Middlebury

Inaugural Address

Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered the following in inaugural address on October 10, 2004.

Thank you for all those warm greetings.

There are three special guests here today, three former presidents of the College, whose presence I would like to acknowledge. These men led Middlebury for a combined 40 years, and all of them played major roles in bringing Middlebury into the constellation of the nation's finest liberal arts colleges. Each has left his mark on the institution, building upon the successes of predecessors, and all of us associated with the College are proud and most appreciative of their contributions. Would each of you stand and let us recognize you for all your contributions: James Armstrong, Olin Robison, and John McCardell. Thank you for being here.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Rick Fritz, Members of the Board, Governor Douglas, former Presidents Armstrong, Robison, and McCardell, Dr. Stameshkin, faculty and administrative colleagues, staff colleagues, Middlebury students and alumni, residents of the town of Middlebury, representatives of the academy, friends, and family—I thank you for your presence on this important day in the life of Middlebury College.

I want also to thank the Presidential Search Committee for its hard work. I recognize and appreciate the challenging task it faced, and I assume this presidency today understanding the confidence the Committee exhibited in recommending my candidacy to the Board of Trustees.

I also thank the Trustees for acting upon that confidence, and for the invaluable guidance and support many members of the Board lent to me during my time in the administration prior to this year.

Special thanks, too, to the Inauguration Committee for conceiving of, coordinating, and executing this multi-faceted celebration amid one of the busiest weeks on campus in memory … and to our facilities, buildings and grounds, and dining staffs, all of whom prepared the campus so magnificently for the arrival of so many visitors, and brought back to life this historic quadrangle for campus-wide ceremonies.

I extend thanks to my administrative colleagues with whom I have worked, both past and present, for helping me to prepare for this day. One does not jump from faculty member to senior college administrator without a few lessons in between. I have been fortunate to have had a number of wise mentors along the way whose patience helped to make the transition far smoother than it would have been.

I am also delighted to have present today many members of my extended family. I thank them for being here.

And finally, thanks most of all to my wife Jessica, who everyday brings wisdom, perspective, and love to our life together. We enter this challenge together, as partners, and I feel blessed that she is here beside me.

Today, of course, is the 16th inauguration of a Middlebury president. As College historian David Stameshkin has noted in his two-volume history of Middlebury College and in his comments today, the College was a long shot to succeed—it was founded as an "experiment" in what was then a tiny settlement, with no government support, and had to compete with the recently founded University of Vermont for the limited number of students in the northern reaches of New England.

Yet, after the College was able to establish some semblance of permanency, thanks to the support of the town and the bold decision to admit women in 1883, which expanded the pool of eligible students to attend Middlebury, there is one constant that shaped and continues to shape, directly and indirectly, the institution's identity, its development, and the important position it holds within higher education. And that constant is "place."

By "place," I mean, as geographers do, the physical as well as the human characteristics of a location or territory that influence the region's cultural development in one particular way or another.

Middlebury's history is linked strongly to its physical setting. I want to point to a few examples of how this particular region of Vermont has shaped the College's development, and then speak to the relevance to us today of the relationship between the region's natural assets and the human creativity and ingenuity it has inspired over the years.

Let's take, for example, the founding of the College's world-renowned intensive summer Language Schools. It was a train ride through here, through the Champlain Valley, taken by Vassar College German Professor Lilian Stroebe, which led to the founding of the first of what are now nine intensive summer foreign Language Schools.

The remoteness of the by-then-well-established College, seen from Lilian Stroebe's train window, would provide the combination of infrastructure and isolation necessary for students to become fully immersed in German language and culture with limited distraction. Students would eat and reside in College residence halls with their faculty, and they would participate, literally around the clock, in a German environment, with classes supplemented by lectures, musical, and other cultural events, intended to enmesh students in German language and culture. Short of going to Germany, the Middlebury campus in 1915, unused in the summer months and largely isolated from even the nearby town, seemed to Stroebe the perfect place for such a learning environment.

The Middlebury administration, led by President John Thomas, immediately saw the virtues of the idea, and granted Professor Stroebe the right to begin the German School the very next summer. Within a few years, Middlebury established an intensive French School and then a Spanish School. Russian and Italian followed, after which came Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and, most recently, Portuguese.

The success of the intensive Language Schools, in turn, established Middlebury, remote as it was, as a magnet for a remarkably rich international curriculum, as some of the most prominent intellectuals visited the summer language programs, some of them to escape the totalitarian regimes of the last century. Thus, the College's remote location, with its perfect environment for full immersion in a foreign language and culture, sowed the seeds for the College's internationalized curriculum, first through its rich array of courses in the graduate summer language programs, and later in its undergraduate liberal arts program.

Based on the early success of the intensive foreign Language Schools, the College established another summer program, the Bread Loaf School of English, on Bread Loaf mountain, in Ripton, Vermont, 12 miles from Middlebury. The School of English began operations in 1920. The School's first dean, Wilfred Davison, recruited a nationally-known faculty, but as consequential as hiring the superb academic faculty was his decision to supplement the standard English literature curriculum with visits and readings by the best living writers of the day, who were drawn to the beauty and remoteness of this special place as an ideal environment for contemplation and creativity.

The popularity of the guest appearances at the Bread Loaf School of English led, five years later, to the establishment of the Writers' Conference—the country's first formal gathering of professional writers and editors with the sole purpose of teaching talented, aspiring writers. And thus was born the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, which will celebrate its 80th session this coming summer. Included on its honor roll of faculty and attendees are: Robert Frost, Willa Cather, Archibald MacLeish, Wallace Stegner, Isaac Asimov, Joan Didion, John Gardner, John Irving, Edward Hirsch, and Toni Morrison.

A final example I will use to underscore the importance of "place" to the College's development and identity is the match between the extraordinary natural endowments of this region and the establishment of the country's first undergraduate environmental studies major in 1965. Five Middlebury faculty—Doc Woodin, Brew Baldwin, Rowland Illick, D.K. Smith, and Louie Pool—from five different disciplines—biology, geology, geography, economics, and chemistry—worked collaboratively to establish this innovative interdisciplinary program before the environmental movement hit college campuses, and before interdisciplinary study was fashionable. They viewed the relative pristine condition of the region's natural environment, seen most visibly in the nearby forests still untouched by human activity, as an outstanding laboratory for student and faculty research. They also saw the threats to that environment, which became their motivation to offer Middlebury students a more focused way to engage in the study of our natural surroundings.

The decades-long tradition of rigorous study of environmental issues, especially, at first, in geology and biology, influenced the development of the College's programs in the natural sciences. Our natural science departments have emerged as one of Middlebury's hidden curricular strengths. They are comprehensive in scope, and offer our students an impressive array of opportunities for research and collaboration directly with faculty, both in the field and in the laboratory. When the story of the dynamism of the College's natural science programs gets out, the study of the natural sciences will also come to serve as a distinguishing characteristic of this College, rooted, however indirectly, in its particular "place."

So what do we learn about Middlebury College from these three stories? Perhaps, most obviously, it is that place is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to explain Middlebury's particular tradition of excellence. In fact, the most enduring and renowned programs at the College have resulted from exceptional human ingenuity and creativity.

Many passengers rode the same train that Lilian Stroebe rode before she pursued her idea for the German School. But it was Professor Stroebe's imagination that ultimately led to the establishment of the full-immersion approach to foreign language study.

Similarly, it was the vision and persuasiveness of two Middlebury College English professors, Edward Day Collins and Wilfred Davison, that convinced President Thomas to experiment with a School of English, rather than sell the Bread Loaf Inn, as it planned to do, not long after the College acquired it in a bequest. That experiment led to what is now the largest graduate English literature program in the country, as well as the first and still premier national Writers' Conference, emulated many times over around the country.

Any college in a beautiful and isolated place might have offered the first environmental studies major. But it was the collaborative commitment of those five Middlebury College professors that helped break new ground by establishing an interdisciplinary major at a time when crossing disciplinary boundaries was largely theoretical at the college level. The program today includes 45 faculty members from 22 academic departments, graduates, on average, 45 students a year, and is generally recognized as the model undergraduate environmental studies program in the country.

A less obvious lesson that emerges from the three stories about Middlebury College is that each of the exceptional programs described here was based on the assumption that intensive human interaction is essential for learning. The full "immersion" approach to teaching a foreign language and culture, which the remoteness of the place inspired, placed students and faculty, side by side, in classrooms, in the dining room, and in the residence halls, isolated from outside influences, and engaged in an intense learning environment. Based on my own experience of studying two summers at the College's Russian School, I can vouch for the significance of the intense and relentless faculty focus on student learning; it was like no other learning experience I have ever had.

The essence of Bread Loaf's success is quite similar. Rather than learn from the nation's best literary scholars and writers by solely reading their works, students at the School of English and Writers' Conference are constantly engaged with them, face-to-face, in classes, lectures, and readings.

The success of the environmental studies program—indeed of any interdisciplinary program—springs from the same source: faculty reaching directly into the student's learning process. Instead of leaving students to their own devices for figuring out how to assemble a plan of study from a set of discrete courses, these faculty members bent and redrew disciplinary boundaries to create a more coherent and integrated way to study the environment. Such an approach to teaching and learning requires greater time commitments on the part of the faculty member, but the rewards have been clear to Middlebury faculty and students for many generations.

So, what is our charge today as we witness the inauguration of a new administration for Middlebury College, and take stock of the College's history and culture? I would say our charge is twofold: to be true to that impressive history, we must, first, preserve those parts of the Middlebury culture that encourage creativity and foster innovation. To do this, there must be a level of confidence within the institution so that particular successes in one area of the College are viewed as successes across the entire institution—a genuine feeling that all parts of the College community benefit from exceptional work and achievement; otherwise successes born out of innovation and creativity will have little chance of survival.

To be true to Middlebury's history and culture, we must also commit ourselves to being very clear about what we do here, and why we've been doing it so well for more than two centuries. What we do best is give students the opportunity to work directly with faculty—dedicated teachers who have mastered specific bodies of knowledge, who are mentors and motivators, and who see their role as participating in a four-year process of opening the hearts and minds of their students and preparing them for a lifetime of learning.

Faculty and students by themselves, however, can't be expected to uphold this tradition of students working so closely with faculty. Understandably, faculty have many competing pressures for their time. And students, by definition, require guidance for making the most of their education while at Middlebury. So it is the staff, in all of its diversity of interest and expertise, who need to play a critical role of keeping the institution focused on the centrality of intensive student-faculty interaction.

I am confident that: by developing a culture in which everyone understands how his or her own particular role contributes directly to the College's core mission of educating young men and women through direct and rigorous engagement with faculty, and, at the same time, by developing a culture in which a particular achievement is viewed across the College as an institutional achievement, where one department's success is viewed with pride by other departments, we will ensure that this College continues to foster and encourage the Lilian Stroebes of the future.

In doing so, we will be fulfilling our charge—preserving and nurturing the proud traditions we inherit here at Middlebury College.

Thank you.

Make for Yourself a Teacher

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2005
May 21, 2005, Mead Chapel

The title of today's baccalaureate address, "Make for Yourself a Teacher," refers to a profound and enduring component of the human experience—the role that students and teachers play in the process of learning. The phrase comes from the Mishna, which is the body of Jewish religious law used and preserved in oral form until it was codified in the year 200.

The phrase that makes up the title of this talk is in that section of the Mishna called "Ethics of the Fathers," which has generated thousands of years worth of commentary representing moral advice and wisdom of rabbinic scholars across many generations—wisdom that has been defined as "spiritual, yet practical," and characteristically contains a contrarian viewpoint that invites more questions and more contemplation about the subject matter under discussion.

The phrase "Make for Yourself a Teacher" adds a distinctive twist to our own received wisdom about the way in which the relationship between teachers and students makes learning possible. Rather than focusing on the devotion and brilliance that allows great teachers to spark a student's mind, the phrase from the Mishna illuminates, instead, the talent that students must have for taking responsibility for their own learning, a talent that drives them to seek out guidance from people around them.

Now, why should you, college seniors, who have just completed your undergraduate educations, care, at this moment, about various interpretations and insights about the role of students and teachers in the learning process? You should care because understanding the richness and dynamics of learning as embodied in the roles played by students and teachers is what should give you the greatest confidence that you will succeed in the world as you leave Middlebury.

Through the dedication of a faculty intensely committed to undergraduate education, and to the belief that small scale human interaction is the best way to educate and learn, you have been able to hone a number of crucial skills that will help you in virtually any of your post-graduate pursuits.

You have completed a baccalaureate curriculum that is rigorous and that required you to study a discipline in depth. This in-depth study over a four year period, guided by engaged faculty mentors, who sought to challenge you at every turn, means you have mastered a subject matter and accumulated a body of knowledge that you can claim as your own and use to form perspectives on important issues related to our physical and human worlds.

You have engaged a wide range of subject matter deemed most important by our faculty in the form of course requirements that introduced you to different modes of thinking and different approaches to knowledge. Though at larger schools these requirements are referred to as "service" courses, or "general education," the faculty here view the chance to share their intellectual passion through these largely introductory courses with great enthusiasm. As a result, you have attained a certain degree of breadth in your education, necessary for retaining your self-confidence as you encounter new and unexpected world views.

You have also been exposed to humankind's great diversity through courses that comprise our cultures and civilizations requirement. Our faculty, like our curriculum in general, is highly internationalized. Their deep knowledge and familiarity with the subject matter, and their intense and direct engagement with you, have stimulated your thinking and advanced your understanding of cultures different from your own, as well as provided you with a new context for thinking openly and critically about your own backgrounds and identities.

Through your intense work with faculty you have become skilled communicators, able to articulate, both in written and oral form, arguments to support opinions you hold, based on initial questions, rigorous analysis, and careful thought. Your intensive writing courses demanded multiple drafts, brought critical commentary from your professors, and should now leave you confident to comment on a wide array of complex and important issues, and to communicate persuasively their significance to others.

And you have learned to become excellent problem-solvers, through numerous student-faculty collaborative research opportunities. You have learned how to get at the meaning of things previously unknown to you, be it understanding the texts of Ancient Rome and their relevance across the centuries, or why cells divide as they do under certain conditions. Working side-by-side with your professors has given you invaluable practical experience and insight into how to solve problems, something that will stay with you regardless of the professions you choose following graduation.

These are all outcomes of the intensive human interaction that is characteristic of a liberal arts education. And each of them should give you great confidence as you move from your status as a student to one as an informed and active citizen.

But the real foundation of this confidence will become evident to you as you think seriously about what it means to "Make for Yourself a Teacher." As one rabbinic interpretation explains: "Make for Yourself a Teacher suggests that one does not look for a teacher who is perfect and who matches one's own personality and abilities….Rather, one notes the strengths of the teacher and learns from those strengths, 'making' them your teacher by your effort to uncover what they have to offer."

In other words, making for oneself a teacher is fundamentally an active process. It requires each of us—each of you—to figure out how those around us might have the expertise or talents necessary to fulfill our needs for guidance.

As a teacher, I have seen the process by which students develop the capacity to turn people around them into teachers. The discussion section in large introductory lecture classes provides a good initial training ground for students to learn how to engage and listen to fellow students. The format of the class provides a natural progression in that the lecture portion of the course has the expert faculty member conveying foundational information to a large group, followed by the small discussion section, where students engage one another, exploring and testing new ideas. This enables the students to hear the ideas of classmates, which begins the process of learning from others.

Advanced seminar classes, taken usually during the junior or senior year, provide another venue for students to learn how to learn from others, and one in which there is far less input from the expert faculty member. Students engage one another with more expertise than before, finding that which is useful and necessary for the deepening of their own understanding of the subject matter through the unexpected insights of classmates. Engagement, disagreement, and the formulation of new ideas and questions occur that, in this learning environment, require the more active kind of learning that is the key component of making teachers for oneself throughout one's life.

And independent work, where students work closely with faculty advisers, either in the laboratory, or on an essay, artistic production, or thesis project, is perhaps the most significant way students learn how to engage another individual as a teacher. The bulk of information and creativity related to the subject is the student's, so the student is learning to seek out challenges to their own expertise, thereby enriching their knowledge.

All of these examples are tied directly to the College's academic program, but the opportunities at places like Middlebury to learn how to make for yourself a teacher extend to the non-academic program, as well. Building organizations from scratch on campus, such as the College's fully student run organic garden; conceiving of, organizing, and running large benefits, such as the recent Relay for Life in support of cancer research; establishing student reading groups, such as Hillel's weekly Torah study; creating new opportunities for cultural engagement, such as the Riddim world dance group; and learning teamwork, such as through one's participation in athletics, have offered all of you during the past four years a remarkable array of opportunities to learn how to learn from others, in these cases your fellow students, making for yourselves teachers a natural part of your life.

Perhaps the most visible campus-wide sign that many of you are already implementing the skills you have been honing inside and outside the classroom is the large gathering that took place in McCullough less than two weeks ago. That meeting, which brought together at least 250 students, was generated by campus protests regarding diversity issues that many found troubling and in need of community engagement and action. Though at times emotions ran high, the two-and-a-half hour collective expression of concern and protest was civil, and the way in which students challenged the president and also, at times, fellow students, reflected deep and honest engagement among those who shared similar and different perspectives, and were willing to hear the differences and learn from them.

It is the intense human interaction that you have experienced here during the past four years that I believe is the essential component of a liberal arts education. It happens to be strikingly rare among colleges and universities in this country and, in fact, around the world. And that is why you are particularly well prepared to succeed in the world: you have had multiple opportunities to seek out the guidance you needed at each step of your education.

So why am I, as College president, so interested in how students learn and teachers teach? In short, I believe educators, and in particular leaders of institutions like Middlebury, should be concerned that they are preparing their students to meet the complex challenges of our 21st century world. That 21st century world places a premium on individuals who have the skills to learn from people who look different from themselves, worship different gods, and approach conflict and its resolution from varying perspectives.

As a college president, I must be concerned that we are living up to the needs and expectations of our society to develop leaders with the necessary preparation for this challenging world. If institutions like Middlebury do not fulfill such expectations, then which will? If not colleges that invest so heavily in bringing together students from around the world and from different cultures and communities from within this country, then which ones?

The need to educate and prepare citizens who know how to engage and learn from others was brought home most vividly by the events of September 11th, 2001. That day came, of course, only a few days after most of you began your college education here, in the peaceful and bucolic setting of northern New England.

September 11th made many Americans more conscious of the huge changes under way in world-wide processes collectively referred to as globalization. While the United States prospered for the good part of the 1990s, ongoing structural changes in the world economy, along with the increased interaction of global cultures and the threat of conflict they posed, went largely unnoticed by most Americans.

Economic relations between states and groups of states were changing; new modes of communication were making political borders porous and weakening states and governments, while allowing rogue groups and even individuals to compete for political authority; science was moving into new areas that challenged previously accepted legal and ethical conventions; and the very meaning of culture was beginning to change with the dramatic increased ease of movement and interaction among disparate and formerly isolated groups.

In the context of the new consciousness forced upon this country by the tragic events of September 11th, and of the resulting demands that the world places on talented and well-educated young people like yourselves, the ancient wisdom of the Mishna's pithy exhortation to "make for yourself a teacher" speaks, now, to at least two critical points.

First, it underscores the premium our world now places on and requires of individuals who can learn from people in all walks of life. Increased interaction among peoples from vastly different backgrounds is no longer a choice; it is now a reality, driven home so forcefully since September 11th.

And second, it speaks to the indisputable value of a liberal arts education. Such a human-intensive-focused education is the richest possible medium for students to develop their skills at learning how to learn from others.

As I look out upon you today, our graduating seniors, I ask you to carry the following message with you:

Be conscious of the distinctive character of the education you have received here as you head out into the world.

Be conscious of the deep and growing need our world has for people with your undergraduate educational experience. Having learned here how to "Make for Yourself a Teacher," you now have a moral obligation to continue doing so for the rest of your lives. The world will become a better place for it.

Thank you, and best wishes.

Baccalaureate Address

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2006
May 27, 2006, Mead Chapel

Good afternoon! On behalf of the College, I extend a warm welcome to the members of the Class of 2006, to their parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends as we gather here to celebrate an important milestone in our students' lives.

I am certain your four years here have been memorable ones. I am also certain that when you look back at them 50 years from now, you won't call these the best four years of your lives. The great gift of your Middlebury College experience is that it will have prepared you for the exciting, challenging, and uncertain world we all face today. And it is that preparation, I believe, that will play a significant role in generating many rewarding experiences in your life.

The world that you face upon graduation from College has most definitely become far more complex than the one I or any of my faculty colleagues would have thought likely when we were sitting where you are today. For you and your generation of college graduates, I am convinced that one piece of advice is the most relevant to success: live the liberal arts.

Now, admittedly, there is a wide range of possible interpretations of "living the liberal arts."

One needs to go back to before the Civil War, in the mid-19th century, to find a common vision of liberal education in the United States. Since then, colleges and universities have gone in several different directions, ranging from requiring a heavily prescribed curriculum with obvious curricular ties to the past, to offering complete freedom of course selection, to becoming more practical and establishing a vocational mission with little in common with the origins of the liberal arts.

But the 1,000-year old European roots of our present-day liberal arts institutions were just as varied and ambiguous as their modern incarnation. Allow me to briefly summarize the nature of those roots and their evolution to our present day. I think we have an essential lesson to learn from that evolution, and that is that a coherent world view of what contemporary society demands from its educational institutions is both necessary and possible in the 21st century.

As Hannah Gray, historian and former president of the University of Chicago observes, "the first universities … did not grow out of a clear idea or plan." But they did have one thing in common, and that is that they were "grounded in the assumptions of Christian doctrine." In addition, over time, they came to "represent an idea," Gray explains "[an] idea of a university constantly re-conceived and reformulated, appropriated and re-appropriated, to the needs, structures, and aspirations of different times and settings." In other words, they also came to share a commitment to reflecting and responding to societal needs.

The extent of religious authority within the academy waxed and waned throughout the medieval period. The Church retained its dominance until the followers of Renaissance Humanism challenged the status quo in the 14th century. In Gray's words:

[The humanist reformers] argued that the professional education and forms of scholarship pursued in the universities had no relevance to the needs of their society or to the understanding of those matters that had to do with human life and its conduct. They wanted a form of secular learning, revitalized through the recovery of ancient culture and its norms, directly related to the development of human wisdom and character and inspiring active minds and moral energies that would have effect in the world of affairs and its institutions. They maintained that liberal education and humanistic scholarship should equip people to lead a good life.

The humanists succeeded in broadening the university curriculum by focusing their research on classical literature, rhetoric and history, and moral philosophy. The new emphasis inspired new fields, including archaeology, philology and textual criticism. As the humanist movement grew within the university, its success led to an increased demand for lay higher education, which, in turn, increased the demand for what Gray called, "the desire to create ... civil servants and gentlemen of ... some cultivation fit for society."

Though the religious order reasserted itself during the Reformation and the Counterreformation, the humanist movement, and its program in the liberal arts, was adopted, at least partly, by the Protestant Church. The motivation for this accommodation by the Church was to educate its clergy outside the traditional curriculum, while educating the lay population in faith. This expansion of mission was pursued in order to enlist a greater number of educated individuals to fight the religious battles of the day through increased and more accessible scholarship.

The history of higher education in the United States reveals a similar dynamic in the evolution of the components that make up the liberal arts. The traditional liberal arts education that emerged in the 18th century and extended through the American Civil War, emphasized the integration of what was called "character education" with what was termed "technical or mental discipline education."

In the words of a curriculum report issued by Yale College, in 1828, "the principal aim of college instruction [is] not to supply all of the important information that students might some day use, but to instill mental discipline." Such discipline, the report stated, would come out of the repetition of translating ancient texts, from solving mathematical problems, and debating intentionally irrelevant issues. The study of classical texts would help build character, along with daily required chapel attendance. Finally, a required course in moral philosophy, intended to convey expectations on civic responsibility and ethical behavior, and to provide a synthesis of the coursework the students did over their four years of study, was usually taught by the college president.

The impetus for reform of this vision of the liberal arts emerged soon after the Civil War, with the development of a national-level concern and vision for American higher education. This newfound national level of concern led to the two greatest changes in the academy to date: the democratization of the student body and the broadening of the curriculum.

Prior to the Civil War, there was no "American idea" of higher education. But the nationalizing, binding forces unleashed by the war provided the impetus for the federal government to initiate generous programs to develop the country's system of higher education. The war also provided the incentive for wealthy industrialists to invest heavily in higher education in order to ensure an educated and competitive labor force with which to rebuild the national economy and compete more broadly and successfully in the expanding world economy.

Those who had, for decades, questioned the mission of 19th century American higher education led the charge for reform. As Hannah Gray notes, many were captured by the idea of the German university. The reformers of American education, inspired by German model of education, introduced graduate programs, partly as a response to the country's evolving social agenda, which included the development of a professoriate large enough to meet the increased demand for higher education. As the professoriate grew, so, too, did the number of specializations and sub-specializations and the range of courses that entered the curriculum. Soon, a more modern curriculum replaced the old classical one, and requirements were eliminated, first at Harvard, and then at other major institutions.

Obviously, the link between religion and education also changed dramatically during this period. In fact, it essentially disappeared entirely. As Derek Bok, former and soon-to-be acting president of Harvard notes, "faith was no longer thought central to the development of moral character. Compulsory chapel began to give way on many campuses, making religious observance little more than another option within a broad array of extracurricular pursuits." The open or elective system that President Elliot introduced at Harvard did not provide much structure, and allowed students to complete a large portion of their education in introductory level courses. They learned, as the saying went, a little about a lot, but nothing about anything. Eventually, the Elliot-inspired elective system was replaced by a curriculum that required some depth in a subject, called a major or concentration, with some general education requirements to ensure there was some breadth of study as well.

Following World War II, American colleges and universities underwent further dramatic changes, thanks, in part to the G.I. Bill. With student bodies no longer made up predominantly of the well-to-do, curricula shifted to accommodate more vocational needs. More recently, following the social movements of the 1960s, the student body became more diverse again, yielding new fields of study, such as women and gender studies, Afro-American studies, and ethnic studies. This democratization and diversification of the student body, coupled with the century's worth of curricular innovation that characterizes the contemporary history of higher education in the United States is a key reason, I would argue, that the American system of higher education became the envy of the world in the 20th century.

Many critics have lamented the evolution of the liberal arts curriculum: some argued the increased emphasis on rational scientific thought at the expense of humanistic studies led to too great an emphasis on the practical and vocational. Others complained that the over-specialization of the professoriate led to an inordinate number of sub-specializations, resulting in the fragmentation of knowledge and piecemeal learning for the undergraduate student. Others, still, questioned the loss of the earlier emphasis on moral education and what was known as character building. In the modern era, as Bobby Fong, president of Butler University has written, "higher education's purpose was to train the mind; character formation was a concern of the family, the church, the courts, but not the academy. This wholesale renunciation [on the part of colleges and universities]," he concludes, "has now come to be regarded as an abdication of responsibility to our students and our communities."

