September 10, 2017: Fall Student Convocation Address

You are here. The Middlebury Class of 2021. You’ve arrived. You’ve found friends. You’ve got plans for your program of study. You may even have plans for next weekend. Many of you have ideas about what sport you will play. Most of you will change your major, some of you many times. And all of you will find new friends. All of you will remember something a professor said, 50 years from now, that will help you in your journey. As the author of Proverbs hopes, so too we hope that you will be happy here because you have found new wisdom and understanding.

With plans for such an amazing future, what about the now? How do you deal with the Middlebury of the next few months? How do you figure out who you are, here and now, as a college student? I offer a brief answer. You become a college student by becoming wise. The little book that we’ve given you, with sayings—we give that to students every year, and we want you to keep it with you. You can return to it again and again when you are in need of wisdom, when you are in need of lenses to help you to see better.

Here’s the hard part. Everyone at Middlebury is as talented as you are, but in a different way. And that can be exhilarating, but it can also be disorienting and discouraging. People already know huge amounts about subjects you’ve never heard of, lived in places that you barely recognize on a map, competed in athletic contests you didn’t even know existed. Maybe you’ve already met one of your new classmates who’s a published novelist and three-season varsity athlete, who started her own NGO and hiked the Appalachian trail solo. And the most annoying thing is, as you’ve probably already discovered, she is really nice, too. That’s the Middlebury way.

But having a lot of information is not wisdom. As Euripides tells us in The Bacchae, intellect is not wisdom. Wisdom is not knowing a lot, but knowing your own truth. So this is the first part about becoming wise: your job is not to be like others. Your job is to be like yourself. So I ask you now, and I will never tire of asking you throughout your time here: How long are you going to worry, like some of you are right now, sitting in those pews and listening to us? How long are you going to worry about who you are not, when you should be getting on with the glorious business of being who you are? Your job at Middlebury is to become more like yourself—whoever that person is and wherever that person takes us and our community.

Once you’ve stopped comparing yourself to everyone else, then you can go on to the second part of wisdom: understanding that you are Middlebury. You are probably wondering whether you have the strength sufficient to the task. So here’s what we want to tell you. You do have that strength, because you belong here. We chose you. We chose you because we sensed, and you did too, that there was something about you and this place that made a really wonderful match. You can do your work here, whatever that work turns out to be. You can play here, whatever that play turns out to be. Your creativity is the creativity of the whole community. Your creativity is what makes Middlebury Middlebury. Whenever you hear people talk about Middlebury as if it were outside of them, apart from them, they’re not being wise. It’s our job to remind each other we are, all of us, Middlebury. Which means that all of us belong and have something profoundly important to contribute to this community. And we need to make changes in ourselves first and foremost if we want the community to change.

The third part of being wise is having expectations of each other. We have them of you. The Middlebury way is to be constructive. As the New Testament author James puts it, wisdom is not divided, insincere, or mean-spirited, but “peaceable…open to persuasion…filled with mercy and good fruits.” We expect you to be the same. When you think the institution could be better, we will always respond. That’s our job and we love doing it. We will work with you to make it better. That is also the Middlebury way. But that willingness to work together also comes with expectations: in the spirit of good fruits, we ask that you never stop at the criticism, but that you always move toward the constructive solution.

We had students a decade ago who wanted Middlebury to be carbon neutral by 2016. And guess what? Last year, we did it. The students didn’t just demand that their professors and administrators do something. They themselves came up with a plan about how to get there. And everyone in our community responded and worked together to try to meet these environmental goals, step by step. And because students were constructive, and came up with a plan, professors and administration responded. And we did it together. Last winter, we became one of the largest institutions of its kind to be carbon neutral. And so your class could be the ones to help come up with the next plan: how to be permanently carbon negative. And last year, when we were in the midst of a difficult political season, both nationally and on campus, the debate team brought the whole campus together in a collegewide conversation, where people discussed race, class, privilege, controversial speakers, and many other topics. Students stayed long afterwards to keep talking. That kind of community building is what the Qur’an is referring to when it says, “Give charitably from the good things you have acquired.” At Middlebury, you will be given a great deal, and we expect you to help us build the community constructively as a way of giving back.

The fourth part of becoming wise is being brave and bouncing back. It doesn’t mean just powering on without thinking or taking care. It means finding a new shape after you’ve been bent out of shape, or, as the Bhagavad Gita teaches, finding wisdom in the self. It means taking care of yourself as you go through something hard. And it means, when things aren’t going your way, you keep going. You find a way forward, even if you think you can never get there. And you are never afraid to ask for help. Courage to keep going isn’t a trait that you develop in a vacuum; you need friends and family and advisors and professors and classmates and teammates to help you keep going.

