The wires have been silent here since the holidays for reasons I will explain in my next post—in the next week or so. But the point of this post is to engage the The Campus‘ ill-informed editorializing on the recent decision not to include the MiddView program in next year’s first-year Orientation. To get a full read on the context for this post, you may want to read both the article and the editorial that The Campus ran last week.
This is a guest post, which is to say that the following take on the MiddView controversy comes from Katy Abbott, Doug Adams, Derek Doucet, and JJ Boggs. They have written a letter to The Campus editors, which I have included here while the story is still fresh in peoples’ minds.
To the editors of The Campus:
We write today to respond to the recent Campus article and editorial addressing the College Administration’s recent decisions regarding the MiddView program. As the staff members most intimately involved with the program, and most committed to working for its eventual revival, we are compelled to address crucial inaccuracies regarding the recent decision not to revive the program for Fall 2010. We hope also to reframe the discussion around these issues in a more collaborative, less confrontational tone than that chosen by the Campus thus far.
First, however, we wish to acknowledge the deep and wide support the program has among the student body. Rest assured that the College Administration is aware of the special place the program holds in the hearts and minds of generations of Middlebury students.
Given the intensity of this student support, it is not difficult to understand the frustrations recently expressed in the Campus. However simply understanding the source of these frustrations does not change the fact that the tone taken by the Campus is not helpful in bringing about the revival of MiddView, a goal we all share.
It is true that the unprecedented economic crisis from which we are only now emerging has rendered the program’s revival for Fall 2010 an unrealistic expectation. When the SGA senate heard testimony about possible program revival dates while debating their funding bill, it was made eminently clear that a 2010 revival might not be possible. Despite the Campus’s erroneous statements to the contrary, however, possible reinstatement for Fall 2011 is still on the table, and will be reexamined as staffing levels and capacities stabilize through the spring and summer.
This issue of staffing levels may not appear compelling in light of the Campus’s assertion that the MiddView program requires few staff resources, but sadly that assertion too is an error. It has always been extremely challenging and labor intensive for Facilities Services to clean and prepare rooms for the early return of MiddView leaders and participants in the narrow window of time between the conclusion of summer language schools and the beginning of the MiddView program. The return of the leaders and trip participants has always required the early opening of an additional dinning hall, with all the attendant staffing. Residential Life staff have always been present in the residence halls when the leaders and participants arrive early on campus, however brief their initial stay. Even had the cost of all of these staff hours directly related to MiddView been included in the SGA funding bill as reported by the Campus (this too was erroneous; the cost was not included), the fact remains that the College’s capacity to meet program needs with dramatically reduced staffing levels in key departments is not a given. It is this issue of staff capacity, separate from, but related to staffing costs, that is at the heart of the recent decision to postpone the possible revival of the program.
Despite these factual errors, there is happily one thing the Campus got right: There is indeed still room for creative engagement of these issues. There are alternative program structures that can be considered. The SGA has made an enormously helpful financial commitment. There is still considerable reason for optimism. The Campus can play an essential role in the process by serving as a source for accurate and balanced information. It is our hope that as we move forward, we can do so in the spirit of collaboration rather than confrontation and acrimony. That is the only way we can hope to revive MiddView.
Doug Adams, Director of CCAL, Assistant Dean of Students
JJ Boggs, Assistant Director of CCAL
Derek Doucet, Outdoor Programs Director
Katy Smith Abbott, Associate Dean of the College
To provide some context for my previous post on study abroad, here are some observations taken from an article that appeared yesterday in the online edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. There is a lot press out there these days on the adjustments that colleges and universities have had to make in the wake of the recession, but this one pays particular attention to the need for future change. The authors write:
It may also be a sign that the full effect of the economic fallout has yet to hit home on many campuses, a perception reflected in numerous interviews with anxious higher-education leaders and in the sobering findings of a new Chronicle survey. In the survey sent to chief finance officers at four-year colleges in September, 62 percent of the respondents said they did not think the worst of the financial pressures on their institutions had passed. Nearly two-thirds of them worry that 2010, 2011, or 2012 or later, will be even tougher.
“In some respects, people are doing what they should be doing in an economic downturn,” says Paul E. Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers organization. They are aiming cuts at “soft spots” and protecting core academic programs and student aid. But as Mr. Lingenfelter and countless other observers of the sector note, even when the economy rebounds, the pressures on colleges will be greater and all the usual sources of support—states, donors, and students and their families—are likely to be less able to provide resources.
The challenge, says Mr. Lingenfelter, is for higher education’s leadership to recognize that aiming to get back to pre-crash levels of financing or educational effectiveness is not enough. “We come across to the public as totally insatiable and resistant to change,” he says. “We’ve got to improve productivity.”