In his latest book, Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok echoes these observations, describing the evolution of higher education and the liberal arts as linear, moving from one phase to another, in reaction to the societal forces of the day. This tendency to view the evolution as linear, however, can lead one to believe that there is no going back; that what constituted the older foundational aspects of the liberal arts is likely to be irrelevant today.

I would argue, however, that the development of the liberal arts is not linear, and, therefore the earlier versions of what constituted a liberally educated individual could have much relevance today -- different kind of relevance than centuries ago, but timely and meaningful nonetheless. Medieval education was concerned primarily with creating an educated clergy, and the period following the Reformation with justifying the relationship between faith and reason, religious commitment and learning. The modern history of higher education illuminates why a coherent world view for structuring the make-up of a liberal arts education can no longer rely specifically on Christian foundations. But I believe that a coherent underpinning for the liberal arts is nonetheless emerging in the 21st century—and I would call such a coherent world view a global one.

How would such a global world view redefine the objectives of a liberal arts education into a coherent set of components?

First: An education for this world view should not prepare students, first and foremost, for a career—that would suggest too much certainty, structure, and predictability. The "content" of what you would have learned over a four period in preparation for a particular job, in all likelihood, would already be obsolete. Instead, the world in front of you requires you to be more nimble intellectually -- to be able to write clearly, think critically and analytically, communicate effectively, to be able to ask the right questions, and to know how to recognize and engage the "next big thing" when, or even before, it comes along.

Second: An education for our 21st century coherent world view needs to prepare its graduates to be able to confront difference and to be able to interact in an increasingly diverse and complex world. One can no longer choose the comfortable route of the "tried and true" and be successful—to be a consequential player in whatever pursuit you may chose. The United States, whether it likes it or not, is part of an accelerating, globalizing world where, both within the United States and internationally, it is essential to understand other cultures, live and work with people who are vastly different from ourselves, and to know how to communicate across religious, ethnic, and cultural divides.

Thomas Friedman has brought these issues to the forefront in his two best-sellers, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which provided an excellent framework for understanding globalization, and, more recently, The World is Flat. In this book, Friedman explains how, through largely unplanned rapid changes in technology and a number of social forces, the world's economic playing field has been leveled. As Friedman has written, the perfect storm that brought rapid technological change and social change to literally billions of people in Asia "created a flat world; a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of sharing knowledge and work, irrespective of time, distance, and geography. Economically speaking, Beijing, Bangalore, and Bethesda, Maryland are now next-door neighbors." We cannot afford not to prepare our future leaders to interact and compete in such a world.

And third, an education for the 21st century needs to provide students with the ability to make good choices. It is in this regard that we now need to reclaim what was understood as the foundational components of the liberal arts education of the past.

What, in the past, would have been called the moral or character education component of a liberal arts education ... today, given the demands of the 21st century, must be understood as instilling the skill of judgment-making in our students.

This skill is crucial because of the changes the world is undergoing, with weakened institutions and structures, and fractured societies in which there is no consensus on what is good, bad, right, or wrong. It is a world in which many institutions have lost legitimacy, and therefore the responsibility for making choices has necessarily devolved to the individual.

To the graduates in the audience: think about these three components and how they've played themselves out in your education here. With regard to the first point, developing the ability to engage, successfully, in a fast-changing world, think about your academic experience here. The habits of the mind one develops by working closely with a professor, and by doing significant independent work or collaborative research, also prepares one for a world in which the meaning of a career has been altered to be something fluid and unpredictable rather than singular, constant, and long-lasting.

With regard to the second component, which is providing an education for difference, think about this: although you have resided in the most ethnically and racially homogeneous of our country's 50 states for the past four years, you have benefited from learning within one of the most highly internationalized curricula in the country. Coupled with the significant increase in the socioeconomic diversity of our student body over the past twenty years, Middlebury now provides its students the opportunity to encounter a diversity of experiences and perspectives that will prepare them to confront the flat world Friedman describes.

And now think about your experiences outside the classroom, and where you might have applied judgment, both positive and negative, to your own and your peers' behavior and interactions with one another. Inside the classroom, your most effective teachers forced you to become comfortable with the process of establishing for yourself a position on a given topic, even if the position differed from their own, and to experience the liberation of laying claim to a definitive position. They pushed you to articulate your own opinions and understand the roots of your convictions. Were you able to transfer these lessons of the classroom to life outside the classroom? Did you feel any need to? Were you comfortable applying the process of making judgments, based on the rigors of the academic program, to life in general?

As you prepare for life after Middlebury, the answers to these questions will be paramount. The major challenge is going to be how well you "live the liberal arts," which is to say figure out for yourself how to apply the skills you acquired in the classroom to help you navigate the new world order.

As a true believer in the virtues of a Middlebury education, I have no doubt that you will rise to the occasion. You are an exceptional group of young adults. Though of course we no longer have any institutions or systems that can claim a monopoly on how best to make the world a better, more tolerant and just place, talented, thoughtful, well-educated individuals like yourselves will know how to discern right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable behavior, and know for sure when they see it, that something is ethical or not.

I believe the most important confidence you must have as you head into the so-called real world is that the education you received here will enable you to live life with the ability to make such judgments and to act on them. Our world depends on it.

Congratulations, Class of 2006, and thank you.

The Value of Discomfort

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2007
May 26, 2007, Mead Memorial Chapel

Good afternoon. On behalf of the faculty and staff of the College, I extend a warm welcome to the parents and families of our graduating seniors, and of course to members of the class of 2007, as well.

Both this baccalaureate service and commencement are joyous occasions celebrating an important transition in the lives of our graduates. Today’s service is an occasion to reflect on what our graduating seniors have already done, on the experience and the accomplishments of the past four years, and what those years have meant to them and to this College community.

Let me begin, therefore, by telling you a few things about the Middlebury Class of 2007. There are 643 graduates in this class, 287 men and 356 women. Some 365 of you are graduating with honors, and 65 were elected to Phi Beta Kappa. The most popular majors for your class were economics, chosen by 92 students, and English, chosen by 74, and 135 of you majored in two subjects. About 77 percent of you—497 students—studied at least one foreign language, and 62 percent—405 students—studied abroad for at least one semester in 48 countries. Members of your class have earned three Watson Fellowships for research abroad, two Fulbright Scholarships, and a Keasbey Scholarship to study at Oxford University.

Your class has been characterized by an exceptional spirit of volunteerism. Collectively, approximately 70 percent of you contributed to the community through volunteer and service-learning projects, as well through pro bono consulting work. Some of you have served on local fire departments and rescue squads; traveled to New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina to assist in the rebuilding effort; served as Big Brothers or Big Sisters to local children; worked with the John Graham Community Shelter, providing meals and companionship to the homeless; and shared your expertise with local businesses and regional economic development groups based on what you learned in economics and geography courses.

Members of your class started the Middlebury chapter of Relay for Life, and many of you have participated in that event, raising more than $669,000 over the past four years to support research by the American Cancer Society. You also initiated Dialogues for Peace, a student group, dedicated to seeking nonviolent solutions to conflicts around the world.

The Sunday Night Group, which you helped to launch, has been incredibly influential in promoting concrete action to address one of the most serious concerns facing your generation: climate change. Not only have you initiated or assisted with many efforts to promote sustainability and energy efficiency on campus, but you helped to organize and lead last month’s Step It Up campaign, with thousands of simultaneous rallies across the country. This was by far the largest environmental demonstration in the United States since the first Earth Day 37 years ago.

Largely because of your energy, leadership, and dedication, Middlebury has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for its “community engagement” and by the Princeton Review, which named Middlebury as one of its “colleges with a conscience” for fostering social responsibility and public service. I am enormously proud of all that you have done to bring positive changes to our community, our country, and our world.

I am also truly impressed by the imagination and scholarship of this class. These qualities were vividly demonstrated last month at our first College-wide symposium recognizing student research and creativity. About 60 members of your class participated in that symposium, where students presented the results of research on subjects ranging from solar power to social entrepreneurship to religious life at Middlebury. This symposium, which is going to be an annual event, exemplifies the spirit of intellectual risk-taking, independent thought, and a passion for learning that should characterize the best of a liberal arts education.

This College is truly exceptional in the opportunities it provides for students to do original research and creative projects, often in partnership with a faculty mentor. One member of your class received one of three awards from the National Association of Student Anthropologists this year for her study of the effects of Fair Trade on organic rice farmers in Thailand. Another received the top prize in a national undergraduate chemistry competition conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. A third was the only undergraduate student chosen to lead a session at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers last month. And two of you were part of a Middlebury team that finished first among 37 teams in a national computer programming contest.

You’ve had impressive success in the arts, as well. For example, a number of members of this class belonged to the cast and crew that staged last year’s remarkable production of The Bewitched, which was presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington as one of four finalists in the American College Theatre Festival. In addition, a member of your class relied on her work in the arts to become one of the winners of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace national fellowship program. She will use the study of architecture to analyze the border crossings between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, exploring how such crossings may be reconceived as points of connection rather than of division.

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Your class includes 30 athletes who have earned All American honors in intercollegiate sports and 50 who earned all-NESCAC academic honors. You helped to win 25 NESCAC championships and eight national titles for Middlebury over the past four years in intercollegiate sports, and this spring our rugby club won its first national championship.

There is yet one more notable thing about this class that I would like to mention. You have helped to make Middlebury a more diverse and inclusive place than it was four years ago—which brings me to the theme I particularly want to discuss this afternoon. Your class is statistically the most diverse, and the most international, ever to graduate from Middlebury. That has certainly affected—and I would say it has greatly improved—the education you have received here.

Why? In a nutshell: since so much of what you learn in college you learn from your fellow students, the broader the range of backgrounds and perspectives those students represent, the broader and richer the education one is likely to receive. Because of the residential and human-intensive nature of your Middlebury education, little of what you do that is related to your studies is done in solitude. You are always bouncing ideas off of classmates, roommates, hall-mates, housemates, teammates, or fellow members of student organizations.

The human-intensive nature of learning at liberal arts colleges, long a hallmark and strength at Middlebury, was energized by the Civil Rights and other social movements of the 1960s. Formerly underrepresented groups began attending American colleges and universities in significantly greater numbers, and the breadth of learning experiences changed radically.

The changes, at first, were by dint of the kinds of discussions that were taking place on a meaningful scale in the classroom. Those discussions, whether about a classical work of literature or an interpretation of some historical event, included new perspectives that had previously been absent from the classroom, and no doubt forced some people to rethink their opinions.

Over time, the fruits of a broadened scope of discussion extended to the curriculum and the faculty with similar results: a bigger tent of ideas within which to teach and learn. But that bigger tent brought intellectual conflict and discomfort. The so-called “culture wars” were an expression of the tension created by the challenge and inclusion of new interpretations of the curriculum. Some degree of conflict was inevitable given the new and vastly different perspectives that had been previously excluded from, or were, at best, on the margins of the academy. Through these changes, the academy became a richer, but also a more polarized, environment for learning.

Since the 1960s, small, rural liberal arts colleges have not experienced as rapid and extensive a change in the composition of their student bodies as public institutions or schools located in urban areas. Yet, many have changed quite significantly, especially with the arrival, more recently, of international students, many of whom come from the developing world.

I cite, for example, the changes that have taken place here at Middlebury since 1980. In 1980, less than 5 percent of the student population was either an American student of color or an international student ... that is less than 1 in 20 students. Our incoming class, the Class of 2011, will be approximately 32 percent American students of color and international. Twenty-seven years ago it was 1 in 20; today, it is 1 in 3. In addition, the change in the percentage of students on need-based financial aid is noteworthy because a student body with greater socioeconomic diversity is essential to our students’ exposure to a variety of perspectives. In 1980, the percentage was 24 percent, while for the incoming class this September, the percentage is 47 percent: the highest ever.

This change in the composition of the student body reflects, in part, the changing demographics of the United States. But more than that, it reflects the College’s deliberate effort to provide the richest learning environment for Middlebury students. The College’s recently approved strategic plan has as its highest priority increasing access to Middlebury for the very strongest students by continuing to meet the full need of all admitted students, increasing the grant portion of our financial aid packages, and reducing the amount of debt a student will incur during four years at the College.

The strategic planning committee believed that, by removing some of the financial barriers to studying at Middlebury, the College would more easily matriculate students from rural areas, from developing countries, and from inner cities. The student body, as a result, would be more ethnically, racially, and socio-economically diverse. There would no doubt be a greater diversity of ideas coming from students with such varied backgrounds, which would once again energize the classroom with frequent exchanges rooted in our students’ vastly different life experiences.

It is no longer a cliché to say that “the local is the global and the global the local.” In fact, it should go without saying that all of you who are graduating tomorrow will no longer be competing with young men and women predominantly from your hometowns, from a particular region of this country, or even from the United States. In all likelihood, the majority of you will be trying to get a job, pursue a project, or secure a spot in a leading graduate or professional school that will bring you in direct competition with young people from ... you name it: Shanghai, Tokyo, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Dehli, or Berlin. Even those of you determined to do something independently, outside of official structures or institutions, will soon learn that you are now part of a global network, and the sooner you adapt to what this means, the easier you will discover how to succeed within that network.

In other words, it is no longer adequate to understand only one’s own culture, no matter how dominant that culture may seem; or one’s political and economic system, no matter how much others claim to want to copy it; or a single approach to solving problems, no matter how sure you are that your approach is the best. To succeed in the 21st century—which means to be engaged in the world in a way that allows you to make a difference, to fulfill a sense of achievement, and to allow you to be true to yourself because you know who you are — you need to be multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-operational in how you think. And you can only be multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-operational if you feel comfortable with the notion of difference. And that is why we seek diversity here at Middlebury.

But greater diversity means change, and change on college campuses is almost always difficult. Few 18 to 22 year olds are skilled in inviting or tolerating perspectives that are vastly different from than their own. Frankly, the same goes for 30-, 40-, and 50-something-year-old academics. Even though a campus may become more diverse in terms of the numbers of underrepresented groups present, the level of engagement can still be inconsequential if those representing different viewpoints are not encouraged and supported to express them. If an institution is not prepared to make space, figuratively speaking, for previously excluded groups, and support their presence on campus, its diversity efforts cannot succeed. And if the wariness about discomfort is stronger than the desire to hear different viewpoints because engaging difference is uncomfortable, then the quest for diversity is hollow no matter what the demographic statistics on a campus reflect.

In order for the pursuit of diversity to be intellectually defensible and valuable to those seeking a first-rate education at places like Middlebury, it needs to result in deliberation. It cannot simply facilitate the exchange of one orthodoxy or point of view for another. The best liberal arts education requires all voices, those of the old order as much as those of the new, and even those in between, to be subjected to the critical analysis that is supposed to make the academy a distinctive institution in society.

I know first hand of several incidents during your four years at the College that speak directly to the challenges of ensuring that a diverse spectrum of opinions can be voiced and considered within our academic community. To name just a few: the protest against the College’s policy allowing military recruitment on campus; the complaints about the College’s judicial procedures that were triggered by the suspension of an African-American student; the reaction to the College’s decision to accept an endowed professorship in honor of a conservative former chief justice of the United States Supreme Court; and most recently, the rash of hateful homophobic graffiti and the resulting discussions about offensive stereotyping and free speech on a college campus.

Several of these issues were discussed at faculty meetings or in several large forums on campus. Though the depth of engagement at these gatherings may not have reached the level that many who were passionate about the issues would have liked, students and faculty did express themselves in ways that didn’t happen on this campus 20, 15, or even 10 years ago. Issues were brought up by students and faculty that raised the collective consciousness of those in attendance, and, in some cases, had an impact on College policies and procedures.

The reaction to one gathering, in particular, was as instructive as the issues about which we learned at the open forum. Following a meeting in McCullough social space that was called to address several racial incidents on campus, I received a number of e-mails from students in which they apologized on behalf of their fellow students, whom the e-mail writers believed were disrespectful in how they engaged me. I found the e-mails — and there were a good number of them — surprising, because I found the meeting, which was attended by 300 students, more civil than I expected it to be, and in no case do I recall any student expressing their concerns in ways that I would consider disrespectful. Was it uncomfortable? Yes, for sure. Were the students disrespectful? I don’t think so. But being uncomfortable, as many of us were made to feel that day, is a good thing; it needs to be part of one’s education.

Similarly, this year’s open discussions about homophobic graffiti and other anti-gay and lesbian acts on campus did not delve as deeply into the root causes of such unacceptable stereotyping and the vicious treatment of individuals as one might expect given the incidents in question. Yet, the reactions to what was said at the open meetings created discomfort among those who were accused of contributing to homophobia on campus. The accusation—stereotyping recruited athletes as homophobic—highlights, once again, the challenges that greater diversity and openness bring to an academic community. Was the stereotyping of a single group a productive way to engage this important topic?

What emerged from our discussions of the homophobic incidents, at least thus far, is hardly what one might call neat and tidy. There was, however, much learned beginning with a far greater awareness of the bigotry that exists here as it does in society at-large, and that we have considerable work to do if we truly aspire to be a community that welcomes diversity and wishes to learn from it. We also witnessed how easy it can be for some members of an aggrieved group to fall into the same kind of stereotyping from which they themselves have suffered. Diversity sure can be messy.

The controversy surrounding the acceptance by the College of an endowed professorship in American history and culture in honor of William Rehnquist is one more example of the complexities that come with an increasingly diverse community.

Because the former chief justice was conservative, and was on the side of several court decisions that ran counter to the positions held by several underrepresented groups on campus, there was a genuine feeling on the part of some that honoring Mr. Rehnquist was a repudiation of their presence on campus and a sign that the College did not value diversity. They felt, in their words, “invisible and disrespected” as a result of the College accepting the professorship. Though one can understand this perspective, especially given the history of underrepresented groups here and on other campuses, it is unfortunate that the Chief Justice’s accomplishments and reputation as a brilliant jurist by liberal and conservative constitutional scholars alike were lost in the opposition to his politics.

Ironically, the stance taken by those who believed it was wrong to honor the Chief Justice because of his position on particular court cases undermines the very thing the protestors support most passionately—diversity. Some couched their protests in the name of the goals of liberal education, arguing that the ultimate goal should be about “advancing” social change. I do not share in that narrow definition of liberal education, especially liberal education in and for the 21st century. Rather, liberal education must be first and foremost about ensuring a broad range of views and opinions in the classroom and across campus so that our students can question routinely both their preconceived and newly developed positions on important matters. Such deliberation will serve as the best foundation for enabling our graduates to contribute to the betterment of society.

In writing on the College’s alumni online listserv about the Rehnquist controversy and the reported opposition of some to President Clinton speaking at tomorrow’s Commencement ceremony, an alumnus from the Class of 2001 offered this perspective:

"I always thought that the benefit of a place like Middlebury was that it opened your mind and helped you become more informed by allowing (or, forcing) you to interact with, listen to, and learn from people [with] different opinions — even if that meant welcoming those you disagree with onto your own turf."

I hope those of you in the audience who are graduating tomorrow have given, and will continue to give, this topic some thought. For sure, diversity is intellectually and socially challenging; it forces you to engage issues more broadly than you might otherwise. It often creates unintended consequences; and it surely can make one uncomfortable. But some discomfort, amidst all that is comfortable about Middlebury, is the best preparation for a successful entry into our increasingly complex global world.

We have today few if any institutions that can claim a monopoly on how best to make the world a better, more tolerant, and just place. Talented, thoughtful, and well-educated individuals like yourselves, who have been made to feel uncomfortable and understand difference, are more likely than others to figure out how to discern right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable behavior, and know the difference between ethical and unethical conduct.

As you leave Middlebury, the most important kind of confidence you must feel is the confidence that your education has prepared you to make sound judgments and to act on them. I believe because you have been exposed to diverse ideas, opinions, and people over the course of the past four years, and have been made to feel uncomfortable at times, you will discover that confidence and draw upon it so that it will serve you well in exercising your judgment and claiming your place in the wider world.

Congratulations, Class of 2007. We wish you the best.

Reflections on "Work Hard, Play Hard"

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2008
May 24, 2008, Mead Memorial Chapel

Good afternoon. On behalf of the faculty and staff of the College, I extend a warm welcome to the Class of 2008, their parents, families, and friends as we mark an important transition in our seniors’ lives.

Today we reflect on all the graduating seniors have experienced and accomplished over the past four years and on their contributions to our community and the world beyond the College. And we look ahead to the opportunities that await them as Middlebury alumni.

Let me begin, therefore, by telling you a few things about the Middlebury Class of 2008. There are 637 graduates in this class, 311 men and 326 women. Some 365 of you are graduating with honors, and 67 were elected to Phi Beta Kappa. The most popular majors for your class were economics, English, and international studies. One hundred and twelve of you double majored. About 81 percent of you—that’s 520 students—studied at least one foreign language, and nearly 60 percent—or 371 students—studied abroad for at least one semester in 49 countries.

Members of your class have earned three Fulbright grants, a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for research abroad, and one of only 10 Compton Mentor Environmental Fellowship awarded this year.

The scholarship and imagination of your class were vividly demonstrated a few weeks ago at the second annual College-wide symposium recognizing student research and creativity. More than 65 members of your class participated in that symposium, presenting the results of research on an amazing array of subjects including:

  • Measuring the expansion of a supernova remnant
  • A study of Jewish environmental ethics
  • Contemporary Italian theater
  • The economics of a clean-energy renaissance
  • Child-nutrition programs in Haiti; and
  • Possibilities of the Precision Bass

Another six from your class presented their research at the annual Christian A. Johnson Symposium in the History of Art and Architecture, which this year focused on “The Question of Collaboration.”

A Middlebury education affords exceptional opportunities for students to take intellectual risks and to undertake original research and creative projects, often in partnership with a faculty mentor. One of your classmates won the 2008 Andrew E. Nuquist Award for Outstanding Student Research on a Vermont Topic for her work on farmland conservation easements in Addison County. This is the fourth consecutive year that a Middlebury student has won that award.

Another member of your class was part of a Middlebury team that won a national computer-programming contest both this year and last year. Yet another classmate’s research was selected by the Council for Undergraduate Research for presentation at the Posters on the Hill symposium in Washington, D.C.

A Middlebury education emphasizes civic engagement as well as scholarship, and your class has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to volunteerism and community service. More than half of you contributed to the community through volunteer and service-learning projects, as well through pro bono consulting work. Six of the 10 Public Service Leadership Awards presented this year by the Alliance for Civic Engagement went to members of the Class of 2008, and a record 32 seniors were nominated for those awards.

It would be hard to gauge the full extent of your service to the local community and beyond. Some of you have served on local fire departments and rescue squads; traveled to New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina to assist in the rebuilding effort; served as Big Brothers or Big Sisters to local children; worked with the John Graham Community Shelter providing meals and companionship to the homeless; helped Sudanese refugees settle into new homes in Vermont; or served as English instructors and translators for Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers living in Addison County.

Members of your class have been agents of change at the forefront of efforts to address one of the most crucial issues facing the world: climate change. Not only have you initiated or assisted with many efforts to promote sustainability, carbon neutrality, and energy efficiency on campus, but through grassroots organizations such as Step-It-Up, 350.org, 1Sky, and PowerShift, you are working to build support for concrete action around the country and the world. Largely because of your efforts, Middlebury was one of only four colleges in the country this year to receive the Campus Sustainability Leadership Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Some of you were involved in organizing the first Synergy retreat last fall, bringing leaders of a wide array of student organizations together to discuss issues of environmental and social justice.

You also helped to form the Justice League to foster collaboration among student groups committed to service and activism. Over the past academic year, the Justice League has been engaged in issues ranging from the Farm Bill to the crisis in Sudan and political oppression in Burma. And you were among the founders of Middlebury’s Iraq Study Group, which is dedicated to promoting intercultural understanding and conflict resolution.

Working in groups like these and through your daily interactions with students, faculty, and staff, you have shown a willingness to cross the boundaries of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation to address difficult issues. The example you have set in demonstrating how diversity can strengthen a community is truly inspiring.

Your achievements in the arts are impressive, as well. For example, one member of this class has studied with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, and another was chosen to represent the New England region at the national gala of American College Dance.

A member of your class attended the European American Musical Alliance program in composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris and was a finalist in the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer competition. Several of you wrote compositions that were performed by the College orchestra. Another member of your class won awards for best student documentary and for best overall student film in the Vermont Film Festival.

Eleven of you will be part of the Potomac Theatre Project’s summer season in New York City. Two have had plays performed professionally, and another will be touring the country with the National Players classical touring company. Yet another senior was the National Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival scene design winner.

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Members of your class have earned 33 All American honors in intercollegiate sports and 122 all-NESCAC academic honors. Two Middlebury women in the Class of 2008 won individual NCAA titles. You played on teams that won 20 NESCAC championships and seven national titles for Middlebury over the past four years, including Middlebury’s first national championships in rugby and men’s soccer, a women’s cross country NCAA title, and back-to-back NCAA championships in men’s and women’s hockey.

With your help, the football team captured its first outright NESCAC title this year. The men’s basketball team had its best season ever, making its first NCAA tournament appearance. And you helped power the baseball team to its most successful season in Middlebury history in 2006 and its first NESCAC championship and NCAA tournament appearance.

We are enormously proud of all of you.

Of course, I can’t overlook the contribution that members of your class made to the world by helping to launch earth-bound Quidditch as a recreational sport at Middlebury and a number of other campuses. Congratulations to the Middlebury Molleywobbles on their spectacular victory over Vassar at the Quidditch World Cup Fall Festival this past year.

All of these achievements continue the tradition of remarkable accomplishments by Middlebury graduates, so many of whom have moved onto bigger, more challenging things, armed with knowledge and skills imparted by their faculty mentors, classmates, and others with whom they have come in contact here during the past 4 years.

You will soon leave the artificiality of the Middlebury campus, often referred to on many idyllic liberal arts campuses like ours as “the bubble”…an overly protected environment that allows students, and indeed encourages them, to become blissfully unaware of things happening outside our small environs. Such blissful ignorance of the outer world tends to magnify one’s trivial daily experiences. The elimination of trays in the dining halls, or losing McCullough social space and Proctor to renovation somehow takes on a level of importance equal to truly significant events, such as the recent cyclone in Myanmar or the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, China.

This bubble is a double-edged sword: while it can lead students to become somewhat divorced from the realities of the world beyond Middlebury, its artificiality is also a great asset—an integral part of our students’ learning experience. The bubble provides cover for students who are willing to take risks, to experiment, and to experience failure while learning important lessons along the way. This is no insignificant attribute of a Middlebury education, especially now given the profile of your generation.