You’ll be in good company. Because the everyday forms of resilience and persistence among Middlebury students are part of the fabric of life here. There’s the student who, ever since she arrived at Middlebury, wanted to learn Chinese in the summer school but didn’t think she could afford it. And then, with the help of deans and fellow students, she found a way to get scholarship money and completed her first summer in Chinese last August. There’s the student leader who guided the Student Government Association through a series of difficult conversations last year and wrote me, at the end of the year, that if someone had told her she’d be doing that this past year, she would never have believed she could have done it. Or the recent graduate who, after persevering through the death of both parents, decided that his best way of honoring his parents’ memory was to create a weekly dog therapy session on campus.

And my favorite example: the student who decided to write an opinion piece even after he felt silenced by some other students who disagreed with him. In this day and age, public debate is true grit and true wisdom. At Middlebury, we expect you to be citizens of a robust and inclusive public sphere, where you will likely be uncomfortable. In our increasingly polarized society, you could easily live online as much as you live face to face, and argue with people without ever seeing them. But Middlebury is a face-to-face community, grounded in freedom of expression and committed to inclusivity. And as members of that community, you have a particular obligation to that public space: make it more robust, and make it more inclusive. Don’t let others be silenced, and don’t let yourself be silenced, even if you are offended. Always look around to see who is included, and how you could use your talent and wisdom to include others’ voices in the debate. And respect others’ wishes to learn and grow, even if you dislike their opinions. That is true wisdom.

And finally, becoming wise is developing a relationship with the landscape around you. You have come to a community with a deep sense of place. When someone says that Middlebury is “in the middle of nowhere,” I always correct them, and you should, too. Middlebury is very much deeply somewhere. You are in a town, and a state, with an extraordinary sense of the natural world, the relationship between human beings and nature, and a longstanding democratic tradition. Be respectful of the town and its citizens, whose resources keep the College going. Just 217 years ago, the citizens of Middlebury built the College themselves as “the town’s college.” Never forget that.

And most importantly of all, take refuge and delight in the mountains and the trails and the rivers and forests and lakes all around you. They are the best stress busters around. They will help you bounce back, help you think of creative solutions. At Middlebury, people tell each other all the time to go take a hike, and they literally will!

Most importantly, at Middlebury, you will be free to do as Toni Morrison encourages us to do: to dream the world as it ought to be. And in that dreaming, you will become the person you are meant to become. So I will ask you once more: How long are you going to worry about who you are not, when you should be getting on with the glorious business of being who you are?

Class of 2021: You are here. You belong. We will help you grow in your wisdom. We will help you bounce back. We will help you dream the world as it ought to be. And we will be here for you for the rest of your life. As one student put it to me, Middlebury is really supportive wilderness training for the mind, heart, body, and soul.

We have only one guarantee for you: that you will change.

So let me say it again, and hear that rowdy response: Middlebury is really supportive wilderness training for the mind, heart, body, and soul.

Are you in?

Welcome to Midd.

September 1, 2017: Continued Support for DACA and Undocumented Students

September 1, 2017

To the Middlebury Community:

There is reason to believe that the Trump administration plans to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects nearly 600,000 immigrants who entered the country without documentation as children. We are writing to state clearly that no matter what the Administration decides to do, we will stand by our students, protect their rights, and continue to provide them an outstanding education. We are proud of the accomplishments of our DACA students and will continue to support them in every way we can.

We would like to reiterate our decision last year to welcome applications from undocumented and DACA students and to enroll the best and most promising students regardless of their circumstances. Middlebury is and will remain unwaveringly committed to providing educational opportunities to students without regard to nationality, place of birth, immigration status, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or economic status. We evaluate applications from undocumented prospective students under our need-blind admissions policy with a commitment to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need regardless of country of citizenship or immigration status.

Middlebury supports undocumented and DACA-designated students throughout their time at all of our schools and programs. This past year we offered assistance to help with DACA renewals, access to an immigration lawyer, and covered other emergency expenses as needed. We pledge to continue with this support and to look for ways of offering resources in case a change of immigration policy leads to a loss of status that invalidates our students’ ability to work or collect financial aid. 

We will stand by our students.

Laurie Patton                                    


Miguel Fernández

Chief Diversity Officer and DACA Point Person

August 14, 2017: On this weekend’s events in Charlottesville, VA

The horrible events this weekend in Charlottesville, VA, which culminated in the death of one person and injuries to many more, have left the country shaken. The hatred, racism, and violence of the kind brought to the University of Virginia campus have no place in America, no matter what our political affiliations are. I know the Middlebury community joins me in condemning the resurgent white supremacist movement and its followers.

