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The Marines came to campus to recruit on November 13. The visit and the protest that ensued were covered in The Campus newspaper, but even with the extensive coverage, there remain some fundamental issues about recruiting on our campus that seem to get lost whenever the issue comes up, as it has with the Marines’ recent visit.

I should mention that I shared with the campus community in September my position in formulating the College’s policy regarding military recruiting in a detailed memorandum. That said, I will highlight here some areas of controversy, offer my position once again, and hopefully generate some discussion for us all to consider.

It is central to point out that the College has a very clear and strong non-discrimination policy that guides its hiring practices and its engagement with and treatment of Middlebury employees. In addition, it was also one of the first colleges/universities to offer the equivalent of spousal benefits to the partners of gays and lesbians who worked at the College.

Allowing the military to recruit on our campus became an issue when, in 2005, we learned that the Marines wished to come to campus to recruit for the first time in many years. College policy at that time was to require all potential employers who could not sign a statement saying that its policies were consistent with the College’s own non-discrimination policy to hold an open meeting at which they would explain their hiring practices and policies. Since 1993, when Congress set the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy for gays in the military, the armed forces argued that they allowed gays and lesbians to serve, but that they “would discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender” (from the New York Times, April 1993).

The College’s requirement that employers who did not adhere themselves to the College’s non-discrimination policy hold open meetings served to keep the military away from campus, as it did at other liberal arts colleges with similar policies. Yet in 2005, the Marines were invited to campus by two seniors who were to be commissioned into the Marines during their Commencement week, and hence the first visit in years.

For the 2005 Marine visit to campus, College policy was followed as our Career Services Office required that the Marines hold an open meeting if they were to recruit at Middlebury, and the meeting took place. Prior to the Marines’ visit to campus, a group of law schools challenged a federal law, known as the Solomon Amendment, that linked a college’s or university’s receipt of some categories of federal funding to the ability of the military to recruit on campus. At the same time, a faculty resolution here at Middlebury, which requested that the College not allow the military to recruit on campus at all, was introduced at a faculty meeting, and the resolution passed by nearly a 3-1 measure. Some faculty were wary of banning the military if it meant federal funding for their research would be jeopardized; a much smaller number thought it wrong to ban the military from campus for a variety of reasons; but the largest number favored preventing the military from recruiting on campus and using College facilities if it could not ensure that all Middlebury students had the opportunity for employment.

Following the faculty resolution, I engaged many individuals, both on campus and off, including former military officers, scholars of military history, experts on public policy, and other college presidents. I decided it would be best not to change our policy, and to await the challenge to the Solomon Amendment, which was heading to the Supreme Court following an appellate court ruling after the challenge from the law schools.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously (9-0) that the Solomon Amendment was constitutional—that federal funding could be withheld if colleges did not provide “equal” access to military recruiters. Moreover, it meant that our existing policy of “requiring” an open meeting was not in compliance with the law, which the Supreme Court had just affirmed. To require such a meeting would be in violation of the Solomon Amendment. We amended our policy so we now “request” an open meeting, but the military is not obligated to provide that open forum in order to come and recruit.

Fast forward to last week. The Marines, as I mentioned, came and set up an information desk near Ross Dining Hall. Many on campus believe we should have changed our policy and not permitted the military to recruit on campus since our gay and lesbian students, should they choose a career in the military, would have to hide their sexuality, and face expulsion from the service if it became known they were gay or lesbian. Some argue that the College is “hypocritical” in allowing the military on campus since the military’s employment policies and practices are not consistent with our own.

I agree with the November 13th protesters, in that I strongly support the rights of gay and lesbian members of our community. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is neither a fair nor smart policy; gays and lesbians have proven to be exceptional members of other countries’ armed forces, and the current loss of expertise as a result of DADT is unquestionably great. And there is no logical reason to deny gay and lesbians Americans the right to defend this country. At the same time, I don’t believe the proper response is to ban the military from recruiting on our campus as the protesters have requested.

First, the conflating of our clearly stated policies on non-discrimination with the military’s policy is illogical. Arguing that because we allow the military on campus we compromise our own policies is incorrect; we continue to follow our policies and we remain committed to them. In fact, as Justice Breyer argued in oral argument in the case, the remedy to speech [or ideas] with which one disagrees is more speech, not a restriction on speech. Bryer’s argument is consistent with our mission as a liberal arts college, which is to encourage the engagement of different points of view, not limit such discussion.

Second, the armed forces are not any random potential employer seeking to enlist young talent into their ranks. They are part of our federal government; those in uniform are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our collective security and freedom; and Congress, not the military branches, is responsible for the policy that discriminates against gays and lesbians, and so that it, and not the military, ought to be the target for changing policy.

