources web site.

We will soon be convening our program committee to plan for the opening. If you’d like to get involved, please drop me a line.

With regard to the name of the place . . . I did say we would award a prize to the person who came up with the best name for the venue. And, after much serious cogitation, well, I think we should stick with 51 Main. So whoever suggested that name in his/her February comments, please get in touch with me. I owe you some chocolate.

And did I say 51 Main will be groovy and sexy? Oh yeah, baby. Even the CAMPUS thinks so.

Consider the following account, written by a staff member in Dining Services, which appeared in one of the incident reports that Public Safety filed this weekend:

Saturday night in Ross dining hall I witnessed several intoxicated students. I saw one student taking a whole bottle of half and half and asked him why he was taking a whole bottle and he rudely told me that it was for making drinks and walked away from me. Three students started wrestling in the middle of the floor right after we had opened and I had to ask them to break it up. One student fell out of his chair while eating. Another approached me at the pizza station and told me that he was too drunk to eat and that the pizza he was getting was for another student that was too drunk to get his own food. We had several broken dishes due to students dropping them throughout the night. At about 5:45 there were two tables of intoxicated students throwing food across the dining hall; when I approached them they denied throwing any food although I saw them do it. At about 6:30 a student entered the dining hall with his pockets full, so I watched where he sat down and a few minutes later had to ask him and his friends to leave the dining hall because they were shot gunning beers at their table. By the end of the night we had collected about 12-15 beer cans from the dining hall and off of the tray return area as well as an empty fifth of vodka. At the end of the night the dining hall was a disaster. There was food all over the place, dirty dishes, broken dishes and empty beer cans everywhere. Overall the students were very loud and disrespectful and many of them smelled very strongly of alcohol.

I’ve argued on this blog that our campus suffers when responsible drinking disappears from civic spaces (see What’s In A Beer). But something worse happens when alcohol generates the kind of conduct described here: we lose our capacity to imagine a better, more fulfilling social life.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Ross dining hall is a licensed facility—like a bar or restaurant—which means that these students violated Vermont law (as well as College policy) by bringing alcohol into the space. Ironically, the College acquired a liquor license for the dining hall so that alcohol could be more easily (and responsibly) served at Ross social events.

Saturday night’s episode is outrageous in several ways. Have these students no regard for anyone but themselves? How could Middlebury students be so disrespectful of staff? And the obvious question: what does this example of collective intoxication tell us about drinking habits on this campus?

When considered alongside other examples of excessive drinking, this incident suggests that it’s time for our community to have a sustained conversation about the use and abuse of alcohol. I would like to know from readers what might the best way to approach this discussion. How can we make a difference?

Your comments?

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