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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?

On my original post about a month ago, I listed items that I wanted to address early in the semester.  I have addressed two of them thus far, and I want to turn, now, to a third: the issue of student workload.

I have heard over the past two years during lunches with students about the “increasing” work load at Middlebury, and how, to some, we are becoming a place that is not in balance—that there is too much academic work assigned, leaving students unable to partake in non-academic pursuits and “have fun.”

The argument I hear most is that faculty are now assigning what has been described as “gratuitous work”—things that do not add to the students’ understanding of the material, but only to the time they need to spend on a course.  The perception voiced frequently is that faculty seem not to know that most students take three other courses and therefore the amount they ask students to do each week is simply too much.

A few things to note on both sides of the issue before I invite students, especially, but others, too, to weigh in on this issue.

  • I have been at Middlebury for 24 years, and I have heard this complaint since I arrived. In fact, I usually hear rising seniors talk about how “smart” and “eager” the first years seem to be about their studies, and how the place is changing. I first heard this in 1984, and it hasn’t stopped.

  • I have spoken with two veteran faculty colleagues, both of whom have taught here for more than 30 years, and asked them this question: has the work load for students increased, in your view, since you arrived here?  Both of them, asked individually, said “no.”  And in fact, one of them even said that he believes he has had to cut some things from what he used to expect from his students.  Each had his or her theories for why students believe that the overall work load has increased, but I am more interested in hearing our students’ perspective.

  • Through my work as dean of the faculty and provost, I was involved directly with the tenure and reappointment review process for many years.  That process includes faculty members up for review submitting dossiers with their professional materials.  Many include their syllabi.  In several cases, it appears as if the traditional assignments that used to make up a course’s “content” have been supplemented as faculty are utilizing new technologies to engage students and have students engage the course materials (such as mandatory postings on class electronic list-serves; searches on the web and of new electronic data bases; etc.). 

  • The rising popularity of the “double major” over the past 10-15 years may be playing some role for those who feel that the workload has increased.  By double majoring, students need to focus on two areas of the curriculum in terms of meeting specific requirements, and therefore have fewer courses to take for “enjoyment,” and, thereby, fewer opportunities to feel less pressure.

  • Some faculty argue that they have indeed become more prescriptive (and expansive) in terms of weekly assignments than they used to be, because, they argue, students are less focused on their work.  If they don’t give specific assignments, they can’t be assured students will do the work, and the atmosphere in class would suffer noticeably.

I am very eager to hear other points of view on this.  One thing is for sure: the student of today, versus the student of 1984 when I arrived here on the faculty, takes the same load each year (four courses a semester and one during winter term).  They do, however, have many, many more opportunities in terms of the number of student organizations they might join, the number of varsity, club, and intramural athletic teams on which they might play, and a whole new world of technology-driven activities to attract their attention.  Video games, on-line social networking, blogging (!), and other technology-infused activities that did not exist in 1984.  Even e-mail, the supposed dinosaur of communications to this generation of students, did not exist: we communicated with administrators through campus (“snail”) mail and with one another by … believe  this … visiting the person’s office, or by calling.  And not with a cell phone.

Just a hypothesis, but maybe the antidote to feeling that there is too much work has to do with exercising more self-discipline in the face of all the information technology-driven distractions that we now take for granted in our daily lives.  Is it possible that the work load has not changed at all, but what has changed is how we spend our time, and more and more of it is being spent on things that didn’t exist even a few years ago?

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