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Category Archive for 'Academic programs'

The students on Middlebury’s Solar Decathlon team have done something remarkable. They have taken everything they’ve learned in the classroom and put it to work at solving an intricate, urgent problem. They have used their knowledge of math, geometry, physics, environmental science, computer science, esthetics, sociology, art, and more and applied it to a complicated puzzle. Furthermore, they have had to figure out how to research the things they don’t know, and they’ve had to learn how to work within complex systems, manage group dynamics, fundraise, negotiate, and promote their project.

I believe this is an example of what a liberal arts education in the 21st century can be—where learning both inside the classroom and out come together to create a new, dynamic set of skills and knowledge. Most importantly, this kind of learning can help students solve real-world problems.

Working through the Center for Education in Action, MiddSTART, the Project on Creativity and Innovation, and other Middlebury programs, many Middlebury students have embarked on ambitious projects. This summer, for example, seniors Ben Blackshear, Janet Rodrigues, Jacob Udell, and Kenneth Williams started an urban garden with schoolchildren in the Bronx, New York, and they raised the funds necessary to make the project a success. A visit to the MiddSTART website reveals numerous projects students are launching.

More and more students are coming to Middlebury with the expectation that they will be tackling internships, community problems, social issues, projects, and initiatives in preparation for the time when they move out into the world. They want to be able to hit the ground running—learning without the barriers of place, language, or resources. This is exactly in line with the mission of the College.

However, these outside-the-classroom opportunities are challenging those of us in higher education to re-examine our ideas about what a liberal arts education should be. There is a natural tension between the two educational modes: project-based or experiential learning vs. classroom learning. Some worry that if we move too far along the continuum of experiential learning, we will stray from our traditional liberal arts roots and become more of a preprofessional institution. Others feel that hands-on experiences are the best way for people to learn.

We are having lively conversations about these differences here at Middlebury, right now. The academic year opened with a faculty meeting that included a panel discussion about learning outside the classroom. President Liebowitz recently hosted a leadership summit with “thought leaders” about aligning our education with 21st-century demands for college graduates. I moderated a panel at the summit—Katherine Bass ’11.5, Nerissa Khan ’12, Daniel Powers ’12, and Ryan Kim ’14 spoke about the projects they are doing outside the classroom and how those connect to their intellectual interests and personal passions.

I believe this kind of learning is an essential component of a Middlebury education. If we want to continue to be relevant as an institution, we must evolve in the world we live in. The demands that are being placed on our new graduates to actively engage the world, in all of its complexity, require us to help them learn how to apply their knowledge, how to connect the dots.

Leaders at Middlebury are asking, Can we have project-based or experiential learning and still preserve the integrity of a liberal arts education? I think we can. It’s the most powerful way to do it.

But I would like to hear from you. What do you think? How does hands-on learning impact your intellectual experience? What’s your vision for a 21st-century liberal arts education?


As the Class of 2014 and I start the school year together, we share a similar sense of excitement and anticipation of what life at Middlebury will be like. We may also share some concerns and questions. And as I step into my new role as the dean of the college, there is one question I find myself asking often: What should we ultimately be doing for Middlebury students?

Last week, the student life team gathered for a retreat to consider this question. We discussed our vision for student life and the core values that drive the vision. It was a wonderful meeting of the minds, in which we broke down some barriers and expanded our collective sense of our work with students.

The vision that emerged from our meeting is ambitious, global, dynamic, and broad. It requires a huge commitment from students—and to be successful, I believe it requires a similar commitment from faculty, staff, and administrators.

Our vision is derived from Middlebury College’s mission statement, in part: “We strive to engage students’ capacity for rigorous analysis and independent thought within a wide range of disciplines and endeavors, and to cultivate the intellectual, creative, physical, ethical, and social qualities essential for leadership in a rapidly changing global community.” To me, this means that we in student life must focus our efforts on helping develop global citizens.

It is no longer enough for students to come to Middlebury to get good grades, study abroad, and participate in student groups and athletics. While all of these are worthy pursuits, we are asking more of our students. We are asking our students to hold themselves accountable, to show respect for others, and to take risks to be leaders.

We wish to give degrees to young people who have a moral compass and who are using the skills acquired at Middlebury to advance humanity—to become responsible members of this world.

We are asking a lot. And I believe that faculty, staff, and administrators need to model the behavior and attitudes we wish for our students. We must walk the walk. We will need to push ourselves to collaborate across different functions and areas of responsibility, to take risks, to step outside of our own comfort zones, to reflect the culture we strive for.

