Beyond Aunt Des

I have been away too long from this blog, but with the renewed energy brought to campus by the arrival of the “Febs’ (class of 2014.5) two days ago, it is time to start posting again.

I was going to write on the goings and comings of Febs—the class of 2010.5, which celebrated its graduation this past Saturday in a terrific ceremony, capped by the traditional ski down in robes at the Snow Bowl, and the new Febs, the class of 2014.5, which arrived two days ago, in the middle of a snowstorm—but decided to save that and some thoughts on the Feb program for a later post.

Instead, given all the attention Aunt Des has garnered in recent weeks (a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Ed and in several Vermont newspapers), I thought I would use the occasion to follow up on the pointed criticism that has come from the very reason this never-known-before relative has shown up on campus—missing dishes—-and seek some student input and opinion on how to address this issue with some renewed sense of urgency.

MiddBlog’s recent post underscores the issue, which, to the outsider, is quite easy to solve: 1) provide environmentally sensitive “take out” containers for students with schedules that do not allow them to sit down and have a meal; or 2) bring checkers/monitors back to the dining halls.

I am very interested in hearing from students about this issue and some solutions, as many students have reached the point of recognizing that Aunt Des, as wonderful as it is to have her on campus, will not change the student “dish culture” and it is time to do much more.  Many of my administrative colleagues share this view.

I have linked a past post on dining at Middlebury (pre-Aunt Des) to remind readers of the complexities and popularity of our current meal plan system, which relates quite directly to how we might deal with the dish issue most effectively.  I suggest readers review the comments to get the full picture of student views on this issue.  Suggestions welcome.


I understand that the student’s handbook includes a rule that no food is to be taken from the dining halls. The fact that this rule is violated gives evidence of a lack of respect on the part of a few students and a lack of discipline on the part of the college. When I was a student during the tenure of President Paul Dwight Moody, discipline was strict and infractions were dealt with promptly. This policy strengthens student character and enhances respect for leadership.

Lauren Singer Waite

Lauren Singer Waite’s avatar

I am a ’74 and my youngest daughter graduates this May. My other two children and son-in-law also went to Midd (05, 05 and 08). I have heard rumblings about the possible end to the unique Midd dining plan and would like to add my strong support to the current plan in which all students have the same access to meals and visiting friends can eat as guests with no charge.

I have many times remembered something President McCardell said to parents, other family members and friends on a lovely September day in 2001 as we gathered in a big tent behind Battell the day we left our sons and daughters to begin their Middlebury education. He told us (apologies to Dr. McCardell, if I have paraphrased poorly) that while classes were certainly important at Middlebury College, education at Midd was 24/7 with valuable and important education extending beyond lectures, reading, and class discussions, to the dining halls, playing fields, dorms et al. In the early 70s, when all of us lived and ate on campus and there were no 7, 14 or 21/week meal plans, the socializing, community building, and learning opportunities that were afforded b/c of the meal plan, or rather lack of meal plan/s, was significant. I have since observed the same opportunities for my three children. “Checking in” at the dining hall door will take a lot away from the community that the college has worked so hard to build. Being able to have a visiting friend share a meal, stopping at a dining hall to have a cup of tea with a friend who is eating early and then eating lunch later with another group, and treating all students the same so that no one is making difficult decisions to sign up/pay for 1, 2, or 3 meals/day, all play into an unusual and incredibly successful learning environment. As far as financial considerations, clearly the “missing dishes” situation needs resolution, but I urge you to find a way to solve that problem without taking away from what has worked so well at Midd.

In 2004, my oldest daughter was involved in a volunteer project in a Crown Point, NY, school. She was not on campus during lunch, but was able to make herself a bag lunch when she went to breakfast. I remember thinking, how cool is that. Just like home. Perhaps that is what is so special about the current plan — it is about as much like home as it can be when a couple thousand students have to be fed. The dining halls are not just about food, but about being with friends, making friends, planning projects, bringing class discussions to the forum of a table with class members and some who might not be, and simply hanging out. The dining halls, as currently configured, are a substantial part of what President McCardell described that day at lunch: a college that works hard to create a setting where students are engaged in their education for four full years, day in and day out.

Ronald Liebowitz

Ronald Liebowitz’s avatar

Thank you, Lauren. We have been discussing dining now for, well, since the debate over the commons system was developed. The issue then was whether we can afford, to have 5 separate dining halls, as was the plan.

We have decided it was not feasible to have 5 separate dining halls, not only for financial reasons, but also the students’ sense that dividing the campus into five groups for the socializing that go on around meals would be more detrimental than beneficial to the student body.

But the issue of open dining halls is still being debated. There are many positives, as you point out, but more and more students see the lack of choice and a true “meal plan” as a negative aspect of our current system. We will have a group (with students of course) review the benefits and drawbacks of our system and weigh options. Like in most things, choices need to be made and we need to take the time to consider all options carefully, or to leave the system as it is. To add the flexibility a growing number of students and parents wish to have would also add significant cost, and we need to see assess the trade-offs that come with any changes we consider for the plan.

See you at Commencement.

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