Third, disobeying the law, and in the process losing federal funding, would have multiple effects on the College. It would compromise some programs, including those that support student loans, College facilities, and scientific research. It would make us look irresponsible in light of what we charge students to attend Middlebury, at a time when financial support from alumni and friends is so vital to the College’s mission. In accepting federal funds, we are not denied the right to oppose DADT, which, as an institution, we do.

And fourth, while I, and according to most polls the majority of Americans, oppose the DADT policy, the impact of preventing recruiting on campuses like Middlebury is likely to widen the divide between civilians and the military. It would also contribute to the sense of elitism that surrounds campuses like ours and accentuate an already class-based division in our armed forces. The less educated and less well-off socioeconomic groups are widely overrepresented in our volunteer military service branches and therefore suffer the disproportionate casualties defending our country and its interests. The successful recruitment of students from places like Middlebury would bring values to the armed forces that are more likely to generate pressure on Congress to change DADT from within. Preventing the recruiting of these voices, in the long-term, will prove to be counter-productive.

Those of us who are opposed to DADT should lobby our elected officials to overturn it, both here in Vermont and in our home states. We should also work with the many public advocacy groups that are fighting to change DADT. This course of action, rather than banning the military from recruiting on our campuses, would go a lot farther in changing what so many find problematic about military recruiting.

We will have an open forum to discuss this issue in McCullough social space on Monday, November 26 at 4:15 p.m.

Your thoughts on the subject?

The Middlebury Initiative

Well, the launch of the Initiative and the start of the “public phase” of the College’s fundraising efforts to support the major objectives in our strategic plan came and went this past weekend.

Why are we doing this? Why have we set for ourselves the huge goal of raising $500 million over the course of the next five years?

Quite simply, we want to ensure for future generations of students the experience that current and past generations of Middlebury students have enjoyed and continue to benefit from throughout their lives; and we want to build on that experience.

The press release about the Initiative summarizes how the funds raised in support of the Initiative will be used. The short version: enhance financial aid; add 25 faculty positions; increase funds for student and faculty research; and increase opportunities for student creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurialism outside the classroom.

The overall objective of the “Initiative” is to make Middlebury the global liberal arts college for the 21st century, and we have the educational resources in place to make that happen: in addition to our baccalaureate program, Middlebury is also the world-renowned summer Language Schools, our C.V. Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad, the Bread Loaf School of English, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Monterey Institute of International Studies (as an affiliate).

In this era of globalization, multiple and competing forces are, at the same time, erasing boundaries of all kinds and strengthening the importance of local languages and cultures. Consequently, the College’s unique and remarkable set of programs, spread across the globe, and, which, for a long time have operated in relative isolation of one another, need to be leveraged so they best prepare our students to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

I see our task as twofold. First, we need to continue to support all of the College’s individual entities so they can best serve the various student populations they have long served—baccalaureate students at the College since 1800; graduate students in the Language Schools since 1915 and non-degree students since 1973; graduate students at the Bread Loaf School of English since the early 1920s; graduate students at our Schools Abroad since 1945 and undergraduates since the early 1970s; and graduate students at Monterey since 1955. And second, we need to determine, with input from current students, how each unit of the College can be leveraged to increase the educational opportunities to students studying in other units.

In trying to link more strongly the many parts of Middlebury, the goal is NOT to make Middlebury more like a university. In fact, the strength and beauty of what I am calling the “Middlebury model” of the global liberal arts college is that, on the one hand, the individual components of the institution as a whole will remain autonomous from one another; on the other, each part of the College will more frequently enrich the educational experiences of students enrolled in other units. For example, during the academic year (September to May), the Middlebury campus will remain fully dedicated to undergraduate education as it has been for 207 years. But our undergraduate students will have greater access to the other programs that are offered away from the Middlebury campus (at our Schools Abroad or in Monterey), or operate during the summer months (the Language Schools, Bread Loaf School of English, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference). By connecting all the so-called dots, and making all of our educational resources more available to our students, we will become the global liberal arts college for the 21st century.

Your thoughts?

Dean Tim Spears mentions on his blog a proposal to amend our Commons residential system. The so-called 4/2 system would involve four years of membership in the same Commons, regardless of where one lives, and two years’ residency in the housing associated with one’s commons. In other words, first years and sophomores would live in their Commons, and juniors and seniors would be free to draw rooms anywhere on campus. But all students would be affiliated with one Commons and retain their Commons Head and Dean for their four years at Middlebury.

Here is the outline for a 4/2 Commons system in draft form, but there are many things to address and issues to resolve. Feedback — especially from students — will determine the final shape of the plan.

