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I went to Mead Chapel last night to hear Robert Sapolsky talk about the psycho-biological dimensions of stress, and he was great. Smart, funny, and humane—all the things you would expect of a Stanford University neuroscientist who also happens to write best-selling science books and has won a MacArthur Fellowship. The chapel was full, and people stuck around for a lecture that lasted for more than an hour. Organized by the Ad Hoc Committee on Campus Stress, a group of faculty and staff concerned about the high-octane pace of life on our campus, this 2nd annual Convocation talk was a good follow up, though very different from, Paul Rusesabegina’s lecture last year.

The Sapolsky lecture was one of several outstanding events scheduled for this week. Tuesday, Bob Herbert from the NY Times, spoke in Dana Auditorium. Yesterday afternoon, Martha Sandweiss, an American Studies prof at Amherst, lectured on photography and the 19th-century West. Today (that is Friday) Martha Nussbaum, a prominent philosopher from University of Chicago, will talk in Mead, while some portion of the college community gathers in Dana to discuss the upcoming renovations to Proctor Hall.

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Granted, April tends to be especially jam-packed with events, but the truth is that this week’s schedule is representative of our general calendar. Right behind the relentless flow of email, the idea that we are an overscheduled, overworked campus may the most talked about issue at Middlebury. It’s stressful to plan these events, it’s stressful to try and attend them, and it’s stressful to discuss their proliferation. It’s all good, and it’s all bad. We need to get a grip, bring order to chaos, and work toward a balanced calendar.

I’ve heard this lament from faculty, staff, and students, so I don’t think it’s just a voice crying in the administrative wilderness. The solution, imho, is to bring together the principal programmers on campus—students, faculty, and staff—and figure out how we can coordinate events and maybe even share resources. Amazingly enough, this has never happened at Middlebury.

Should it? What are your suggestions for how best to coordinate programming on our campus?

7 Responses to “Too Much of a Good Thing: The Thing About Events at Middlebury”

  1. Kevin Hurley says:

    I agree with those who feel there is a level hyperactivity in the numerous events hosted on campus and I appreciate your introduction of the topic because it has created an ethos of more, and more, extracurricular, “extralaborious,” expectations.

    It’s very impressive that Middlebury, although somewhat remote, benefits from the larger world on campus but there are downsides, seldom spoken, with excessive offerings and commitments:

    – – I often feel there isn’t a critical mass, certainly campus-wide, for significant SHARED ideas with the surfeit of events.

    – The random nature of the topics and their relevance sometimes result in a “Jack of all trades; Master of none” perception.

    – Passive listening is such a large part of the education methodology, it surprises me that it needs to be added to such an extent.

    – There are significant costs, direct and indirect (particularly in individual and staff organization) that diminish other aspects of the College.

    – Ultimately, what are the real outcomes? How much of the speaker participation is acted on before and after their talk i.e., their books read, their ideas discussed, the relevance of their talk to the coursework, or because many of these are campus-wide, the relevance to Middlebury’s mission?

    Finally, I’ve come around to the idea that there are too many ‘talkers’ such that significant ideas are diluted. There is an obvious oversupply of speakers – because it’s lucrative – because it’s done with repetition – because it’s done for a generic audience, etc.

    Good topic for discussion – and we haven’t even added the arts, athletics, film, student presentations, etc. that compete with one another.

  2. Terry Simpkins says:

    Dear Dean Spears,
    You may already be aware of this, but I thought I would point out to you a resource here at Midd that has been underway for a few years and has been growing steadily, namely, the Digital Lecture Archive maintained by LIS. This can be readily accessed on campus by typing “go/dla” in your browser’s URL window, and from offcampus by going to:
    http://tinyurl.com/6ddy3k (don’t worry, this takes you to a Middlebury.edu domain).

    Currently, we have 184 lectures available for online viewing in this resource, and we add to it every month. Not every lecture on campus is added to it (obviously) — primarily due to staffing and copyright reasons — but there are many interesting lectures available through DLA. Check it out.

    A related site, to which Middlebury contributes content, is the University Channel, hosted by Princeton U.: http://uc.princeton.edu/main/
    Here, you can see not only many lectures from Middlebury (all of which are in our DLA), but also contributions from many other prestigious colleges and universities. Best of all, you can watch everything from home in your slippers.


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