Introduction to the Planning Process

Planning for Middlebury's Next Planning Process

By John Emerson
Dean of Planning

Although our strategic planning work begins in earnest after January 1, we have laid much of the initial groundwork for it during the past three months. Here I share some principles that have helped frame our goals during the "pre-planning for planning" phase.
I believe that our planning will reflect the following goals:

  • It will provide a strategic road map for the College over the next half-dozen years.
  • It will identify how we can continue Middlebury's ascent among the best liberal arts colleges in the country by further strengthening our academic and educational quality and by enhancing our reputation for educational excellence.
  • It will focus more on our people and the ways in which we work to advance the core educational mission – and probably somewhat less than in previous planning exercises on our facilities, infrastructure, and growth.
  • It will be an inclusive process that invites all members of the College family to contribute to planning and to stay informed as the process evolves over the year.
  • It will seek a balance between  (a) being focused on the directions identified by President Liebowitz as important goals for his presidency and (b) being comprehensive in every department and area of the College.
  • It need not replicate the work done by our standing committees and other existing committees; indeed, some planning outcomes will eventually reach those committees for legislative action and formal implementation.
  • Most planning task forces will include some members who have considerable experience with the issues and questions being addressed and others who can add fresh perspectives.
  • The planning will be organized in ways that transcend traditional boundaries in our organizational structures – departments, divisions, and natural constituent groups – so that the community gains both a broader perspective of the College's core mission and greater transparency about how the college functions.
  • Planning requires an effective steering committee that can take the ideas and possibilities identified by task forces comprised of knowledgeable and imaginative people and weave them into a coherent whole that is compatible with the strategic directions identified by President Liebowitz.
  • The steering committee must have the broad perspective needed to choose from among attractive options, to rank our strategic priorities, and to shape a plan that is imaginative,  ambitious, and attainable through the good efforts of an energized community.

    In our initial meetings this fall, we have tried to educate the community about how far the College has come in recent decades and about our key challenges for the coming years if we are to continue the College's steady gains in quality and reputation.

    These meetings have also provided good opportunities for us to listen and to hear the aspirations of students, faculty, and staff for the College's future.  I am optimistic about what I have heard already, and about our important work together in 2005. Please join me in helping to determine the College's future course.


  • Overview of the Planning Process

    What are the major parameters and assumptions as we engage the planning process?

    Time frame

    • Planning extends over one year - January through December, 2005
    • Planning horizon of six years - 2006 through 2012


    • Keep student body at 2350 on Middlebury campus; consideration of long-term enrollments beyond 2012
    • Maintain need-blind admissions for domestic students, with a range of 40-45 percent of students aided
    • Continue enrolling 10 percent international students
    • Maintain priority for diversity of student body
    • Commons to remain central organizing principle of residential life


    • Continued policy of avoiding deferred maintenance by budgeting maintenance and renovations each year
    • Comprehensive fee increases constrained and linked to inflation
    • Steady growth in annual giving to the College
    • Reduce endowment spending to 5% and keep it there
    • Major capital campaign during timeframe of plan
    • What issues has President Liebowitz identified as being among the focuses central to our planning?

    Strategic goals

    • Strengthen further the academic reputation of the College
    • Ensure that Middlebury's public reputation reflects the level of excellence the College has attained
    • Continuous efforts to further strengthen the quality of enrolling students, with agreed upon measures of progress
    • Continuous efforts to further strengthen our faculty and staff, with agreed upon measures of progress
    • Leverage the reputation and strengths of Language Schools, BLSE, and BLWC with prospective students, alumni/ae, peer institutions, and the general public
    • Support an institutional climate in which fresh perspectives, creative ideas, imagination, and an entrepreneurial spirit are valued and rewarded
    • Explore strategic collaborations with other institutions (including opportunities for students and faculty)