Your generation, the so-called Millennials, are typically characterized as: goal-oriented, optimistic, hard-working, cheerful, earnest, deferential, cooperative team-players, and, perhaps a bit difficult for college administrators to believe, comfortable with authority(!). Yet, your generation is also known to be more risk-averse than previous generations, perhaps a consequence of spending a lot of your time growing up in structured, supervised, adult-organized activities. Thus, the bubble, though so thoroughly artificial, can provide the opportunity for many of you to do the unusual, to test some previously undeveloped components of your persona and intellect, and to experience failure without suffering great consequences.

We hope, of course, that during your four years here, we compensated for the artificiality of the bubble better than most other small liberal arts institutions. We are conscious of the need to strike that balance between being protective and recognizing that college is a time of transition from the semi-dependent world of young adults to the world of independence that comes with the next phase of life.

We try reaching that balance by providing numerous leadership opportunities on campus through established student organizations, residential life positions, and by encouraging students to create things from scratch.

We are doing it through the recent fine-tuning of our commons residential system. The modified system is based on the belief and principle that as students progress through their four years here, they should be expected to exercise more independence and control over their activities and actions, including where and with whom they should live.

We do it, too, through our athletics program. Coaches, by delegating authority to captains in their role as intermediaries between coach and teammates, create a culture of accountability and interdependence. Through their delegated authority, the captains have the opportunity to emerge as leaders, but, just as valuable, they also have the opportunity to screw up. Through learning how to lead, or failing to lead, one inevitably also learns about responsibility.

We also believe our rare approach to study abroad, which requires students who attend Middlebury’s programs to direct-enroll in partner universities, study side-by-side with local students in the target language, and live with host families or with students from the local university, provides a valuable and rather stark antidote to the protected environment of Middlebury in ways that well prepare students for independence following graduation.

On balance, I believe Middlebury gets most things right when it comes to providing a protected learning environment on the one hand, and challenging our students to exercise judgment and independence, on the other. Yet, there are, of course, things we can do better.

I am going to be rather blunt in highlighting one of those things we need to work on, so please bear with me. My objective in engaging this difficult topic is to try to give some legitimate oomph to the message I wish to convey today to our graduating seniors—that the personal quest for an enriching and fulfilling life itself requires individuals to make deep commitments to building and sustaining their communities.

The issue I believe we have failed to address effectively is that of alcohol abuse and the consequences it has for individuals as well as for our community. Obviously, this is not a problem particular to Middlebury. But of course, simply because so many colleges and universities seem to exhibit paralysis on this topic does not mean we should accept irresponsible and self-destructive behavior.

We have been more fortunate than many peer institutions during the past few years in terms of the number of extreme incidents we have experienced as a result of extreme drinking, but that is hardly a consolation. Our dedicated health educators and student life colleagues have put together an extensive array of programming designed to inform our students of the risks and consequences of alcohol abuse, yet the behavior continues.

At the heart of the problem is the prevailing attitude one hears so frequently from students ... that it’s OK, indeed normal, to drink heartily once, twice, or three times/week because one has worked so hard.

This approach to life in college is by no means new, nor is it limited to Middlebury. Glance at the Ivy Gate blog or student blogs at various NESCAC schools and one will come across numerous references to the work hard, play hard dimension to college life, and the seeming acceptance of the irresponsible behavior that such a culture creates. A few of the posts on those blogs might shock some of you, but it is representative, I think, of the attitudes that now pass as the norm.

The expression work hard, play hard itself is not a problem, of course. Who would argue with something that celebrates balance in one’s life? Or fun? How the meaning and understanding of the term has changed, however, especially when it comes to life in college, is the problem.

Today, the “play hard” component of work hard, play hard includes a significant amount of what Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman has called “high-risk drinking,” a polite term for binge drinking, usually involving hard alcohol. Binge drinking, for the less familiar, is defined as a male consuming five drinks at one sitting and a female four, usually within a four hour period.

In the olden days, according to several accounts from 50-something and 60-something alumni from some highly regarded party schools, the play hard component seemed far more benign, as it largely had to do with pranks, usually done outdoors, accompanied by hearty drinking that involved almost exclusively beer. There was little recollection, or mention, of the widespread “collateral damage” from the playing hard that has become the norm today.

The so-called collateral damage from irresponsible drinking is all too familiar to students, staff, and administrators who must regularly, literally and figuratively, clean up the mess. Dorm and property damage, disrespect of staff and fellow students, fighting, and sexual assaults are just some of the all-too-common incidents associated with alcohol abuse on campus. Our public safety office reports that more than half the calls they receive—more than half of all their calls—are related to alcohol or substance abuse.

Most frightening is the long-term impact binge drinking has on one’s brain and its development. Researchers have found that alcohol can do serious and irreparable harm to a teen’s and young adult’s brain. In a study completed by a team of neuroscientists, individuals aged 21-24, who drank enough to attain blood alcohol levels just below the legal limit (just below .08), recorded greater incidences of brain impairment—that is, a decrease in the ability to learn new information, form memories, and perform cognitive functions—than individuals who drank the same amount and were only four years older. This research supports the long-held view that alcohol has a significant destructive impact on the development of the brain before one reaches one’s mid-20s.

One has to wonder why, if the implications of irresponsible drinking are so clear, bright and aspiring individuals resort to binge drinking and using hard alcohol to the extent they do? The impact of such drinking, as self-reported by our own first-years, is quite evident and not buried only in scientific journals. Almost a third of our first-years who took part in a survey on alcohol use said that within two weeks of completing the survey they had experienced a blackout—a period of amnesia that can last for seconds, minutes, hours, and/or days that prohibits the natural development of memory and recollection of recent events.

It is interesting to hypothesize as to why this generation in particular has taken the work hard, play hard approach to life in college to the extremes it has. Some who have written on the subject believe it is the need to release pressure that students feel coming from their parents who, ironically, or perhaps explicably, grew up during social and civil rights movements and now feel compelled to provide for their children the very structures and limits they fought to remove; others see it as a reaction to the pressure caused by increased competition for jobs and opportunities brought about by globalization; and others, still, including many students with whom I have spoken during the past three years, believe it is simply a function of the current work and activity load at Middlebury, which, I agree may very well be out of whack. The great amount of work assigned by our faculty, they argue, prevents many students from pursuing a healthy day-to-day balance between work and non-work activities, which creates the kind of pressure cooker that is best relieved by intense drinking.

The overall impact of binge drinking that is part and parcel of the new, self-destructive work hard, play hard approach to college life is the diminishing of what one learns and experiences at a place like Middlebury. It prevents the integration of many of our international students, who openly wonder why students who are so smart in class, appear to be so dumb out of class when it comes to how they socialize and use alcohol. This obsession with extreme alcohol consumption is foreign to so many students from different cultures on our campus. It results in less interaction and engagement within the study body, which translates into missed opportunities for students to hear different perspectives on the arts, politics, and life in general, and to learn about vastly different cultures that coexist on our campus. In other words, it leads to behavior that interferes with the larger, loftier, goals of a liberal arts education.

Recognizing our own inability to counteract, to date, the emergence of this new, self-destructive work hard, play hard culture gives us some guidance on how to be more effective in dealing with this challenge. For us, as an institution of higher education, responsible for providing the best possible liberal arts education, our limited success so far calls upon us to rely more on student leadership and peer pressure than on administrative policies and programs. Administrative directives can’t get us very far when the socialization among newly entering students into the newer version of work hard, play hard is so strikingly quick – or has taken place before students arrive here. Students themselves need to be a large part of the solution, and some have already shown how effective their involvement can be.

A good example of effective student leadership was that exercised by this year’s Feb orientation leaders, largely sophomores and juniors who volunteer to help orient incoming Febs adjust to entering the College mid-year. During several lunches at the president’s house with this year’s entering Febs, just about every student mentioned how their orientation leaders took charge of the drinking issue on their own accord, not as directed by administrators. They encouraged their charges to respect the drinking laws, and mentored them when peer pressure to drink in excess began to mount. This is the kind of guidance and support for younger students we will need to engender among more upperclassmen, if we are to reduce irresponsible drinking and create the respectful environment we desire and expect for our students.

For you, as young adults about to graduate into the so-called “real world,” the stubborn persistence of this culture highlights the importance for you, as individuals, to take some degree of moral responsibility for the behavior of fellow members of whatever community you choose to live in. This will require you to take seriously the importance of building communities in which standards of decency, self-respect, and respect towards others are upheld by those in it.

This insight, about the relationship between, on the one hand, the opportunity to live fulfilling, dynamic, and enriching lives, and, on the other, the need for an individual’s deep, strong commitments to the values of one’s community, is not a new one. Aristotle helped us to begin thinking about this issue more than two thousand years ago. And as with all such profound insights about human civilization, every generation must figure out for itself how to apply such wisdom to one’s own era.

For you, the graduating class of 2008, I would offer the following:

Do not accept self-destructive behavior from your friends and peers. You would not have come to college here in the first place, nor exercised the diligence and focus necessary to complete your degree, had you not believed firmly in the values of a liberal arts education. Believing in the liberal arts means you believe in learning, in the lifelong worth and possibility of personal growth and engagement in the world around you.

Our world today needs you and your generation to combat the self-destructiveness of extreme behaviors with the creation and support of communities characterized by individuals watching out for one another. We look to you, now steeped in the life-affirming values of the liberal arts, to work hard and play hard with wisdom into the future.

Congratulations and best wishes as you embark on the next exciting chapter of your lives.

September 12, 2004: Convocation Address

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address to the Class of 2009 on September 12, 2004.

Welcome! I trust your first week on campus has gone well. From everything I have heard, it has ... and tomorrow, you will officially begin a new phase of your lives.

Those of you who went on MOO trips, I hope all the mosquito bites have stopped itching. And for those of you who didn't go on the MOO trips, I hope those mosquito bites have stopped itching, too.

Just so you know, although many joke that the mosquito is Vermont's state bird, it really isn't. This year the mosquito situation was unusually bad, matched perhaps only in recent memory in 1989 ... the year the then-Governor of Vermont, Madeleine Kunin, went on CBS news, in an attempt to save the state's summer and fall tourist industry, to tell the country that the mosquitoes were really not that bad.

According to locale lore, confirmed, at least, in principle by the Governor herself during her three-year term here as Bicentennial Scholar in Residence, Governor Kunin chose to use one of the state's beautiful lakes as a backdrop, which made sense since this was, after all, a pitch to help the tourist industry. Unfortunately, someone in the Kunin administration forgot that water is a mosquito's favorite habitat, so when the cameras rolled, and she began to explain how all the reports of a mosquito epidemic were greatly exaggerated, she was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes and had no choice but to begin swatting her face, her arms, and all other parts of her body.

Reporters being reporters, there was little sympathy shown and the cameras just kept rolling. Needless to say, the summer tourist season was not saved that year.

Killing frosts do decimate the mosquito population, so don't be concerned that this will continue for much longer. Soon we will be mosquito free and will turn our attention to snow, ice, and sub-zero temperatures ... craving the warmer weather and forgetting all that comes with that warmth!

Professor [Stephen] Donadio [who gave the faculty address at this year's convocation] has spoken a bit today about liberal education—its timelessness, the pureness and sometimes elusiveness of its substance, and the dedication of a former Middlebury faculty member, Professor Eve Adler, to share with students her love of her own pursuit of understanding what we, today, might learn from ancient texts, and how those texts explain some of today's most pressing issues. Also of great interest to Eve, and the subject of a course she taught, was the question. "What is the goal of education?"

That question, of course, is, and should be, on all of our minds, and certainly on the mind of one who is just beginning his tenure as president of this College. So as I thought about the topic for my very first address to a first-year class, wishing to draw parallels between your experience in starting your Middlebury careers and my experience in starting my time as president of the College, I thought it appropriate to share with you some thoughts on your education as you begin your studies here and I begin my presidency.

These views are not an attempt to answer in full Professor Adler's question of "What is the goal of education?"—that would be presumptuous. But the views I will share with you will help to frame the larger discussion we will initiate on campus this year as part of a planning process intended to help chart the College's course over the following years.

Though many argue that liberal education is education in the purest form, separate and divorced from the influences of specialization, professionalism, and the pressures of the here and now, I believe this need not be the case, nor can we afford to let it be the case.

The specific subjects that make up what a liberally educated individual should study today may be a matter for interesting debates, but beyond the specific subjects, for sure, a liberal education has a moral dimension to it. That dimension defines an obligation on the part of the individual to give to society, to share the fruits of what one has learned with society at large. Our society, in turn, needs what a successful liberal arts education provides its students, regardless of one's major field of study. And those who benefit from such an education should feel compelled—an obligation—to understand how that education fits in with the greater good.

So it's the mode of study—the how, and not so much the what—that I want to focus on. Education here, as you will find out, is human intensive. Very intensive. Our relatively small scale of operations, and our emphasis on undergraduate education, means that students interact quite regularly and intensively with an engaged and talented faculty, or at least they have the opportunity for such engagement and interaction.

This mode of education is the exception and not the norm; fewer than 2 percent of all undergraduates enroll at residential liberal arts colleges with this method of teaching and learning, largely because of the cost of such an education. The true or real cost of educating each student is around $60,000 per year. Our comprehensive fee, at just about $40,000 a year, means that every student, whether he or she receives grants and loans from the College or not, receives a subsidy or scholarship of at least $20,000. The $20,000 difference between what it costs to attend Middlebury and what it costs to provide the education is made up by annual gifts to the College by alumni and friends, plus the annual earnings on the College's endowment—its long-term insurance policy against potentially difficult financial times.

I mention the cost of this kind of the education and the subsidy or scholarship that everyone receives for two reasons: a liberal arts education is not first and foremost about efficiency or cost-containment—it is about providing the teaching and infrastructural resources necessary to ensure our graduates can engage their complex world seriously and with great confidence when they graduate; and second, so you will be less likely to take for granted the incredible array of resources available to you here to prepare yourself for consequential engagement in the world.

I should note that the essence of what I am saying today is hardly original. Some institutions of higher education with which you are all familiar have come to the same conclusion in recent years: you might want to read Yale College's recent self-study on undergraduate education, or Harvard president Lawrence Summers' several speeches on undergraduate education, or a number of the elite state universities' rationale for the development of undergraduate honors liberal arts colleges within their larger structures. In each case, these larger institutions of higher education have been forced to discover—or rediscover—the centrality to their mission of a liberal arts education, with the emphasis on intensive human exchanges.

The finest large universities, both private and public, have made a commitment to reestablish their focus on undergraduate education. Will they succeed? Only time will tell. Success at those institutions may well influence our own future path, but for now, the ethos of devoting remarkable time to each student is alive and well here, and we must be sure to do whatever we can to preserve that ethos and commitment.

So what do I mean when I say that a liberal arts education needs to prepare its students for a highly complex world, and one whose complexity seems to increase more rapidly than ever before? What do I mean, in terms of the way we should educate and you should learn, when I say we need to ensure that all of you leave here ready for serious engagement with the greater world, confident in your skills to make a difference?

Confidence to engage the world following graduation comes, in part, from mastery of knowledge, which all of you should eventually achieve to some success by completing work in one of the College's 40 majors. But if you only have confidence in the areas in which you major—that which you studied for four years—you are likely to be limited in the kinds of serious engagement you will have once you hit the "real" world.

Confidence to engage the world seriously comes less from the subjects you will study, and more from theway you learn while you are here. The ability to write clearly, to speak and argue persuasively, and to think in a disciplined manner represents the most crucial set of skills you will learn here in preparation for what you will face following graduation. I will expound briefly on each of these areas, and relate how this learning environment is the very best to prepare you, if you are willing to do the work.

First: seek classes and professors that force you to write, write, and write some more. One of the clichés one hears all the time is that graduates of liberal arts colleges do well after graduation and are sought highly by a wide array of professions because they are taught to think critically, communicate clearly, to ask the right questions, and then find their answers.

Clichés become clichés because, quite often, they are true, and this one about liberal arts education is indeed true. However, it is true not because one simply enrolls at a residential liberal arts college or takes a required number of courses in the liberal arts curriculum. Rather, it is true because of the relatively small classes we offer and the relatively small student-faculty ratio we have here. The combination of these two characteristics means you have your professor's attention and your work is given substantive critical commentary.

Middlebury requires two "intensive" writing courses, one is your first-year seminar, and the other is a course recommended to be in your major. In those courses, because they are designated as writing intensive courses, you will write a lot. You should also rewrite a lot, sometimes multiple drafts of one assignment. In addition to your professor's comments, you should take advantage of the significant array of resources provided here to help you with writing. Seek feedback routinely on your argument, or on the clarity of your writing, or both, from peer tutors or staff at the College's new Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research. Never feel satisfied by doing the minimum when it comes to having the opportunity to have a faculty member read your writing.

The final result is that you become a better writer, a skilled writer, able to make an argument forcefully, and with confidence. That confidence is crucial if you are going to be engaged in the world following Middlebury, and it requires the sustained and intense guidance we offer here.

Second: seek out courses and professors who require you to speak and present your views in class, both in seminars and discussion sections. Along with writing effectively, the ability to speak clearly is an important part of developing the confidence you will need as you set forth from college. There are ample opportunities to take courses in which oral presentations are required. Don't sidestep these courses because you are shy, or you think others know more than you do. If you keep in mind the question, "What is the goal of education," why you are here, and how part of being liberally educated involves a moral obligation to give back, you will feel more comfortable taking the initiative to get as much out of what this human-intensive learning environment offers you.

Most faculty will cherish the opportunity to help you hone your oral skills in class. At the least, they have a vested interest in the quality of discussions in their course; but for many more, the opportunity to help you develop your oral skills is part of what they view as their role at a place like Middlebury.

And third: give great thought to scientific study ... labs and all. In and of itself, the need for a more scientifically literate population is self-evident. The scientific dimension of so many of society's current issues—be it the environment, the ways in which human beings communicate with each other across the globe, genetic manipulation and cloning, alternative energy sources, food alteration, or new forms of warfare—the scientific dimension is central to understanding the world around us and to our ability to participate and make a difference in it.

Middlebury offers students who pursue science beyond a course or two a huge comparative advantage: the ability to work side by side with a faculty member, to do research, and to use state-of-the art instrumentation that one would think is found more frequently, and made available to undergraduates more readily, at larger research universities. In fact, at most larger universities, it is the graduate students who have access to the scientific equipment, not the undergraduates.

There is a reason why a disproportionate percentage of Ph.D.'s earned in the sciences are by students who went to small liberal arts colleges for their undergraduate degree and not to large research universities. The kind of science education that is available at the very best liberal arts colleges is unique and is something to consider now that you are here.

Even if you do not major in science, the pursuit of scientific education will expose you to the scientific method, to the importance of replicability to the development of sound theories and new knowledge, and will instill a discipline that is likely to become part of how you think and address multi-faceted issues well after you complete your studies here.

Now, I don't expect a significant change in the "drop-add" activities over the coming weeks as a result of these comments. Or, specifically, a run on writing-intensive courses this semester. Or finding out we have run out of space in McCardell Bicentennial Hall—if that is possible.

I do, however, hope you will rethink what it means to attend a College whose mode of education—intense human interaction—and dedication to that mode of education, offers you an opportunity to prepare yourself for a world far different from the one my faculty colleagues and I inherited when we completed our undergraduate studies.

In fact, I can't help but observe how yesterday's third anniversary of September 11th fits into all of this: if nothing else, September 11th should represent to each of you and your generation a clarion call for action—for serious engagement in the world and a commitment to prepare yourselves for that engagement as best as you can. I can think of no better place for that preparation than here, or a better time in your lives to begin that preparation than now, just as you begin your studies at Middlebury. As Professor Donadio said of Professor Adler, whose teaching and scholarship revolved around her love of ancient texts, her main intellectual pursuit was to understand how the problems we are witnessing today, and how they will play themselves out in the future, are rooted in what we know of the past.

You have an important role to play in how those things we are witnessing today play out in the future. I encourage you as strongly as I can to take advantage of the resources you have before you, and will have over the next four years, to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to engage the world and those complex issues with confidence and conviction. We are here to help you; that is the nature of a Middlebury education. Please don't pass up the opportunity that is before you.

Thank you.

Convocation 2007

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address to the Class of 2011 on September 9, 2007.

Welcome! I trust your first week on campus has gone well. From everything I have heard, our move-in, registration, First Year Seminar meetings, commons meetings, placement exams, and all of the other beginning-of-the-year activities that we somehow manage to fold into your orientation went smoothly, and many people deserve a lot of credit for helping to make our orientation such a success.

At the risk of appearing to overlook the many who played key roles during the past week, I want especially to thank Associate Dean of the College Karen Guttentag, whose energy, intelligence, and judgment, along with her significant organizational and diplomatic skills, were essential to your successful entrée to Middlebury.

A number of faculty and staff who have been involved in orientation for many years, claim this was the best orientation they can recall. Please join me in thanking Karen, and the many other faculty and staff who helped, in Karen’s own words, to bring all the “connective tissue” of the institution together to make orientation a singular and unified success.

Convocation addresses, such as these, allow presidents to address incoming students directly and as a group ... something not likely to occur again during your time here, until Commencement. With such an opportunity, I feel it is important for me to speak to you about a most fundamental and some would call “practical” topic: your time at Middlebury.

Though it is tempting to initiate your college education with a lecture on the timelessness of liberal education, and how its substance is frequently described as pure yet elusive, I want, instead, to focus, and have you focus as you begin your studies, on how you will use your time at Middlebury and take advantage of the remarkable array of resources we have here for you to leave here a very different person than you are today.

Though many argue that liberal education is education in the purest form, separate and divorced from the influences of specialization, professionalism, and the pressures of the here and now, I believe this need not be the case, nor can we afford to let it be the case. The pursuit of understanding what we might learn from ancient texts, and how those texts explain some of today’s most pressing issues, need not be divorced from how one applies what one has learned to his or her individual life, or to the world one will inhabit after these relatively protected four years.

The specific subjects that make up what a liberally educated individual should study today makes for interesting debates, but beyond the specific subjects, a liberal education has a moral dimension to it. That dimension defines an obligation on the part of the individual to give to society, to share the fruits of what one has learned with society-at-large. Our society, in turn, needs so very badly what a successful liberal arts education provides its students, regardless of one’s major field of study. And those who benefit from such an education should feel compelled ... indeed an obligation . . . to understand how that education fits in with the greater good.

Education here is human intensive. Very intensive. Our relatively small scale of operations, and our emphasis on undergraduate education, means that students interact quite regularly and intensively with an engaged and talented faculty in ways that are atypical of higher education in this country and around the world.

That is, our mode of education is the exception and not the norm; fewer than 3 percent of all undergraduates in the United States enroll at residential liberal arts colleges with our model of teaching and learning, largely because of the cost of such an education. The true or real cost of educating each student is more than $65,000 per year. Our comprehensive fee, at just about $46,000 a year, means that every student, whether he or she receives grants and loans from the College or not, receives a subsidy or scholarship of at least $20,000.

The $20,000 difference between what it costs to attend Middlebury and what it costs to provide the education is made up by annual gifts to the College by alumni and friends, plus the annual earnings on the College’s endowment – largely a corpus of investment that serve as a long-term insurance policy against potentially difficult financial times. Combined, these three sources of revenue – the comprehensive fee paid by students, the gifts we receive from generous supporters of the College, and earnings from our endowment – determine our annual operating budget and allow us to provide the most expensive, but also potentially the most effective, model of education available.

I mention the cost of this kind of education and the subsidy or scholarship that everyone receives for two reasons: a liberal arts education is not first and foremost about efficiency or cost-containment – it is about providing the teaching and infrastructural resources necessary to ensure that our graduates can engage their complex world seriously and with great confidence when they leave here; and second, so our students will be less likely to take for granted the incredible resources available at Middlebury to prepare them for consequential engagement in the new world.

I should note that the essence of what I am saying today is hardly original. Some institutions of higher education with which we are all familiar have come to the same conclusion in recent years: Yale College has redefined its commitment to undergraduate education recently, completing a plan whose focus and emphases look, sound, and feel very much like our own long-standing approach to undergraduate education. This includes, by the way, the recognition, endorsed strongly by its president Rick Levin, that all Yale students would benefit from a significant period of study abroad.

This is new territory for most Ivy League schools, where the average share of juniors who study abroad is fewer than 15 percent, and at Harvard and Yale, that figure has historically been less than 10 percent. On average, between 55 percent and 65 percent of Middlebury juniors study abroad.

Harvard, too, in the past five years, has focused much energy on discussions of undergraduate education, and recently released its new curricular proposals. Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers irritated many in the Harvard community with his sometimes scathing critique of the quality of the undergraduate experience at our county’s most prestigious institution, and many of the issues he raised had to do with the kind of engagement we, at Middlebury, have been committed to for years.

And finally, a number of the elite public universities have recently created undergraduate honors liberal arts colleges within their larger structures in recognition of the importance of the kind of education we offer here. In each case, these larger institutions of higher education have been forced to discover … or rediscover ... the centrality to their mission of a liberal arts education, with the emphasis on intensive human engagement, interaction, and exchange.

The finest large universities, then, both private and public, have made a commitment to reestablish their focus on undergraduate education. Will they succeed? Only time will tell. Success at those institutions may well influence our own future path, but for now, the ethos of devoting remarkable time to each student is alive and well here, and we must be sure to do whatever we can to preserve that ethos and commitment.

So what do I mean when I say that a liberal arts education needs to prepare its students for a highly complex world … a world whose complexity seems to increase more rapidly than ever before? What do I mean, in terms of the way we should educate and you should learn, when I say we need to ensure that all of you leave here ready for serious engagement with the greater world, confident in your skills to make a difference?

Confidence to engage the world following graduation comes, in part, from mastery of knowledge, which all of you should eventually achieve to some success by completing work in one of the College’s 44 majors. But if you only have confidence in the areas in which you major—that which you studied for four years—you are likely to be limited in the kinds of serious engagement you will have once you hit the so-called “real” world.

The significance of your education will come less from the subjects you will study, and more from the way you learn while you are here. The ability to write clearly, to speak and argue persuasively, and to think in a disciplined manner represents the most crucial set of skills you will attain here.

Seek classes and professors that force you to write, and I mean write. And I mean a lot. One of the clichés one hears all the time is that graduates of liberal arts colleges do well after graduation and are sought highly by a wide array of professions because they are taught to think critically, communicate clearly, to ask the right questions, and then find their answers.

This cliché speaks the truth, but not because one simply enrolls at a residential liberal arts college or takes a required number of courses in the liberal arts curriculum. Rather, it is true because of the relatively small classes we offer and the relatively small student-faculty ratio we maintain here. The combination of these two characteristics means you have your professor’s attention and your work is given substantive critical commentary. But you still need to apply yourself, take advantage of the opportunities, and become active participants in your education.

Middlebury requires two “intensive” writing courses, one is your first-year seminar, and the other is a second course, often times take in your major. In those courses, because they are designated as writing intensive courses, you will write a lot. You should learn to re-write a lot, too, sometimes multiple drafts of each assignment. In addition to your professor’s comments, you should take advantage of the significant resources provided here to help you with writing.