Our hearts are broken at the images we have seen and the thought of the pain visited upon the victims and families of these acts of domestic terrorism.

As the summer winds down and we begin to look forward to the start of the academic year, I wish everyone in our community courage. We cannot help but be outraged at the reality before us; let us unite in our condemnation of this resurgence of hatred and work together to fight it with conviction and belief in a better future.

Laurie Patton


June 9, 2017: ‘The Right Way to Protect Free Speech on Campus’, published in the Wall Street Journal

Read the article.

May 28, 2017: Baccalaureate Address, Spring 2017

You are graduating into a polarized world. And now with your Middlebury education, you have a responsibility to that world, divided as it is. In recent months and years we have heard this word “polarized” used so many times—on talk shows, by friends and family, by professors and coaches and coffee-shop owners. We have experienced it here this year, and are still thinking and wondering what the best path forward is for us.

And yet, as I look at all that you have accomplished, you have been the opposite of polarized. You have reached out to other cultures, and contributed your own knowledge to our community. Almost 60% of you have studied in another country—42 of them to be exact, and in another language. And 70 of you come from other countries—35 of them to be exact, and shared your cultural knowledge with our community. You have collaborated on athletic teams; 56 of you winning NESCAC or NCAA championships, and 96 of you combining academics and sports to be named on the all-NESCAC academic team. No polarizing between academics and sports for you!

A whopping 70% of you have created connections through community service in Addison Country and beyond. You have reached out across multiple communities, and created start-ups like Share to Wear, a platform clothing rental service that aims to foster community, inclusivity, and sustainability. You have built peace projects in Germany that foster agency and creativity amongst Arabic speaking refugees. And locally, you built bridges by curating artistic works, such as the exhibit, “Fed Up: The Fight for Ethical Food Systems in Addison County.” You composed plays focusing on issues of mobility, memory, and independence within the Middlebury elderly community.

So much of what you have done at Middlebury addresses the ills that divide us, and now you are about to go out into the world to do more of that. And here’s the question: What is your responsibility in a polarized world, with a life ahead of you that confers, and will keep conferring, the privilege and possibility of a Middlebury education? In answering this question, it might help to explore more about what the word “polarization” means. When I began to read about the word, I found it was much easier to find synonyms for polarization than it was to find antonyms. Synonyms were “divided,” “extreme,” “bunkered.” Antonyms were fewer, and tended to be weaker words, like “depolarized.” What does depolarized even mean?

I also discovered that our contemporary state of polarization might have an even longer history than we think. One PEW research study shows that our current polarization goes back as far as the 1970’s. The study states that we are more polarized now than we have been in two and a half decades. The votes in our congress used to overlap between Democrats and Republicans far more than they do today. Today, there is hardly any overlap today all. An even more recent study suggests that in the last four years, all across the United States, there was a 20% drop in congressional swing seats; there are fewer and fewer seats that could go to either Democratic or Republican.

One reasonable question to ask is: How did we get here? Many blame social media. Scholars of media and misinformation like Fil Menczer believe this; even our former president has argued that social media is to account for our present ills. In this view, social media is responsible for our echo chambers, our righteous bubbles that confirm our views and castigate those who disagree. But there is hope: even more recent studies—one just out last month—argues that in recent years polarization has happened more amongst older people than younger ones, and younger ones are the far more frequent users of social media. So social media is not entirely to blame, and young people may hold the key to what ails us.

What is more, one might argue that some kinds of polarizations are good ones. Many of us feel the intensity of a moral purpose in this moment—whether it is around race, or inclusivity, or climate change, or economic inequality, or free speech. We see with a clarity and intensity that drives us forward. And sometimes the intensity of our moral purpose must necessarily strain or even break relationships.

So the question is this: how can you as Middlebury graduates think in a new hopeful way about your work in this world? We are a college of liberal arts and sciences, and so we should look to different fields to help us. The scientific meaning of polarization might be of use in answering this question. Let us think for a minute about the definition of polarized and unpolarized light. All light can be understood as vibrating waves. Unpolarized light is light that vibrates in multiple directions and on several planes at once, like the light of the sun or a candle. In contrast, polarized light has passed through a filter so that the light vibrates on a single plane and in a single direction. The waves still travel at different angles, but are doing so on a single plane. Polarized light is used in microscopes, so that objects can be seen more accurately and clearly. It is also used in our sunglasses, so we can filter out glaring, diffuse light that makes it hard for us to see.