    People and Community

    • Ensure intense faculty-student interactions in the face of competing time demands on both faculty and students
    • Ask how our community can better acknowledge and celebrate the successes in various areas of the college - to view success in one area as a success for the entire college
    • Emphasize Middlebury's people, for example, by expanding opportunities for the development and professional growth of employees
    • Meet existing compensation goals for both faculty and staff


    • Re-assess packaging in our financial aid programs, with a goal of reducing financial barriers for those students we accept and who require aid
    • Carry out an evaluation of the Commons program; establish measurable goals for the Commons;
    • Identify future steps in Commons evolution (for example, equalizing the quality of housing across Commons)


    • Identify ways to better ensure that faculty energies are focused on the primary teaching and scholarship missions of the faculty
    • Reduce the student-faculty ratio as part of increasing faculty time for teaching, mentoring of students, and scholarship; give careful assessment of costs and tradeoffs


    • Re-assess the distribution requirements with a focus on: "What is a 21st Century Middlebury College liberally educated student?"
    • Examine role of the sciences in the 21st century liberal arts curriculum
    • Assess levels of foreign language competency and cultural learnedness
    • Continue and strengthen internationalization of the curriculum
    • Identify how we can best capitalize on our traditional curricular strengths - our "peaks'
    • Continue strengthening of interdisciplinary programs
    • Re-assess senior-year academic experience, especially "senior work"
    • Assess the role and impact of increasing numbers of double majors on curricular gridlock, teaching resources, faculty time, and a narrowing of our students' liberal arts studies

    Campus and Infrastructure

    • Refine the definition of, and then develop, the pedestrian campus
    • Continue and strengthen the College's collaboration with the town
    • Continue to take advantage of emerging technologies in teaching while always balancing that use with the human dimension of our teaching
    • Continue and enhance our reputation as the "Environmental College"


    • Prioritizing many good ideas must be a major emphasis for the planning process; "We can do anything but not everything."
    • Establish priorities for competing demands on both human (time) resources and financial resources
    • Meet the requirements of Middlebury's $50 million challenge gift


    Letter from President Liebowitz

    December 23, 2004

    To the College Community:

    During Winter Term, a Planning Committee for Middlebury's Future will be fully engaged in creating a new strategic plan to guide the College in the coming years. This plan will focus renewed attention on Middlebury's core mission: to provide the strongest learning environment we can to the talented young people who choose to study here. It will identify directions and priorities for the College that will build on the great successes of recent decades. Though the College is now recognized as one of the premier residential liberal arts colleges in the country, and there is a long line at the admissions office, we must work hard to harness and build upon our momentum if the College is to continue to attract excellent students, faculty, and staff.

    In order to deliver on the promises and great expectations created by such momentum, we need to identify, enhance, and bring greater attention to the exceptional mode of education we offer our students—specifically the individualized guidance that faculty provide students. We need to make sure that our external constituencies understand the many ways in which this intensive mode of teaching benefits our students.

    Of course the human-intensive mode of education at Middlebury is not limited to the undergraduate college. Our planning needs to focus, too, on our internationally-renowned Language Schools, the C.V. Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad, the Broad Loaf School of English, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. These non-baccalaureate programs are distinctive and have enhanced foreign language and literary education at all levels across the country and throughout the world. We must be sure to create the conditions under which these programs can continue to grow and flourish so they will retain their preeminence.

    Since the completion of the 1992 Long-Range Plan, Middlebury has undergone significant change. The undergraduate student body on the Middlebury campus has grown from around 2,000 students to 2,350, the faculty has increased by about 25 FTEs, and the staff, too, has expanded substantially to meet the needs of the institution's programs. We have increased the number of our Schools Abroad to seven, and sites at those seven Schools to nineteen, raised enrollments in our summer programs by approximately 20 percent, and added a new Language School (Portuguese). During the life of the 1992 Plan, the College has completed major building projects, including: the Center for the Arts, Chip Kenyon Arena and the Natatorium, McCardell Bicentennial Hall, Ross Commons, Atwater Commons, and the new library. The curriculum has become more international and interdisciplinary in its focus, and the Commons System has begun to enrich student life.