Seek feedback routinely on your argument, and on the clarity of your writing, from peer tutors or staff at the College’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research. Never feel satisfied by doing the minimum when it comes to having the opportunity to have a faculty member read your writing. The final result is that you become a better writer, a skilled writer, able to make an argument forcefully, and with confidence.

Seek out courses and professors who require you to speak and present your views in class, both in seminars and discussion sections. Along with writing effectively, the ability to speak clearly is an important part of developing the confidence you will need as you set forth from college. There are ample opportunities to take courses in which oral presentations are required. Don’t sidestep these courses because you are shy, or you think others know more than you do, or you think oral communication skills might not be relevant to a career you hope to pursue. They are.

Most faculty will cherish the opportunity to help you hone your oral skills in class. At the least, they have a vested interest in the quality of classroom interaction in their courses; but for many more, the opportunity to help you develop your oral skills is part of what they view as their role at a place like Middlebury.

Finally, give great thought to scientific study ... labs and all. In and of itself, the need for a more scientifically literate population is self-evident. The scientific dimension of so many of society’s current issues – be it the environment, the ways in which human beings communicate with each other across the globe, genetic manipulation and cloning, sustainability and alternative energy sources, food alteration, or new forms of welfare – the scientific dimension is central to understanding the world around us and to our ability to participate and make a difference in it.

Middlebury offers students how pursue science beyond the introductory level a huge comparative advantage: the ability to work side-by-side with a faculty member, to do research, and to use state-of-the-art instrumentation that one would think is found more frequently, and made available to undergraduates more readily, at larger research universities. In fact, at most larger universities, it is the graduate students who have access to the scientific equipment, not the undergraduates.

There is a reason why a disproportionate percentage of PhDs earned in the sciences are by students who went to small liberal arts colleges for their undergraduate degree rather than to large research universities. The kind of science education that is available at the very best liberal arts colleges is unique and is something to consider now that you are here.

Even if you do not major in science, the pursuit of scientific education will expose you to the scientific method, to the importance of replicability to the development of sound theories and new knowledge, and will instill a discipline that is likely to become part of how you think and address multi-faceted issues well after you complete your studies here.

Now, I don’t expect a significant change in the “drop-add” activities over the coming weeks as a result of my urging you to consider pursuing science here at Middlebury. Nor do I expect a sudden surge in enrollments in writing-intensive courses beyond your first-year seminar this semester, or courses in which you are required to give many oral presentations.

I do, however, hope you will think what it means to attend a College whose mode of education – intense human interaction – and dedication to that mode of education, offers you an opportunity to prepare yourself for a world far different from the one my colleagues and I inherited when we completed our undergraduate studies.

In fact, I can’t help but observe how Tuesday’s sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States fits into all of this: if nothing else, September 11th should represent to each of you and sound for your generation a clarion call for action ... for serious engagement in the world and a commitment to prepare yourselves for that engagement as best as you can.

I can think of no better place for that preparation than here, or a better time in your lives to begin that preparation than now, just as you begin your studies at Middlebury. The foundation of liberal education, built upon ancient and varied texts, helps us understand how the problems we are witnessing today, and how they will play themselves out in the future, are rooted in what we know of the past.

You have an important role to play in how those things we are witnessing today play out in the future. I encourage you as strongly as I can to take advantage of the resources you have before you, and will have over the next four years, to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to engage the world and those complex issues with confidence and conviction. We are here to help you; that is the nature of a Middlebury education. Please don’t pass up the opportunity that is before you.

Thank you.

February Celebration Address 2008.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on January 31, 2009.

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to welcome, once again, all who have come to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2008.5 to Mead Chapel. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you today—to help see many of you off—as you make your way from college to the next phase of your life.

Whatever the next phase may be for those of you who are indeed leaving, you should feel a sense of great accomplishment for all you have achieved in the past four years. You should also carry with you a great font of confidence because your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic, and near-unprecedented times place before you. I will elaborate a bit on this message in a few minutes, but I want first to give you and your guests here today a brief profile of the class of 2008.5.

There are 123 in today’s celebrating class. Ninety-two (92) of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 31 “regs” among you who have either accelerated or slowed down your studies to become “Febs”—a label that, many of us have learned, is as proudly worn by the Feb converts as it is by those who actually began their studies in February.

English was the most popular major in your class—10 of you majored in English, with geography, history, economics, and psychology rounding out the five most popular fields of study. Nineteen of you majored in a foreign language; 31 of you studied abroad, and several more went overseas before you began your studies at Middlebury.

More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, followed by New York, Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. Five of you have identified yourselves as international students, one each from Burma, Jamaica, Palestine, Kenya, and Turkey, and five more claim an attachment of one sort or another with Brazil, the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, and Singapore.

As I mentioned last evening, the creative spirit of the Class of 2008.5 was evident to us from the very beginning. One of your classmates won the annual Beucher Concerto Competition the first week he set foot on campus.

Some of your classmates have played leading roles in theatre productions, including “Twelfth Night,” “Talking with Cinders,” and “The Heidi Chronicles,” and one had a significant role with the Potomac Theatre Project in New York this past summer. Another conducted the Middlebury College Orchestra performance of “Finlandia” this fall.

Nine of you participated in the annual student research symposium, and one Feb won the 2008 Doll Award from the Vermont Geological Society for the best student paper presentation. Another won an “Excellence in the Visual Arts” Award from the Friends of the Art Museum last spring, recognizing her significant contributions to the visual arts community. And one of your Feb classmates will take her training in art history abroad, after winning a competitive internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Not bad!

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Members of your class played on 20 varsity and club sports teams during their time at Middlebury. One of your classmates won the New England Intercollegiate Golf Association’s Guy Tedesco Award, awarded to the New England College Player of the Year.

Many in your class demonstrated a strong commitment to volunteerism and community service. Two of the 10 Public Service Leadership Awards presented this past spring by the Alliance for Civic Engagement went to members of the Class of 2008.5, and one of your classmates received the seventh annual Vermont Student Citizen Award for his efforts at the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes.

It would be hard to gauge the full extent of your service to the local community and beyond. Some of you have served on the local fire department and rescue squad, collaborated with environmental community partner Ecologia on corporate social responsibility, or led the Middlebury Alternative Break Trip for leader service to Zion National Park. Still others were active with the Roosevelt Institution, the national network of campus-based student think tanks, or served as an inspirational speaker for College for Every Student, a nonprofit that promotes early college awareness for at-risk students. And two students from the class of 2008.5 were Shepherd Poverty Alliance interns, which engaged them in work with children in Baltimore’s inner city and in social services in Virginia.

We are enormously proud of you. All of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

* * * * *

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they liked the least, the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, “The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.”

February is the year’s dark predawn—it’s cold and quiet. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which says something about your character. It suggests that you are optimists—maybe a little nonconformist, willing to take risks … eager, as poet Robert Frost wrote, “to take the road less traveled by.”

Those are important characteristics that I think you share with your College. One thing that’s always marked Middlebury since its founding is a willingness to do things differently … to innovate … to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country—indeed in the world—largely because, like you, it has done things a bit out of the ordinary.

You have many reasons to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, I know we will make you even prouder. I am equally confident that all of you will continue to make your College—and parents—proud.

* * * * *

As you leave Middlebury, it is fitting to ask yourself what it is you will remember most about your time here, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your life post-Middlebury.

As a geographer, I would like to think it will be the place itself—the physical environment—that will exert the greatest and most durable influence on you. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: “His soil is man’s intelligence.” And it is hard to argue with Stevens: We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that truly matter are carried in our hearts as well as our brains forever.

The natural beauty that surrounds us here is likely to be one of the things you will remember most about Middlebury. I am sure that many of you have experienced some unexpected moments of joy as you walked to class on one of those spectacular autumn days when the vibrant foliage on the mountains stands out sharply against the blue sky; or walking on that pristine white carpet across campus each morning during J-Term, left by the light snow that seems to fall each night; or seeing the multiple shades of green that burst across the landscape in the spring—even if spring doesn’t show itself until you are packing to leave for summer break. And of course, there are the breathtaking views of both the Adirondacks and Green Mountains from the College’s Snow Bowl … soon to be experienced in a slightly different way this afternoon.

These simple things have inspired a sense of adventure and creativity in generations of students who have studied at Middlebury, along with remarkably strong feelings of attachment. I hope you will take with you an appreciation for this corner of the natural world wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires, and retain your ties to this College.

But when one speaks of “place,” one needs to include the human as well as the physical characteristics of that particular place when considering its overall impact on one’s life.

And when you think back on your Middlebury years, I am sure you’ll find that your memories of this place are, more than anything else, linked to its people—your friends, your professors, your teammates, your coaches, staff members, and your acquaintances in town.

Seated around you today are 122 fellow Febs—the real and the converted—many of whom are very likely to be your friends for life. Through the years, they will celebrate your achievements, reach out to you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and always remain close to you.

Friendships like these, which began in the cold and bluster of a Middlebury February, are often intense, especially when they develop in a community that is small and relatively isolated, and where there are few distractions to compete for one’s social and intellectual energies. Your four years here have helped you develop the kind of relationships that is hard to replicate in another environment. They have also given you an appreciation for the strength of community, which will influence how you engage and interrelate with others throughout your lives: in a more personal, caring, and actively engaged manner.

One of the great advantages of attending a small, residential College is the opportunity to work with faculty and staff outside the traditional classroom to make a difference in the life and direction of the institution. And many of you have, on multiple projects. To cite just one example: the College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment—buying local foods, following sustainable building practices, purchasing local materials, lowering the thermostats in buildings during the heating season, installing a new biomass facility that will reduce our dependency on high-carbon-yielding oil by 50 percent, and committing, now 20 months ago, to be carbon neutral by the year 2016. These ideas and the energy and commitment to see them through came largely from Middlebury students, and have been supported enthusiastically by faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees.

Beyond the benefits that accrue to the College for this kind of engagement, these initiatives, and many others that involve student volunteer work at and around the College, are perfect examples of how a liberal arts education should work, and why a liberal arts education is the best preparation for life: we ask you to learn about a broad range of subjects in a formal classroom setting and then we challenge you to use what you learned to make a difference outside that classroom.

Crucial to our and your success is an engaged and dedicated faculty. Collectively, your professors represent one of the true gifts of your four years at this College. Great teachers inspire you by their intense and passionate interest in their fields, which, in turn, motivates you to engage material in a more personal way and to go beyond the standard learning of facts so that you can make important connections and understand the larger world around you.

The value of your liberal arts education is that it prepares you to live in a rapidly changing world that is likely to get more complex and less predictable in the coming years. The great American patriot and President John Adams, who played many roles in his long life, said, “There are two types of education, both crucial: one teaches us how to make a living, and the other how to live.”

But learning how to live—how to be active and productive citizens and draw satisfaction from life itself, will be different for you than it was for your parents’ generation, and even different from those who sat where you are now sitting just one year ago. The processes of globalization, and now the backlash or reaction to globalization, will require you to marshal all the skills you have learned at Middlebury to navigate an exciting, but uncertain future.

Over the past 20 years, globalization made the world feel smaller, brought closer together through the lowering of political, social, financial, and, to some degree, cultural barriers. Transactions occurred as if New York and Hong Kong were neighboring municipalities, and competition for jobs and other opportunities was no longer determined by where people grew up, where they lived, or what citizenship they held. The local had become the global, and global the local. What was happening in China, Europe, and Latin America, or just about anywhere in the world, affected us in this country, even in rural Vermont, as much as what was going on in many parts of the United States.

Though the processes that led to the so-called “flattening of the world” over the past two decades have not come to a halt, the worldwide financial meltdown of the past eight months has added multiple levels of complexity to the already significant changes brought on by globalization. They have resulted in problems whose solutions no two economists can seem to agree on, let alone explain why nobody, including all the economists, could see this train wreck coming.

The failure of our financial institutions and its impact on the global economy reflect the high level of interdependence and interconnectedness among the world’s national economies. Yet, despite this interconnectedness, we see separate and even divergent strategies and policies being implemented to deal with the financial crisis in many of the world’s largest economies: the U.S., U.K, France, Germany, Japan, and China. We see, and now must adjust to, or re-adjust to, the power of the individual nation-state to exercise its sovereignty and protect its own population, economy, and failed businesses by implementing stimulus packages and rescue plans as if it were 1909 instead of 2009.

You will soon be part of this wider world—a hyper-connected world now experiencing the aftereffects of being perhaps too connected too soon and facing the most challenging economic circumstances in almost a century. At the same time, each of you will have an opportunity to play an important role in that wider world.

And though it is perhaps daunting to think about your next chapter and how you will participate in all that is going on beyond the hills of Vermont, you should, as I noted earlier, take comfort in the fact that you are well prepared to jump right in. Because of your strong liberal arts background, and your deep appreciation for the power of relationships and community that was honed right here, you are in a great position to make a contribution that matters.

And you of course are not alone. President Obama, in his inspiring inaugural address, asked all of us to be part of the solution to the mega-challenges we face as a nation. One can’t help but feel optimistic that those challenges will be met, not only because such a wide swath of the political spectrum is willing to give support to our new leadership in Washington … or because of that new leadership’s commitment to bring together the disparate elements of our country and the world community. One must be optimistic, too, because you are part of a generation that, collectively, is pragmatic, believes in volunteerism, and has shown its desire to get involved. And I am confident that you, in particular, will make a difference.

The best advice I could offer as you answer our new president’s call to be consequential players in solving the large challenges before our country is rooted in the lessons our faculty conveyed to you by example during the past four years: learning is a lifelong endeavor ... it never ends. Just as the professors with whom you studied learn more and more each year through their research and teaching, you, too, will learn more and more as you research your way through life’s journey.

As you put your intelligence, creativity, and good will to work for the common good, remember to exercise humility. You may think you have all the right answers and know how to engage people of all walks of life, but make sure to leave space for the reality that you have lots to learn, and can—indeed will—learn a great amount from others.

Your Middlebury days as students may have come to an end, but may all you have learned and experienced here serve you well throughout your lives.

We hope your fond memories of the days here stay with you, and that your bond to the College remains forever strong.

And most of all, we hope that over the course of your four years in this special place, you have learned, in Adams’ words, how to make a living, and how to live.

We wish you well, and look forward to welcoming you back to campus often.

Thank you.

February Celebration Address 2006.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on February 3, 2007.

I am delighted to welcome all the guests who have come today to help us celebrate the achievements of the 115 or so soon-to-be alumni of this College. I am honored to have the opportunity to address you, the class of 2006.5, as each of you makes your way from Middlebury to the next phase of your life. Whatever that next phase may be, you should know, as I surely do, that your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic times throw your way. More on that in a few moments, but first I wanted to give you a quick summary of who you are, collectively - aside, of course, from being the brightest, best looking, and most engaged class in the 207 history of Middlebury College!

There are 115 of you in today's celebrating class. 89 of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 26 "regs" who have either accelerated or slowed down their studies to become Febs. Thirty-two of you double-majored, and more of you majored in English than any other discipline, with Economics, Environmental Studies, International Studies, and Political Science rounding out the most popular five fields of study.

Fifty eight of you studied abroad-that is 50 percent of the group- and several more went abroad between your high school graduation and beginning your studies at Middlebury. More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, with Vermont, New York, and California close behind, and six of you are international students.

But much more than mere numbers, you represent an incredibly talented group-as talented as any Feb group on record-and all of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they like the least, I think the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, "The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February." February is the year's dark pre-dawn-it's cold and quiet and too soon to be up and doing. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which must say something about your character. It suggests that you are, at the least, optimists-maybe a little nonconformist, innovative...eager, as poet Robert Frost says, "to take the road less traveled by."

Those are characteristics that I think you share with your College. Something that's always marked Middlebury is a willingness to do things differently, to innovate, to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. That has worked well for us. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country. You have good reason to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, we will make you even prouder.

When you leave Middlebury, what will you remember most, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your future life? As a geographer, I suspect you'll find that it is the place itself that exerts the greatest and most durable influence. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: "His soil is man's intelligence." We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that matter are carried in our hearts forever.

By "place," I should add, I mean, as geographers do, the human as well as the physical characteristics of a location. When you think back on your Middlebury years, you'll find that your memories of this place are inextricably linked to its people-your professors, your friends, your teammates ...

Look around you. Here in this chapel are 115 friends who will, in a sense, always be with you. Through the years they will celebrate your achievements, help you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and somehow always remain close, even when you are widely separated by time and space. Those friendships began in the cold and bluster of your first winter at Middlebury. Friendships grow strong in this climate and place; relationships are often more intense in a community that is small and somewhat sequestered, where there are fewer distractions to dissipate your social and intellectual energies.

The scale and relative isolation of this town and campus have enabled you to participate more fully in the life of the college and the wide range of academic and extracurricular activities it offers. Together with faculty and staff, you have created a vibrant community, where people are encouraged to develop their talents, explore their interests, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

When you live in a small community, you learn quickly that your actions have a great impact on the people around you, for better or worse. You have opportunities to see how your acts of consideration and thoughtfulness benefit others. And if you act without regard for the needs of others, you cannot walk away from the consequences, because you will see your classmates every day-at breakfast, in class, at the field house, at dinner. I hope this kind of built-in accountability, largely on account of the scale and type of campus this is, has helped you to develop a moral compass that will guide you in the years to come.

Another crucial characteristic of this place is perhaps the most obvious one-the natural beauty that surrounds us. I am sure that all of you have experienced many moments of joy and excitement, just walking to class on a crisp autumn day when the mountains stand out sharply against the cobalt sky, or watching through a window as a winter storm blankets the campus, or observing the first spring flowers burst into bloom-even if spring comes later than you ever imagined and just before you are headed away from campus following your spring semester final exams. These things constantly urge us to get out and explore and engage the world around us. They have inspired wonder, creativity, and a sense of adventure in generations of students. I know you will take that appreciation for the natural world with you wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires.

This environment has been important in shaping the college's development, too. I believe that it has inspired a culture of openness, enthusiasm, intellectual risk-taking, and innovation. To cite just one example, consider Middlebury's role as an environmental leader. In 1965, five Middlebury faculty members from five different disciplines established the first environmental studies major in the nation-before the environmental movement hit college campuses and before interdisciplinary study was in vogue. They viewed the region's forests, fields, lakes, and geologic outcroppings as an ideal heaven-sent laboratory for student and faculty research. They also recognized the threats to that environment, so they created a new way for Middlebury students to engage in the study of their natural surroundings.

Today Middlebury is modeling what it means to take responsibility for one's local community. The College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment-buying local foods, following sustainable building practices and purchasing local materials and furniture, lowering the temperature in buildings, investigating new technologies like biodiesel and wood-fired heating systems. These ideas and the energy to see them through came from engaged Middlebury staff, faculty, and students, including many of you here today.

All these are perfect examples of how education should work. We ask you to learn about the world around you and then challenge you to use your learning to make a difference. Ralph Waldo Emerson once complained, "We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing."

Well, that's not how we do it here. We never wanted to shut you up, literally or metaphorically, and I am confident that you are coming out of Middlebury with much more than a bellyful of words. For that, we thank your professors

One of the great gifts of your four years at this College has been the opportunity to get to know faculty members as committed and caring advisers. Great teachers inspire you by their passionate interest in their fields, enabling you to engage material in a more personal way and to go well beyond the standard lecture. Working with faculty members who are truly committed to teaching gave you the opportunity to delve deeply into your academic subject matter and to find mentors in subjects or pursuits that particularly interested you.

Your professors forced you to learn how to reason effectively and to express your ideas clearly in writing and in speech. They pushed you to articulate your own opinions and to understand the roots of your convictions. They taught you to see across disciplinary boundaries and to understand that there are few absolutes. They prepared you to apply your knowledge, your analytical ability, your curiosity, and your passion to the many issues you will confront in our complex and fractured world. In sharing their own knowledge and their expertise in how to address, address again, and address many more times, unanswered questions and unresolved problems, they taught you perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: learning is a journey that takes your entire life.

That, of course, is one of the great values of a liberal arts education. It readies you to live in a rapidly changing world and deal with anything that life throws your way. The great American patriot and president John Adams, who played many roles in his 90 years, said, "There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living. And the other how to live."

That is what I wish for all of you. That from your Middlebury education you will take with you skills you can apply in virtually any profession tomorrow or in 15 years...but more important, still, is that, from your Middlebury experience, you will have learned how to live....

Finally, this morning, I'd like to comment on the value of being a Feb at Middlebury. Starting your education at mid-year, you took advantage of the time to undertake something valuable, and perhaps even remarkable, before you arrived on campus. Your experiences were as varied as you are. One Feb traveled for two months in a dugout canoe seeking handicrafts and artifacts along the Sepik River in Papua, New Guinea. Others of you trained as emergency medical technicians, attended university in another country, or tested your survival skills in the American wilderness. Some of you held your first full-time, non-summer jobs. Those experiences, no doubt, affected your time at Middlebury and will serve you well time and again in your lives.

Finding your own place at Middlebury is a little more difficult for Febs than for students starting in September. Febs have to jump with both feet into a relatively closed community that is already well into the rhythm of the academic year. A contingent only 121 strong when you began, you found yourselves in the midst of 586 peers who had already spent five months getting to know each other and the campus. You survived that, of course-in fact, you thrived on it. That challenge prompts Febs to bond quickly with one another and to develop the kind of exceptional friendships one can hardly help but notice while attending events like today.

Many curveballs will be thrown at you over the course of what I hope will be a long and fulfilling life. But your four years at Middlebury have given you a powerful array of skills, knowledge, values, and, I am confident, wisdom. It is impossible not to be confident that, just as you successfully parachuted into Middlebury in the dead of winter and the middle of the academic year, you will be successful in parachuting into life beyond this special campus and community.

All of you will soon be facing large and exciting changes. Who will you be, what will you be doing, what will you know five or ten years from now? It will be a thrill-for you and for us-to find out. The next time we see you-perhaps at a reunion in the not-to-distant future-you will be different. So I would like to leave you with an appropriate reflection on change and fulfillment by Robert Frost:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As you go forth, know that you are ready to face whatever the passing of time may bring and to find fulfillment in it.

Know, too, that, as poet Mordecai Marcus has observed from this poem, Frost, like William Butler Yeats "thinks that man is in love and loves what vanishes." Your Middlebury days may have now vanished, but may your love for those vanished days remain with you and serve you well throughout your lives.

Thank you and best wishes.

Addresses & Statements

2014

February 1, 2014: February Celebration

2013

December 24, 2013: Statement on ASA Israel Boycott

December 12, 2013: Plan to Step Down; New Governance Structure

September 12, 2013: Statement on September 11th Incident

September 8, 2013: Convocation Address

August 28, 2013: Statement on Divestment

May 25, 2013: Baccalaureate Address

February 6, 2013: February Convocation

February 2, 2013: February Celebration

2012

December 4, 2012: Statement on Middlebury's Endowment

September 9, 2012: Convocation Address

May 26, 2012: Baccalaureate Address

2011

September 11, 2011: Convocation Address

May 21, 2011: Baccalaureate Address

February 2, 2011: February Convocation

January 29, 2011: February Celebration

Winter 2011: "The Most Valuable Legacy" (Middlebury Magazine)

2010

September 5, 2010: Convocation Address

Summer 2010: "Your College and You" (Middlebury Magazine)

June 5, 2010: Reunion Convocation

May 22, 2010: Baccalaureate Address

April 14, 2010: Middlebury Interactive Language Announcement

Spring 2010: "The Liberal Arts at Work" (Middlebury Magazine)

February 12, 2010: On College Finances and the Future

January 30, 2010: February Celebration

Winter 2010: "The Middlebury Model" (Middlebury Magazine)

2009

September 6, 2009: Convocation Address

Fall 2009: "A Matter of Space" (Middlebury Magazine)

May 23, 2009: Baccalaureate Address

January 31, 2009: February Celebration

2008

September 7, 2008: Convocation Address

May 24, 2008: Baccalaureate Address

2007

September 9, 2007: Convocation Address

September 7, 2007: Statement on College Rankings

May 26, 2007: Baccalaureate Address

February 3, 2007: February Celebration Address

2006

May 27, 2006: Baccalaureate Address

2005

May 21, 2005: Baccalaureate Address

2004

October 10, 2004: Inauguration Address

September 12, 2004: Convocation Address

Addresses & Statements

Convocation Address

Each year President Liebowitz delivers a convocation address to the incoming class, describing the opportunities they will encounter and encouraging them to take best advantage of them.

20132102, 2011, 2010, 2009200820072004

February First-Year Convocation 2013

Feb Celebration Address

Each winter, President Liebowitz gives a farewell address to students who completed their academic work at the end of January as part of what is known as February Celebration because most participating students began their Middlebury careers as February first-years.

February Celebration Address 2012.5

February Celebration Address 2013.5

Baccalaureate Addresses

At commencement each year, the president delivers a farewell address to the graduating class at the Baccalaureate service. 

20132012, 2011, 2010, 20092008200720062005

Special Addresses and Statements

Occasionally, the president delivers special addresses to the Middlebury community.

On Middlebury's Endowment, December 2012

"On College Finances, and the Future" - February, 2010

Middlebury Interactive Languages - April, 2010

Reunion Convocation

Each year, the president gives a talk at Reunion Convocation for those Middlebury alumni who have returned for reunion weekend.

President's Remarks, June 5, 2010

Middlebury Magazine

President Liebowitz discusses timely issues of interest to alumni, parents, and friends in his column in the College's award-winning magazine.

"The Most Valuable Legacy" - Winter 2011

"Your College and You" - Summer 2010

"The Liberal Arts at Work" - Spring 2010

"The Middlebury Model" - Winter 2010

"A Matter of Space" - Fall 2009

Inaugural Address

On October 10, 2004, Middlebury College inaugurated Ronald D. Liebowitz as its 16th president. Liebowitz gave an inaugural address that laid out his vision for Middlebury, looking back for inspiration to its 200-year history and ahead to the development of a "global" liberal arts college.

Archive by Date

To read the President's addresses, statements, and articles, please visit the full archive organized by date.

February Celebration Address 2008.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on January 31, 2009.

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to welcome, once again, all who have come to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2008.5 to Mead Chapel. I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you today—to help see many of you off—as you make your way from college to the next phase of your life.

Whatever the next phase may be for those of you who are indeed leaving, you should feel a sense of great accomplishment for all you have achieved in the past four years. You should also carry with you a great font of confidence because your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic, and near-unprecedented times place before you. I will elaborate a bit on this message in a few minutes, but I want first to give you and your guests here today a brief profile of the class of 2008.5.

There are 123 in today’s celebrating class. Ninety-two (92) of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 31 “regs” among you who have either accelerated or slowed down your studies to become “Febs”—a label that, many of us have learned, is as proudly worn by the Feb converts as it is by those who actually began their studies in February.

