- So welcome. My name is Jeff Cason, I’m Middlebury’s provost and a member of President Patton’s senior leadership team. I was, last weekend, doing what many of you are doing this weekend ‘cause our youngest is a sophomore at another college and we had family weekend last weekend.
So other side today. In a few minutes, President Patton will share some insights into Middlebury today. And also we have up here other members of the senior team at Middlebury. We have Derek Doucet, our dean of students. Sujata Moorti, our dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs. We have Mark Peluso, our chief health officer and college physician. We have David Provost, our executive vice president for finance and administration. Erin Quinn, my next door neighbor and the director of athletics. And Smita Ruzicka, who is our vice president for student affairs. They’ll all be happy, we’ll all be happy, to take questions after President Patton’s remarks. If you look up, most of it for you, it’s behind you. There are two, Megan and Megan, back there. You have to have that name to do this duty. They’re in charge of the mics. So if you have questions, please go up and line up up there and you can ask your question instead of passing the mic around.
So now it’s my pleasure to introduce Laurie Patton, Middlebury’s 17th president and the first woman to lead the institution in its 221-year history. From her first days in office, President Patton began to design a new agenda for Middlebury. In her inaugural address, she described a vision of a Middlebury that would actively engage with the most critical issues facing society and challenge the community to quote, “have more and better arguments with greater respect, stronger resilience and deeper wisdom.” In 2016, Laurie launched Envisioning Middlebury, the planning effort that created a strategic framework to guide the institution over the coming decade. And in 2019, she announced Energy2028, Middlebury’s bold plan to address the threat of climate change and put the institution on a path toward a complete shift to renewable energy. Now, Laurie is an ex-authority on South Asian history, culture and religion. She’s the author or editor of nine books in the field and has translated the classic Sanskrit text, “The Bhagavad Gita.” President Patton joined Middlebury on July 1st, 2015 after serving as dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Laurie earned her BA from Harvard and I have written down the date, but I’m not gonna do that.
- 1983. Okay. It’s alright. You know, I didn’t wanna necessarily reveal the age, but you know, there you go. And her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1991. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018. So please join me in welcoming President Laurie Patton.
Thank you, Jeff, for that very kind introduction. The person who’s really running the strategic plan, Envisioning Middlebury, is Jeff Cason.
The people who are really doing all the work behind everything that I’m gonna share with you today are sitting around me. So I’m a synthesizer and my team is awesome.
And speaking of teams, I just want you all to give yourselves a hand because we are adapting to COVID. We thank you for coming and working with our protocols and this adaptation kind of works for us so we’re thinking we may just have the presidential comments in the stadium every year if the weather is permitting. I love Wilson Hall, but this is a little better.
But give yourselves a hand. Thank you for being here and thank you for supporting our students. I am delighted that so many family members could in fact join us this morning, and I hope you will have a chance to walk across our campus with your students, without your students, and take in the mountain views and trees that are putting on quite a show for us. I think we’re almost at peak so just take it all in. It’s truly remarkable. I sometimes think of it as driving and walking through colored lace, and there’s so few places on earth that can give us that kind of experience.
So we have a lot in store for you today, including open houses, concerts this evening, opportunities to cheer on the Panthers right here and in the fields behind me. You will see me in jeans and a t-shirt with my white dog throughout the day. And please check the calendar of events on our website for other details.
We are glad to be able to host you this year, as I mentioned, as we move from what we’re calling pandemic to endemic, from crisis to living safely with COVID and evolving to live in that reality. I think we can do that in large measure because of our students, your students, who met the challenges of the past 20 months with resilience and courage. We are grateful, of course, for all that you have done and are doing to support your students through this ongoingly-difficult time. Difficult because it’s ambiguous. And that endemic reality is so hard to embrace.
Last year, I named the theme of community and kindness as the theme for us to get through the year of COVID. And you may want to know a little fact, which is that our students ranked taking care of each other’s health greater than taking care of their own health.
That speaks to the nature of our students, I think it speaks to the reason for our success and my baccalaureate address last year, as the students graduated, was a tribute to that quality. There are copies of that address up through the entrance on the table. If you want to pick it up, it’s just been printed. It is a song of admiration to our students and a kind of wonderful description of what our students did to make the year a successful year last year.
And as I mentioned, each year, I have two themes that guide us. And this year, with you all here, my two themes are evolving community and courage. And let me begin thinking with you today about evolving community.
As educators in the liberal arts and sciences, we educate to meet the challenge of evolving as a community. Our classrooms, of course, are our primary communities and they challenge us to become something more than just rule-governed places with set learning goals (although they should certainly start with that). But I think rather, as educators we are challenged to create dynamic and evolving ecosystems within every classroom.
And that’s because those classrooms are the first mini-communities that our students will know in college. And many of them are the most transformational communities that our students will know in college. And I also think that those classrooms themselves can instill courage. I think we must find the courage to evolve as a community in the midst of so many global crises and also in the midst of local disagreement.
