MIDDLEBURY, Vt.—The reaccreditation review team representing the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) presented a summary of its findings to an open meeting of Middlebury College students, faculty and staff in McCullough Social Space on Nov. 2.

The eight members of the visiting team, all faculty members and administrators from colleges throughout the Northeast, presented their key findings after nearly a year of analysis that included:

  • a review of Middlebury’s 100-plus-page self-study report; and
  • visits by team members to the Language Schools and Bread Loaf School of English this past summer; the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif.; C.V. Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad sites in Spain; and, from Oct. 31-Nov. 2, the Middlebury campus for meetings with members of the college community.

In his opening remarks, the chair of the team, Lawrence S. Bacow, president emeritus of Tufts University, called Middlebury a “remarkable institution [with] amazing energy.” He was struck by the high level of commitment of the faculty and staff, and “the passion they bring to their work.” Excellence permeates the institution at every level, he said, adding that the visiting team was impressed by Middlebury’s tradition of innovation in higher education that goes back generations, a tradition that produced the Language Schools, the Schools Abroad and the Bread Loaf School of English.

Bacow said the team was impressed that the college had survived the economic downturn that began in 2008 without sacrificing the core values of the institution and without layoffs, noting the transparency with which the administration had communicated about finances and staffing. He also pointed out that the college has continued to honor its traditions while embracing change, most notably in recent years with the acquisition of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and the creation of the for-profit venture, Middlebury Interactive Languages.

As the team members marked the end of their site visit, Bacow said they had been struck by an e-mail they received from an unnamed Middlebury staff member. Bacow read from the communication to the members of the community gathered in McCullough:

“It is often the sense of place that draws students to us precisely because of where we are and not in spite of it. Middlebury’s connection to the land and how the college is informed by what Vermont itself stands for, both play a significant role in a student’s decision to choose Middlebury. Vermont’s Yankee independent spirit, Vermont’s progressive-not-liberal politics, the care for the environment we all share—all make for a compelling context in which to study and become part of a larger community.”

The e-mail message continued, “These characteristics speak to the rich context in which the college resides. Not isolated, but rather enriched by our roots here in Vermont and our presence on the international stage.”

Bacow said the staff member’s poignant comments influenced how the team viewed Middlebury College as an institution and Vermont as a place for learning and personal growth.

Back to the business of the team’s report, Bacow said a NEASC team’s responsibility is to examine an institution “through the lens of the standards of reaccreditation.” Accordingly, each member of the visiting team addressed the audience on where Middlebury stood in relation to the 11 pre-established NEASC standards.

All of the visiting team’s observations and recommendations will be included in a final report, which will be sent to NEASC and to President Ronald D. Liebowitz. Middlebury will have the opportunity to write a response, and in the spring of 2012 Bacow and President Liebowitz will meet in Bedford, Mass., with NEASC’s Commission on Institutions of Higher Education for a final determination about Middlebury’s accreditation.

President Liebowitz will make the final report of the visiting team and Middlebury’s response available to the community on the Middlebury website.

In addition to Bacow, the members of team are: Urbain J. DeWinter, associate provost for international programs, Boston University; Andrew B. Evans, vice president for finance and treasurer, Wellesley College; Rena Fraden, dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs, Trinity College; Benson Lieber, dean of academic support and student research, Amherst College; David L. Smith, John W. Chandler professor of English, Williams College; Kathryn T. Spoehr, professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological  sciences, Brown University; and Susan V. Wawrzaszek, associate vice president for library and information services, Wheaton College.

Susan Campbell Baldridge, professor of psychology and vice president for planning and assessment, chaired the reaccreditation steering committee at Middlebury. In his remarks, Bacow praised those responsible for organizing Middlebury’s reaccreditation process in general and the site visit in particular, saying he’d done four reaccreditations and that Middlebury’s had run the most smoothly.

Middlebury’s previous accreditation by NEASC was in 1999. The current reaccreditation process includes the four-year undergraduate college and the degree-granting graduate programs offered by the Language Schools, the Schools Abroad, the Bread Loaf School of English and the Monterey Institute.