While our efforts are student centered, we’re not here to provide just for students; we are here to create a complete community, a neighborhood that transcends the local area, moving ever outward, creating a ripple effect. I believe that if we do this, along with all of the other academic and cultural endeavors, we will benefit as a community—and ultimately as a world.

I’d love to hear from the faculty, staff, and administrators. Do you think I have this right—do you see creating global citizens as part our job? And if you do, how do you think it can be accomplished?

And students, I would love to hear from you. What do you think your responsibility as a Middlebury student should be? And how do you think we can help you achieve that end?

My post on study abroad generated some good discussion about the liberal arts, and its importance to a Middlebury education.  In order to gain some historical perspective on the College’s commitment to the liberal arts, let’s take a quick tour through the history of the Middlebury curriculum.   Anyone interested in learning more about these factoids can review the College’s course catalogs and David Stameshkin’s two-volume history of Middlebury College (as I did).

  • In 1818, freshmen studied the first books of Livy; Blair’s Lectures Abridged; English Grammar; Sallust; Cicero de Officiis, deSenectute, de Amicitia; Priestley’s Lectures; Collectanea Graeca Majora.  Sophomores, juniors, and seniors likewise took a set curriculum focused on classical subjects.
  • In 1883, the trustees voted to admit women, leading to the following language in the 1883-84 course catalog: “By recent action of the Trustees the College offers the same privileges to young ladies as to young gentlemen.”
  • In 1900, freshmen were still required to take a “classical course” (as were sophomores), but juniors and seniors could now supplement required classes with electives.
  • By 1940, the elective system was firmly entrenched, and Middlebury students were majoring in particular subject areas or disciplines.  Freshmen had the option of electing introductory courses in several subject areas, including Home Economics.
  • In 1955, Home Economics was still in the course catalog, and first-year students were required to take Physical Education.  First-year men also took basic R.O.T.C.   In 1975, R.O.T.C was an elective, and the program included a class in Military Science.
  • In the 1970s, the College expanded its schools abroad program to include undergrads (it had previously served graduate students alone), and by the mid 1980s roughly 40% of the junior class chose to study abroad, making Middlebury a leader in this area.
  • Also during the 1970s and 80s, the College expanded the number of interdisciplinary programs to include classical studies, Jewish studies, the international major, and Northern studies (which no longer exists), a trend that continued through the 1990s and remains a distinguishing feature in our curriculum to this day.

How to describe this brief and incomplete history of curricular change?  What does it tell us about the evolution of the liberal arts at Middlebury?    Few would argue that military science, home economics, or a required classical course—the mainstay of nineteenth-century college education—should return to Middlebury’s curriculum.   But at certain points in the College’s history, these classes were indeed a part of our educational tradition.

In Cultivating Humanity (1997), University of Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum defines liberal education as the “cultivation of the whole human being for the functions of citizenship and life generally.”  As Nussbaum and other scholars have shown, the idea of liberal learning, or the “examined life,” can be traced back to Greek and Roman philosophy.   However, the history suggests that how colleges and universities have gone about realizing this ideal has varied according the educational needs of the moment—and the future.

So, philosophically (which is to say pragmatically) speaking, how should the College evolve to meet the needs of the future?  Given the possibility of a stingier economy, what aspects of a Middlebury education should be preserved at all costs?  Where should we pull back?  How might we build on our historic strengths to prepare students to meet the realities of this century—globalization, environmental challenges, etc?

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:

Sophomores Abroad

  • 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.


One effect of this economic downturn is that commentators have turned their view to the future of higher education, sometimes with startling effect.   There has been no shortage of such writing in the past, but with endowments down and resources scarce this seems like a particularly opportune moment to imagine what college education will be like in the not too distant future.   In fact, we devoted the Bread Loaf Faculty meeting—held just before classes started—to a discussion of questions focused on the relevance of liberal arts education, and how our current “business model” (a term usually off limits in faculty discussions) may now be under threat.

Here are five articles aimed to spur thinking about where we may be headed.  Reactions?  How do you think colleges like Middlebury will change in the next decade?

I am intrigued by the fact that Middlebury, like many colleges and universities, has several “centers” that serve as the headquarters for various academic, artistic, and extracurricular programs. We have the Mahaney Center for the Arts, the Rohatyn Center for International Affairs, the Donald Everett Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, the McCullough Student Center, the Franklin Environmental Center, Freeman International Center, the newly created Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, and—a personal favorite—the Fitness Center.  And I probably missed a couple.

