On November 18, the campus received an exciting email: it was an invitation to come to Mead Chapel at noon to hear the announcement of the College’s 17th President. As I walked out of class, students were abuzz about who the next leader of the College might be. A few hours later, Mead Chapel was packed with students, faculty, and staff who anxiously awaited for whomever might take the stage. When Dr. Laurie L. Patton, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University and the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion, was announced, the Chapel broke out into huge applause.
I was in the crowd in Mead Chapel to cover the event for the student newspaper (a very exciting day for the campus publication!) and thus got to hear Dr. Patton’s address to the College community. She gave a very thoughtful speech about how Middlebury is well-positioned to lead in various areas: languages, international studies, sustainability, and the meaning of the liberal arts overall. Her last line was quite powerful and stayed with me after the address. Patton said, “I am delighted to begin work as your 17th president, because here, in all the glorious places where Middlebury lives and thrives, we will become together who we are meant to be.”
As I talked to students throughout the day, many of them mentioned how impressed they were with Patton’s biography and experience. A professor of religion at Duke in addition to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Patton is an expert on South Asian history, culture, and religion. (I recently spoke with a friend, who is a Religion major, who said how excited she was that a religion faculty member will be Middlebury’s new president!) Patton has also spearheaded innovative initiatives in the liberal arts while at Duke, including a university-wide course on a specific theme. She also speaks 7 languages! After hearing her biography, I kept thinking about how well Patton’s experience fits with Middlebury’s unique strengths and programs in languages, study abroad, and innovative offerings in the liberal arts such as MiddCORE and other experiential learning programs. Additionally, while speaking with faculty and staff throughout the day they repeatedly mentioned how Patton is precisely the right person for the position.
In the afternoon, a reception was held for President-elect Patton in Wilson Hall and members of the College community lined up to meet the new President and to shake her hand. Patton had conversations with each person who stood in line in order to get to know as many members of the community as possible.
One thing that I think is so great about Middlebury is how accessible administrators are, even an administrator as important or busy as the College President. President Liebowitz routinely holds open office hours and meets with students and student organizations on a regular basis to hear their thoughts and ideas. I have no doubt that President-elect Patton will be the same way. I am so excited for the students that will enter the College and have her as their College President, because I think she will do a fantastic job.