    The growth of the College and its facilities has strengthened our curriculum and programming, even as it has inevitably generated new challenges for administrators and managers. Our physical setting and facilities are second to none among our peer colleges, and in looking to the future we must plan and act as good stewards of those resources. But we cannot allow ourselves to become distracted from our core educational mission. We must continue to develop a superior environment for learning, and we must acknowledge and support the very able and committed people whose work is integral to this mission. This support for the "human dimension" of the College means: (1) ensuring more and better time for faculty to share their expertise and passion for learning and their subject matter with students; (2) lowering the financial barriers so all qualified students can attend Middlebury with less indebtedness; and (3) providing the most imaginative and effective faculty and staff development programs to ensure those working at the College are current in their fields so they may contribute their skills and work to making the College's educational atmosphere richer and more rewarding.

    The planning process will directly involve many people from throughout the College community. I anticipate that it will be at least as intense as previous planning processes, but of somewhat shorter duration; I hope that our work can be completed within a calendar year. To accomplish this will require many task forces, with each one focusing on a specific area, question, or challenge that cuts across departmental lines. For example, one task force will focus on Middlebury's curriculum; another will carefully evaluate the composition of the student body, our admissions process, and our financial aid programs; and two others will focus on professional development programs for our faculty and staff. These and other task forces, together with a core steering committee, will constitute the Planning Committee for Middlebury's Future. I expect the task forces to be fully engaged with a broad cross section of the College community to consider the advice and perspectives of members of Middlebury's off-campus constituents—alumni, parents, and trustees (information about how our off-campus constituents can provide input into the process will be made available in early January).

    The task forces will contribute their findings to the steering committee, whose role will be to assemble, prioritize, integrate, and present to the Board of Trustees for its consideration a plan that will chart the College's course in the coming years. Many of the suggestions the task forces make will have implications for our resources, both human and financial, and these implications will need to be measured as we set about the task of assigning priorities that will shape the College's future agenda.

    Following consultations with Faculty Council, Staff Council, the Student Government Association, and many faculty and staff colleagues, I have asked the following members of the College community to serve on the Steering Committee, and they have accepted my invitation.

  • John Emerson, Chair – Dean of Planning and Charles A Dana Professor of Mathematics
  • Amy Briggs – Associate Professor of Computer Science, member of the faculty Finance and Planning Committee
  • Becky Brodigan – Director of Institutional Research and Analysis
  • Alison Byerly – Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of English
  • John Elder – Stewart Professor of English and Environmental Studies
  • Ann Craig Hanson – Dean of Student Affairs
  • Bob Huth – Vice President for Administration and Treasurer
  • ReNard Rogers – student in the Class of 2007
  • Mike Schoenfeld – Vice President for College Advancement
  • Charlotte Tate – Assistant Director of the Rohatyn Center for International Affairs
  • Mike Wakefield – Maintenance Electrician, Facilities Management
  • J.S. Woodward - student in the Class of 2006

    Invitations to serve on the individual task forces have been extended to a number of faculty, staff, and students. In early January, I will provide a complete list of those who will serve on the task forces, along with the charge for each task force.

    The planning process will afford opportunities for many of us to learn more about the College and how it works. This process will be as transparent as possible, and will draw upon our collective imagination and creativity to find ways to enrich the experience of everyone associated with Middlebury College. There is a role for all who want to be involved. If you are called upon to serve on a task force, to explore ideas generated by a task force working on an issue that relates to your area of the College, or to provide needed information to your colleagues who are engaging the issues of planning, I hope you will respond fully and candidly. I extend an invitation to all to share your ideas and perspectives about our future with someone on the Planning Committee for Middlebury's Future. Please send your comments and ideas to:

  • Sincerely,

    Ronald D. Liebowitz
    President of Middlebury College

    Structure for the Planning Committee