| by Laurie Patton

Announcements, News

President Laurie Patton sent the following message to the Middlebury community on Thursday, July 28, 2022.

Dear Middlebury Community,

It was wonderful to be with so many of you on Saturday as we celebrated the life of Jeff Cason with his family, friends, and colleagues and reflected on his immeasurable contributions to Middlebury. It will take time and patience to process this tremendous loss. 

As we think about Jeff’s legacy, I write to share an update about a leadership transition in the Office of the Provost. In recent days, I have been in conversations with the Senior Leadership Group, the Board of Trustees’ executive committee, and other faculty and staff leaders about next steps. As I continued to consult and reflect, it became clear that one individual was well positioned to lead the work of our initiatives, to engage with faculty and staff, to provide continuity, and to keep the momentum of Jeff’s work on behalf of Middlebury––and to do so with skill, energy, professionalism, compassion, and the benefit of experience. It is, therefore, my great pleasure to announce that Michelle McCauley, professor of psychology and director of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, has agreed to serve as interim executive vice president and provost for Middlebury, effective Monday, August 1. As Michelle makes this transition, we are incredibly fortunate that Professor of Political Science Sarah Stroup has agreed to take on the role of director of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation. You’ll hear more about that work later in the summer.

Michelle joined Middlebury in 1995 and since that time has led and participated in multiple initiatives across Middlebury. I am grateful that she has agreed to take on this new role at this pivotal time, as we assess the needs of the office and move forward with the critical work ahead. Michelle will serve in this role for an 18-month term. We will share more information about our plans to select the next provost and executive vice president at a later date.

Michelle’s long career at Middlebury, her deep knowledge of all aspects of the institution, her fair and equitable approach, and her teaching and research interests have prepared her well. In her distinguished record of service to Middlebury, she has participated in, and frequently led, almost every committee possible to serve on. She has firsthand experience as department chair and knows the all-important work of faculty reviews and the College Board of Advisors.

As interim executive vice president and provost, Michelle will oversee the Office of the Provost and all academic programs at Middlebury, including Middlebury College, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, C.V. Starr Schools Abroad, Language Schools, Bread Loaf School of English, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences, and School of the Environment.

Michelle shared with me that she is honored and humbled to continue the essential work of the Provost’s Office in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students. She noted, “Jeff Cason was an extraordinary leader, colleague, and friend, and as we move forward, we will continue to have the benefit of his planning and his wisdom.”

She added, “In the next several weeks, we will celebrate Commencements and Convocations. We will watch students move to campus and off campus. We will continue to provide our students, at all of our campuses and in all of our programs, exceptional educational and experiential opportunities. We will continue to grow the Middlebury community of alumni and colleagues. And we will remember Jeff Cason. I am honored to have the opportunity to join the team doing this work.”

George Lee, chair of the Board of Trustees, described Michelle as “a perfect fit for the work of interim provost in this extremely difficult time.” He added, “I have known Michelle since she served on the strategy committee as well as the College Board of Advisors. Her insights, her collegiality, and her curiosity about all aspects of Middlebury have deeply impressed me. I and other members of the board are greatly looking forward to working with her,” he said. 

Those who have worked closely with Michelle know that she is a skilled leader and enthusiastic collaborator. 

Longtime friend and colleague Carlos Vélez-Blasini, dean of international programs and professor of psychology, said, “Michelle has been a colleague and a true friend in the Psychology Department since her arrival at Middlebury in 1995. Her deep commitment to her students, to her department, to her College, and to her discipline has always been a model for us to follow. Her eagerness to reach across disciplinary and institutional boundaries and her commitment to explore the real-world applications of her scholarly work have been hallmarks of her career. Michelle brings to the Office of the Provost a deep commitment to faculty governance and years of experience in institutional work, be it as a department chair or as a member of the many committees in which she has served through the years.” 

An accomplished professor and scholar, Michelle teaches research methods and applied courses in legal psychology, psychology of leadership, and environmental decision making. She also taught a graduate course at MIIS, The Psychology of Social Action, in spring 2018 and taught at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad during a leave. Michelle has led and participated in work that touches all aspects of Middlebury. In addition to overseeing the Conservation Psychology Lab, she cofounded the Vermont Center for Behavioral Science Research in Climate and the Environment, served as academic department chair for psychology for four terms, and contributed to committees, task forces for initiatives, including Energy2028, COVID-19 Academic Continuity, College Strategy, College well-being, and mindfulness. She has been elected to the Faculty Council and served as chair, and was a representative to the College Board of Advisors, the Admissions Advisory Committee, and the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Conflict Resolution, among others. Her role as an advisor has included participation in the Committee for the Summer School of the Environment, the Franklin Environmental Center, the faculty advisory board for the School in Germany, and the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference. Most recently, Michelle agreed to serve as the first faculty director of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, a seven-year, $25 million project involving faculty, staff, and students from all walks of Middlebury. 

Michelle earned a BA from the University of Iowa, and an MS and PhD from Florida International University. She joined Middlebury in 1995 as an assistant professor, became associate professor in 2002, and was promoted to full professor in 2008. Before Middlebury, Michelle taught at Florida International University. Michelle’s research focuses on applying cognitive, social, and developmental theory to problems across multiple domains with a focus on applying psychological theory to today’s most pressing social issues. She is also trained in mediation and jury selection, and serves as an expert witness. She has edited two academic books: Evidence-Based Investigative Interviewing: Applying Cognitive Principles (Routledge Press, 2019) and Child Abuse: A Global View (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001); written many scholarly articles and seven chapters in edited books; delivered 68 conference presentations; and secured more than $365,000 in external funding. 

David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration, shared, “We are delighted to have Michelle join the senior leadership team and look forward to her valuable insights. Her work for Middlebury, her knowledge of the faculty and all of our programs, and her focus on problem solving make her well suited for this position at this time.”

Jeff’s legacy is also one of generosity and support, and I ask each of you to work in that spirit as we help our new leader. Please join me in welcoming Michelle to the Provost’s Office and in thanking her for her willingness to step up at this moment, and for her dedication and commitment to Middlebury.

Yours cordially,

Laurie Patton