And I think all of us can find a will toward a common educational purpose. And that’s what I’m so excited about and thinking about. The community that we are evolving toward. Our uses of technology in the classroom have permanently changed in both small and large ways. We have seen how online learning can be a supplement to our unchanged core commitment, to transformational, in-person learning where we learn about place, we engage with place, and we have seen even in COVID how our students’ awareness of place and of their larger communities around them can fuel their learning.
And one of the most wonderful moments last January, really in my career, was as we were working with students who were living downtown, as we were thinking about how we manage COVID protocols on and off campus, one student came up to us as we continued to have low case rates and she said to me, “I think we finally earned the community’s trust.” And I thought, “What a wonderful thing to learn in college and also to be aware of in college,” that that was also a responsibility for our students.
And I think this year, as we evolve from the pandemic to an endemic situation, we will see also what becomes endemic to our own particular ecosystem of education. Which changes do we want to keep? How do we want to think about online learning in a way that supports but does not replace the brilliant, residential, liberal arts and sciences model that has lasted so long and certainly been so unique at Middlebury.
Evolving community also involves our environmental goals and how we change to incorporate our teaching to address climate change. And here, our environmental work involves advancing the goals of Energy2028, which Jeff mentioned, and that is Middlebury’s 10-year sustainability initiative and using it as a resource for teaching and research, for student theses, for internships in all of our classrooms, and also in the community and beyond.
We are also thinking about building resilience. That’s physical resilience, civic resilience, psychological resilience to address climate change.
And the Environmental Council is also working on integrating our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and curricula with our sustainability and environmental initiatives and curricula. These are the two of the biggest issues of our time. We want to work so that they are always speaking to each other as students learn.
And just to remind you what Energy2028 is, we have four goals. We’re well on our way to meeting all four of them. The first is divestment from fossil fuels in a way that does not harm our endowment. So we will be free of those by 2028. Thank you.
You might have noticed that a number of other great institutions, including Dartmouth down the road have just announced yesterday that they will be doing the same. And I think our nimbleness and small size and incredible resources have given us the opportunity for leadership there in higher education. So that’s the first goal.
Second is to become entirely powered by renewable energy resources by 2028, and we have already come a long way to that. We inaugurated a biodigester just last spring, which is the first of its kind to directly fuel a college campus and it’s one of the largest, I think the second largest in New England and the second in Vermont. So very exciting work there. It also helped a family sustain its dairy farm that had been open for 100 years. We lovingly call it cow power and our cow power is really exciting to us. And a site for a lot of student classes and internships and learning in its own right.
In addition, we are about, literally this coming week, to break ground on the largest solar field in Vermont and Patrick Leahy, we hope, will be joining us. I think they figured enough out in Washington for him to come on back home. And so we are really excited about that as well.
The third area is to reduce our own energy consumption by 25 percent. And the thing that’s really interesting about that is that that’s the hardest one for us. The others, which seem really hard, are actually easier and it’s partly because our buildings are so varied. But our students and alums and faculty are working on a number of different ways to think and models for each of our buildings so that we can actually get to 25 percent energy reduction.
And the final is to transform our environmental studies curriculum so that it works across the curriculum in a number of different areas, whether it’s the humanities, the sciences, the social sciences, the arts. It’s incredibly exciting to hear what we’re doing to integrate environmental awareness and thinking into every single piece of our curriculum.
I have also asked everyone in Energy2028 and in environmental studies, particularly the Environmental Council, to imagine the way in which our college and our surrounding community in Addison County can work together to foster a more sustainable world. So already we’re thinking about what’s after Energy2028 and my hope is that we can work with the town of Middlebury and the county of Addison to become a grid, an energy grid for the world. We can actually provide energy for others. So stay tuned on that.
I think also, the theme of evolving community involves rethinking who our students are and what they bring to the classroom and what they need from us. I’m always hoping that we are thinking through what it means to educate in a different world because every year it is a different world.
And each year, we also reached, since 2015 when I arrived, a new all-time high when it comes to the number of first-generation and students of color joining us, this year being no exception. We’re at 36 percent domestic students of color from the U.S. and 17 percent first-generation students and 13 percent international, all the highest numbers we’ve had. We’re thrilled about that.
Middlebury is more diverse than it’s ever been in its history, but we all know that naming numbers is in fact an empty exercise if we can’t support students when they are here. And most of them, like you all, are still processing the losses in their families from last year, the loss of a loved one, of a job, of a dream. And even more, and the rate was already high, they are struggling with anxiety and depression. So there are a myriad of ways, both stated and unstated, that the students coming to us now are different than what they were before.
And I believe, and my team knows, it’s our job to listen, to pause, to take the time to understand what experiences they are bringing with them to the classroom. And because our classrooms are their first community since COVID, we must evolve to meet their needs.
