Articles by Ronald Liebowitz

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Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

This fall, several student groups on campus have raised questions surrounding the College’s endowment, specifically with regard to holdings related to fossil fuels. One group, the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), has been meeting regularly with Patrick Norton, the College’s Vice President for Finance and Treasurer, and one of its members attends Investment Committee meetings of the Board of Trustees. Other groups, some part of a national movement on college campuses, have also engaged the College administration and community, hoping to learn more about the College’s endowment, how it is invested, and whether we should divest of our investments in fossil fuel companies.

As an academic institution, the College administration and the Board of Trustees are interested in engaging our students’ interest in the endowment. Such engagement, however, must be serious and be based in responsible inquiry and research. It must also be respectful and inclusive of all opinions. A look at divestment must include the consequences, both pro and con, of such a direction, including how likely it will be to achieve the hoped-for results and what the implications might be for the College, for faculty, staff, and individual students.

With input from several groups on campus, including ACSRI, we will set up and host panel discussions with experts in endowment management and divestment. It will include, for example, representatives from the firm that manages our endowment (Investure), veteran investment managers, and our own Scholar-in-Residence, Bill McKibben.

The management of Middlebury’s endowment is complex and has evolved over time. We are part of a consortium with other colleges and foundations whose pooled resources are invested in a number of “fund-of-funds” and therefore the College is very limited in either selecting or deleting any particular investment within its overall portfolio. Despite such limitations, the Investment Committee, the Administration, and Investure have been working with ACSRI to ensure that socially responsible investing is discussed and reviewed as a regular and ongoing part of the investment process. We have instructed Investure and the managers they engage to follow the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) principles that align investors with broader objectives of one’s mission and society at-large (see: http://www.middlebury.edu/media/view/437641/original/proxy_voting_priciples.pdf )

At the same time, the primary fiduciary responsibility of our investment committee is to maximize its investment returns to support vital programs including financial aid and staff and faculty compensation, while managing risk. Currently, the endowment finances approximately 20 percent of the College’s annual operating cost—approximately $50 million this past year. It is vitally important to understand both the risks and rewards of one’s investment decisions as we are the stewards not only of the endowment for the current generation of Middlebury students, faculty, and staff, but for future generations as well.

At present, approximately 3.6 percent of the College’s $900 million endowment is directly invested in companies related to fossil fuels. For those interested in the amount directly invested in defense and arms manufacturing, the share of our endowment in those companies is less than 1 percent—approximately 0.6 percent. I have included an explanatory note at the end of this communication to provide information on the methodology used to determine these percentages. I encourage you to contact Patrick Norton (pnorton@middlebury.edu) if you have any questions about this methodology or about the College’s endowment.

I, along with my administrative colleagues and fellow board members, look forward to engaging the community on an issue of great interest and import to the College and its many constituents. I will be sending more information on the first panel discussion when plans are finalized.

Sincerely,

Ron

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This post is a bit unorthodox in its content and length—it is very long, yet I invite comment, as always. It is a report I sent recently to our faculty to set the context for some of the discussions we intend to have this year about our curriculum, pedagogy, governance, cost, and defining a liberal arts education for these dynamic times. As you will see, I have more questions than answers about how we should address the changes that are reshaping American higher education. But I firmly believe that we must engage them and I welcome your thoughts.

— Ron

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Dear Faculty Colleagues,

I hope you all have had good summers, finding the right combination of relaxation and productivity as we approach the coming academic year.

At about this time each year, I provide the Trustees with a summer report on significant campus issues. Often my report concerns the summer programs, but I also comment on matters that are likely to require their time, attention, and study during the coming year. Given the challenging times for higher education, the work we need to do on campus as follow-up to our NEASC ten-year reaccreditation review, and issues of general concern within the faculty, I thought it would be a good idea to share some thoughts with you as we look forward to a busy year come September.

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We have now completed our four-city trip, and it was both a great success and a reaffirmation of the College’s strategy to engage Asia more purposefully.   If one believes that “one needs to see to believe,” then a trip to Asia will underscore that this might indeed be Asia’s century, and that any American institution that chooses to ignore this in planning its future is putting itself at great risk.

Our trip had three major goals: (1) to meet and thank our alumni, past and current parents, current students studying in Asia, and friends of the College for all they do on the College’s behalf; (2) to seek increased support for the College, both financially and in helping to create greater opportunities for our students and (mentoring, internships, and jobs); and (3) to strengthen the College’s network by integrating alumni of the undergraduate college with Language School, Schools Abroad, and Monterey alumni.  A few words about these goals and how we advanced them on our trip.

