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I want to take this opportunity to warmly welcome new and returning students to campus as I prepare to finish up my last semester at Middlebury to take on a new role as executive vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and executive vice provost at Rutgers University – Newark in January. Over the years, I have been heartened by the many connections and conversations I’ve had with Middlebury students, in person and through this blog. You have really kept me on my toes. Middlebury students are thoughtful, talented, and hard-working leaders from around the globe, and the Class of 2018 is not any different. As I stated during the Voices of the Class MiddView Orientation kick off, our community grows in richness and “flavor” with each new class of students and every new staff and faculty member. We couldn’t be happier to have you on campus.

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When I go to 51 Main, I feel as though I am close to a little piece of home (Brooklyn, New York) because I run into all types of people there. Not just students. Not just townspeople. But everyone imaginable. They are enjoying a shared interest, mingling, being together in the same place. Worlds collide there in a way that feels comfortable. But on campus, this sort of mingling does not occur as much as I would like, and I feel we are worse off for it.

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Today, my guest blogger is Jake Nonweiler ’14 who took time during a busy period to write about his decision to stay on campus instead of studying abroad. As always, we welcome your comments and thoughts. —Shirley M. Collado

Last semester, I decided to refuse the delicacies of the most gastronomically sophisticated country in the world and sprint every day to my 8 a.m. in BiHall with a protein bar in hand. When I abandoned my study abroad plans, I immediately realized how invaluable studying abroad would have been.

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Dear Readers,

Mike Schoenfeld graduated from Middlebury in 1973 and has worked for the College in many capacities over the years, including working extensively with alumni. As this month’s guest blogger, he offers a singular perspective on Middlebury’s impact on our lives.

—Shirley M. Collado

When I worked in the Admissions Office, I once encountered a family, in the Emma Willard parking lot, carrying a copy of the U.S. News and World Report with the latest rankings of the nation’s best colleges. I introduced myself and commented on the magazine they were holding, and they let me know that they were here to visit Middlebury because we ranked high on the list.

Maybe you looked at this list when you applied as well? Of course, the rankings are as much about you before you arrived here as they are about anything else—how many of you applied, how many of you were accepted, how many of you came, and what you scored on the SATs. Middlebury is now fourth on that list, in large part because of you.

A couple of weeks ago, U.S. News and World Report came out with a different list: the nation’s “Top 10 Most Loved Schools.” And there we were again—in fourth place. I must admit that I like this ranking, even though it is overly simplistic and contrived to help sell magazines. I like it because it is based on the percentage of Middlebury alumni who contribute to the College each year, and I work with all the staff and alumni volunteers who ask alumni for gifts. The fact that 60 percent of alumni make gifts annually is actually a pretty big deal—it is a good measure of how much our alumni appreciate the institution. Check out whom we are competing against for this honor.

Once again, this ranking is in large part about you. All of you seniors who contribute to the senior class gift will factor into our alumni participation rate this year because you will be alumni when the counting stops on June 30. Over the last several years, a greater percentage of Middlebury’s graduating class has contributed to the College than just about any other alumni class. This, too, ranks as a pretty big deal in my business.

But what really matters is how you rank Middlebury in your life. What does it mean to you now, and what will you do about it in the future? Over my 34 years of living and working at Middlebury, I have come to believe that we are part of something bigger than ourselves here. For everything we give to this place, we get more back in return. For me, that is a big deal, and I rank that pretty high.

—Mike Schoenfeld ’73
VP for College Advancement

The recent, very sad events at Rutgers University have lain heavily on my mind—and that of many others within our community.  For Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, the world should have been opening up with exciting, new possibilities; yet, soon after beginning college, he ended his own life.  He was beaten down by the unthinking cruelty of classmates and belittled publicly over the Internet.

This situation disturbs me because there are surely people among us, on our own campus, who need compassion and support. In fact, this could be any of us, given the right circumstances. But there is another aspect to Clementi’s experience that is alarming—the cavalier invasion of his privacy that seems to have become far too prevalent today.

Here at Middlebury, I hope we are taking stock of our own community, asking some tough questions: How do we, individually and collectively, look out for one another? How do we honor individual privacy and the right to exist in peace? What type of community do we wish to create and live in?

I sent the following letter to the campus last week. As always, I would welcome your thoughts.

Dear Members of the Middlebury Community,

Over the past month, there has been significant media coverage of homophobia-related suicides and deaths, bullying, and harassment among youth in the U.S., both teen and college age. It is saddening and has been weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of all of us here at Middlebury. Incidents like these affect us all, directly and indirectly, in a variety of ways. Any act of bias, hate, harassment, or violence has the capacity to diminish the quality of our lives personally and as a community.

Here at Middlebury, we continue to be committed to creating and maintaining a safe environment for all. We do not tolerate discriminatory behavior of any kind. We seek to encourage an inclusive, engaged, and welcoming community, in which everyone participates within an atmosphere of mutual respect. The College is fortunate to have an abundance of programs, centers, and resources that support diversity and community in many different ways.