We also believe that Middlebury is uniquely equipped to lead in four major areas that span our curriculum. These are what I call liberal arts for the 21st century.
What are those liberal arts for the 21st century? I think they are four forms of fluency, and because we are a language-teaching school, we talk a lot about fluency in literacy. Fluency in data, fluency in cross-cultural understanding, fluency in conflict transformation, and fluency in the environment.
The first, data fluency, actually has a new form of an initiative. It’s called MiddData and it integrates data science throughout the curriculum, introducing all students to digital methods and data science regardless of their major. For example, art history students used these skills last year to create a searchable database to glean information about the cost and origin of 17th century textiles. There are so many other ways beyond computer science that students are now integrating data skills, and this is a really vibrant faculty-led initiative. So when you speak with your student, suggest that they connect with MiddData and they’ll be very impressed with your understanding of Middlebury today.
The second I’ve mentioned already, environmental fluency. It takes the form of collaboration between our academic departments and the Environmental Council’s work on justice and the Sustainability Solutions Lab and Energy2028. Our Sustainability Solutions Lab this year, in addition to working on modeling energy reduction for all our buildings, we are also resurrecting a beloved project from about 10 or 15 years ago, called the Hydrogen Tractor. We have a tractor that runs only on hydrogen and we’re hoping to resurrect it for today’s tractors and expand it across all of our fleet at some point.
The third is conflict transformation fluency, and that is the ability to work across difference and work through conflict. It was in fact, the cornerstone of the faculty-led, engaged-listening project, which was funded by the Mellon Foundation for about a million dollars. And that focused on managing diversity of opinion in the classroom and beyond and it was led and focused on faculty. And it’s now developed into a faculty and staff conversation and a possible institution-wide grant in conflict transformation skills that would involve faculty teaching and research across all of Middlebury.
Our Bread Loaf School of English up the mountain that you may have crossed in getting here, it would involve our wonderful Institute for Public Policy, our California campus out in Monterey, which has the world-renowned Nuclear Nonproliferation Center and a number of different studies of technology and terrorism. It would involve our residential life team here that focuses on restorative practices skills whenever there is harm done to our community. And so we’re really excited about that as a next step that integrates all of Middlebury in conflict mediation and transformation skills.
And the fourth is cross-cultural fluency. We’re particularly focused in building our new Black Studies department. We’ve already raised funds for two professorships and are focusing on a third. And we’re also integrating the study of race and anti-racism activism across the curriculum.
So those are our four liberal arts for the 21st century. And one of the ways we ensure that our students are fluent in these areas when they leave Middlebury is through experiential learning. A number of faculty learned new ways to teach during the pandemic. Many turned to experiential learning as a way of translating the theoretical knowledge that you get into the classroom into practice. But my view is that we’re getting so good at that, that the line between the curricular and the co-curricular is kind of disappearing.
Our accreditors… We were accredited last year. Yay. It’s an every-10-year process. They named our capacity to build experiential learning into the classroom as our number one strength. We did not pay them to say that. In fact, they are paid to say the opposite, but through the work of my team here, we’ve been able to do that. We don’t teach, for example, about climate change in the abstract.
Oh good. You guys are a great crowd. I think it must be the coffee. Yeah.
We don’t teach about climate change or democracy in the abstract. It’s something that faculty and students are grappling with through particular programming activities in the Addison County world, even in the larger Vermont world and in other places in their schools abroad, 37 schools abroad in which they still focus on experiential learning, whether they’re in Cameroon or France or wherever they are.
My favorite is a story from several years ago now where classics, a study for classics major in Athenian democracy, decided their experiential learning was going to be to go to the Vermont legislature and talk and think about the relationship between Athenian democracy and Vermont democracy. And as I hear it, several of the legislatures who were spellbound by our students who were telling them about what democracy was, so.
And of course, experiential learning also includes summer experiences, internships, our career center, our centers for creativity and innovation and something I’m really excited about that we’ve just launched, which is a new, life-skills, residential-education program headed by our faculty member, Rob Moeller. That is now called Compass.
And through the Compass Program, students acquire the critical life skills that will allow them to succeed when they leave Middlebury. Financial wellness, effective conflict resolution, personal wellness, and other topics are integrated into the program including entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills. And through Compass, students will chart a personalized path through Middlebury that allows them to take advantage of all of our resources and opportunities. And the one that we’re really excited about is every student will have a mentor. In addition to your advisor, your professors in classes, your coaches, your librarians, your RAs, you will have another adult who is your mentor that you can hang out with in addition to the other networks.
And I’d of course be remiss if I didn’t mention our robust alumni and parent network, Midd2Midd, that has nearly 4,000 people who have volunteered to mentor our students and to offer career advice for students and graduates. If you haven’t visited yet the Center for Careers and Internships, I think Peggy is here and you should sign up for Midd2Midd. Please encourage your students to do that ‘cause it really will be a game changer for them.