Why change? During my first year as president, I recommended to the Board of Trustees that we should delay the further development of the Commons infrastructure until extensive discussion of College priorities with the community had taken place. At that point, the infrastructure of two of the five commons — Ross and Atwater — were largely completed. But we needed time to rebuild our financial capacity if we wanted to add what would be three to five new residence halls, three dining halls, and at least one new house for a Commons head in order to “complete” the system. You’ll find a detailed detailed history and description of the enhanced Commons plan on the College’s web site. 

As a result of the strategic planning process, plus dozens of discussion with students and faculty over the past three years, my thinking on the Commons has evolved and led to the 4/2 Commons concept. These factors, articulated largely by students, influenced my thinking:

1) student study and enrollment patterns: one of the three main cornerstones of the system is building “continuing” communities for a student’s four years, yet 60% of juniors spend at least a semester abroad. This fact makes it impossible for the system to achieve one of its major goals for more than ½ of our students. And how can the system accommodate our “Feb program”? A significant number of first-years do not experience the Commons as the community is supposed to provide until their second year.

2) the increasing independence of students during their four years at Middlebury: our residential life system should mirror our expectations for the increasing independence of our students as they move from their first year to graduation. Most who support the Commons believe it is most valuable during a student’s first and second year. After that, students should be given greater independence while having the opportunity to remain active within their Commons.

3) the opportunity cost of completing the original vision: we estimate the cost of completing the Commons infrastructure to be $100 million. Moreover, the incremental cost of operating the new infrastructure, including staff for the new dining halls, would add at least $6 million to our budget every year. If we pursued the original Commons plan, we would not be able to improve financial aid, increase the size of the faculty to ensure small classes, or enrich our existing academic and co-curricular programs.

4) the impact of our location and size: students have argued since the introduction of the enhanced Commons system in 1998 that we are a small institution and that limiting where they live and with whom, for four years, would be quite stifling. In their words: we are a small place, not one with 5,000 or 6,000 undergraduate students or a large number of graduate students, and we are not located in a city. Many students say they need every one of the 2,350 students who are on campus over the course of four years in order to have a satisfying social and intellectual experience, and dividing the campus into smaller communities makes that more difficult.

Reactions and Ideas

Dean Spears and I will be hosting some open forums at which we will seek your reactions, suggestions, and input to the ultimate plan we will pursue. We look forward to seeing you at one of the meetings as well as hearing from those of you who will not be able to make to those gatherings. In the meantime, post your reactions and suggestions right here.

Welcome!

It was a very busy summer here on campus with convocation and commencement exercises for the Language Schools and the Bread Loaf School of English, not to mention the infamous leaf-logo, but it is hard not to feel energized with the beginning of a new academic year upon us.

I am launching this blog to communicate directly with you, to get feedback from you on specific issues, and to hear what might be on your mind.

The topics I am working on and want to share in the early weeks of the semester include:

(1) student work load: This issue came up during some of my lunches with students last year, and I shared the concern with my faculty colleagues at the opening faculty meeting last week. I will be working with provost Alison Byerly and Dean of Faculty Susan Campbell to figure out the best way to hear the concerns of students on this matter and get faculty reaction to those concerns. I look forward to hearing the views from students, especially, on this topic.

(2) plans for amending the Commons system, the so-called “4/2 system” that Dean Spears and I outlined for the residential life staff at their orientation session last week. We will be announcing some open meetings to present the plans and get some feedback. Will look forward to read your reactions here as well after I post the outline of the changes we are contemplating.

(3) student social life: The apparent lack of options for students is both a concern and challenge to me and my administrative colleagues. I will provide updates on how we are responding to the proposals made in the special student task force on social life report, and how the space down town (the former Eat Good Food restaurant space) might figure into increasing social options for students.

(4) the College’s upcoming “Initiative,” which is our home-grown term for the large fundraising campaign we will launch in October to secure resources to support the major goals in the College’s strategic plan. I hope to convince many students to get involved in this effort, which will include a number of on-campus opportunities over the next five years for them to meet and engage supporters of the College who we hope will see the great things our students, the faculty, and staff are doing and, as a result, will want to support the College in the coming years. And

(5) the Monterey affiliation, a subject I recently addressed with a (long) memo to the community, but will, in the coming weeks, provide more specific thoughts about how this initiative relates to current students at Middlebury.

This year will be a very busy one, which means I plan to post things here about once a week. I welcome responses, and will read every one of them, but I can’t promise I can respond to all posts I receive. And while I may not be able to respond to all of your comments and questions, I will benefit greatly by learning what is on your mind. And that is really the purpose of this foray into the blogosphere: to hear more from you and know better what you are thinking to help me and my administrative colleagues make the Middlebury educational experience the best it could be.

As with most things new, this blog is a work in-progress, and I suspect it will evolve over time. That said, since one never ends one’s education, I will be learning from writing and participating in this new medium.

Ron

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