For most college leaders, managing in this new era of uncertainty has meant hunkering down. But observers say the coming months and years could require far more openness to change.
The full text of the Chronicle article is available here. I will address the subject of institutional change in my next post, but from a different, specifically Middlebury perspective.
Every other year or so, the Board of Trustees holds a retreat to discuss issues of broad importance to the College. This year—last week, in fact—the Board met to consider the “new normal,” which is the phrase now being used to describe the conditions brought about by the economic downturn. The idea is that because economic resources will be scarcer in the future than they have been in the last decade, academic institutions must think creatively about what they want to maintain and how they might operate differently.
To prompt discussion, several individuals or groups gave brief presentations on what the new normal might look like. I was part of the lineup, and proposed that the College push forward on its ambition to be the “global liberal arts college” by boosting enrollment and requiring all students to study abroad. This initiative, I argued, would allow Middlebury to build upon its curricular strengths and generate additional revenue.
An outline of this plan appears below. Keep in mind that there is nothing official about this scheme, and that its chief purpose is to spark discussion about future possibilities. That said, I am interested in what people think of it.
- All juniors would study away for the entire year, and the College would simultaneously boost enrollment to 3200 students, or four classes of 800.
- This arrangement would hold the current number of students on campus to 2400, with only three classes living in Vermont.
- Currently—and this is on a prorated basis since many students go abroad for just a semester—175 students study abroad in Middlebury programs for the entire year.
- The economic goal of this plan would be to gradually push this number up to 625 so that all students study in Middlebury programs. This last point is important since students who go outside the Middlebury system take their tuition dollars with them.
- To accommodate an additional 625 in its study abroad programs, the College would need to establish between 15 to 20 additional schools abroad (we currently operate 34 sites in 12 countries).
- Our schools abroad include little overhead or infrastructure since we partner with local universities and residents/institutions for instruction and housing. Our model allows for flexible and nimble growth, with few sunk costs.
- To maintain flexibility and choice, we should consider adding English-speaking programs in Africa, South Asia, UK, and elsewhere. We should also consider a study away program in Monterey.
- We should involve Middlebury faculty in the development of these programs, and we should provide opportunities for our faculty to teach in them.
- According to back-of the-envelope calculations, this plan could net $3.12 to 6.25 million in additional revenue.
- Assuming we include non-Middlebury undergrads and grad students in these 20 new sites abroad, the annual net revenue could be as much as $8.25 million.
So that’s a general economic or logistical overview of the scheme. Given the increased importance of international education and the excellence of our study abroad programs, I believe this plan also makes good educational sense.
But as I considered the merits of studying abroad, I got to wondering if there are other ways of mounting our program. That thinking brought me to this question: suppose sophomores, instead of juniors, went abroad? Here is a quick sketch of what that might look like:
- We would reinvent the first-year curriculum to emphasize intensive liberal arts learning as well as writing skills. Language study would be required, as would an interdisciplinary course on cultural difference and global citizenship. There would be room for a limited number of electives.
- Students would develop linguistic competence through a combination of language-study during the academic year, immersion programs (the Language Schools), and online education. Students could pursue these supplemental programs before and/or after their first year at Middlebury.
- Sophomore year abroad would be a time of personal discovery, of expanding intellectual and persons horizons before settling down to the second half of a Middlebury education.
- Junior and senior years would devoted to the major.
- The chief goal of this plan would be to frontload the transformation that comes from studying abroad. Students would be able to build on their experiences abroad instead of readjusting to campus life their senior year and then preparing to graduate. Their perspectives could truly internationalize the classroom and our campus.
Of course, there are good reasons not to require students to study abroad—for instance, athletes would have to take a year off from intercollegiate competition—but there are corresponding advantages as well. And, as I suggest in the sophomore scheme, these advantages are educational as well as economic.
Last week, the Trenton Times published an article describing budget cuts at Princeton, where the endowment dropped 24% in fiscal year 2009—a significant loss, especially since 48% of Princeton’s operating budget comes from the endowment.
The piece makes a couple of interesting points. For one, while the budget cuts that Princeton has made thus far—closing a dining hall, imposing print quotas on college printers—haven’t significantly affected the student experience there, the cuts are not simply short-term measures. According to Princeton’s provost, they are meant to be permanent. That is, they are signs of the “new normal.”
The article also suggests that students are not following these budget conversations very closely. For instance, only a handful of students showed up at a town meeting that the Princeton administration sponsored to discuss the budget-cutting process. A similar situation has unfolded here. While President Liebowitz has hosted several meetings for students to discuss the economic crisis, few have shown up.
Any thoughts as to why? Or have I already answered my own question by implying—via the Princeton article—that the reductions we have made so far really aren’t worth discussing? Or are we going about this conversation the wrong way?