I also just wanted to reassure you that our experiential learning also helps our students become what we call world-ready and work-ready. 93 percent of our grads are employed or in graduate school. We have 93- Yeah, that’s a good one too. I think I’m just gonna pause before every fact that I share. We also have a 93 percent cohort-acceptance rate into medical school and a 94 percent law school admissions rate. The national average for med school is 48 percent. So that advising is awesome. Fellowships that our students get include Watson, we’re a national leader in Fulbright, Schwarzman, Goldwater, National Science Foundation. And most of our students in these categories go around the globe. We’ve sent students off to look at maker spaces and entrepreneurship in other cultures, we’ve sent students off to look at how women transform mountain communities in four different cultures. It’s incredibly exciting to learn our students’ experiences there.
I’m gonna end by talking about courage.
I’ve talked a lot about evolving community as a theme for this year, but I want to begin by saying that evolving community itself takes courage ‘cause we’re not gonna agree on everything and we live in a small community where we see each other all the time, every day, on and off campus. You’re going to see the person you’re disappointed in in the grocery store, the person you disagreed with in the gym. They’re there. And that fact of what I call educational intimacy combined with the world of social media where opinion usually outruns fact, creates intense pressures on all of us. So living and thriving in a small educational community, demands graciousness and generosity more than ever before. And I tell students, faculty, and staff all the time that we should ask that of each other as we continue to deliberate on things that inspire us and even the things that break our hearts. And I think that kind of courage could be called local courage.
And there’s also another kind of courage that has inspired me. Maybe we call it global courage. And it inspired me particularly this past August, where we worked with two extraordinary Afghani Middlebury alums and helped them as they made their dangerous journey out of Kabul, into exile.
The first Shabana Basij-Rasikh, 2011, is the founder of Sola, the first boarding school for girls in Afghanistan. And she in August brought 140 women, faculty, staff, and students to the airport and eventually to Kigali, Rwanda, where the girls and women are now pursuing study abroad as an entire school. Yeah. She got the loudest applause. I will tell her. As she has stated in her writings during and since her escape, the uninterrupted education of women is one of the most important forms of resistance that can occur right now, and one of the most important forms of building society. Our students just last week had the opportunity to hear directly from Shabana about her journey, she came home to Midd, and her efforts to promote education for women.
And I am delighted to say this was the good news I was about to tell my wonderful colleague that late last night, I got a call that we have received the funding to welcome nine Sola alums who will be transferring to Middlebury to continue and ensure their education. This is great news for me and it’s a great morning and a privilege to be able to share that news with all of you today.
Her fellow alum, Bilal Sarwari, class of 2010, also made a harrowing escape from Kabul to Canada. Bilal is a freelance, high-profile, pro-democracy journalist who also ran for a seat in the now defunct Afghan parliament in a conservative Al-Qaeda-dominated prominence.
As the evacuation started, neither Bilal nor Shabana had a country to help. It had collapsed. Neither of them had a company to help. They reached out instead to us. They had Middlebury. And we work- Yeah, that’s the way I felt. Every once in a while, as a leader, you have to decide, “Am I gonna drop everything to do this?” Most of the time, the answer is no. And then sometimes the answer is yes. And because they just had Middlebury, it was yes. So we worked with them to get them to the airport, to get them on flight manifests and every harrowing moment, they showed their courage.
The thing that inspires me the most, and what I hope inspires you, is that both Shabana and Bilal have credited their Middlebury education for giving them that courage and inspiring them to do what they did. Middlebury gave them the relationships to keep going, perhaps, and most importantly. It gave them a long view of history and a politics and of religion, so that they could be wise in how they thought about their country and how to build it. It gave them the critical thinking skills to question, to probe, and to create new forms of society where they lived. It gave them a sense of justice and fair process and the need for access to knowledge for all, whether it’s through education in Shabana’s case, or media in Bilal’s case. The relationships they built and the ideas they encountered at Middlebury were models for them as they moved out into the world.
So I hope that your students’ Middlebury experience will also give them the skills and knowledge, and most importantly, that courage to pursue their dreams as they move out into the world. We are so grateful to you for sharing them with us during their college journey and beyond.
Thank you for giving us courage and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.