If you have concerns or ideas related to the Middlebury community; how you fit in; issues related to disability, identity, campus climate, or respectful treatment; how we can help you explore and share your interests; or anything else that relates to our becoming a more open and engaged community, we’d like to hear from you. Our doors are open. Students may seek confidential support through your Commons deans and the Center for Counseling and Human Relations. Staff and faculty can find support through Human Resources and the Dean of the Faculty’s office. Students, faculty, and staff alike can seek assistance, as well, through the Human Relations Officer (HRO) and the Office of the Dean of the College and Chief Diversity Officer. The HRO provides support to anyone who suspects harassment.

I encourage each of us to consider what it means to be part of this community and recognize that we all play a part. There will be several events on campus over the course of the fall term connected to the awareness and education of issues facing LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty that we hope you will participate in. We believe that this kind of support enriches us as a community.

Sincerely,

Shirley M. Collado
Dean of the College
Chief
Diversity Officer

On Courage

Dear Readers,

I asked Karen Guttentag, as guest blogger this month, to share some of her views about the honor code.  She has more than fulfilled this request by sharing a story about honor and bravery. Here is her personal account of a specific act of courage. Read on. It might cause you to take stock.

—Shirley M. Collado

I’d like to see our community talk at least as much about Honor as we do about Code. I’d like to spend more time exploring the values at the root of our policies—honesty, integrity, and responsibility. Practicing these values involves holding ourselves to high standards and also requiring the same of others: to remain silent in the face of poor behavior is to tacitly condone it, an act that dishonors the observer as much as the actor.

There is no question that living up to these standards takes courage, a special kind of bravery that some people feel is beyond their grasp. But is it really? I think the health and growth of our community depend on this kind of courage. There is nothing more transforming than witnessing an act of integrity, and even the most unlikely of us is capable of it.

I know this because I’ve seen it. I was a junior in college, and it was the night before graduation. There was a bonfire on the quad, and we were 500+ students, many of whom had been drinking, all of whom were feeling a little restless and reckless. As the night wore on, the flames began to die down, and a group began to cast about for new bonfire fodder. Across the quad, someone spied Knowledge vs. the Elements.

As a public art installation, Knowledge vs. the Elements was uninspiring. It was a simple wooden tripod, about four feet tall, from which hung an enormous tome. The idea was that the whole business would endure the harsh elements of the extreme Minnesota weather until it rotted and ultimately disappeared, presumably reflecting a profound truth about the ephemeral nature of ideas. At the time of the bonfire, it had lasted for about two years, was starting to look a little moldy, and was widely acknowledged as an object of ridicule among the student body.

So when a group of students, led by one I’ll call Dustin, began chanting, “Burn the Book of Knowledge!” they found some traction in the crowd. A small group dragged the installation across the green, and raucous cheers went up as they tossed it into the bonfire. I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time. Although I’d like to think I wasn’t among the cheerers, I can’t be sure, and I do know I didn’t do or say anything that could remotely be construed as moral leadership. Much to my surprise, however, leadership came from a completely unlikely source.

No one would have pegged Vince as a champion of respect. A senior known for his prowess on the lacrosse field, he was a handsome party boy who had done more time than most answering to the dean for various behavioral issues and policy violations. But that night, Vince put us all to shame. Furiously shoving his way to the center of the crowd, he ripped the tripod from the bonfire and threw it onto the grass. “What are you doing?” he yelled. “That was someone’s art! What gives you the right to destroy someone else’s art?”

He was, of course, unassailably right, and in a moment, the energy of the crowd deflated, coated with shame. Dustin was mortified, transformed from hero to villain in an instant, and he stammered out a lame apology for an indefensible act: “I don’t know, dude, I just wasn’t thinking.”

Although Dustin was the specific target of Vince’s wrath, each of us knew that we were complicit in the event. Although we hadn’t burned the installation ourselves, none of us had had the courage to stop it. The next day, as they marched to their graduation, each senior passed the charred tripod, on which someone had hung a sign: “Vandalized June 7, 1989.”

A few years ago, as I explored the process of developing a community culture of integrity, I wrote to Vince about this incident. His thoughtful response included the following rumination:

“While I may have risen to that particular occasion, I also had a history of making some terrible, very uncourageous decisions, some of which affected our peer group. Most of my bad decisions were rooted in insecurity, fear, and total self-absorption, and I am naturally regretful of some of the things I did and said. I don’t know exactly why I bring this up . . . I think it may have something to do with viewing other people, or ourselves, as fallible but ever capable of courageous acts, no matter what we may have done in the past.”

Vince’s insight inspires me, and reminds me of the yet-untapped potential for honor in all of us. There is no moral pedigree required for committing an act of public integrity—only belief in a principle, and, in that particular moment, just enough courage to stand up for it.

What do you think of this sort of bravery? Have you ever risen to the occasion yourself or witnessed an act of public integrity? What was the impact on you, and on others? Have you ever wished you’d acted, but for some reason, did not?