We held receptions in Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and had between 60-80 guests at each one, by far the largest gatherings in Asia the College has ever hosted.  The critical mass in each of the four cities demonstrates the growing global character of our programs and the success of our graduates.  It was so rewarding to see the size of the crowds, and the enthusiasm for the College—what it is doing both in Vermont and around the world—was palpable in all cities and in the many individual meetings we had during the trip.

Our current students who are studying at our programs in Tokyo and Beijing are thriving and had much to say about their experiences abroad.   A panel in Beijing, which was part of our reception, featured two alumni from the College (’98 and ’08) who are working in Beijing—one of them a native of Shanghai and the other from Brooklyn, along with two alumni from the School of Chinese (1966 and 1977).  The four shared their experiences in China and how Middlebury influenced their careers and lives.  It was a remarkable display of talent, perseverance, and, in the case of the Language School alumni, history: one of the alums was among the first nine students to be invited into China in the early 1970s as part of Zhou Enlai’s ping pong diplomacy, which eventually led to Deng Xiaoping’s initiating China’s reforms in 1978, and the other was among the first Americans to be allowed to remain in China and work among Chinese (in a factory in northern China) in 1978.

The panelists represented multiple generations and a wide range of expertise; all have remarkable knowledge of China and connections within Chinese society and all are eager to assist recent graduates and current students interested in the region.  The evening allowed the large number of attendees, all with Middlebury connections (the College, Language Schools, Schools Abroad, and Monterey), to come together, network among themselves, and help us create a tighter and stronger alumni group, which, in turn, will provide greater support and opportunities for current students and graduates.

Perhaps the most moving part of the reception was how one set of former parents traveled by overnight train to attend the reception in Beijing simply to thank us in person for all the College did for their daughter, who graduated in 2008.  They could not speak a word of English, but they expressed their deep gratitude for their daughter’s education via a translator, and then far more in their non-verbal expressions of appreciation to the College.

We succeeded in obtaining commitments for internships for our students in each of the four cities.  We sought internships for students who might stay on for a Winter Term following a fall semester of study, for those who might stay for the summer following their spring semester abroad, and also for students who could manage an internship during their semester of study.  We will be following up with a number of parents, alumni, and friends of the College to establish these internships, which are becoming more and more helpful for those who are seeking longer term opportunities in Asia.  We also received immediate and unexpected financial support, as attendees made gifts and commitments to the College on the spot, which is unusual but, needless to say, very welcome.

Our final goal was to continue the process of leveraging all of our resources related to our rich array of international related programs.  In particular, by inviting alums of the College, of Monterey, of the Language Schools, and the Schools Abroad we are consciously attempting to more than double, and nearly triple, the number of individuals who could (and should) serve as resources for our students and other alumni.   If we are successful in bringing together alumni from all these programs we will increase our alumni body from slightly fewer than 30,000 graduates of the undergraduate college to about 80,000, which includes attendees and graduates of the Language Schools, attendees of our Schools Abroad, and graduates of Monterey.  Those 80,000, as our receptions showed, live throughout the world, and should be a great support system for students and alumni who are increasingly seeking work and lives not only in Asia, but in literally every corner of the world.  No liberal arts college can boast as large, distinguished, and global alumni network as ours, and with as many potential benefits to our students.  Judging from the rich discussions at each reception among attendees from each of our programs, we made very good progress in establishing a more unified alumni network for the College.

During office hours this summer, I was visited quite often by Language School students and faculty, but also by staff who work year-round at the College and by students who were on campus to work or to do research with Middlebury faculty.

The students who dropped by said they never seem to be able to stop by during office hours during the academic year, and felt that many other students can not as well.  I told them I would try to vary my office hours this coming year, which they thought was a good idea.  They also suggested I specifically ask students, via the blog, to send along “big” issues or items of concern that they would like me and/or my fellow administrators to “look into/engage/address.”  They emphasized big issues and ones that seem possible and not, for example, something like, “can you consider ways to make the winters shorter?  I am of course most interested in issues related to your educational experience here at the College.

So, in that spirit, and because I am interested in hearing what students think needs special attention, I encourage students to let me know.  Please send your thoughts along.

If this works, I will encourage staff and faculty to do the same.

 

Though it is August, and the start of the academic year is a month away, the campus has been as busy as ever hosting the summer Language Schools and a vibrant faculty-student research program.  And, the solar decathlon students have just completed their house, which they will soon disassemble and move to Washington to rebuild on the mall for the competition in late September.