We can now open things up to questions. Please feel free to ask me or any of my exceptional senior staff here. As a reminder, we have Jeff Cason, our chief academic officer, provost, Derek Doucet, dean of students who hangs out with folks every day in all ways, Sujata Moorti, dean of our faculty, and also vice president for Academic Affairs, Mark Peluso, our chief health officer and college physician who won the first Middlebury medal for his humanitarian actions last year. And that needs a round of applause. Okay. Thank you. Mark gets more grief than pretty much anyone and he bears it beautifully, and scientifically, most importantly. David Provost who gets probably the second amount of grief, executive vice president for finance and administration. He’s a builder, he’s an educator. When anyone asked me how I get stuff done, I say, “Hire a CFO who is also an educator and who loves students. It will transform everything you do.” And Erin Quinn, director of athletics who is right over there, incredibly advanced human being. I talked with Erin about leadership and grounding for our students’ spirits pretty much every week. And our new VP for Student Affairs, the transformative Smita Ruzicka who just joined us from Johns Hopkins University. She has wowed everyone and I can’t wait for you to hear from her as well. So all open. Grab your coffee and the two mics are near the two Megan and Megan. They can wave at you. They’re waving right there. Oh, good. We got a question. Hi.
- Hi. Can you hear me?
- Well enough.
- Okay. Your speech and also the story behind Energy2028 and all the initiatives you’re going through, I was wondering if you’ve considered, given how Middlebury has been a leader in this for a while now, going back to the 350.org days and then Energy2028 and the divestment, have you considered figuring out a way to become more of a model to enable other institutions to replicate and learn from so you can expand your entire…
- Remind me of your name, sir.
- Shrikan. So, yes. So it’s a really interesting thing that you raise. Presidents relating to other presidents is a very delicate, diplomatic thing. You don’t want to come out saying, “Hey, we have all the solutions,” ‘cause that will never go well with other presidents. On my good days, I’m inspired by my fellow leaders. On my bad days, I think I’m an eighth grade classroom with money, right, so that doesn’t go well. What I do want to do is make sure that we set ourselves up as a resource for creativity on environmental activism. And so if people who want to engage with what we might have done, we will be there to do that. So David Provost and I, as well as sometimes Jeff Cason and others will go on the road. We’ve spoken nationally. I will be speaking internationally next week on the role of higher ed and climate change. So we allow our resources to be available for other places, particularly, and I really like your question, Shrikan, because it’s about how small colleges in rural communities can actually be more dynamic and engaged around climate change than urban, big universities sometimes. I have a piece in “Inside Higher Education” that describes the four principles that I think work for communities to create long lasting and meaningful climate change. So those are the ways that we kind of lead and are out in front. And I think so far that has worked. I get a version of that question pretty much all the time in other areas, and the way I like to position Middlebury is to be modest, chill, present, but not too self-aggrandizing so that we’re all about the impact and not so much about the ego. That’s a tough thing to do for an institution, but I think it’s working. Other questions. There’s one.
- Good morning.
- [Nancy] So you speak a lot about conflict and the embracing of conflict and diversification of views. Last night, in a quick conversation with my daughter, she mentioned a protest on campus and the need to get a permit to protest, apparently, and that some of those have recently been denied. Can you talk a little bit about how Middlebury’s really addressing the polarized views and conflicts and how you either embrace or don’t embrace open protest and conflict?
- Sure, absolutely.
- Thank you.
- I don’t know if you were aware of the… We can talk about the specific cases that Derek is, like I say, all on it, and then I will talk more broadly because it’s a great, great question. Remind me of your name.
- My name is Nancy Saucier. My daughter is Marlow.
- [Laurie] Hi. Good.
- It’s gotta be on here. Hey, Nancy, thank you for your question. We’re not on, huh?
- You want to try this?
- Yeah. Op, there we go. Now we’re on. It’s working. Thanks everyone. So in response to the first, concrete part of your question about a protest permission, we require students to come to us just so that we can make sure that people are kept safe when they are planning actions like that. But there have been no protests denied of which I’m aware. So I’m not sure where that’s coming from, but I would love for Marlow to come to me so we can talk about it if that’s what she’s experiencing. I will say that the Student Affairs team spends a great deal of time working with students who wish to engage in protests on this campus. There’ve been very few social changes in our country that have not arisen from protests on college campuses in recent decades. And so we think that that’s a really important part of a student’s education. It’s incumbent upon us to help teach them to do that well. And so my team spends time advising students, helping them to plan protests, helping to understand what they wish to achieve in a protest and then be strategic about how they go about it. So I would say we actually embrace protest here on this campus. I think we do it well. There was an example last year, during the height of the COVID pandemic, tight measures that we had on campus in which students wanted to engage in protest in support of anti-racist work. And we figured out a way to do that, even within the confines of our COVID policies. We worked closely with those students. So again, if that’s not the experience that Marlow’s having, please have her come to me because that’s not how we want to engage in protest here.