English was the most popular major in your class—10 of you majored in English, with geography, history, economics, and psychology rounding out the five most popular fields of study. Nineteen of you majored in a foreign language; 31 of you studied abroad, and several more went overseas before you began your studies at Middlebury.

More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, followed by New York, Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. Five of you have identified yourselves as international students, one each from Burma, Jamaica, Palestine, Kenya, and Turkey, and five more claim an attachment of one sort or another with Brazil, the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, and Singapore.

As I mentioned last evening, the creative spirit of the Class of 2008.5 was evident to us from the very beginning. One of your classmates won the annual Beucher Concerto Competition the first week he set foot on campus.

Some of your classmates have played leading roles in theatre productions, including “Twelfth Night,” “Talking with Cinders,” and “The Heidi Chronicles,” and one had a significant role with the Potomac Theatre Project in New York this past summer. Another conducted the Middlebury College Orchestra performance of “Finlandia” this fall.

Nine of you participated in the annual student research symposium, and one Feb won the 2008 Doll Award from the Vermont Geological Society for the best student paper presentation. Another won an “Excellence in the Visual Arts” Award from the Friends of the Art Museum last spring, recognizing her significant contributions to the visual arts community. And one of your Feb classmates will take her training in art history abroad, after winning a competitive internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Not bad!

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Members of your class played on 20 varsity and club sports teams during their time at Middlebury. One of your classmates won the New England Intercollegiate Golf Association’s Guy Tedesco Award, awarded to the New England College Player of the Year.

Many in your class demonstrated a strong commitment to volunteerism and community service. Two of the 10 Public Service Leadership Awards presented this past spring by the Alliance for Civic Engagement went to members of the Class of 2008.5, and one of your classmates received the seventh annual Vermont Student Citizen Award for his efforts at the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes.

It would be hard to gauge the full extent of your service to the local community and beyond. Some of you have served on the local fire department and rescue squad, collaborated with environmental community partner Ecologia on corporate social responsibility, or led the Middlebury Alternative Break Trip for leader service to Zion National Park. Still others were active with the Roosevelt Institution, the national network of campus-based student think tanks, or served as an inspirational speaker for College for Every Student, a nonprofit that promotes early college awareness for at-risk students. And two students from the class of 2008.5 were Shepherd Poverty Alliance interns, which engaged them in work with children in Baltimore’s inner city and in social services in Virginia.

We are enormously proud of you. All of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

* * * * *

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they liked the least, the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, “The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February.”

February is the year’s dark predawn—it’s cold and quiet. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which says something about your character. It suggests that you are optimists—maybe a little nonconformist, willing to take risks … eager, as poet Robert Frost wrote, “to take the road less traveled by.”

Those are important characteristics that I think you share with your College. One thing that’s always marked Middlebury since its founding is a willingness to do things differently … to innovate … to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country—indeed in the world—largely because, like you, it has done things a bit out of the ordinary.

You have many reasons to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, I know we will make you even prouder. I am equally confident that all of you will continue to make your College—and parents—proud.

* * * * *

As you leave Middlebury, it is fitting to ask yourself what it is you will remember most about your time here, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your life post-Middlebury.

As a geographer, I would like to think it will be the place itself—the physical environment—that will exert the greatest and most durable influence on you. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: “His soil is man’s intelligence.” And it is hard to argue with Stevens: We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that truly matter are carried in our hearts as well as our brains forever.

The natural beauty that surrounds us here is likely to be one of the things you will remember most about Middlebury. I am sure that many of you have experienced some unexpected moments of joy as you walked to class on one of those spectacular autumn days when the vibrant foliage on the mountains stands out sharply against the blue sky; or walking on that pristine white carpet across campus each morning during J-Term, left by the light snow that seems to fall each night; or seeing the multiple shades of green that burst across the landscape in the spring—even if spring doesn’t show itself until you are packing to leave for summer break. And of course, there are the breathtaking views of both the Adirondacks and Green Mountains from the College’s Snow Bowl … soon to be experienced in a slightly different way this afternoon.

These simple things have inspired a sense of adventure and creativity in generations of students who have studied at Middlebury, along with remarkably strong feelings of attachment. I hope you will take with you an appreciation for this corner of the natural world wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires, and retain your ties to this College.

But when one speaks of “place,” one needs to include the human as well as the physical characteristics of that particular place when considering its overall impact on one’s life.

And when you think back on your Middlebury years, I am sure you’ll find that your memories of this place are, more than anything else, linked to its people—your friends, your professors, your teammates, your coaches, staff members, and your acquaintances in town.

Seated around you today are 122 fellow Febs—the real and the converted—many of whom are very likely to be your friends for life. Through the years, they will celebrate your achievements, reach out to you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and always remain close to you.

Friendships like these, which began in the cold and bluster of a Middlebury February, are often intense, especially when they develop in a community that is small and relatively isolated, and where there are few distractions to compete for one’s social and intellectual energies. Your four years here have helped you develop the kind of relationships that is hard to replicate in another environment. They have also given you an appreciation for the strength of community, which will influence how you engage and interrelate with others throughout your lives: in a more personal, caring, and actively engaged manner.

One of the great advantages of attending a small, residential College is the opportunity to work with faculty and staff outside the traditional classroom to make a difference in the life and direction of the institution. And many of you have, on multiple projects. To cite just one example: the College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment—buying local foods, following sustainable building practices, purchasing local materials, lowering the thermostats in buildings during the heating season, installing a new biomass facility that will reduce our dependency on high-carbon-yielding oil by 50 percent, and committing, now 20 months ago, to be carbon neutral by the year 2016. These ideas and the energy and commitment to see them through came largely from Middlebury students, and have been supported enthusiastically by faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees.

Beyond the benefits that accrue to the College for this kind of engagement, these initiatives, and many others that involve student volunteer work at and around the College, are perfect examples of how a liberal arts education should work, and why a liberal arts education is the best preparation for life: we ask you to learn about a broad range of subjects in a formal classroom setting and then we challenge you to use what you learned to make a difference outside that classroom.

Crucial to our and your success is an engaged and dedicated faculty. Collectively, your professors represent one of the true gifts of your four years at this College. Great teachers inspire you by their intense and passionate interest in their fields, which, in turn, motivates you to engage material in a more personal way and to go beyond the standard learning of facts so that you can make important connections and understand the larger world around you.

The value of your liberal arts education is that it prepares you to live in a rapidly changing world that is likely to get more complex and less predictable in the coming years. The great American patriot and President John Adams, who played many roles in his long life, said, “There are two types of education, both crucial: one teaches us how to make a living, and the other how to live.”

But learning how to live—how to be active and productive citizens and draw satisfaction from life itself, will be different for you than it was for your parents’ generation, and even different from those who sat where you are now sitting just one year ago. The processes of globalization, and now the backlash or reaction to globalization, will require you to marshal all the skills you have learned at Middlebury to navigate an exciting, but uncertain future.

Over the past 20 years, globalization made the world feel smaller, brought closer together through the lowering of political, social, financial, and, to some degree, cultural barriers. Transactions occurred as if New York and Hong Kong were neighboring municipalities, and competition for jobs and other opportunities was no longer determined by where people grew up, where they lived, or what citizenship they held. The local had become the global, and global the local. What was happening in China, Europe, and Latin America, or just about anywhere in the world, affected us in this country, even in rural Vermont, as much as what was going on in many parts of the United States.

Though the processes that led to the so-called “flattening of the world” over the past two decades have not come to a halt, the worldwide financial meltdown of the past eight months has added multiple levels of complexity to the already significant changes brought on by globalization. They have resulted in problems whose solutions no two economists can seem to agree on, let alone explain why nobody, including all the economists, could see this train wreck coming.

The failure of our financial institutions and its impact on the global economy reflect the high level of interdependence and interconnectedness among the world’s national economies. Yet, despite this interconnectedness, we see separate and even divergent strategies and policies being implemented to deal with the financial crisis in many of the world’s largest economies: the U.S., U.K, France, Germany, Japan, and China. We see, and now must adjust to, or re-adjust to, the power of the individual nation-state to exercise its sovereignty and protect its own population, economy, and failed businesses by implementing stimulus packages and rescue plans as if it were 1909 instead of 2009.

You will soon be part of this wider world—a hyper-connected world now experiencing the aftereffects of being perhaps too connected too soon and facing the most challenging economic circumstances in almost a century. At the same time, each of you will have an opportunity to play an important role in that wider world.

And though it is perhaps daunting to think about your next chapter and how you will participate in all that is going on beyond the hills of Vermont, you should, as I noted earlier, take comfort in the fact that you are well prepared to jump right in. Because of your strong liberal arts background, and your deep appreciation for the power of relationships and community that was honed right here, you are in a great position to make a contribution that matters.

And you of course are not alone. President Obama, in his inspiring inaugural address, asked all of us to be part of the solution to the mega-challenges we face as a nation. One can’t help but feel optimistic that those challenges will be met, not only because such a wide swath of the political spectrum is willing to give support to our new leadership in Washington … or because of that new leadership’s commitment to bring together the disparate elements of our country and the world community. One must be optimistic, too, because you are part of a generation that, collectively, is pragmatic, believes in volunteerism, and has shown its desire to get involved. And I am confident that you, in particular, will make a difference.

The best advice I could offer as you answer our new president’s call to be consequential players in solving the large challenges before our country is rooted in the lessons our faculty conveyed to you by example during the past four years: learning is a lifelong endeavor ... it never ends. Just as the professors with whom you studied learn more and more each year through their research and teaching, you, too, will learn more and more as you research your way through life’s journey.

As you put your intelligence, creativity, and good will to work for the common good, remember to exercise humility. You may think you have all the right answers and know how to engage people of all walks of life, but make sure to leave space for the reality that you have lots to learn, and can—indeed will—learn a great amount from others.

Your Middlebury days as students may have come to an end, but may all you have learned and experienced here serve you well throughout your lives.

We hope your fond memories of the days here stay with you, and that your bond to the College remains forever strong.

And most of all, we hope that over the course of your four years in this special place, you have learned, in Adams’ words, how to make a living, and how to live.

We wish you well, and look forward to welcoming you back to campus often.

Thank you.

February Celebration Address 2006.5

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address on February 3, 2007.

I am delighted to welcome all the guests who have come today to help us celebrate the achievements of the 115 or so soon-to-be alumni of this College. I am honored to have the opportunity to address you, the class of 2006.5, as each of you makes your way from Middlebury to the next phase of your life. Whatever that next phase may be, you should know, as I surely do, that your time here has prepared you well to meet virtually any challenge these dynamic times throw your way. More on that in a few moments, but first I wanted to give you a quick summary of who you are, collectively - aside, of course, from being the brightest, best looking, and most engaged class in the 207 history of Middlebury College!

There are 115 of you in today's celebrating class. 89 of you actually began your Middlebury careers as Febs, meaning there are 26 "regs" who have either accelerated or slowed down their studies to become Febs. Thirty-two of you double-majored, and more of you majored in English than any other discipline, with Economics, Environmental Studies, International Studies, and Political Science rounding out the most popular five fields of study.

Fifty eight of you studied abroad-that is 50 percent of the group- and several more went abroad between your high school graduation and beginning your studies at Middlebury. More of you call Massachusetts home than any other state, with Vermont, New York, and California close behind, and six of you are international students.

But much more than mere numbers, you represent an incredibly talented group-as talented as any Feb group on record-and all of us here today salute you for your accomplishments. Congratulations.

If you took a poll of Vermonters and asked which month they like the least, I think the vast majority would choose February. As Joseph Wood Krutch, one of the great literary naturalists of the early 20th century, said, "The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February." February is the year's dark pre-dawn-it's cold and quiet and too soon to be up and doing. But most of you came to Middlebury in February, which must say something about your character. It suggests that you are, at the least, optimists-maybe a little nonconformist, innovative...eager, as poet Robert Frost says, "to take the road less traveled by."

Those are characteristics that I think you share with your College. Something that's always marked Middlebury is a willingness to do things differently, to innovate, to take a calculated risk in order to accomplish something extraordinary. That has worked well for us. A College that began as an experiment in an out-of-the-way farming settlement has developed into one of the leading liberal arts institutions in the country. You have good reason to be proud to be a Middlebury graduate, and, over time, we will make you even prouder.

When you leave Middlebury, what will you remember most, and what part of your college experience will make the greatest difference in your future life? As a geographer, I suspect you'll find that it is the place itself that exerts the greatest and most durable influence. I agree with Wallace Stevens, who wrote: "His soil is man's intelligence." We learn from our environment, and the places that teach us things that matter are carried in our hearts forever.

By "place," I should add, I mean, as geographers do, the human as well as the physical characteristics of a location. When you think back on your Middlebury years, you'll find that your memories of this place are inextricably linked to its people-your professors, your friends, your teammates ...

Look around you. Here in this chapel are 115 friends who will, in a sense, always be with you. Through the years they will celebrate your achievements, help you when you stumble, share your joys and disappointments, and somehow always remain close, even when you are widely separated by time and space. Those friendships began in the cold and bluster of your first winter at Middlebury. Friendships grow strong in this climate and place; relationships are often more intense in a community that is small and somewhat sequestered, where there are fewer distractions to dissipate your social and intellectual energies.

The scale and relative isolation of this town and campus have enabled you to participate more fully in the life of the college and the wide range of academic and extracurricular activities it offers. Together with faculty and staff, you have created a vibrant community, where people are encouraged to develop their talents, explore their interests, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

When you live in a small community, you learn quickly that your actions have a great impact on the people around you, for better or worse. You have opportunities to see how your acts of consideration and thoughtfulness benefit others. And if you act without regard for the needs of others, you cannot walk away from the consequences, because you will see your classmates every day-at breakfast, in class, at the field house, at dinner. I hope this kind of built-in accountability, largely on account of the scale and type of campus this is, has helped you to develop a moral compass that will guide you in the years to come.

Another crucial characteristic of this place is perhaps the most obvious one-the natural beauty that surrounds us. I am sure that all of you have experienced many moments of joy and excitement, just walking to class on a crisp autumn day when the mountains stand out sharply against the cobalt sky, or watching through a window as a winter storm blankets the campus, or observing the first spring flowers burst into bloom-even if spring comes later than you ever imagined and just before you are headed away from campus following your spring semester final exams. These things constantly urge us to get out and explore and engage the world around us. They have inspired wonder, creativity, and a sense of adventure in generations of students. I know you will take that appreciation for the natural world with you wherever you go, along with the sense of wonder that it inspires.

This environment has been important in shaping the college's development, too. I believe that it has inspired a culture of openness, enthusiasm, intellectual risk-taking, and innovation. To cite just one example, consider Middlebury's role as an environmental leader. In 1965, five Middlebury faculty members from five different disciplines established the first environmental studies major in the nation-before the environmental movement hit college campuses and before interdisciplinary study was in vogue. They viewed the region's forests, fields, lakes, and geologic outcroppings as an ideal heaven-sent laboratory for student and faculty research. They also recognized the threats to that environment, so they created a new way for Middlebury students to engage in the study of their natural surroundings.

Today Middlebury is modeling what it means to take responsibility for one's local community. The College has undertaken many initiatives to minimize its impact on the environment-buying local foods, following sustainable building practices and purchasing local materials and furniture, lowering the temperature in buildings, investigating new technologies like biodiesel and wood-fired heating systems. These ideas and the energy to see them through came from engaged Middlebury staff, faculty, and students, including many of you here today.

All these are perfect examples of how education should work. We ask you to learn about the world around you and then challenge you to use your learning to make a difference. Ralph Waldo Emerson once complained, "We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bellyful of words and do not know a thing."

Well, that's not how we do it here. We never wanted to shut you up, literally or metaphorically, and I am confident that you are coming out of Middlebury with much more than a bellyful of words. For that, we thank your professors

One of the great gifts of your four years at this College has been the opportunity to get to know faculty members as committed and caring advisers. Great teachers inspire you by their passionate interest in their fields, enabling you to engage material in a more personal way and to go well beyond the standard lecture. Working with faculty members who are truly committed to teaching gave you the opportunity to delve deeply into your academic subject matter and to find mentors in subjects or pursuits that particularly interested you.

Your professors forced you to learn how to reason effectively and to express your ideas clearly in writing and in speech. They pushed you to articulate your own opinions and to understand the roots of your convictions. They taught you to see across disciplinary boundaries and to understand that there are few absolutes. They prepared you to apply your knowledge, your analytical ability, your curiosity, and your passion to the many issues you will confront in our complex and fractured world. In sharing their own knowledge and their expertise in how to address, address again, and address many more times, unanswered questions and unresolved problems, they taught you perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: learning is a journey that takes your entire life.

That, of course, is one of the great values of a liberal arts education. It readies you to live in a rapidly changing world and deal with anything that life throws your way. The great American patriot and president John Adams, who played many roles in his 90 years, said, "There are two types of education. One should teach us how to make a living. And the other how to live."

That is what I wish for all of you. That from your Middlebury education you will take with you skills you can apply in virtually any profession tomorrow or in 15 years...but more important, still, is that, from your Middlebury experience, you will have learned how to live....

Finally, this morning, I'd like to comment on the value of being a Feb at Middlebury. Starting your education at mid-year, you took advantage of the time to undertake something valuable, and perhaps even remarkable, before you arrived on campus. Your experiences were as varied as you are. One Feb traveled for two months in a dugout canoe seeking handicrafts and artifacts along the Sepik River in Papua, New Guinea. Others of you trained as emergency medical technicians, attended university in another country, or tested your survival skills in the American wilderness. Some of you held your first full-time, non-summer jobs. Those experiences, no doubt, affected your time at Middlebury and will serve you well time and again in your lives.

Finding your own place at Middlebury is a little more difficult for Febs than for students starting in September. Febs have to jump with both feet into a relatively closed community that is already well into the rhythm of the academic year. A contingent only 121 strong when you began, you found yourselves in the midst of 586 peers who had already spent five months getting to know each other and the campus. You survived that, of course-in fact, you thrived on it. That challenge prompts Febs to bond quickly with one another and to develop the kind of exceptional friendships one can hardly help but notice while attending events like today.

Many curveballs will be thrown at you over the course of what I hope will be a long and fulfilling life. But your four years at Middlebury have given you a powerful array of skills, knowledge, values, and, I am confident, wisdom. It is impossible not to be confident that, just as you successfully parachuted into Middlebury in the dead of winter and the middle of the academic year, you will be successful in parachuting into life beyond this special campus and community.

All of you will soon be facing large and exciting changes. Who will you be, what will you be doing, what will you know five or ten years from now? It will be a thrill-for you and for us-to find out. The next time we see you-perhaps at a reunion in the not-to-distant future-you will be different. So I would like to leave you with an appropriate reflection on change and fulfillment by Robert Frost:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As you go forth, know that you are ready to face whatever the passing of time may bring and to find fulfillment in it.

Know, too, that, as poet Mordecai Marcus has observed from this poem, Frost, like William Butler Yeats "thinks that man is in love and loves what vanishes." Your Middlebury days may have now vanished, but may your love for those vanished days remain with you and serve you well throughout your lives.

Thank you and best wishes.

Addresses & Statements

2015

January 31, 2015: February Celebration

2014

September 23, 2014: Statement on new tailgating policy at Middlebury

September 23, 2014: Update on ESG Progress (Environment, Social, and Governance) at Middlebury

September 8, 2014: Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Updates

September 7, 2014: Convocation Address

May 24, 2014: Baccalaureate Address

February 1, 2014: February Celebration

2013

December 24, 2013: Statement on ASA Israel Boycott

December 12, 2013: Plan to Step Down; New Governance Structure

September 12, 2013: Statement on September 11th Incident

August 28, 2013: Statement on Divestment

May 25, 2013: Baccalaureate Address

February 6, 2013: February Convocation

February 2, 2013: February Celebration

2012

December 4, 2012: Statement on Middlebury's Endowment

September 9, 2012: Convocation Address

May 26, 2012: Baccalaureate Address

2011

September 11, 2011: Convocation Address

May 21, 2011: Baccalaureate Address

February 2, 2011: February Convocation

January 29, 2011: February Celebration

Winter 2011: "The Most Valuable Legacy" (Middlebury Magazine)

2010

September 5, 2010: Convocation Address

Summer 2010: "Your College and You" (Middlebury Magazine)

June 5, 2010: Reunion Convocation

May 22, 2010: Baccalaureate Address

April 14, 2010: Middlebury Interactive Language Announcement

Spring 2010: "The Liberal Arts at Work" (Middlebury Magazine)

February 12, 2010: On College Finances and the Future

January 30, 2010: February Celebration

Winter 2010: "The Middlebury Model" (Middlebury Magazine)

2009

September 6, 2009: Convocation Address

Fall 2009: "A Matter of Space" (Middlebury Magazine)

May 23, 2009: Baccalaureate Address

January 31, 2009: February Celebration

2008

September 7, 2008: Convocation Address

May 24, 2008: Baccalaureate Address

2007

September 9, 2007: Convocation Address

September 7, 2007: Statement on College Rankings

May 26, 2007: Baccalaureate Address

February 3, 2007: February Celebration Address

2006

May 27, 2006: Baccalaureate Address

2005

May 21, 2005: Baccalaureate Address

2004

October 10, 2004: Inauguration Address

September 12, 2004: Convocation Address

Addresses & Statements

2014

September 8, 2014: Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Updates

February 1, 2014: February Celebration

2013

December 24, 2013: Statement on ASA Israel Boycott

December 12, 2013: Plan to Step Down; New Governance Structure

September 12, 2013: Statement on September 11th Incident

September 8, 2013: Convocation Address

August 28, 2013: Statement on Divestment

May 25, 2013: Baccalaureate Address

February 6, 2013: February Convocation

February 2, 2013: February Celebration

2012

December 4, 2012: Statement on Middlebury's Endowment

September 9, 2012: Convocation Address

May 26, 2012: Baccalaureate Address

2011

September 11, 2011: Convocation Address

May 21, 2011: Baccalaureate Address

February 2, 2011: February Convocation

January 29, 2011: February Celebration

Winter 2011: "The Most Valuable Legacy" (Middlebury Magazine)

2010

September 5, 2010: Convocation Address

Summer 2010: "Your College and You" (Middlebury Magazine)

June 5, 2010: Reunion Convocation

May 22, 2010: Baccalaureate Address

April 14, 2010: Middlebury Interactive Language Announcement

Spring 2010: "The Liberal Arts at Work" (Middlebury Magazine)

February 12, 2010: On College Finances and the Future

January 30, 2010: February Celebration

Winter 2010: "The Middlebury Model" (Middlebury Magazine)

2009

September 6, 2009: Convocation Address

Fall 2009: "A Matter of Space" (Middlebury Magazine)

May 23, 2009: Baccalaureate Address

January 31, 2009: February Celebration

2008

September 7, 2008: Convocation Address

May 24, 2008: Baccalaureate Address

2007

September 9, 2007: Convocation Address

September 7, 2007: Statement on College Rankings

May 26, 2007: Baccalaureate Address

February 3, 2007: February Celebration Address

2006

May 27, 2006: Baccalaureate Address

2005

May 21, 2005: Baccalaureate Address

2004

October 10, 2004: Inauguration Address

September 12, 2004: Convocation Address

Make for Yourself a Teacher

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2005
May 21, 2005, Mead Chapel

The title of today's baccalaureate address, "Make for Yourself a Teacher," refers to a profound and enduring component of the human experience—the role that students and teachers play in the process of learning. The phrase comes from the Mishna, which is the body of Jewish religious law used and preserved in oral form until it was codified in the year 200.

The phrase that makes up the title of this talk is in that section of the Mishna called "Ethics of the Fathers," which has generated thousands of years worth of commentary representing moral advice and wisdom of rabbinic scholars across many generations—wisdom that has been defined as "spiritual, yet practical," and characteristically contains a contrarian viewpoint that invites more questions and more contemplation about the subject matter under discussion.

The phrase "Make for Yourself a Teacher" adds a distinctive twist to our own received wisdom about the way in which the relationship between teachers and students makes learning possible. Rather than focusing on the devotion and brilliance that allows great teachers to spark a student's mind, the phrase from the Mishna illuminates, instead, the talent that students must have for taking responsibility for their own learning, a talent that drives them to seek out guidance from people around them.

Now, why should you, college seniors, who have just completed your undergraduate educations, care, at this moment, about various interpretations and insights about the role of students and teachers in the learning process? You should care because understanding the richness and dynamics of learning as embodied in the roles played by students and teachers is what should give you the greatest confidence that you will succeed in the world as you leave Middlebury.

Through the dedication of a faculty intensely committed to undergraduate education, and to the belief that small scale human interaction is the best way to educate and learn, you have been able to hone a number of crucial skills that will help you in virtually any of your post-graduate pursuits.

You have completed a baccalaureate curriculum that is rigorous and that required you to study a discipline in depth. This in-depth study over a four year period, guided by engaged faculty mentors, who sought to challenge you at every turn, means you have mastered a subject matter and accumulated a body of knowledge that you can claim as your own and use to form perspectives on important issues related to our physical and human worlds.

You have engaged a wide range of subject matter deemed most important by our faculty in the form of course requirements that introduced you to different modes of thinking and different approaches to knowledge. Though at larger schools these requirements are referred to as "service" courses, or "general education," the faculty here view the chance to share their intellectual passion through these largely introductory courses with great enthusiasm. As a result, you have attained a certain degree of breadth in your education, necessary for retaining your self-confidence as you encounter new and unexpected world views.

You have also been exposed to humankind's great diversity through courses that comprise our cultures and civilizations requirement. Our faculty, like our curriculum in general, is highly internationalized. Their deep knowledge and familiarity with the subject matter, and their intense and direct engagement with you, have stimulated your thinking and advanced your understanding of cultures different from your own, as well as provided you with a new context for thinking openly and critically about your own backgrounds and identities.

Through your intense work with faculty you have become skilled communicators, able to articulate, both in written and oral form, arguments to support opinions you hold, based on initial questions, rigorous analysis, and careful thought. Your intensive writing courses demanded multiple drafts, brought critical commentary from your professors, and should now leave you confident to comment on a wide array of complex and important issues, and to communicate persuasively their significance to others.

And you have learned to become excellent problem-solvers, through numerous student-faculty collaborative research opportunities. You have learned how to get at the meaning of things previously unknown to you, be it understanding the texts of Ancient Rome and their relevance across the centuries, or why cells divide as they do under certain conditions. Working side-by-side with your professors has given you invaluable practical experience and insight into how to solve problems, something that will stay with you regardless of the professions you choose following graduation.

These are all outcomes of the intensive human interaction that is characteristic of a liberal arts education. And each of them should give you great confidence as you move from your status as a student to one as an informed and active citizen.

