Task Force on Commons & Student Life

Chair, Members, Advisory, Liaison

Tim Spears, Chair
Katy Abbott
David Edleson
Patti Zupan
Doug Adams
Tom Corbin
Marichal Gentry
Gus Jordan
Gary Margolis
Bob Ritter
Stan Bates
Bettina Matthias
Carolyn Barnwell '06
Michael E. Berman '07
Ann Hanson, member and liaison
Matt Biette, advisory on dining
Becky Brodigan, advisory on Institutional Research

Charge to Task Force

  1. Conduct an evaluation of the Commons program; establish measurable goals for the Commons
  2. Consider how the Commons can best contribute to intellectual community, and to promoting intense student-faculty interactions beyond the classroom
  3. Identify future steps in Commons evolution (for example, equalizing the quality of housing across Commons)
  4. Identify priorities for student activities, social life, with attention to relationship with Commons
  5. Plan for the future needs in student health, wellness, athletics, and spiritual life
  6. Plan for the continuing evolution of the organizational structure within student servicesTask Force on Commons and Student Life

Executive Summary
May 2005

Note: Each Task Force Report is a collection of background information, analyses, and recommendations that are submitted to the Planning Steering Committee and the President. Over the summer, the Steering Committee and the President will review and discuss all 15 sets of recommendations together in the context of the College's available resources.

The Task Force on Commons and Student Life met each week this spring in order to give full consideration to the charges assigned to our committee. Very early in our discussions, we realized that if the Commons is to be the "organizing principle" of residential life at Middlebury-one of the assumptions of the Planning Process-then this institutional commitment should likewise organize our consideration of student life. Consequently, we made every effort to place the Commons at the center of our deliberations and, whenever possible, looked for programmatic and structural connections between the Commons system and other aspects of campus life.

We also talked at length about the mission of the Commons and how it has evolved during the past ten years. Although we have tried to keep this report as concrete as possible, we would like to underscore some of the intangible goals that we believe are particularly important to the success of the Commons system at this point in its development:
1. that each Commons will be diverse in all respects demographically, intellectually, and socially.
2. that the activities in the Commons reflect and support the College's general commitment to academic excellence and that the Commons community be a venue for showcasing the intellectual and life accomplishments of faculty and staff, as well as students.
3. that the Commons foster informal relations among students, faculty and staff.
4. that the culture of the Commons, in particular the faculty leadership, encourage students to move beyond what they already know and develop the skills necessary for bridging their academic and social worlds.
5. that students be given additional responsibility for governing Commons activities and their residential lives.
6. that the Commons provide a place of repose on a busy campus, and that the Commons help students to develop balanced lives that will sustain them during their four years at the College-and beyond.

Principal Recommendations

  • Develop and reinforce the Faculty Head's role as senior administrator for all Commons budgets and all Commons hires.
  • Replace one of the Commons Residential Advisors with a Masters-level student affairs professional, who would work with the Dean and Faculty Head and relieve the heavy workload in the Commons office, especially for the Dean.
  • Replace Junior Counselors with First-Year Counselors, with preference given to seniors rather than juniors. Revise the position description so that it places more emphasis on educational mentorship and academic advising. This new position would offer a significant leadership role for seniors in the Commons, and would include a meaningful stipend/salary.
  • Boost Faculty Heads' programming budgets so that the Commons may more effectively function as major, central organizers of campus lectures, symposia, etc
  • Institute College-wide, Commons-based series of lectures, colloquia and activities that would begin at first-year orientation and continue throughout the year. This program would provide an ideal structure for organizing regular convocations, should the College decide to establish such a schedule.
  • Develop clearly defined forums for bringing students, faculty, and staff together to discuss vital community matters. These forums should be naturally lodged in the structures of the Commons, and would range from the colloquia that now take place in Faculty Heads' residences (and include a cross-section of Commons members) to hallway discussions (that include primarily students).
  • Continue to enhance first-year orientation by fostering Commons identity as much as is reasonably possible.
  • Create Commons-based Winter Term courses and seminars, developed and governed by student committees with faculty advisors that are part of the College's normal process for coordinating the curriculum.
  • Establish a Council of Fellows, comprised of faculty and staff affiliates, who would help advise the Faculty Head and Dean, and play an expanded role in the Commons by advising the student-run curriculum committee (mentioned above) or working with students interested in applying for fellowships and research grants (with the appropriate guidance from and link to the Fellowships office).
  • Promote the development of the Student Government Association and the Middlebury College Activities Board so that both are more Commons oriented.
  • Design and build residence halls that create a larger sense of community among the residents. Although the Task Force supports the plan, recently announced by President Liebowitz, to focus on the construction of senior housing in the next phase of Commons development, it believes that future designs of residential and programming space should also anticipate the needs of all four classes.
  • Construct dining halls that adequately meet the social programming needs of the Commons, including the service of alcohol. If practical or financial considerations rule out the construction of dining halls for the Commons that currently lack them, the College should consider building flexible, atrium-like indoor spaces that can be easily programmed for a variety of activities.
  • Create survey instruments that can be administered on a regular basis to students to assess the evolution of the Commons system and the progress we are making in meeting our goals.
  • Draft a clear plan for completing the Commons, and share that plan with the entire community as soon as possible.