- Those of you who have a chance to go to the Kirk House, which is right up there, our new student decoration of Kirk Alumni House is focused on student learning, but there are also murals done by our wonderful muralist, Will Condry, and all of the murals are of students in protest. So it’s a kind of way to bake it in. So a couple of thoughts about conflict transformation, more broadly. The idea behind conflict transformation for us is there are usual ways of thinking about conflict mediation, conflict reduction, and so on. We want to embrace conflict as part of who we are. And that was the reason why we got the Mellon Grant for faculty to engage diversity of viewpoint. One of the other things that was a dream for me, and I’m really excited ‘cause we’re at the tail end and we hope to announce a very large grant in this area, would be, “What if students knew that there were six or seven ways that they could address conflict whenever it appears? What if they had it as a menu? And what if it were a skill like writing or reading?” And so we instituted it about four years ago, and Derek and Smita are really pushing on this in some wonderful ways, this new approach to transforming conflict for our students in our residential life areas called restorative practices. It’s now at, I think, about 20 or 30 other institutions of higher learning. Skidmore is example. University of Michigan is example. Columbia Teachers College, just off the top of my head. And the idea is, when there’s harm to a community, we stop, we share what that harm is, and we have a specific way of talking about that harm so that both the people harmed as well as the person who is accountable for the harm, hear the impact of what that harm has been. And so I’ve been thrilled with the result of this. We have all of our RAs trained in restorative practices, many faculty and staff, and part of this grant will involve our becoming the flagship campus for restorative practices as a means of conflict reduction. So that’s just one example among many. We also hope to train students in the basics of arbitration, of mediation, of reconciliation practices, all of which are different, so that when they graduate, they know that any given conflict they might encounter, they have the skills and tools, like you have data skills, like you have writing skills or connotative skills to address those issues. And I have to say, when I see this in action at Middlebury now, it’s an everyday ethic, it’s not dramatic. It’s, “Okay. This happened. I’m really upset about it. Let’s do an RP circle.” Or, “I need to think about this faculty debate more broadly. How do we think about the engaged listening project as a way of managing diversity of viewpoint even among the faculty?” So stay tuned. We will have it in our high school preparation at Bread Loaf for English teachers. We will have it at the undergraduate academic experience where people will be able to take clusters in conflict transformation. We will have it in our residential life, as I just mentioned, in restorative practices, We’re also going to have a number of graduate fellows in our language schools and our schools of public policy to focus entirely on conflict transformation. So, thank you for asking that, Nancy, you just walked right into one of my big dreams. So stay tuned and when you’re all here in the beautiful weather next year, we should be hopefully sharing our pilot work.
- Thank you.
- Oh, I forgot to mention that. Okay.
- Good morning.
- [Cotton] My name is Cotton Brian from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Thank you for hosting us so graciously. My question connects to what you just spoke to and perhaps is directed to the dean of students. I’m thinking of the letter he had to write this week related to community norms around COVID protocols. And I wonder, I’m thinking about student culture and a couple of questions. Do you think that the culture of Middlebury is distinct and distinct from your peer institutions? And I’m wondering at your leadership team level, how do you all think about shepherding a culture and what does that look like and how do you talk about that?
- I love that question. Thank you, thank you. Remind me of your name.
- [Cotton] It is Cotton.
- I love Cotton. Thank you. All right. I’m gonna… I’m gonna answer that after I think these guys answer it, but I’m also gonna ask people over here, believe it or not, to talk about student culture ‘cause they have had some very interesting views on it in the COVID year. I have so much to say about this. Are you really sure you want us to answer that question? ‘Cause it’s like on my mind every day. Thank you, Cotton. I’m gonna go there first, but I want these guys to answer ‘cause they’re gonna have some very cool things to say.
- Let’s see if I get it right the first time. Okay, good. So I’ll start by addressing the letter. Thank you for raising that, Cotton. You know, a few minutes ago, President Patton spoke about the importance of us knowing who our students are and what they need. And I think that’s a useful framing for my response. The behavioral challenges we’ve been experiencing this year have been concentrated primarily in our younger students. And when I think about who they are, they are students who have had a profoundly abnormal last 20 months, as so many have. They’ve missed critical developmental moments as they exited high school, as they arrived here for their first year here. Those are opportunities and moments where in a typical year, a lot of skills for independent living, independent decision-making, are being acquired and practiced. They were trying to do those things at home in their rooms in most cases. And I think they also are experiencing a great deal of grief about what they have lost in terms of those experiences among other things. And so if we assume that those are who our students are, and we start to think about what they need, they need our direction to acquire those skills. They need our direction to learn to live independently and responsibly in a community. And the fact that some of them are experiencing challenges right now is not at all surprising. And so they need a couple of things. One of those is the approach that was taken in that letter. And that letter was effectively, “Hey, stop. This is not who you are. This is not who we are as a community.” And they also need to be invited into the conversation to help tell us more about what they need. And so that was the part of that letter that was talking about opportunities to engage with me, to engage with Smita and provide us feedback to help understand what they need. So yes, the behaviors that we’ve seen have been troubling, but not surprising. And we do know how to address them and co-create the steps that will help students adjust more effectively. So I hope that answers your question.
- [Laurie] And Smita, you wanna add to that?