—Karen Guttentag, Associate Dean of the College

On Leave

Yes, as the title indicates, I am on leave this spring term and therefore will not be posting to this blog as regularly as I have in the past—at least not for the next six months.  In fact, I was so focused on completing this or that administrative task during the last month that I had little to bring to this space.   I guess I left early.

By the way, a “leave” is pretty much the same thing as a “sabbatical,” though I am told that at some point Middlebury decided not to use that second term since doing so might imply that faculty were taking a break from work, as in resting on the sabbath.

So let it be known that I am not taking a break, that I am not a slacker, and that I will be spending my time away from campus engaged in meaningful work, namely a book project.   More on the last when I return to One Dean’s View . . . .

Year End Music

We are getting to that time of the year when media outlets start to post “best of” lists—best films of the year, best albums, and so forth. For instance, Metacritic, one of my favorite sites on the web has already posted its list of top-reviewed albums. I read these lists with great interest and a mixture of appreciation and chagrin.  It’s fun to see if any of my own favorites made these lists and I love to learn about new music, though I also feel overwhelmed by the amount of music out there and a little ignorant for not recognizing many of the titles.  But, hey, education is a continuing process . . . .

All of which is preliminary to a small list of albums that we—that is my friend and fellow deejay, Matt Jennings, and I—have enjoyed this year.  All these titles were released in 2009, and we encourage others to chip in with their favorites as well.

Tim’s suggestions:

  • Nick Lowe, Quiet Please, The New Best of Nick Lowe: Once a new-wave innovator and rockabilly king in the 70s and 80s, the Lowe is now making great music as a crooner and pop lounge singer.  His writing is witty and tuneful, and he seems to have aged only to become more hip (my fantasy, not his).  This is not a new offering, but a compilation disc and great chronicle of a very cool career.
  • The Doves, Kingdom of Rust: Like Lowe, the Doves are from the UK, specifically Manchester, the home of other great bands.  The Doves have been called a shoe-gazing act, committed to making layered, guitar driven progressive pop with an urban edge (think Radiohead).  Their latest is lush and accessible, not depressing at all—in fact, quite the opposite.
  • Bat For Lashes, Two Suns: Bat For Lashes is Natasha Khan, who was born in Pakistan and lives in England.   She’s got a mystical/gothic thing going, music that could be a soundtrack to The Hobbit, and a voice that, along with the rest of the package, makes her sound like a meeting of Kate Bush and Bjork (and that’s good).
  • Neko Case, Middle Cyclone: Neko Case was once best known as a member of the New Porngraphers, the excellent rock band based in Vancouver.  Her solo work, especially her last two albums, has changed all that.   Case sings across what seems like the alt/country range, but with a soaring voice, lyrics, and presence that take her out of this category.   Her songs occupy a kind of dream world—very much in the American grain—and when she performed at the Flynn this summer (a very good show) a surrealistic slide show played in the background.
  • Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, Death Won’t Send a Letter: I learned about Cory Chisel from deejaying at WRMC.   His most recent album was on the rotation list, and scored high marks as roots folk/rock, with nods to Tom Petty.   And that seems right to me.  I have been playing this one non-stop since I first heard it, and liking just about all of it.

I can’t end this post without saying something about Elbow, whose Seldom Seen Kid won the British Mercury award for best album of 2008.  Okay, that was last year, but from my perspective, it might as well be this year given how much I’ve been listening to it.  Check out their performance with the BBC orchestra on YouTube. Another great band from Manchester.

Matt’s suggestions

  • Ben Harper and Relentless 7, White Lies for Dark Times: THE BEST album of the year. Hands down. Brook no dispute. No mellow, acoustic Harper here. He lets it rip, and it’s great great stuff.
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Love it. Infectious (in a good way). Reminiscent of good indie music from the ‘80s, i.e. Hoodoo Gurus, Jesus and Mary Chain.
  • Matt & Kim, Grand: Had to let Brooklyn represent, and both Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective are overexposed.
  • Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: Indie pop. Take the obnoxiousness out of Vampire Weekend, take away the one-trick pony, and you have this album.
  • Neko Case, Middle Cyclone: The only overlap with my esteemed colleague. I can live with that.

In the Bedroom

I am kind of surprised that neither The Campus nor MiddBlog has commented on this story, but I think it’s worth a mention and it beats the heck out of reflecting (some more) on the CORE survey results.

The story concerns a new policy, now in place at Tufts, that “prohibits any sex act in a dorm room while one’s roommate is present.”  That’s a quotation from a story in The Tufts Daily, but other college newspapers have weighed in as well.  The Harvard Crimson condemned the policy earlier this week, and the Swarthmore Phoenix likewise expressed reservations. The policy has also prompted stories in US News and World Report and The New York Times.

Which leads me to wonder what Middlebury students make of this policy and whether they believe it would be a welcome addition to our campus.  Needless to say, comments are welcome.

The Accelerator Bowl

You’ve read the press release, and now you can see the drama.  Dean James Ralph holds aloft the crystal bowl the College was given for winning an ACE/Sloan accelerator grant to expand faculty career flexibility.

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