But the real foundation of this confidence will become evident to you as you think seriously about what it means to "Make for Yourself a Teacher." As one rabbinic interpretation explains: "Make for Yourself a Teacher suggests that one does not look for a teacher who is perfect and who matches one's own personality and abilities….Rather, one notes the strengths of the teacher and learns from those strengths, 'making' them your teacher by your effort to uncover what they have to offer."

In other words, making for oneself a teacher is fundamentally an active process. It requires each of us—each of you—to figure out how those around us might have the expertise or talents necessary to fulfill our needs for guidance.

As a teacher, I have seen the process by which students develop the capacity to turn people around them into teachers. The discussion section in large introductory lecture classes provides a good initial training ground for students to learn how to engage and listen to fellow students. The format of the class provides a natural progression in that the lecture portion of the course has the expert faculty member conveying foundational information to a large group, followed by the small discussion section, where students engage one another, exploring and testing new ideas. This enables the students to hear the ideas of classmates, which begins the process of learning from others.

Advanced seminar classes, taken usually during the junior or senior year, provide another venue for students to learn how to learn from others, and one in which there is far less input from the expert faculty member. Students engage one another with more expertise than before, finding that which is useful and necessary for the deepening of their own understanding of the subject matter through the unexpected insights of classmates. Engagement, disagreement, and the formulation of new ideas and questions occur that, in this learning environment, require the more active kind of learning that is the key component of making teachers for oneself throughout one's life.

And independent work, where students work closely with faculty advisers, either in the laboratory, or on an essay, artistic production, or thesis project, is perhaps the most significant way students learn how to engage another individual as a teacher. The bulk of information and creativity related to the subject is the student's, so the student is learning to seek out challenges to their own expertise, thereby enriching their knowledge.

All of these examples are tied directly to the College's academic program, but the opportunities at places like Middlebury to learn how to make for yourself a teacher extend to the non-academic program, as well. Building organizations from scratch on campus, such as the College's fully student run organic garden; conceiving of, organizing, and running large benefits, such as the recent Relay for Life in support of cancer research; establishing student reading groups, such as Hillel's weekly Torah study; creating new opportunities for cultural engagement, such as the Riddim world dance group; and learning teamwork, such as through one's participation in athletics, have offered all of you during the past four years a remarkable array of opportunities to learn how to learn from others, in these cases your fellow students, making for yourselves teachers a natural part of your life.

Perhaps the most visible campus-wide sign that many of you are already implementing the skills you have been honing inside and outside the classroom is the large gathering that took place in McCullough less than two weeks ago. That meeting, which brought together at least 250 students, was generated by campus protests regarding diversity issues that many found troubling and in need of community engagement and action. Though at times emotions ran high, the two-and-a-half hour collective expression of concern and protest was civil, and the way in which students challenged the president and also, at times, fellow students, reflected deep and honest engagement among those who shared similar and different perspectives, and were willing to hear the differences and learn from them.

It is the intense human interaction that you have experienced here during the past four years that I believe is the essential component of a liberal arts education. It happens to be strikingly rare among colleges and universities in this country and, in fact, around the world. And that is why you are particularly well prepared to succeed in the world: you have had multiple opportunities to seek out the guidance you needed at each step of your education.

So why am I, as College president, so interested in how students learn and teachers teach? In short, I believe educators, and in particular leaders of institutions like Middlebury, should be concerned that they are preparing their students to meet the complex challenges of our 21st century world. That 21st century world places a premium on individuals who have the skills to learn from people who look different from themselves, worship different gods, and approach conflict and its resolution from varying perspectives.

As a college president, I must be concerned that we are living up to the needs and expectations of our society to develop leaders with the necessary preparation for this challenging world. If institutions like Middlebury do not fulfill such expectations, then which will? If not colleges that invest so heavily in bringing together students from around the world and from different cultures and communities from within this country, then which ones?

The need to educate and prepare citizens who know how to engage and learn from others was brought home most vividly by the events of September 11th, 2001. That day came, of course, only a few days after most of you began your college education here, in the peaceful and bucolic setting of northern New England.

September 11th made many Americans more conscious of the huge changes under way in world-wide processes collectively referred to as globalization. While the United States prospered for the good part of the 1990s, ongoing structural changes in the world economy, along with the increased interaction of global cultures and the threat of conflict they posed, went largely unnoticed by most Americans.

Economic relations between states and groups of states were changing; new modes of communication were making political borders porous and weakening states and governments, while allowing rogue groups and even individuals to compete for political authority; science was moving into new areas that challenged previously accepted legal and ethical conventions; and the very meaning of culture was beginning to change with the dramatic increased ease of movement and interaction among disparate and formerly isolated groups.

In the context of the new consciousness forced upon this country by the tragic events of September 11th, and of the resulting demands that the world places on talented and well-educated young people like yourselves, the ancient wisdom of the Mishna's pithy exhortation to "make for yourself a teacher" speaks, now, to at least two critical points.

First, it underscores the premium our world now places on and requires of individuals who can learn from people in all walks of life. Increased interaction among peoples from vastly different backgrounds is no longer a choice; it is now a reality, driven home so forcefully since September 11th.

And second, it speaks to the indisputable value of a liberal arts education. Such a human-intensive-focused education is the richest possible medium for students to develop their skills at learning how to learn from others.

As I look out upon you today, our graduating seniors, I ask you to carry the following message with you:

Be conscious of the distinctive character of the education you have received here as you head out into the world.

Be conscious of the deep and growing need our world has for people with your undergraduate educational experience. Having learned here how to "Make for Yourself a Teacher," you now have a moral obligation to continue doing so for the rest of your lives. The world will become a better place for it.

Thank you, and best wishes.

Baccalaureate Address

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2006
May 27, 2006, Mead Chapel

Good afternoon! On behalf of the College, I extend a warm welcome to the members of the Class of 2006, to their parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends as we gather here to celebrate an important milestone in our students' lives.

I am certain your four years here have been memorable ones. I am also certain that when you look back at them 50 years from now, you won't call these the best four years of your lives. The great gift of your Middlebury College experience is that it will have prepared you for the exciting, challenging, and uncertain world we all face today. And it is that preparation, I believe, that will play a significant role in generating many rewarding experiences in your life.

The world that you face upon graduation from College has most definitely become far more complex than the one I or any of my faculty colleagues would have thought likely when we were sitting where you are today. For you and your generation of college graduates, I am convinced that one piece of advice is the most relevant to success: live the liberal arts.

Now, admittedly, there is a wide range of possible interpretations of "living the liberal arts."

One needs to go back to before the Civil War, in the mid-19th century, to find a common vision of liberal education in the United States. Since then, colleges and universities have gone in several different directions, ranging from requiring a heavily prescribed curriculum with obvious curricular ties to the past, to offering complete freedom of course selection, to becoming more practical and establishing a vocational mission with little in common with the origins of the liberal arts.

But the 1,000-year old European roots of our present-day liberal arts institutions were just as varied and ambiguous as their modern incarnation. Allow me to briefly summarize the nature of those roots and their evolution to our present day. I think we have an essential lesson to learn from that evolution, and that is that a coherent world view of what contemporary society demands from its educational institutions is both necessary and possible in the 21st century.

As Hannah Gray, historian and former president of the University of Chicago observes, "the first universities … did not grow out of a clear idea or plan." But they did have one thing in common, and that is that they were "grounded in the assumptions of Christian doctrine." In addition, over time, they came to "represent an idea," Gray explains "[an] idea of a university constantly re-conceived and reformulated, appropriated and re-appropriated, to the needs, structures, and aspirations of different times and settings." In other words, they also came to share a commitment to reflecting and responding to societal needs.

The extent of religious authority within the academy waxed and waned throughout the medieval period. The Church retained its dominance until the followers of Renaissance Humanism challenged the status quo in the 14th century. In Gray's words:

[The humanist reformers] argued that the professional education and forms of scholarship pursued in the universities had no relevance to the needs of their society or to the understanding of those matters that had to do with human life and its conduct. They wanted a form of secular learning, revitalized through the recovery of ancient culture and its norms, directly related to the development of human wisdom and character and inspiring active minds and moral energies that would have effect in the world of affairs and its institutions. They maintained that liberal education and humanistic scholarship should equip people to lead a good life.

The humanists succeeded in broadening the university curriculum by focusing their research on classical literature, rhetoric and history, and moral philosophy. The new emphasis inspired new fields, including archaeology, philology and textual criticism. As the humanist movement grew within the university, its success led to an increased demand for lay higher education, which, in turn, increased the demand for what Gray called, "the desire to create ... civil servants and gentlemen of ... some cultivation fit for society."

Though the religious order reasserted itself during the Reformation and the Counterreformation, the humanist movement, and its program in the liberal arts, was adopted, at least partly, by the Protestant Church. The motivation for this accommodation by the Church was to educate its clergy outside the traditional curriculum, while educating the lay population in faith. This expansion of mission was pursued in order to enlist a greater number of educated individuals to fight the religious battles of the day through increased and more accessible scholarship.

The history of higher education in the United States reveals a similar dynamic in the evolution of the components that make up the liberal arts. The traditional liberal arts education that emerged in the 18th century and extended through the American Civil War, emphasized the integration of what was called "character education" with what was termed "technical or mental discipline education."

In the words of a curriculum report issued by Yale College, in 1828, "the principal aim of college instruction [is] not to supply all of the important information that students might some day use, but to instill mental discipline." Such discipline, the report stated, would come out of the repetition of translating ancient texts, from solving mathematical problems, and debating intentionally irrelevant issues. The study of classical texts would help build character, along with daily required chapel attendance. Finally, a required course in moral philosophy, intended to convey expectations on civic responsibility and ethical behavior, and to provide a synthesis of the coursework the students did over their four years of study, was usually taught by the college president.

The impetus for reform of this vision of the liberal arts emerged soon after the Civil War, with the development of a national-level concern and vision for American higher education. This newfound national level of concern led to the two greatest changes in the academy to date: the democratization of the student body and the broadening of the curriculum.

Prior to the Civil War, there was no "American idea" of higher education. But the nationalizing, binding forces unleashed by the war provided the impetus for the federal government to initiate generous programs to develop the country's system of higher education. The war also provided the incentive for wealthy industrialists to invest heavily in higher education in order to ensure an educated and competitive labor force with which to rebuild the national economy and compete more broadly and successfully in the expanding world economy.

Those who had, for decades, questioned the mission of 19th century American higher education led the charge for reform. As Hannah Gray notes, many were captured by the idea of the German university. The reformers of American education, inspired by German model of education, introduced graduate programs, partly as a response to the country's evolving social agenda, which included the development of a professoriate large enough to meet the increased demand for higher education. As the professoriate grew, so, too, did the number of specializations and sub-specializations and the range of courses that entered the curriculum. Soon, a more modern curriculum replaced the old classical one, and requirements were eliminated, first at Harvard, and then at other major institutions.

Obviously, the link between religion and education also changed dramatically during this period. In fact, it essentially disappeared entirely. As Derek Bok, former and soon-to-be acting president of Harvard notes, "faith was no longer thought central to the development of moral character. Compulsory chapel began to give way on many campuses, making religious observance little more than another option within a broad array of extracurricular pursuits." The open or elective system that President Elliot introduced at Harvard did not provide much structure, and allowed students to complete a large portion of their education in introductory level courses. They learned, as the saying went, a little about a lot, but nothing about anything. Eventually, the Elliot-inspired elective system was replaced by a curriculum that required some depth in a subject, called a major or concentration, with some general education requirements to ensure there was some breadth of study as well.

Following World War II, American colleges and universities underwent further dramatic changes, thanks, in part to the G.I. Bill. With student bodies no longer made up predominantly of the well-to-do, curricula shifted to accommodate more vocational needs. More recently, following the social movements of the 1960s, the student body became more diverse again, yielding new fields of study, such as women and gender studies, Afro-American studies, and ethnic studies. This democratization and diversification of the student body, coupled with the century's worth of curricular innovation that characterizes the contemporary history of higher education in the United States is a key reason, I would argue, that the American system of higher education became the envy of the world in the 20th century.

Many critics have lamented the evolution of the liberal arts curriculum: some argued the increased emphasis on rational scientific thought at the expense of humanistic studies led to too great an emphasis on the practical and vocational. Others complained that the over-specialization of the professoriate led to an inordinate number of sub-specializations, resulting in the fragmentation of knowledge and piecemeal learning for the undergraduate student. Others, still, questioned the loss of the earlier emphasis on moral education and what was known as character building. In the modern era, as Bobby Fong, president of Butler University has written, "higher education's purpose was to train the mind; character formation was a concern of the family, the church, the courts, but not the academy. This wholesale renunciation [on the part of colleges and universities]," he concludes, "has now come to be regarded as an abdication of responsibility to our students and our communities."

In his latest book, Our Underachieving Colleges, Derek Bok echoes these observations, describing the evolution of higher education and the liberal arts as linear, moving from one phase to another, in reaction to the societal forces of the day. This tendency to view the evolution as linear, however, can lead one to believe that there is no going back; that what constituted the older foundational aspects of the liberal arts is likely to be irrelevant today.

I would argue, however, that the development of the liberal arts is not linear, and, therefore the earlier versions of what constituted a liberally educated individual could have much relevance today -- different kind of relevance than centuries ago, but timely and meaningful nonetheless. Medieval education was concerned primarily with creating an educated clergy, and the period following the Reformation with justifying the relationship between faith and reason, religious commitment and learning. The modern history of higher education illuminates why a coherent world view for structuring the make-up of a liberal arts education can no longer rely specifically on Christian foundations. But I believe that a coherent underpinning for the liberal arts is nonetheless emerging in the 21st century—and I would call such a coherent world view a global one.

How would such a global world view redefine the objectives of a liberal arts education into a coherent set of components?

First: An education for this world view should not prepare students, first and foremost, for a career—that would suggest too much certainty, structure, and predictability. The "content" of what you would have learned over a four period in preparation for a particular job, in all likelihood, would already be obsolete. Instead, the world in front of you requires you to be more nimble intellectually -- to be able to write clearly, think critically and analytically, communicate effectively, to be able to ask the right questions, and to know how to recognize and engage the "next big thing" when, or even before, it comes along.

Second: An education for our 21st century coherent world view needs to prepare its graduates to be able to confront difference and to be able to interact in an increasingly diverse and complex world. One can no longer choose the comfortable route of the "tried and true" and be successful—to be a consequential player in whatever pursuit you may chose. The United States, whether it likes it or not, is part of an accelerating, globalizing world where, both within the United States and internationally, it is essential to understand other cultures, live and work with people who are vastly different from ourselves, and to know how to communicate across religious, ethnic, and cultural divides.

Thomas Friedman has brought these issues to the forefront in his two best-sellers, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which provided an excellent framework for understanding globalization, and, more recently, The World is Flat. In this book, Friedman explains how, through largely unplanned rapid changes in technology and a number of social forces, the world's economic playing field has been leveled. As Friedman has written, the perfect storm that brought rapid technological change and social change to literally billions of people in Asia "created a flat world; a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of sharing knowledge and work, irrespective of time, distance, and geography. Economically speaking, Beijing, Bangalore, and Bethesda, Maryland are now next-door neighbors." We cannot afford not to prepare our future leaders to interact and compete in such a world.

And third, an education for the 21st century needs to provide students with the ability to make good choices. It is in this regard that we now need to reclaim what was understood as the foundational components of the liberal arts education of the past.

What, in the past, would have been called the moral or character education component of a liberal arts education ... today, given the demands of the 21st century, must be understood as instilling the skill of judgment-making in our students.

This skill is crucial because of the changes the world is undergoing, with weakened institutions and structures, and fractured societies in which there is no consensus on what is good, bad, right, or wrong. It is a world in which many institutions have lost legitimacy, and therefore the responsibility for making choices has necessarily devolved to the individual.

To the graduates in the audience: think about these three components and how they've played themselves out in your education here. With regard to the first point, developing the ability to engage, successfully, in a fast-changing world, think about your academic experience here. The habits of the mind one develops by working closely with a professor, and by doing significant independent work or collaborative research, also prepares one for a world in which the meaning of a career has been altered to be something fluid and unpredictable rather than singular, constant, and long-lasting.

With regard to the second component, which is providing an education for difference, think about this: although you have resided in the most ethnically and racially homogeneous of our country's 50 states for the past four years, you have benefited from learning within one of the most highly internationalized curricula in the country. Coupled with the significant increase in the socioeconomic diversity of our student body over the past twenty years, Middlebury now provides its students the opportunity to encounter a diversity of experiences and perspectives that will prepare them to confront the flat world Friedman describes.

And now think about your experiences outside the classroom, and where you might have applied judgment, both positive and negative, to your own and your peers' behavior and interactions with one another. Inside the classroom, your most effective teachers forced you to become comfortable with the process of establishing for yourself a position on a given topic, even if the position differed from their own, and to experience the liberation of laying claim to a definitive position. They pushed you to articulate your own opinions and understand the roots of your convictions. Were you able to transfer these lessons of the classroom to life outside the classroom? Did you feel any need to? Were you comfortable applying the process of making judgments, based on the rigors of the academic program, to life in general?

As you prepare for life after Middlebury, the answers to these questions will be paramount. The major challenge is going to be how well you "live the liberal arts," which is to say figure out for yourself how to apply the skills you acquired in the classroom to help you navigate the new world order.

As a true believer in the virtues of a Middlebury education, I have no doubt that you will rise to the occasion. You are an exceptional group of young adults. Though of course we no longer have any institutions or systems that can claim a monopoly on how best to make the world a better, more tolerant and just place, talented, thoughtful, well-educated individuals like yourselves will know how to discern right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable behavior, and know for sure when they see it, that something is ethical or not.

I believe the most important confidence you must have as you head into the so-called real world is that the education you received here will enable you to live life with the ability to make such judgments and to act on them. Our world depends on it.

Congratulations, Class of 2006, and thank you.

The Value of Discomfort

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2007
May 26, 2007, Mead Memorial Chapel

Good afternoon. On behalf of the faculty and staff of the College, I extend a warm welcome to the parents and families of our graduating seniors, and of course to members of the class of 2007, as well.

Both this baccalaureate service and commencement are joyous occasions celebrating an important transition in the lives of our graduates. Today’s service is an occasion to reflect on what our graduating seniors have already done, on the experience and the accomplishments of the past four years, and what those years have meant to them and to this College community.

Let me begin, therefore, by telling you a few things about the Middlebury Class of 2007. There are 643 graduates in this class, 287 men and 356 women. Some 365 of you are graduating with honors, and 65 were elected to Phi Beta Kappa. The most popular majors for your class were economics, chosen by 92 students, and English, chosen by 74, and 135 of you majored in two subjects. About 77 percent of you—497 students—studied at least one foreign language, and 62 percent—405 students—studied abroad for at least one semester in 48 countries. Members of your class have earned three Watson Fellowships for research abroad, two Fulbright Scholarships, and a Keasbey Scholarship to study at Oxford University.

Your class has been characterized by an exceptional spirit of volunteerism. Collectively, approximately 70 percent of you contributed to the community through volunteer and service-learning projects, as well through pro bono consulting work. Some of you have served on local fire departments and rescue squads; traveled to New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina to assist in the rebuilding effort; served as Big Brothers or Big Sisters to local children; worked with the John Graham Community Shelter, providing meals and companionship to the homeless; and shared your expertise with local businesses and regional economic development groups based on what you learned in economics and geography courses.

Members of your class started the Middlebury chapter of Relay for Life, and many of you have participated in that event, raising more than $669,000 over the past four years to support research by the American Cancer Society. You also initiated Dialogues for Peace, a student group, dedicated to seeking nonviolent solutions to conflicts around the world.

The Sunday Night Group, which you helped to launch, has been incredibly influential in promoting concrete action to address one of the most serious concerns facing your generation: climate change. Not only have you initiated or assisted with many efforts to promote sustainability and energy efficiency on campus, but you helped to organize and lead last month’s Step It Up campaign, with thousands of simultaneous rallies across the country. This was by far the largest environmental demonstration in the United States since the first Earth Day 37 years ago.

Largely because of your energy, leadership, and dedication, Middlebury has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for its “community engagement” and by the Princeton Review, which named Middlebury as one of its “colleges with a conscience” for fostering social responsibility and public service. I am enormously proud of all that you have done to bring positive changes to our community, our country, and our world.

I am also truly impressed by the imagination and scholarship of this class. These qualities were vividly demonstrated last month at our first College-wide symposium recognizing student research and creativity. About 60 members of your class participated in that symposium, where students presented the results of research on subjects ranging from solar power to social entrepreneurship to religious life at Middlebury. This symposium, which is going to be an annual event, exemplifies the spirit of intellectual risk-taking, independent thought, and a passion for learning that should characterize the best of a liberal arts education.

This College is truly exceptional in the opportunities it provides for students to do original research and creative projects, often in partnership with a faculty mentor. One member of your class received one of three awards from the National Association of Student Anthropologists this year for her study of the effects of Fair Trade on organic rice farmers in Thailand. Another received the top prize in a national undergraduate chemistry competition conducted by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. A third was the only undergraduate student chosen to lead a session at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers last month. And two of you were part of a Middlebury team that finished first among 37 teams in a national computer programming contest.

You’ve had impressive success in the arts, as well. For example, a number of members of this class belonged to the cast and crew that staged last year’s remarkable production of The Bewitched, which was presented at the Kennedy Center in Washington as one of four finalists in the American College Theatre Festival. In addition, a member of your class relied on her work in the arts to become one of the winners of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace national fellowship program. She will use the study of architecture to analyze the border crossings between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, exploring how such crossings may be reconceived as points of connection rather than of division.

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Your class includes 30 athletes who have earned All American honors in intercollegiate sports and 50 who earned all-NESCAC academic honors. You helped to win 25 NESCAC championships and eight national titles for Middlebury over the past four years in intercollegiate sports, and this spring our rugby club won its first national championship.

There is yet one more notable thing about this class that I would like to mention. You have helped to make Middlebury a more diverse and inclusive place than it was four years ago—which brings me to the theme I particularly want to discuss this afternoon. Your class is statistically the most diverse, and the most international, ever to graduate from Middlebury. That has certainly affected—and I would say it has greatly improved—the education you have received here.

Why? In a nutshell: since so much of what you learn in college you learn from your fellow students, the broader the range of backgrounds and perspectives those students represent, the broader and richer the education one is likely to receive. Because of the residential and human-intensive nature of your Middlebury education, little of what you do that is related to your studies is done in solitude. You are always bouncing ideas off of classmates, roommates, hall-mates, housemates, teammates, or fellow members of student organizations.

The human-intensive nature of learning at liberal arts colleges, long a hallmark and strength at Middlebury, was energized by the Civil Rights and other social movements of the 1960s. Formerly underrepresented groups began attending American colleges and universities in significantly greater numbers, and the breadth of learning experiences changed radically.

The changes, at first, were by dint of the kinds of discussions that were taking place on a meaningful scale in the classroom. Those discussions, whether about a classical work of literature or an interpretation of some historical event, included new perspectives that had previously been absent from the classroom, and no doubt forced some people to rethink their opinions.

Over time, the fruits of a broadened scope of discussion extended to the curriculum and the faculty with similar results: a bigger tent of ideas within which to teach and learn. But that bigger tent brought intellectual conflict and discomfort. The so-called “culture wars” were an expression of the tension created by the challenge and inclusion of new interpretations of the curriculum. Some degree of conflict was inevitable given the new and vastly different perspectives that had been previously excluded from, or were, at best, on the margins of the academy. Through these changes, the academy became a richer, but also a more polarized, environment for learning.

Since the 1960s, small, rural liberal arts colleges have not experienced as rapid and extensive a change in the composition of their student bodies as public institutions or schools located in urban areas. Yet, many have changed quite significantly, especially with the arrival, more recently, of international students, many of whom come from the developing world.

I cite, for example, the changes that have taken place here at Middlebury since 1980. In 1980, less than 5 percent of the student population was either an American student of color or an international student ... that is less than 1 in 20 students. Our incoming class, the Class of 2011, will be approximately 32 percent American students of color and international. Twenty-seven years ago it was 1 in 20; today, it is 1 in 3. In addition, the change in the percentage of students on need-based financial aid is noteworthy because a student body with greater socioeconomic diversity is essential to our students’ exposure to a variety of perspectives. In 1980, the percentage was 24 percent, while for the incoming class this September, the percentage is 47 percent: the highest ever.

This change in the composition of the student body reflects, in part, the changing demographics of the United States. But more than that, it reflects the College’s deliberate effort to provide the richest learning environment for Middlebury students. The College’s recently approved strategic plan has as its highest priority increasing access to Middlebury for the very strongest students by continuing to meet the full need of all admitted students, increasing the grant portion of our financial aid packages, and reducing the amount of debt a student will incur during four years at the College.

The strategic planning committee believed that, by removing some of the financial barriers to studying at Middlebury, the College would more easily matriculate students from rural areas, from developing countries, and from inner cities. The student body, as a result, would be more ethnically, racially, and socio-economically diverse. There would no doubt be a greater diversity of ideas coming from students with such varied backgrounds, which would once again energize the classroom with frequent exchanges rooted in our students’ vastly different life experiences.

It is no longer a cliché to say that “the local is the global and the global the local.” In fact, it should go without saying that all of you who are graduating tomorrow will no longer be competing with young men and women predominantly from your hometowns, from a particular region of this country, or even from the United States. In all likelihood, the majority of you will be trying to get a job, pursue a project, or secure a spot in a leading graduate or professional school that will bring you in direct competition with young people from ... you name it: Shanghai, Tokyo, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Dehli, or Berlin. Even those of you determined to do something independently, outside of official structures or institutions, will soon learn that you are now part of a global network, and the sooner you adapt to what this means, the easier you will discover how to succeed within that network.

In other words, it is no longer adequate to understand only one’s own culture, no matter how dominant that culture may seem; or one’s political and economic system, no matter how much others claim to want to copy it; or a single approach to solving problems, no matter how sure you are that your approach is the best. To succeed in the 21st century—which means to be engaged in the world in a way that allows you to make a difference, to fulfill a sense of achievement, and to allow you to be true to yourself because you know who you are — you need to be multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-operational in how you think. And you can only be multi-cultural, multi-national, and multi-operational if you feel comfortable with the notion of difference. And that is why we seek diversity here at Middlebury.

But greater diversity means change, and change on college campuses is almost always difficult. Few 18 to 22 year olds are skilled in inviting or tolerating perspectives that are vastly different from than their own. Frankly, the same goes for 30-, 40-, and 50-something-year-old academics. Even though a campus may become more diverse in terms of the numbers of underrepresented groups present, the level of engagement can still be inconsequential if those representing different viewpoints are not encouraged and supported to express them. If an institution is not prepared to make space, figuratively speaking, for previously excluded groups, and support their presence on campus, its diversity efforts cannot succeed. And if the wariness about discomfort is stronger than the desire to hear different viewpoints because engaging difference is uncomfortable, then the quest for diversity is hollow no matter what the demographic statistics on a campus reflect.