Several years ago, in an effort to locate the geographical center of campus, the College did a survey and discovered that the center is located in the middle of College Street, in front of Forest Hall.  Consequently, whenever someone asked, “Where is the center of campus?,” we could gesture in the right direction.

Of course, that’s not what the question is really asking.  The inquiry is figurative in nature.  When we wonder where the center is, we want to know where the action is, where members of the community are most likely to see and be seen, where the heart of Middlebury may be found.

But the proliferation of named “centers” at Middlebury seems to imply that there is no single, true heart of the campus.  Rather, there are several hearts, each one representing a set of particular interests.  This is the postmodern view of academic life, a culture that lacks a common core and is tilted toward the relative nature of things.   In this world, everyone has their own center.

Now the conversation on this point could go in any number of directions, and get real abstract real fast.   And I suspect that many people would reject the decentered view of campus life, and point to the library, one of the dining halls, or some other favorite site where the true heart of Middlebury beats and bleeds blue.  To be sure, I am interested in hearing from people about whether they think Middlebury does have a genuine center, be it physical, metaphysical, or both.  But my own thoughts have drifted along other, more mundane tangents as we have worked to clarify budgets during these tough economic times.

One thing that has become clear is that we need to develop a process so that the various centers on campus—Rohatyn, Franklin, etc—can more effectively coordinate their activities.   A fair amount of collaboration (sometimes called “co-sponsorship”) already takes place, but formalizing those arrangements could pay additional benefits.  For instance, a coordinating committee that meets regularly to share information (and perhaps resources) could minimize calendar conflicts and reduce costs (fewer events!?).   Over time, this sort of coordination might also strengthen linkages between centers.  Add the Commons and MCAB to the mix, and those possibilities multiply, even if the planning becomes more complicated.

During the past decade, the amount of lectures, symposia, and performances has increased significantly and, as a result, Middlebury is a more interesting place.   With resources contracting, we should work to sustain these interests, but not lose sight of the golden mean that lies somewhere in the middle of campus.

The following went out as an email today from the Office of the Provost:

To the College Community:

We write to update you on the initiative to establish a Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Carr Hall. As you may know, Shirley Ramirez convened a faculty working group in the Fall of 2007 to examine key recommendations stemming from the 2006 Human Relations Committee report. The working group considered: 1) faculty diversity and development; 2) diversity and the curriculum; and 3) the development of a new academic center at Carr Hall. The group focused especially on this last project because of the center’s potential to highlight diversity goals for the entire community. By the end of the 2007-2008 academic year, the group succeeded in articulating a focus and mission for the new center.

The new center will be connected to the Office for Institutional Planning and Diversity, and will provide a forum for the community to address issues of difference in a broadly interdisciplinary manner. For instance, one goal of the center is to provide a global context for the study of race and ethnicity. To that end, the center will be home to colleagues from a variety of fields, with domestic and international teaching/research interests in race and ethnicity. We are excited by the possibilities that this venture holds, and are pleased that the Mellon Foundation has awarded the College a $1.2 million grant, which will support programming at the Center and the hiring of new faculty.

We have recently begun a search for a faculty member in American Studies to direct the Center. We expect this search to be completed this spring, and a new director to be in place by the fall of 2009. Beginning this semester, the faculty working group that worked so hard last year to develop a mission and focus for the Center gave way to a smaller steering committee that includes Michael Newbury (American Studies), Rachael Joo (American Studies), Laurie Essig (SOAN/WAGS), and Hector Vila (CTLR). The committee will work closely with the new Vice President for Institutional Planning and Diversity and the Provost’s office to ensure the successful development of the Center; it will also be involved in the search for the director.

Several faculty members have already moved into Carr Hall in this first phase of the Center’s development: Larry Hamberlin (Music), Laurie Essig, Hector Vila, and Linda White (East Asian Studies/WAGS). Gloria Gonzalez (Spanish) and Sujata Moorti (WAGS) will join them next year. The office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), now located in Carr Hall, will enhance the global dimensions of the Center’s work.

Shirley will continue to play an active role in this project until she leaves the College in December, and the Provost’s office will provide administrative support for the initiative until Shirley’s successor is on board.

In the spring of 2006, the Human Relations Committee recommended that the College establish an intercultural center to promote the study of diversity issues and complement the residential program of PALANA, the academic interest house now located on Adirondack View. More than two years later, we are close to realizing this goal and to enhancing the attention we give to a subject of undeniable national and international significance.