In addition, one of the most commonly sought changes by students has been addressed—the re-opening of Atwater for regular lunches.  Language Tables, which have been housed at Atwater the past two years, will move to Redfield Proctor (upstairs in Proctor).

Atwater will continue to serve continental breakfast and host themed and special dinners.  We hope the re-opening of Atwater for lunches will address concerns about overcrowding in Ross and Proctor despite the additional seats we introduced two years ago.

As Patrick Norton’s memo announcing this change states (below), other suggestions students have made to improve dining and to reduce the loss of dishes, bowls, glasses, and silverware have also been acted upon, too.  This fall, we will invite students to assess other aspects of dining and offer recommendations on how to improve our current offerings and options.

I look forward to seeing many of you next month.

********************************************

From: Office of VP and Treasurer
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2011 8:59 PM
To: students; All Faculty; Byerly, Alison; Baldridge, Susan Campbell; Collado, Shirley M.; Keyes, James R. (Jim); Schoenfeld, Mike; Donahue, David A. (Dave); Geisler, Michael E.; Liebowitz, Ronald D.; Spears, Tim; Corbin, Thomas J.; Biette, Matthew R.; Etchells, Timothy P.
Subject: Atwater Dining Hall Re-opens for Regular Lunch Plus Other Dining News

Atwater Dining Hall Re-opens for Regular Lunch Plus Other Dining News

I write to share the good news that Atwater Dining Hall will be open again for regular (meal plan) lunch this fall, with continued service in Proctor and Ross.

The hours for lunch will be as follows:

  • Atwater will remain open after serving continental breakfast, and serve lunch through 2 p.m.
  • Ross and Proctor will continue to serve hot breakfast, and remain open for lunch through 2 p.m.
  • Bagged lunches will still be available in Proctor from 7-9:30 a.m., seven days a week.

The “language tables” that had assembled for lunch in Atwater will now gather in the Redfield Proctor Dining Room, upstairs in Proctor, with the same menu and waiter service.

Also this fall, Dining Services will be offering students what we’re calling “go” containers, portable, reusable, washable bowls, with covers, that can be used to take food out of the dining halls, when students just don’t have the time to sit down for a meal. Students will be able to purchase these containers for a small fee. They can trade used containers for clean ones during their next visit to any dining hall. You’ll be hearing more about this program from Dining Services, in the near future.

These changes are designed to address student concerns, and are part of an ongoing discussion about the structure of our dining operations at Middlebury.  If you have questions, please contact Matt Biette, Director of Dining Services at: mbiette@middlebury.com.

— Patrick Norton, Vice President for Finance & Treasurer

Last evening, Dean Shirley Collado and I hosted a student forum on student alcohol use and its effects on the campus community.  The purpose of the evening was to share results from a survey administered on campus in the fall of 2010, and then to hear directly from students about how the College might address any and all issues related to the causes and ill effects of alcohol use on our campus.  And there appear to be many issues to address.

There was a large turnout in McCullough, perhaps a result of the rumor that the purpose of the evening was for us to announce we would become a “dry campus.”  The email invitation to the event, which asked whether a dry campus was the only alternative to excessive irresponsible drinking, was intended to be provocative, but, while it drew the hoped-for audience, it also seemed to miss the mark.  Many students saw the email tease as yet another example of administrative heavy-handedness rather than a way to encourage more discussion of a vexing and troublesome issue.

Though this is hardly a new issue or administrative concern, and there seems little new one might learn from a conversation among 300+ students, the evening proved valuable for a number of reasons.  Students got to let us know directly what they saw as problematic with their social lives on campus and how those problems contributed to alcohol abuse; they talked about stress and how that played into their self-described “play hard” weekends and all the consequences; they offered up a number of worthwhile recommendations to address some of the concerns we have about student life and student safety; and it succeeded in getting a good number of students to volunteer to pursue further conversations with the administration to implement changes intended to address the identified problems.

MiddBlog is covering this issue (http://midd-blog.com/2011/05/04/alcohol-forum/#comments ) and The Campus will do an article as well.  I should note that we are working with our fellow NESCAC schools, all of whom share similar experiences with alcohol use, to improve education about alcohol use and to offer alternatives to a social life currently so centered on alcohol.

I hope students, parents, faculty, staff, and alums will send along suggestions and best practices that we might consider alongside what we are doing, and will do, to provide a more balanced, safe, and fun environment for our students.

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