In order for the pursuit of diversity to be intellectually defensible and valuable to those seeking a first-rate education at places like Middlebury, it needs to result in deliberation. It cannot simply facilitate the exchange of one orthodoxy or point of view for another. The best liberal arts education requires all voices, those of the old order as much as those of the new, and even those in between, to be subjected to the critical analysis that is supposed to make the academy a distinctive institution in society.

I know first hand of several incidents during your four years at the College that speak directly to the challenges of ensuring that a diverse spectrum of opinions can be voiced and considered within our academic community. To name just a few: the protest against the College’s policy allowing military recruitment on campus; the complaints about the College’s judicial procedures that were triggered by the suspension of an African-American student; the reaction to the College’s decision to accept an endowed professorship in honor of a conservative former chief justice of the United States Supreme Court; and most recently, the rash of hateful homophobic graffiti and the resulting discussions about offensive stereotyping and free speech on a college campus.

Several of these issues were discussed at faculty meetings or in several large forums on campus. Though the depth of engagement at these gatherings may not have reached the level that many who were passionate about the issues would have liked, students and faculty did express themselves in ways that didn’t happen on this campus 20, 15, or even 10 years ago. Issues were brought up by students and faculty that raised the collective consciousness of those in attendance, and, in some cases, had an impact on College policies and procedures.

The reaction to one gathering, in particular, was as instructive as the issues about which we learned at the open forum. Following a meeting in McCullough social space that was called to address several racial incidents on campus, I received a number of e-mails from students in which they apologized on behalf of their fellow students, whom the e-mail writers believed were disrespectful in how they engaged me. I found the e-mails — and there were a good number of them — surprising, because I found the meeting, which was attended by 300 students, more civil than I expected it to be, and in no case do I recall any student expressing their concerns in ways that I would consider disrespectful. Was it uncomfortable? Yes, for sure. Were the students disrespectful? I don’t think so. But being uncomfortable, as many of us were made to feel that day, is a good thing; it needs to be part of one’s education.

Similarly, this year’s open discussions about homophobic graffiti and other anti-gay and lesbian acts on campus did not delve as deeply into the root causes of such unacceptable stereotyping and the vicious treatment of individuals as one might expect given the incidents in question. Yet, the reactions to what was said at the open meetings created discomfort among those who were accused of contributing to homophobia on campus. The accusation—stereotyping recruited athletes as homophobic—highlights, once again, the challenges that greater diversity and openness bring to an academic community. Was the stereotyping of a single group a productive way to engage this important topic?

What emerged from our discussions of the homophobic incidents, at least thus far, is hardly what one might call neat and tidy. There was, however, much learned beginning with a far greater awareness of the bigotry that exists here as it does in society at-large, and that we have considerable work to do if we truly aspire to be a community that welcomes diversity and wishes to learn from it. We also witnessed how easy it can be for some members of an aggrieved group to fall into the same kind of stereotyping from which they themselves have suffered. Diversity sure can be messy.

The controversy surrounding the acceptance by the College of an endowed professorship in American history and culture in honor of William Rehnquist is one more example of the complexities that come with an increasingly diverse community.

Because the former chief justice was conservative, and was on the side of several court decisions that ran counter to the positions held by several underrepresented groups on campus, there was a genuine feeling on the part of some that honoring Mr. Rehnquist was a repudiation of their presence on campus and a sign that the College did not value diversity. They felt, in their words, “invisible and disrespected” as a result of the College accepting the professorship. Though one can understand this perspective, especially given the history of underrepresented groups here and on other campuses, it is unfortunate that the Chief Justice’s accomplishments and reputation as a brilliant jurist by liberal and conservative constitutional scholars alike were lost in the opposition to his politics.

Ironically, the stance taken by those who believed it was wrong to honor the Chief Justice because of his position on particular court cases undermines the very thing the protestors support most passionately—diversity. Some couched their protests in the name of the goals of liberal education, arguing that the ultimate goal should be about “advancing” social change. I do not share in that narrow definition of liberal education, especially liberal education in and for the 21st century. Rather, liberal education must be first and foremost about ensuring a broad range of views and opinions in the classroom and across campus so that our students can question routinely both their preconceived and newly developed positions on important matters. Such deliberation will serve as the best foundation for enabling our graduates to contribute to the betterment of society.

In writing on the College’s alumni online listserv about the Rehnquist controversy and the reported opposition of some to President Clinton speaking at tomorrow’s Commencement ceremony, an alumnus from the Class of 2001 offered this perspective:

"I always thought that the benefit of a place like Middlebury was that it opened your mind and helped you become more informed by allowing (or, forcing) you to interact with, listen to, and learn from people [with] different opinions — even if that meant welcoming those you disagree with onto your own turf."

I hope those of you in the audience who are graduating tomorrow have given, and will continue to give, this topic some thought. For sure, diversity is intellectually and socially challenging; it forces you to engage issues more broadly than you might otherwise. It often creates unintended consequences; and it surely can make one uncomfortable. But some discomfort, amidst all that is comfortable about Middlebury, is the best preparation for a successful entry into our increasingly complex global world.

We have today few if any institutions that can claim a monopoly on how best to make the world a better, more tolerant, and just place. Talented, thoughtful, and well-educated individuals like yourselves, who have been made to feel uncomfortable and understand difference, are more likely than others to figure out how to discern right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable behavior, and know the difference between ethical and unethical conduct.

As you leave Middlebury, the most important kind of confidence you must feel is the confidence that your education has prepared you to make sound judgments and to act on them. I believe because you have been exposed to diverse ideas, opinions, and people over the course of the past four years, and have been made to feel uncomfortable at times, you will discover that confidence and draw upon it so that it will serve you well in exercising your judgment and claiming your place in the wider world.

Congratulations, Class of 2007. We wish you the best.

Reflections on "Work Hard, Play Hard"

Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2008
May 24, 2008, Mead Memorial Chapel

Good afternoon. On behalf of the faculty and staff of the College, I extend a warm welcome to the Class of 2008, their parents, families, and friends as we mark an important transition in our seniors’ lives.

Today we reflect on all the graduating seniors have experienced and accomplished over the past four years and on their contributions to our community and the world beyond the College. And we look ahead to the opportunities that await them as Middlebury alumni.

Let me begin, therefore, by telling you a few things about the Middlebury Class of 2008. There are 637 graduates in this class, 311 men and 326 women. Some 365 of you are graduating with honors, and 67 were elected to Phi Beta Kappa. The most popular majors for your class were economics, English, and international studies. One hundred and twelve of you double majored. About 81 percent of you—that’s 520 students—studied at least one foreign language, and nearly 60 percent—or 371 students—studied abroad for at least one semester in 49 countries.

Members of your class have earned three Fulbright grants, a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for research abroad, and one of only 10 Compton Mentor Environmental Fellowship awarded this year.

The scholarship and imagination of your class were vividly demonstrated a few weeks ago at the second annual College-wide symposium recognizing student research and creativity. More than 65 members of your class participated in that symposium, presenting the results of research on an amazing array of subjects including:

  • Measuring the expansion of a supernova remnant
  • A study of Jewish environmental ethics
  • Contemporary Italian theater
  • The economics of a clean-energy renaissance
  • Child-nutrition programs in Haiti; and
  • Possibilities of the Precision Bass

Another six from your class presented their research at the annual Christian A. Johnson Symposium in the History of Art and Architecture, which this year focused on “The Question of Collaboration.”

A Middlebury education affords exceptional opportunities for students to take intellectual risks and to undertake original research and creative projects, often in partnership with a faculty mentor. One of your classmates won the 2008 Andrew E. Nuquist Award for Outstanding Student Research on a Vermont Topic for her work on farmland conservation easements in Addison County. This is the fourth consecutive year that a Middlebury student has won that award.

Another member of your class was part of a Middlebury team that won a national computer-programming contest both this year and last year. Yet another classmate’s research was selected by the Council for Undergraduate Research for presentation at the Posters on the Hill symposium in Washington, D.C.

A Middlebury education emphasizes civic engagement as well as scholarship, and your class has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to volunteerism and community service. More than half of you contributed to the community through volunteer and service-learning projects, as well through pro bono consulting work. Six of the 10 Public Service Leadership Awards presented this year by the Alliance for Civic Engagement went to members of the Class of 2008, and a record 32 seniors were nominated for those awards.

It would be hard to gauge the full extent of your service to the local community and beyond. Some of you have served on local fire departments and rescue squads; traveled to New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina to assist in the rebuilding effort; served as Big Brothers or Big Sisters to local children; worked with the John Graham Community Shelter providing meals and companionship to the homeless; helped Sudanese refugees settle into new homes in Vermont; or served as English instructors and translators for Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers living in Addison County.

Members of your class have been agents of change at the forefront of efforts to address one of the most crucial issues facing the world: climate change. Not only have you initiated or assisted with many efforts to promote sustainability, carbon neutrality, and energy efficiency on campus, but through grassroots organizations such as Step-It-Up, 350.org, 1Sky, and PowerShift, you are working to build support for concrete action around the country and the world. Largely because of your efforts, Middlebury was one of only four colleges in the country this year to receive the Campus Sustainability Leadership Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Some of you were involved in organizing the first Synergy retreat last fall, bringing leaders of a wide array of student organizations together to discuss issues of environmental and social justice.

You also helped to form the Justice League to foster collaboration among student groups committed to service and activism. Over the past academic year, the Justice League has been engaged in issues ranging from the Farm Bill to the crisis in Sudan and political oppression in Burma. And you were among the founders of Middlebury’s Iraq Study Group, which is dedicated to promoting intercultural understanding and conflict resolution.

Working in groups like these and through your daily interactions with students, faculty, and staff, you have shown a willingness to cross the boundaries of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation to address difficult issues. The example you have set in demonstrating how diversity can strengthen a community is truly inspiring.

Your achievements in the arts are impressive, as well. For example, one member of this class has studied with the Alvin Ailey dance troupe, and another was chosen to represent the New England region at the national gala of American College Dance.

A member of your class attended the European American Musical Alliance program in composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris and was a finalist in the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer competition. Several of you wrote compositions that were performed by the College orchestra. Another member of your class won awards for best student documentary and for best overall student film in the Vermont Film Festival.

Eleven of you will be part of the Potomac Theatre Project’s summer season in New York City. Two have had plays performed professionally, and another will be touring the country with the National Players classical touring company. Yet another senior was the National Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival scene design winner.

In athletics, too, you have excelled. Members of your class have earned 33 All American honors in intercollegiate sports and 122 all-NESCAC academic honors. Two Middlebury women in the Class of 2008 won individual NCAA titles. You played on teams that won 20 NESCAC championships and seven national titles for Middlebury over the past four years, including Middlebury’s first national championships in rugby and men’s soccer, a women’s cross country NCAA title, and back-to-back NCAA championships in men’s and women’s hockey.

With your help, the football team captured its first outright NESCAC title this year. The men’s basketball team had its best season ever, making its first NCAA tournament appearance. And you helped power the baseball team to its most successful season in Middlebury history in 2006 and its first NESCAC championship and NCAA tournament appearance.

We are enormously proud of all of you.

Of course, I can’t overlook the contribution that members of your class made to the world by helping to launch earth-bound Quidditch as a recreational sport at Middlebury and a number of other campuses. Congratulations to the Middlebury Molleywobbles on their spectacular victory over Vassar at the Quidditch World Cup Fall Festival this past year.

All of these achievements continue the tradition of remarkable accomplishments by Middlebury graduates, so many of whom have moved onto bigger, more challenging things, armed with knowledge and skills imparted by their faculty mentors, classmates, and others with whom they have come in contact here during the past 4 years.

You will soon leave the artificiality of the Middlebury campus, often referred to on many idyllic liberal arts campuses like ours as “the bubble”…an overly protected environment that allows students, and indeed encourages them, to become blissfully unaware of things happening outside our small environs. Such blissful ignorance of the outer world tends to magnify one’s trivial daily experiences. The elimination of trays in the dining halls, or losing McCullough social space and Proctor to renovation somehow takes on a level of importance equal to truly significant events, such as the recent cyclone in Myanmar or the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, China.

This bubble is a double-edged sword: while it can lead students to become somewhat divorced from the realities of the world beyond Middlebury, its artificiality is also a great asset—an integral part of our students’ learning experience. The bubble provides cover for students who are willing to take risks, to experiment, and to experience failure while learning important lessons along the way. This is no insignificant attribute of a Middlebury education, especially now given the profile of your generation.

Your generation, the so-called Millennials, are typically characterized as: goal-oriented, optimistic, hard-working, cheerful, earnest, deferential, cooperative team-players, and, perhaps a bit difficult for college administrators to believe, comfortable with authority(!). Yet, your generation is also known to be more risk-averse than previous generations, perhaps a consequence of spending a lot of your time growing up in structured, supervised, adult-organized activities. Thus, the bubble, though so thoroughly artificial, can provide the opportunity for many of you to do the unusual, to test some previously undeveloped components of your persona and intellect, and to experience failure without suffering great consequences.

We hope, of course, that during your four years here, we compensated for the artificiality of the bubble better than most other small liberal arts institutions. We are conscious of the need to strike that balance between being protective and recognizing that college is a time of transition from the semi-dependent world of young adults to the world of independence that comes with the next phase of life.

We try reaching that balance by providing numerous leadership opportunities on campus through established student organizations, residential life positions, and by encouraging students to create things from scratch.

We are doing it through the recent fine-tuning of our commons residential system. The modified system is based on the belief and principle that as students progress through their four years here, they should be expected to exercise more independence and control over their activities and actions, including where and with whom they should live.

We do it, too, through our athletics program. Coaches, by delegating authority to captains in their role as intermediaries between coach and teammates, create a culture of accountability and interdependence. Through their delegated authority, the captains have the opportunity to emerge as leaders, but, just as valuable, they also have the opportunity to screw up. Through learning how to lead, or failing to lead, one inevitably also learns about responsibility.

We also believe our rare approach to study abroad, which requires students who attend Middlebury’s programs to direct-enroll in partner universities, study side-by-side with local students in the target language, and live with host families or with students from the local university, provides a valuable and rather stark antidote to the protected environment of Middlebury in ways that well prepare students for independence following graduation.

On balance, I believe Middlebury gets most things right when it comes to providing a protected learning environment on the one hand, and challenging our students to exercise judgment and independence, on the other. Yet, there are, of course, things we can do better.

I am going to be rather blunt in highlighting one of those things we need to work on, so please bear with me. My objective in engaging this difficult topic is to try to give some legitimate oomph to the message I wish to convey today to our graduating seniors—that the personal quest for an enriching and fulfilling life itself requires individuals to make deep commitments to building and sustaining their communities.

The issue I believe we have failed to address effectively is that of alcohol abuse and the consequences it has for individuals as well as for our community. Obviously, this is not a problem particular to Middlebury. But of course, simply because so many colleges and universities seem to exhibit paralysis on this topic does not mean we should accept irresponsible and self-destructive behavior.

We have been more fortunate than many peer institutions during the past few years in terms of the number of extreme incidents we have experienced as a result of extreme drinking, but that is hardly a consolation. Our dedicated health educators and student life colleagues have put together an extensive array of programming designed to inform our students of the risks and consequences of alcohol abuse, yet the behavior continues.

At the heart of the problem is the prevailing attitude one hears so frequently from students ... that it’s OK, indeed normal, to drink heartily once, twice, or three times/week because one has worked so hard.

This approach to life in college is by no means new, nor is it limited to Middlebury. Glance at the Ivy Gate blog or student blogs at various NESCAC schools and one will come across numerous references to the work hard, play hard dimension to college life, and the seeming acceptance of the irresponsible behavior that such a culture creates. A few of the posts on those blogs might shock some of you, but it is representative, I think, of the attitudes that now pass as the norm.

The expression work hard, play hard itself is not a problem, of course. Who would argue with something that celebrates balance in one’s life? Or fun? How the meaning and understanding of the term has changed, however, especially when it comes to life in college, is the problem.

Today, the “play hard” component of work hard, play hard includes a significant amount of what Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman has called “high-risk drinking,” a polite term for binge drinking, usually involving hard alcohol. Binge drinking, for the less familiar, is defined as a male consuming five drinks at one sitting and a female four, usually within a four hour period.

In the olden days, according to several accounts from 50-something and 60-something alumni from some highly regarded party schools, the play hard component seemed far more benign, as it largely had to do with pranks, usually done outdoors, accompanied by hearty drinking that involved almost exclusively beer. There was little recollection, or mention, of the widespread “collateral damage” from the playing hard that has become the norm today.

The so-called collateral damage from irresponsible drinking is all too familiar to students, staff, and administrators who must regularly, literally and figuratively, clean up the mess. Dorm and property damage, disrespect of staff and fellow students, fighting, and sexual assaults are just some of the all-too-common incidents associated with alcohol abuse on campus. Our public safety office reports that more than half the calls they receive—more than half of all their calls—are related to alcohol or substance abuse.

Most frightening is the long-term impact binge drinking has on one’s brain and its development. Researchers have found that alcohol can do serious and irreparable harm to a teen’s and young adult’s brain. In a study completed by a team of neuroscientists, individuals aged 21-24, who drank enough to attain blood alcohol levels just below the legal limit (just below .08), recorded greater incidences of brain impairment—that is, a decrease in the ability to learn new information, form memories, and perform cognitive functions—than individuals who drank the same amount and were only four years older. This research supports the long-held view that alcohol has a significant destructive impact on the development of the brain before one reaches one’s mid-20s.

One has to wonder why, if the implications of irresponsible drinking are so clear, bright and aspiring individuals resort to binge drinking and using hard alcohol to the extent they do? The impact of such drinking, as self-reported by our own first-years, is quite evident and not buried only in scientific journals. Almost a third of our first-years who took part in a survey on alcohol use said that within two weeks of completing the survey they had experienced a blackout—a period of amnesia that can last for seconds, minutes, hours, and/or days that prohibits the natural development of memory and recollection of recent events.

It is interesting to hypothesize as to why this generation in particular has taken the work hard, play hard approach to life in college to the extremes it has. Some who have written on the subject believe it is the need to release pressure that students feel coming from their parents who, ironically, or perhaps explicably, grew up during social and civil rights movements and now feel compelled to provide for their children the very structures and limits they fought to remove; others see it as a reaction to the pressure caused by increased competition for jobs and opportunities brought about by globalization; and others, still, including many students with whom I have spoken during the past three years, believe it is simply a function of the current work and activity load at Middlebury, which, I agree may very well be out of whack. The great amount of work assigned by our faculty, they argue, prevents many students from pursuing a healthy day-to-day balance between work and non-work activities, which creates the kind of pressure cooker that is best relieved by intense drinking.

The overall impact of binge drinking that is part and parcel of the new, self-destructive work hard, play hard approach to college life is the diminishing of what one learns and experiences at a place like Middlebury. It prevents the integration of many of our international students, who openly wonder why students who are so smart in class, appear to be so dumb out of class when it comes to how they socialize and use alcohol. This obsession with extreme alcohol consumption is foreign to so many students from different cultures on our campus. It results in less interaction and engagement within the study body, which translates into missed opportunities for students to hear different perspectives on the arts, politics, and life in general, and to learn about vastly different cultures that coexist on our campus. In other words, it leads to behavior that interferes with the larger, loftier, goals of a liberal arts education.

Recognizing our own inability to counteract, to date, the emergence of this new, self-destructive work hard, play hard culture gives us some guidance on how to be more effective in dealing with this challenge. For us, as an institution of higher education, responsible for providing the best possible liberal arts education, our limited success so far calls upon us to rely more on student leadership and peer pressure than on administrative policies and programs. Administrative directives can’t get us very far when the socialization among newly entering students into the newer version of work hard, play hard is so strikingly quick – or has taken place before students arrive here. Students themselves need to be a large part of the solution, and some have already shown how effective their involvement can be.

A good example of effective student leadership was that exercised by this year’s Feb orientation leaders, largely sophomores and juniors who volunteer to help orient incoming Febs adjust to entering the College mid-year. During several lunches at the president’s house with this year’s entering Febs, just about every student mentioned how their orientation leaders took charge of the drinking issue on their own accord, not as directed by administrators. They encouraged their charges to respect the drinking laws, and mentored them when peer pressure to drink in excess began to mount. This is the kind of guidance and support for younger students we will need to engender among more upperclassmen, if we are to reduce irresponsible drinking and create the respectful environment we desire and expect for our students.

For you, as young adults about to graduate into the so-called “real world,” the stubborn persistence of this culture highlights the importance for you, as individuals, to take some degree of moral responsibility for the behavior of fellow members of whatever community you choose to live in. This will require you to take seriously the importance of building communities in which standards of decency, self-respect, and respect towards others are upheld by those in it.

This insight, about the relationship between, on the one hand, the opportunity to live fulfilling, dynamic, and enriching lives, and, on the other, the need for an individual’s deep, strong commitments to the values of one’s community, is not a new one. Aristotle helped us to begin thinking about this issue more than two thousand years ago. And as with all such profound insights about human civilization, every generation must figure out for itself how to apply such wisdom to one’s own era.

For you, the graduating class of 2008, I would offer the following:

Do not accept self-destructive behavior from your friends and peers. You would not have come to college here in the first place, nor exercised the diligence and focus necessary to complete your degree, had you not believed firmly in the values of a liberal arts education. Believing in the liberal arts means you believe in learning, in the lifelong worth and possibility of personal growth and engagement in the world around you.

Our world today needs you and your generation to combat the self-destructiveness of extreme behaviors with the creation and support of communities characterized by individuals watching out for one another. We look to you, now steeped in the life-affirming values of the liberal arts, to work hard and play hard with wisdom into the future.

Congratulations and best wishes as you embark on the next exciting chapter of your lives.

September 12, 2004: Convocation Address

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address to the Class of 2009 on September 12, 2004.

Welcome! I trust your first week on campus has gone well. From everything I have heard, it has ... and tomorrow, you will officially begin a new phase of your lives.

Those of you who went on MOO trips, I hope all the mosquito bites have stopped itching. And for those of you who didn't go on the MOO trips, I hope those mosquito bites have stopped itching, too.

Just so you know, although many joke that the mosquito is Vermont's state bird, it really isn't. This year the mosquito situation was unusually bad, matched perhaps only in recent memory in 1989 ... the year the then-Governor of Vermont, Madeleine Kunin, went on CBS news, in an attempt to save the state's summer and fall tourist industry, to tell the country that the mosquitoes were really not that bad.

According to locale lore, confirmed, at least, in principle by the Governor herself during her three-year term here as Bicentennial Scholar in Residence, Governor Kunin chose to use one of the state's beautiful lakes as a backdrop, which made sense since this was, after all, a pitch to help the tourist industry. Unfortunately, someone in the Kunin administration forgot that water is a mosquito's favorite habitat, so when the cameras rolled, and she began to explain how all the reports of a mosquito epidemic were greatly exaggerated, she was attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes and had no choice but to begin swatting her face, her arms, and all other parts of her body.

Reporters being reporters, there was little sympathy shown and the cameras just kept rolling. Needless to say, the summer tourist season was not saved that year.

Killing frosts do decimate the mosquito population, so don't be concerned that this will continue for much longer. Soon we will be mosquito free and will turn our attention to snow, ice, and sub-zero temperatures ... craving the warmer weather and forgetting all that comes with that warmth!

Professor [Stephen] Donadio [who gave the faculty address at this year's convocation] has spoken a bit today about liberal education—its timelessness, the pureness and sometimes elusiveness of its substance, and the dedication of a former Middlebury faculty member, Professor Eve Adler, to share with students her love of her own pursuit of understanding what we, today, might learn from ancient texts, and how those texts explain some of today's most pressing issues. Also of great interest to Eve, and the subject of a course she taught, was the question. "What is the goal of education?"

That question, of course, is, and should be, on all of our minds, and certainly on the mind of one who is just beginning his tenure as president of this College. So as I thought about the topic for my very first address to a first-year class, wishing to draw parallels between your experience in starting your Middlebury careers and my experience in starting my time as president of the College, I thought it appropriate to share with you some thoughts on your education as you begin your studies here and I begin my presidency.

These views are not an attempt to answer in full Professor Adler's question of "What is the goal of education?"—that would be presumptuous. But the views I will share with you will help to frame the larger discussion we will initiate on campus this year as part of a planning process intended to help chart the College's course over the following years.

Though many argue that liberal education is education in the purest form, separate and divorced from the influences of specialization, professionalism, and the pressures of the here and now, I believe this need not be the case, nor can we afford to let it be the case.

The specific subjects that make up what a liberally educated individual should study today may be a matter for interesting debates, but beyond the specific subjects, for sure, a liberal education has a moral dimension to it. That dimension defines an obligation on the part of the individual to give to society, to share the fruits of what one has learned with society at large. Our society, in turn, needs what a successful liberal arts education provides its students, regardless of one's major field of study. And those who benefit from such an education should feel compelled—an obligation—to understand how that education fits in with the greater good.

So it's the mode of study—the how, and not so much the what—that I want to focus on. Education here, as you will find out, is human intensive. Very intensive. Our relatively small scale of operations, and our emphasis on undergraduate education, means that students interact quite regularly and intensively with an engaged and talented faculty, or at least they have the opportunity for such engagement and interaction.

This mode of education is the exception and not the norm; fewer than 2 percent of all undergraduates enroll at residential liberal arts colleges with this method of teaching and learning, largely because of the cost of such an education. The true or real cost of educating each student is around $60,000 per year. Our comprehensive fee, at just about $40,000 a year, means that every student, whether he or she receives grants and loans from the College or not, receives a subsidy or scholarship of at least $20,000. The $20,000 difference between what it costs to attend Middlebury and what it costs to provide the education is made up by annual gifts to the College by alumni and friends, plus the annual earnings on the College's endowment—its long-term insurance policy against potentially difficult financial times.

I mention the cost of this kind of the education and the subsidy or scholarship that everyone receives for two reasons: a liberal arts education is not first and foremost about efficiency or cost-containment—it is about providing the teaching and infrastructural resources necessary to ensure our graduates can engage their complex world seriously and with great confidence when they graduate; and second, so you will be less likely to take for granted the incredible array of resources available to you here to prepare yourself for consequential engagement in the world.

I should note that the essence of what I am saying today is hardly original. Some institutions of higher education with which you are all familiar have come to the same conclusion in recent years: you might want to read Yale College's recent self-study on undergraduate education, or Harvard president Lawrence Summers' several speeches on undergraduate education, or a number of the elite state universities' rationale for the development of undergraduate honors liberal arts colleges within their larger structures. In each case, these larger institutions of higher education have been forced to discover—or rediscover—the centrality to their mission of a liberal arts education, with the emphasis on intensive human exchanges.

The finest large universities, both private and public, have made a commitment to reestablish their focus on undergraduate education. Will they succeed? Only time will tell. Success at those institutions may well influence our own future path, but for now, the ethos of devoting remarkable time to each student is alive and well here, and we must be sure to do whatever we can to preserve that ethos and commitment.