If you would like to be involved in the planning for the Center at Carr Hall, please feel free to contact the steering committee, or one of us.


Tim Spears and Shirley Ramirez

Recently, I had a great conversation with Dave Reidel and Torri Ross, Midd alums from the Class of 1998. They will soon leave for Ghana for a two-year stint with the HIV/AIDS programs funded by PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). After graduation, Dave went to medical school at Penn State, completed a residency in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins, and then completed a fellowship in infectious diseases at University of Maryland. An HIV/AIDS expert, Dave has pursued several research projects in India, Singapore, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Not to be upstaged, Torri earned an MPH at Tulane and then spent two years in the Peace Corps as a community health volunteer in Nepal. She returned to the US and settled at Johns Hopkins for the next five years and did research in women’s health with one study based in Ghana. Torri then completed an RN in nursing, and for the past year has worked as a nurse at the University of Maryland. Oh yeah, at some point in their peripatetic lives they managed to get married.

Torri and Dave’s passionate interest in global health is shared by many other Midd alums. UCLA Assistant Professor Annie Rimoin is investigating the emergence of monkeypox as a human disease in Africa. Rick Hodes has dedicated much of his professional life to caring for patients in Ethiopia, and has formed an international network of surgeons that perform corrective surgery on Ethiopian children. As the president of Save the Children, Charlie MacCormack leads an organization that is respected around the world.

I would like to hear from others in the Middlebury community who are working in global health. Write back with your stories and we will begin to build an alumni network as a resource for current students. Why would such a resource be useful? Well, so far this year, four students are busy designing majors in global health and development though our independent scholar program. A fifth proposal is already in committee review. These students are mining our curriculum for courses in global health and development and have created a solid foundation. Summer internships in global health would enhance the meaning and significance of this academic work, and so I am eager to know of off-campus opportunities that I can share with interested students.

I would also like to know whether there is interest out there in formalizing these curricular interests in global health. By assembling the right combination of courses in sociology and anthropology, political science, economics, foreign languages, and the sciences, along with unique opportunities to pursue internships in global health, perhaps through study abroad, we could create a minor in global health. Is this a good idea? Post a comment and let us know.

At the first faculty meeting of the year, held at the Bread Loaf campus, we traditionally highlight a topic of interest for conversation in small groups. This year, we chose to discuss advising. The topic seemed like a natural follow-up to endorsement of a new senior work requirement; beginning with the class of 2013, all students will be required to complete some form of independent work in their majors. This new requirement highlights the importance that advising will assume as students tackle the challenge of developing a plan over their four years that will culminate in a successful senior project. In addition, results of Middlebury parent surveys suggest that parents rate the advising that their sons and daughters receive somewhat less positively than they do most other aspects of the Middlebury experience.

The conversations that took place at the Bread Loaf meeting about advising suggested (as is often the case) that faculty do not speak with one voice on this issue. Some faculty see no problems with advising as it is: Students seek advice and counsel on a whole range of topics from a wide variety of sources on campus. They talk with their faculty advisors, with other faculty members, with Heads of Commons and Commons Deans, with staff members in many different offices at the College, with their fellow students, with their parents . . . . in other words, students have access to lots of advisors, formal and informal, and they make use of them as they see fit. Students get their needs met, and a faculty advisor is and should be only one source of guidance that students may tap.

Other faculty colleagues take a somewhat different perspective. They are concerned about the changes that have taken place in the nature of faculty/student interactions over the years. Gone are the days of “All College Meeting Night,” a night when faculty in each department and program gathered together with their majors to talk about curricular and staffing developments that were of interest to students. Juniors and seniors no longer need an ‘alternate PIN’ in order to register for classes, which allows them to forego meeting with their advisors before registration. Students regularly pose questions of faculty members via email, eliminating the opportunity for the kind of serendipitous advising that often occurred after a student’s initial question had been asked and answered.

Inevitably, there is truth in both of these perspectives. Students regularly take advantage of the resources available to form important relationships with faculty mentors and others who can and do offer helpful advice. At the same time, there seem to be fewer mandated opportunities for faculty/student meetings dedicated specifically to advising than in the past. So should we be concerned? In order to answer this question, we need to know what students believe about the state of advising at Middlebury. What advising needs go unmet? Where do we fall short? Recognizing that there is enormous variability in the kinds of advice and mentoring that students need and want, what can we as an institution do to facilitate good advising?

Comments welcome.

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