- Thank you for that question, Cotton. I really resonate with what Derek said. As a newcomer to this community, it’s not lost on me that I’m coming into a new culture, similar to many of your students as they entered Middlebury. I think the role of institutions such as Middlebury, institutions of higher education are to facilitate the creation, the recreation, the co-creation, preservation, and evolution of a culture. And there is not one singular campus culture that we have, but there are anchor points in each campus’s culture that we need to introduce new members of our community to whether it’s the tradition of the football team when they win and what they do with their coach that happens here. So here’s hoping for a victory today. Or whether it’s the moving-in process into the residential facilities, or it’s commencement, right? But we also know that students create their own subcultures. And our job is really to create spaces where they can do that, to create opportunities for students to build that. So for me, as I think about our role in Student Affairs, we think about being educators, co-creators of cultures, and designing what I call leadership laboratories for students to engage what they’re learning in their classes and really apply them in all the different ways outside, whether it’s on the football field, whether it’s in a student organization, whether it’s learning about the Vermont legislature or being in one of our student-abroad programs. And so I think the question you ask is really, really compelling, and it takes a dedicated, sustained community effort. And what we need to do is really invite your students in to be partners in that culture creation. I’m gonna turn it over to my friends.
- [Laurie] Erin has some cool things to say.
- Thank you, Smita. Cotton, thank you for that question. You could be a plant in the audience. I love that question. I’ve been fortunate to do probably six to eight external reviews of athletic departments at colleges around the country and have been the leader on the team that has done those. And I’ve always asked the team, “Can we ask each constituent group that we meet with first, describe the culture of the athletic department.” And if we get blank stares, that’s the answer to our question and we know where we’re starting from and it’s not a great place. My hope would be, if you came to our athletic department and asked that question, you might get different versions because as Smita said, there’s like different subcultures and we’re supportive of that, but I think people would just think and be able to answer that question, and they’ve thought about it, we’ve talked about it. And while I’m coming from the perspective of the director of athletics, we talk about this in bigger and bigger concentric circles. So you have your team, you might have a subculture of your team. I played football here, so you have defensive backs and linebackers and quarterbacks, and those are all subcultures, but you’re part of an offense, you’re part of a defense, you’re part of a football team, you’re part of an athletic department, you’re part of a campus, part of a town, and we say if our athletic experience is gonna matter, that you understand you’re part of a global community and what you do in your smallest subculture is going to impact that global community. I’m just an athletic director at a small school in Vermont and similar to Laurie’s story, yesterday at noon, I was with three other Middlebury alums talking about evacuating 28 Afghanis to the United States. And we have one who just got her Visa yesterday. She’s in Pakistan and she’ll be in the United States next week. I think we’re on about 15 successful right now. So for athletics, and I think this goes for a lot of the colleagues, the culture, you’re gonna have your subculture, but it’s integration across the campus, I think, is part of the culture here that’s really important. Tying in the different areas of the college and the different areas of the education. Thanks.
- And I would say, building on what Erin just said, an example, compelling example of Middlebury culture that’s distinct is Leaning into Discomfort Series, which the Middlebury athletics teams led by Erin and many of the coaches decided to do to think about diversity in athletics and how athletes could lead particularly in fighting racism. And it’s an incredibly compelling, honest, open series that’s both very painful and really exhilarating. It just won an award actually last year for one of the best forms of athletic reporting in NCAA. So another example that I’ll end with is, I think about, I name Middlebury culture in five words. Integrity, rigor, connectedness, curiosity, and openness. Integrity, rigor, connectedness, curiosity, and openness. And if we can instill those five values in our students, then we have done our jobs successfully as educators. A story that I think exemplifies that the most, that seems the most indicative of Middlebury culture is the story of student protest, back to Nancy’s question, and Energy2028. So one thing about Middlebury culture and the students who were particularly focused on divestment, they were hell bent on that one issue and they met with trustees for literally seven or eight years. Nobody agreed, everyone was frustrated, and they kept showing up every year to talk about it. It blew me away. They kept coming back. And finally, back to the CFO who’s an educator, when David Provost came along, he said, “Okay, we’re gonna get everyone in a room and we’re going to work out six or seven options for the things that you’re asking.” And over time, the students began to work with us and we had one or two trustees who shifted their positions a little bit to allow us to think about new options that led to Energy2028. So there were two wonderful, what I call, Middlebury moments that exemplify Middlebury culture. One was when we have the students present to the trustees. And the first time they did a dry run with my senior team and someone said, “What are you, haranguing? What are you, lecturing? There’s no way the trustees are gonna be into that. Go back, be data-driven, add a woman to your team, please, and do something different.” So they came back and did everything we asked. They came aboard and trustees totally fell in love with them, which they were really surprised at. Their cheeks were all red. They were, like, ready to go. And then outside, their peers down below were chanting about divestment in a protest. And my chief of staff went down and said, “Okay, you have two ways to change the world. Right now, your chants are drowning out your peers who are trying to make a case for the trustees so the trustees can’t hear them. And we love your chants, but you could continue chanting and drown out your peers, or you could stop and let your peers continue to make their case.” So they stopped. That was a good, important moment. And the second was, they continued to say, “Push the trustees,” and we said, “Look. The trustees are working with us.” And I at one point got a little bit frustrated with our constant banging on the pressure for trustees when we were trying to say, “Hey, wait a second. We’re working with you. You don’t need to protest anymore. You need to work with us.” And so I said, “Look. You should be writing the trustees thank-you notes, not pressuring them.” It was a moment I had. I admit it. And the next day as the trustees were voting on Energy2028, outside the boardroom was a very large bag of thank-you notes. It was 100 thank-you notes individually written to trustees, some of them, some collectively, thanking them for considering. That, again, you had me at hello. The trustees, their hearts melted. They understood, they worked through and they voted unanimously for Energy2028. So that I think is a really wonderful example of Middlebury culture at work, those values, those five values. I should let you know that we are also a Harvard Business School case study now in nonprofit management and leadership and how to build consensus in complex communities as a result of that. And again, you can thank this guy sitting here who hasn’t said much, but make a beeline for him if you want some wisdom on educational leadership. I think we are done.