So what do I mean when I say that a liberal arts education needs to prepare its students for a highly complex world, and one whose complexity seems to increase more rapidly than ever before? What do I mean, in terms of the way we should educate and you should learn, when I say we need to ensure that all of you leave here ready for serious engagement with the greater world, confident in your skills to make a difference?

Confidence to engage the world following graduation comes, in part, from mastery of knowledge, which all of you should eventually achieve to some success by completing work in one of the College's 40 majors. But if you only have confidence in the areas in which you major—that which you studied for four years—you are likely to be limited in the kinds of serious engagement you will have once you hit the "real" world.

Confidence to engage the world seriously comes less from the subjects you will study, and more from theway you learn while you are here. The ability to write clearly, to speak and argue persuasively, and to think in a disciplined manner represents the most crucial set of skills you will learn here in preparation for what you will face following graduation. I will expound briefly on each of these areas, and relate how this learning environment is the very best to prepare you, if you are willing to do the work.

First: seek classes and professors that force you to write, write, and write some more. One of the clichés one hears all the time is that graduates of liberal arts colleges do well after graduation and are sought highly by a wide array of professions because they are taught to think critically, communicate clearly, to ask the right questions, and then find their answers.

Clichés become clichés because, quite often, they are true, and this one about liberal arts education is indeed true. However, it is true not because one simply enrolls at a residential liberal arts college or takes a required number of courses in the liberal arts curriculum. Rather, it is true because of the relatively small classes we offer and the relatively small student-faculty ratio we have here. The combination of these two characteristics means you have your professor's attention and your work is given substantive critical commentary.

Middlebury requires two "intensive" writing courses, one is your first-year seminar, and the other is a course recommended to be in your major. In those courses, because they are designated as writing intensive courses, you will write a lot. You should also rewrite a lot, sometimes multiple drafts of one assignment. In addition to your professor's comments, you should take advantage of the significant array of resources provided here to help you with writing. Seek feedback routinely on your argument, or on the clarity of your writing, or both, from peer tutors or staff at the College's new Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research. Never feel satisfied by doing the minimum when it comes to having the opportunity to have a faculty member read your writing.

The final result is that you become a better writer, a skilled writer, able to make an argument forcefully, and with confidence. That confidence is crucial if you are going to be engaged in the world following Middlebury, and it requires the sustained and intense guidance we offer here.

Second: seek out courses and professors who require you to speak and present your views in class, both in seminars and discussion sections. Along with writing effectively, the ability to speak clearly is an important part of developing the confidence you will need as you set forth from college. There are ample opportunities to take courses in which oral presentations are required. Don't sidestep these courses because you are shy, or you think others know more than you do. If you keep in mind the question, "What is the goal of education," why you are here, and how part of being liberally educated involves a moral obligation to give back, you will feel more comfortable taking the initiative to get as much out of what this human-intensive learning environment offers you.

Most faculty will cherish the opportunity to help you hone your oral skills in class. At the least, they have a vested interest in the quality of discussions in their course; but for many more, the opportunity to help you develop your oral skills is part of what they view as their role at a place like Middlebury.

And third: give great thought to scientific study ... labs and all. In and of itself, the need for a more scientifically literate population is self-evident. The scientific dimension of so many of society's current issues—be it the environment, the ways in which human beings communicate with each other across the globe, genetic manipulation and cloning, alternative energy sources, food alteration, or new forms of warfare—the scientific dimension is central to understanding the world around us and to our ability to participate and make a difference in it.

Middlebury offers students who pursue science beyond a course or two a huge comparative advantage: the ability to work side by side with a faculty member, to do research, and to use state-of-the art instrumentation that one would think is found more frequently, and made available to undergraduates more readily, at larger research universities. In fact, at most larger universities, it is the graduate students who have access to the scientific equipment, not the undergraduates.

There is a reason why a disproportionate percentage of Ph.D.'s earned in the sciences are by students who went to small liberal arts colleges for their undergraduate degree and not to large research universities. The kind of science education that is available at the very best liberal arts colleges is unique and is something to consider now that you are here.

Even if you do not major in science, the pursuit of scientific education will expose you to the scientific method, to the importance of replicability to the development of sound theories and new knowledge, and will instill a discipline that is likely to become part of how you think and address multi-faceted issues well after you complete your studies here.

Now, I don't expect a significant change in the "drop-add" activities over the coming weeks as a result of these comments. Or, specifically, a run on writing-intensive courses this semester. Or finding out we have run out of space in McCardell Bicentennial Hall—if that is possible.

I do, however, hope you will rethink what it means to attend a College whose mode of education—intense human interaction—and dedication to that mode of education, offers you an opportunity to prepare yourself for a world far different from the one my faculty colleagues and I inherited when we completed our undergraduate studies.

In fact, I can't help but observe how yesterday's third anniversary of September 11th fits into all of this: if nothing else, September 11th should represent to each of you and your generation a clarion call for action—for serious engagement in the world and a commitment to prepare yourselves for that engagement as best as you can. I can think of no better place for that preparation than here, or a better time in your lives to begin that preparation than now, just as you begin your studies at Middlebury. As Professor Donadio said of Professor Adler, whose teaching and scholarship revolved around her love of ancient texts, her main intellectual pursuit was to understand how the problems we are witnessing today, and how they will play themselves out in the future, are rooted in what we know of the past.

You have an important role to play in how those things we are witnessing today play out in the future. I encourage you as strongly as I can to take advantage of the resources you have before you, and will have over the next four years, to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to engage the world and those complex issues with confidence and conviction. We are here to help you; that is the nature of a Middlebury education. Please don't pass up the opportunity that is before you.

Thank you.

Convocation 2007

President Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered this address to the Class of 2011 on September 9, 2007.

Welcome! I trust your first week on campus has gone well. From everything I have heard, our move-in, registration, First Year Seminar meetings, commons meetings, placement exams, and all of the other beginning-of-the-year activities that we somehow manage to fold into your orientation went smoothly, and many people deserve a lot of credit for helping to make our orientation such a success.

At the risk of appearing to overlook the many who played key roles during the past week, I want especially to thank Associate Dean of the College Karen Guttentag, whose energy, intelligence, and judgment, along with her significant organizational and diplomatic skills, were essential to your successful entrée to Middlebury.

A number of faculty and staff who have been involved in orientation for many years, claim this was the best orientation they can recall. Please join me in thanking Karen, and the many other faculty and staff who helped, in Karen’s own words, to bring all the “connective tissue” of the institution together to make orientation a singular and unified success.

Convocation addresses, such as these, allow presidents to address incoming students directly and as a group ... something not likely to occur again during your time here, until Commencement. With such an opportunity, I feel it is important for me to speak to you about a most fundamental and some would call “practical” topic: your time at Middlebury.

Though it is tempting to initiate your college education with a lecture on the timelessness of liberal education, and how its substance is frequently described as pure yet elusive, I want, instead, to focus, and have you focus as you begin your studies, on how you will use your time at Middlebury and take advantage of the remarkable array of resources we have here for you to leave here a very different person than you are today.

Though many argue that liberal education is education in the purest form, separate and divorced from the influences of specialization, professionalism, and the pressures of the here and now, I believe this need not be the case, nor can we afford to let it be the case. The pursuit of understanding what we might learn from ancient texts, and how those texts explain some of today’s most pressing issues, need not be divorced from how one applies what one has learned to his or her individual life, or to the world one will inhabit after these relatively protected four years.

The specific subjects that make up what a liberally educated individual should study today makes for interesting debates, but beyond the specific subjects, a liberal education has a moral dimension to it. That dimension defines an obligation on the part of the individual to give to society, to share the fruits of what one has learned with society-at-large. Our society, in turn, needs so very badly what a successful liberal arts education provides its students, regardless of one’s major field of study. And those who benefit from such an education should feel compelled ... indeed an obligation . . . to understand how that education fits in with the greater good.

Education here is human intensive. Very intensive. Our relatively small scale of operations, and our emphasis on undergraduate education, means that students interact quite regularly and intensively with an engaged and talented faculty in ways that are atypical of higher education in this country and around the world.

That is, our mode of education is the exception and not the norm; fewer than 3 percent of all undergraduates in the United States enroll at residential liberal arts colleges with our model of teaching and learning, largely because of the cost of such an education. The true or real cost of educating each student is more than $65,000 per year. Our comprehensive fee, at just about $46,000 a year, means that every student, whether he or she receives grants and loans from the College or not, receives a subsidy or scholarship of at least $20,000.

The $20,000 difference between what it costs to attend Middlebury and what it costs to provide the education is made up by annual gifts to the College by alumni and friends, plus the annual earnings on the College’s endowment – largely a corpus of investment that serve as a long-term insurance policy against potentially difficult financial times. Combined, these three sources of revenue – the comprehensive fee paid by students, the gifts we receive from generous supporters of the College, and earnings from our endowment – determine our annual operating budget and allow us to provide the most expensive, but also potentially the most effective, model of education available.

I mention the cost of this kind of education and the subsidy or scholarship that everyone receives for two reasons: a liberal arts education is not first and foremost about efficiency or cost-containment – it is about providing the teaching and infrastructural resources necessary to ensure that our graduates can engage their complex world seriously and with great confidence when they leave here; and second, so our students will be less likely to take for granted the incredible resources available at Middlebury to prepare them for consequential engagement in the new world.

I should note that the essence of what I am saying today is hardly original. Some institutions of higher education with which we are all familiar have come to the same conclusion in recent years: Yale College has redefined its commitment to undergraduate education recently, completing a plan whose focus and emphases look, sound, and feel very much like our own long-standing approach to undergraduate education. This includes, by the way, the recognition, endorsed strongly by its president Rick Levin, that all Yale students would benefit from a significant period of study abroad.

This is new territory for most Ivy League schools, where the average share of juniors who study abroad is fewer than 15 percent, and at Harvard and Yale, that figure has historically been less than 10 percent. On average, between 55 percent and 65 percent of Middlebury juniors study abroad.

Harvard, too, in the past five years, has focused much energy on discussions of undergraduate education, and recently released its new curricular proposals. Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers irritated many in the Harvard community with his sometimes scathing critique of the quality of the undergraduate experience at our county’s most prestigious institution, and many of the issues he raised had to do with the kind of engagement we, at Middlebury, have been committed to for years.

And finally, a number of the elite public universities have recently created undergraduate honors liberal arts colleges within their larger structures in recognition of the importance of the kind of education we offer here. In each case, these larger institutions of higher education have been forced to discover … or rediscover ... the centrality to their mission of a liberal arts education, with the emphasis on intensive human engagement, interaction, and exchange.

The finest large universities, then, both private and public, have made a commitment to reestablish their focus on undergraduate education. Will they succeed? Only time will tell. Success at those institutions may well influence our own future path, but for now, the ethos of devoting remarkable time to each student is alive and well here, and we must be sure to do whatever we can to preserve that ethos and commitment.

So what do I mean when I say that a liberal arts education needs to prepare its students for a highly complex world … a world whose complexity seems to increase more rapidly than ever before? What do I mean, in terms of the way we should educate and you should learn, when I say we need to ensure that all of you leave here ready for serious engagement with the greater world, confident in your skills to make a difference?

Confidence to engage the world following graduation comes, in part, from mastery of knowledge, which all of you should eventually achieve to some success by completing work in one of the College’s 44 majors. But if you only have confidence in the areas in which you major—that which you studied for four years—you are likely to be limited in the kinds of serious engagement you will have once you hit the so-called “real” world.

The significance of your education will come less from the subjects you will study, and more from the way you learn while you are here. The ability to write clearly, to speak and argue persuasively, and to think in a disciplined manner represents the most crucial set of skills you will attain here.

Seek classes and professors that force you to write, and I mean write. And I mean a lot. One of the clichés one hears all the time is that graduates of liberal arts colleges do well after graduation and are sought highly by a wide array of professions because they are taught to think critically, communicate clearly, to ask the right questions, and then find their answers.

This cliché speaks the truth, but not because one simply enrolls at a residential liberal arts college or takes a required number of courses in the liberal arts curriculum. Rather, it is true because of the relatively small classes we offer and the relatively small student-faculty ratio we maintain here. The combination of these two characteristics means you have your professor’s attention and your work is given substantive critical commentary. But you still need to apply yourself, take advantage of the opportunities, and become active participants in your education.

Middlebury requires two “intensive” writing courses, one is your first-year seminar, and the other is a second course, often times take in your major. In those courses, because they are designated as writing intensive courses, you will write a lot. You should learn to re-write a lot, too, sometimes multiple drafts of each assignment. In addition to your professor’s comments, you should take advantage of the significant resources provided here to help you with writing.

Seek feedback routinely on your argument, and on the clarity of your writing, from peer tutors or staff at the College’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research. Never feel satisfied by doing the minimum when it comes to having the opportunity to have a faculty member read your writing. The final result is that you become a better writer, a skilled writer, able to make an argument forcefully, and with confidence.

Seek out courses and professors who require you to speak and present your views in class, both in seminars and discussion sections. Along with writing effectively, the ability to speak clearly is an important part of developing the confidence you will need as you set forth from college. There are ample opportunities to take courses in which oral presentations are required. Don’t sidestep these courses because you are shy, or you think others know more than you do, or you think oral communication skills might not be relevant to a career you hope to pursue. They are.

Most faculty will cherish the opportunity to help you hone your oral skills in class. At the least, they have a vested interest in the quality of classroom interaction in their courses; but for many more, the opportunity to help you develop your oral skills is part of what they view as their role at a place like Middlebury.

Finally, give great thought to scientific study ... labs and all. In and of itself, the need for a more scientifically literate population is self-evident. The scientific dimension of so many of society’s current issues – be it the environment, the ways in which human beings communicate with each other across the globe, genetic manipulation and cloning, sustainability and alternative energy sources, food alteration, or new forms of welfare – the scientific dimension is central to understanding the world around us and to our ability to participate and make a difference in it.

Middlebury offers students how pursue science beyond the introductory level a huge comparative advantage: the ability to work side-by-side with a faculty member, to do research, and to use state-of-the-art instrumentation that one would think is found more frequently, and made available to undergraduates more readily, at larger research universities. In fact, at most larger universities, it is the graduate students who have access to the scientific equipment, not the undergraduates.

There is a reason why a disproportionate percentage of PhDs earned in the sciences are by students who went to small liberal arts colleges for their undergraduate degree rather than to large research universities. The kind of science education that is available at the very best liberal arts colleges is unique and is something to consider now that you are here.

Even if you do not major in science, the pursuit of scientific education will expose you to the scientific method, to the importance of replicability to the development of sound theories and new knowledge, and will instill a discipline that is likely to become part of how you think and address multi-faceted issues well after you complete your studies here.

Now, I don’t expect a significant change in the “drop-add” activities over the coming weeks as a result of my urging you to consider pursuing science here at Middlebury. Nor do I expect a sudden surge in enrollments in writing-intensive courses beyond your first-year seminar this semester, or courses in which you are required to give many oral presentations.

I do, however, hope you will think what it means to attend a College whose mode of education – intense human interaction – and dedication to that mode of education, offers you an opportunity to prepare yourself for a world far different from the one my colleagues and I inherited when we completed our undergraduate studies.

In fact, I can’t help but observe how Tuesday’s sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States fits into all of this: if nothing else, September 11th should represent to each of you and sound for your generation a clarion call for action ... for serious engagement in the world and a commitment to prepare yourselves for that engagement as best as you can.

I can think of no better place for that preparation than here, or a better time in your lives to begin that preparation than now, just as you begin your studies at Middlebury. The foundation of liberal education, built upon ancient and varied texts, helps us understand how the problems we are witnessing today, and how they will play themselves out in the future, are rooted in what we know of the past.

You have an important role to play in how those things we are witnessing today play out in the future. I encourage you as strongly as I can to take advantage of the resources you have before you, and will have over the next four years, to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to engage the world and those complex issues with confidence and conviction. We are here to help you; that is the nature of a Middlebury education. Please don’t pass up the opportunity that is before you.

Thank you.

Inaugural Address

Ronald D. Liebowitz delivered the following in inaugural address on October 10, 2004.

Thank you for all those warm greetings.

There are three special guests here today, three former presidents of the College, whose presence I would like to acknowledge. These men led Middlebury for a combined 40 years, and all of them played major roles in bringing Middlebury into the constellation of the nation's finest liberal arts colleges. Each has left his mark on the institution, building upon the successes of predecessors, and all of us associated with the College are proud and most appreciative of their contributions. Would each of you stand and let us recognize you for all your contributions: James Armstrong, Olin Robison, and John McCardell. Thank you for being here.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Rick Fritz, Members of the Board, Governor Douglas, former Presidents Armstrong, Robison, and McCardell, Dr. Stameshkin, faculty and administrative colleagues, staff colleagues, Middlebury students and alumni, residents of the town of Middlebury, representatives of the academy, friends, and family—I thank you for your presence on this important day in the life of Middlebury College.

I want also to thank the Presidential Search Committee for its hard work. I recognize and appreciate the challenging task it faced, and I assume this presidency today understanding the confidence the Committee exhibited in recommending my candidacy to the Board of Trustees.

I also thank the Trustees for acting upon that confidence, and for the invaluable guidance and support many members of the Board lent to me during my time in the administration prior to this year.

Special thanks, too, to the Inauguration Committee for conceiving of, coordinating, and executing this multi-faceted celebration amid one of the busiest weeks on campus in memory … and to our facilities, buildings and grounds, and dining staffs, all of whom prepared the campus so magnificently for the arrival of so many visitors, and brought back to life this historic quadrangle for campus-wide ceremonies.

I extend thanks to my administrative colleagues with whom I have worked, both past and present, for helping me to prepare for this day. One does not jump from faculty member to senior college administrator without a few lessons in between. I have been fortunate to have had a number of wise mentors along the way whose patience helped to make the transition far smoother than it would have been.

I am also delighted to have present today many members of my extended family. I thank them for being here.

And finally, thanks most of all to my wife Jessica, who everyday brings wisdom, perspective, and love to our life together. We enter this challenge together, as partners, and I feel blessed that she is here beside me.

Today, of course, is the 16th inauguration of a Middlebury president. As College historian David Stameshkin has noted in his two-volume history of Middlebury College and in his comments today, the College was a long shot to succeed—it was founded as an "experiment" in what was then a tiny settlement, with no government support, and had to compete with the recently founded University of Vermont for the limited number of students in the northern reaches of New England.

Yet, after the College was able to establish some semblance of permanency, thanks to the support of the town and the bold decision to admit women in 1883, which expanded the pool of eligible students to attend Middlebury, there is one constant that shaped and continues to shape, directly and indirectly, the institution's identity, its development, and the important position it holds within higher education. And that constant is "place."

By "place," I mean, as geographers do, the physical as well as the human characteristics of a location or territory that influence the region's cultural development in one particular way or another.

Middlebury's history is linked strongly to its physical setting. I want to point to a few examples of how this particular region of Vermont has shaped the College's development, and then speak to the relevance to us today of the relationship between the region's natural assets and the human creativity and ingenuity it has inspired over the years.

Let's take, for example, the founding of the College's world-renowned intensive summer Language Schools. It was a train ride through here, through the Champlain Valley, taken by Vassar College German Professor Lilian Stroebe, which led to the founding of the first of what are now nine intensive summer foreign Language Schools.

The remoteness of the by-then-well-established College, seen from Lilian Stroebe's train window, would provide the combination of infrastructure and isolation necessary for students to become fully immersed in German language and culture with limited distraction. Students would eat and reside in College residence halls with their faculty, and they would participate, literally around the clock, in a German environment, with classes supplemented by lectures, musical, and other cultural events, intended to enmesh students in German language and culture. Short of going to Germany, the Middlebury campus in 1915, unused in the summer months and largely isolated from even the nearby town, seemed to Stroebe the perfect place for such a learning environment.

The Middlebury administration, led by President John Thomas, immediately saw the virtues of the idea, and granted Professor Stroebe the right to begin the German School the very next summer. Within a few years, Middlebury established an intensive French School and then a Spanish School. Russian and Italian followed, after which came Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and, most recently, Portuguese.

The success of the intensive Language Schools, in turn, established Middlebury, remote as it was, as a magnet for a remarkably rich international curriculum, as some of the most prominent intellectuals visited the summer language programs, some of them to escape the totalitarian regimes of the last century. Thus, the College's remote location, with its perfect environment for full immersion in a foreign language and culture, sowed the seeds for the College's internationalized curriculum, first through its rich array of courses in the graduate summer language programs, and later in its undergraduate liberal arts program.

Based on the early success of the intensive foreign Language Schools, the College established another summer program, the Bread Loaf School of English, on Bread Loaf mountain, in Ripton, Vermont, 12 miles from Middlebury. The School of English began operations in 1920. The School's first dean, Wilfred Davison, recruited a nationally-known faculty, but as consequential as hiring the superb academic faculty was his decision to supplement the standard English literature curriculum with visits and readings by the best living writers of the day, who were drawn to the beauty and remoteness of this special place as an ideal environment for contemplation and creativity.

The popularity of the guest appearances at the Bread Loaf School of English led, five years later, to the establishment of the Writers' Conference—the country's first formal gathering of professional writers and editors with the sole purpose of teaching talented, aspiring writers. And thus was born the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, which will celebrate its 80th session this coming summer. Included on its honor roll of faculty and attendees are: Robert Frost, Willa Cather, Archibald MacLeish, Wallace Stegner, Isaac Asimov, Joan Didion, John Gardner, John Irving, Edward Hirsch, and Toni Morrison.

A final example I will use to underscore the importance of "place" to the College's development and identity is the match between the extraordinary natural endowments of this region and the establishment of the country's first undergraduate environmental studies major in 1965. Five Middlebury faculty—Doc Woodin, Brew Baldwin, Rowland Illick, D.K. Smith, and Louie Pool—from five different disciplines—biology, geology, geography, economics, and chemistry—worked collaboratively to establish this innovative interdisciplinary program before the environmental movement hit college campuses, and before interdisciplinary study was fashionable. They viewed the relative pristine condition of the region's natural environment, seen most visibly in the nearby forests still untouched by human activity, as an outstanding laboratory for student and faculty research. They also saw the threats to that environment, which became their motivation to offer Middlebury students a more focused way to engage in the study of our natural surroundings.

The decades-long tradition of rigorous study of environmental issues, especially, at first, in geology and biology, influenced the development of the College's programs in the natural sciences. Our natural science departments have emerged as one of Middlebury's hidden curricular strengths. They are comprehensive in scope, and offer our students an impressive array of opportunities for research and collaboration directly with faculty, both in the field and in the laboratory. When the story of the dynamism of the College's natural science programs gets out, the study of the natural sciences will also come to serve as a distinguishing characteristic of this College, rooted, however indirectly, in its particular "place."

So what do we learn about Middlebury College from these three stories? Perhaps, most obviously, it is that place is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to explain Middlebury's particular tradition of excellence. In fact, the most enduring and renowned programs at the College have resulted from exceptional human ingenuity and creativity.

Many passengers rode the same train that Lilian Stroebe rode before she pursued her idea for the German School. But it was Professor Stroebe's imagination that ultimately led to the establishment of the full-immersion approach to foreign language study.

Similarly, it was the vision and persuasiveness of two Middlebury College English professors, Edward Day Collins and Wilfred Davison, that convinced President Thomas to experiment with a School of English, rather than sell the Bread Loaf Inn, as it planned to do, not long after the College acquired it in a bequest. That experiment led to what is now the largest graduate English literature program in the country, as well as the first and still premier national Writers' Conference, emulated many times over around the country.

Any college in a beautiful and isolated place might have offered the first environmental studies major. But it was the collaborative commitment of those five Middlebury College professors that helped break new ground by establishing an interdisciplinary major at a time when crossing disciplinary boundaries was largely theoretical at the college level. The program today includes 45 faculty members from 22 academic departments, graduates, on average, 45 students a year, and is generally recognized as the model undergraduate environmental studies program in the country.

A less obvious lesson that emerges from the three stories about Middlebury College is that each of the exceptional programs described here was based on the assumption that intensive human interaction is essential for learning. The full "immersion" approach to teaching a foreign language and culture, which the remoteness of the place inspired, placed students and faculty, side by side, in classrooms, in the dining room, and in the residence halls, isolated from outside influences, and engaged in an intense learning environment. Based on my own experience of studying two summers at the College's Russian School, I can vouch for the significance of the intense and relentless faculty focus on student learning; it was like no other learning experience I have ever had.

The essence of Bread Loaf's success is quite similar. Rather than learn from the nation's best literary scholars and writers by solely reading their works, students at the School of English and Writers' Conference are constantly engaged with them, face-to-face, in classes, lectures, and readings.

The success of the environmental studies program—indeed of any interdisciplinary program—springs from the same source: faculty reaching directly into the student's learning process. Instead of leaving students to their own devices for figuring out how to assemble a plan of study from a set of discrete courses, these faculty members bent and redrew disciplinary boundaries to create a more coherent and integrated way to study the environment. Such an approach to teaching and learning requires greater time commitments on the part of the faculty member, but the rewards have been clear to Middlebury faculty and students for many generations.

So, what is our charge today as we witness the inauguration of a new administration for Middlebury College, and take stock of the College's history and culture? I would say our charge is twofold: to be true to that impressive history, we must, first, preserve those parts of the Middlebury culture that encourage creativity and foster innovation. To do this, there must be a level of confidence within the institution so that particular successes in one area of the College are viewed as successes across the entire institution—a genuine feeling that all parts of the College community benefit from exceptional work and achievement; otherwise successes born out of innovation and creativity will have little chance of survival.

To be true to Middlebury's history and culture, we must also commit ourselves to being very clear about what we do here, and why we've been doing it so well for more than two centuries. What we do best is give students the opportunity to work directly with faculty—dedicated teachers who have mastered specific bodies of knowledge, who are mentors and motivators, and who see their role as participating in a four-year process of opening the hearts and minds of their students and preparing them for a lifetime of learning.

Faculty and students by themselves, however, can't be expected to uphold this tradition of students working so closely with faculty. Understandably, faculty have many competing pressures for their time. And students, by definition, require guidance for making the most of their education while at Middlebury. So it is the staff, in all of its diversity of interest and expertise, who need to play a critical role of keeping the institution focused on the centrality of intensive student-faculty interaction.

I am confident that: by developing a culture in which everyone understands how his or her own particular role contributes directly to the College's core mission of educating young men and women through direct and rigorous engagement with faculty, and, at the same time, by developing a culture in which a particular achievement is viewed across the College as an institutional achievement, where one department's success is viewed with pride by other departments, we will ensure that this College continues to foster and encourage the Lilian Stroebes of the future.

In doing so, we will be fulfilling our charge—preserving and nurturing the proud traditions we inherit here at Middlebury College.

Thank you.