- Laurie, we have one more question.
- We have one more question. Okay. Hi.
- [Margaret] Hi, my name is Margaret. It’s a pretty simple question, I think. Given your initiatives for climate change or against climate change, rather, and everything you’ve learned in the last year about remote learning, are you considering allowing students to stay home between, for example, Thanksgiving break and winter break and avoid a lot of air travel back and forth?
- Yeah. Such a great question. Remind me of your name.
- Margaret. Thank you. I’m gonna say generally, and then I’m gonna share the stage with these guys. So first of all, remote learning has become this totally different thing. Our students say to us, “Don’t take away our access to remote learning because that access allows more students to learn better.” That is really new and really helpful for us to hear. So the way we’re thinking and conceptualizing remote learning is, and this is a little bit different than some of our other NESCAC peers, if a student wants to think through the opportunities for remote learning for them, either because of personal circumstance or family circumstance, we are willing to work with them. And we no longer are thinking about remote learning as a kind of technological alternative that is in opposition to residential learning, but rather as a means for access to a world-class Middlebury education. So that’s a real shift. Will remote learning substitute for what this is? Never, but we’re now using it more wisely and allowing students to enroll in specific situations that help them gain access or continue their Middlebury education. So that’s the way COVID has kind of pushed us to reconceptualize. And I will turn to these folks to say more.
- I think you ask a real compelling question. I had not thought about staying home from the climate piece. So I think I’m gonna have to stew on that for a little bit. I think one of my initial reactions to your question is I echo what Laurie said. We’ll work with individual students in individual circumstances around what is best for their learning experience. I think what we are hearing from students overwhelmingly is a return to normal. And part of that normal is being able to come back, reengage for the home-run stretch of the semester after Thanksgiving break. And I keep saying, “Normal is just a setting on the dryer.” We’re not getting back to normal. From a public health COVID piece, we’re continuing to think about what will travel look like or the travel after the break look like from a COVID-prevalence-rate perspective. But if we think about the student experience, we are really trying to, again, amplify and build and rebuild the community that our students so want to get connected to. And a lot of that community building has to be done in-person for our students. So I think, holistically and philosophically, we want to bring our students back because that’s what most of them want to do. But I think we continue to look at, again, the public health landscape to think about what does it look like if we have to change due to rising cases and things like that. But I think your question is one that I think I’m going to have to noodle on. I don’t, you know… I think it’s gonna be an interesting one for us to think about.
- And Smita, just to add to that, there is one area where we’re rethinking travel a lot, and that is well, my presidential travel, I’m traveling a lot less, doing a lot more Zoom for advancement and development, and the advancement and development team, many of whom are around today and we can thank for setting this up, have changed their travel protocols dramatically so that our carbon footprint is less and I’m much more conscious of how much I travel and used to travel and how I can change that so that our carbon footprint is less. And the wonderful academic programs that Jeff and Sujata build are also having experiential elements that think about carbon reduction in our classroom. There’s a wonderful new class on history of energy usage which looks at carbon emissions over time. Really interesting question. And thinks about how to project out in a number of different ways, whether that’s fossil fuel usage or other forms of carbon emission to change our patterns, to continue our own commitment to climate change. So I think it’s beginning as a conversation here. COVID has accelerated it in specific offices, but as ethos around student travel in particular, thank you for the challenge and we will think about it. That’s great. I think we’re done. Are we done? Shall I say, get another cup of coffee? Have a wonderful day. I will see you around. I can’t wait to talk to you. And we’re sort of distant here, but if you want to come down and talk to us, we’re here. Enjoy the day.