I think the scientific metaphor gives us a way of thinking about the social world as well. While a polarized society is one where economic and social directions seem to be traveling further and further apart, a polarized beam of light is the opposite. Polarized light is less diffuse; its vibrations are working on a single plane, and make unity out of multiplicity.

What would it look like for you to be that kind of light in this polarized world? What would it look like for you to work to bring energies moving in opposite directions together, even if just for a moment, on a single plane? I think this is what it means to work for community.

Some examples of building community in the most difficult circumstances—in post-conflict societies—are powerful here. There are many compelling stories of this work. In recent history there are the stories of the Peace Committees in post-apartheid South Africa. In rebuilding South Africa, National Peace Secretariat created local groups, called peace committees, that focused first on the most troubled regions of the country, such as Kwazulu Natal. These groups were composed of individuals of different ethnic, religious, and professional backgrounds who were able to quell rumors, and to mediate between society and the state, between warring neighborhoods, even between individuals.

As one USAID report tells us, these peace committees literally created the physical, psychological and social space where people could meet and resolve their differences. To use our light analogy, they created a process where forces going in different directions could focus in a single direction on a single plane.

Closer to home but longer ago, in our own New England, the world fell apart in the small town of Salem village when women and men were accused and then hung as witches. That story is well known, but the story of how the community healed itself is not as well known. When it was over, the accusers and accused needed to come together. The community was small enough that many of them worshipped at the same church. One clergyman, Joseph Greene, inherited this divided community in mid 1690’s. And what he did has not made the history books in the same dramatic way as the violence that preceded it, but it is equally remarkable. Joseph Greene rearranged the seating in the church so that people had to face each other. He got people of Salem Village, vibrating with anger and grief as they were, to be, just for a minute, on the same plane.

These stories give us a hint of what your Middlebury education might enable you to do as you graduate into this polarized world. Even if you don’t know it, even if you don’t feel like you possess them, you have the skills to bring people together. You can do this because you have learned to switch perspectives, to move between ideas. You have been taught to imagine different worlds.

You can and you must do this without losing your own sense of moral purpose. Keep pushing our systems to make the world better. But in doing so, remember that you must work to bring people into the same room—to create a plane, to build a table, to forge a common space where reasonable people can disagree. As one friend recently put it, “I may disagree with you, but I will not leave the room. I will stand here with you and we can describe the room together.”

As in South Africa, you can build the peace committees, both formally and informally. As Joseph Greene did, you can rearrange the seating in the hall. You can do the 21st century equivalent of these things. Invite someone out for coffee who said something who really annoyed you. Spend time with the colleague at your new job or graduate program whose views you most disagree with. Go find the neighbor in your new apartment building who seems the most odd to you, and get to know them. Organize random groups of people wherever you find yourself.

Today, fewer and fewer people can stand with each other in the same room. With your Middlebury imagination, you can be that light that creates a single space for people to dwell in, that helps them turn to each other and say, “I will stand with you.”

Go now and help us build that common world.

April 7, 2017: Address to Faculty: Free Speech, Inclusivity, and the Public Sphere

Good afternoon. I will share a few introductory remarks, which I hope will help frame my thinking on the larger questions of free speech that we will discuss today. As I have said many times and in many ways, the most important work we have to do together at Middlebury is create a robust public sphere. In my view, a robust public sphere is one in which members of our community can speak, can be heard, and can fully participate in our public discourse. I would not have asked for a national platform to make this agenda urgent, but urgent it is, and urgent it has become for us as a community of teachers and scholars.

I welcome this discussion and I am proud that we are having it. This is, after all, what we are about as an institution. The very fact that we are having this discussion is a sign of our vitality, and a sign that we are as a faculty fundamentally committed to free speech. We are, after all, exercising free speech about free speech.  

I believe it is my responsibility as president of this institution to share with you my own views on the matter to help shape the terms of the debate. So I begin by reminding you what I think about this issue. I have written and stated these thoughts often in the last six months, and even more often in the last four weeks, including at our last faculty meeting. A true commitment to education must embrace an uncompromising commitment to free and open dialogue that expands understanding, challenges our assumptions, and ultimately creates a more inclusive public sphere.  

It might be helpful in this context to say more. Controversial speech, or speech by a controversial speaker, can be challenging in a time when the very idea of a public sphere seems fragile. Controversial speech is also more difficult in a time when issues that should be contested, debated, and addressed become exclusively owned by “the left” or “the right.” In our current state, deep educational commitments, such as exploring the history of oppression and freedom, may be difficult to share as common public goods. But they should be understood as such, and it is our responsibility to teach them and to discuss them openly, honestly, and with candor. That is the only way we can reach the truth.

On college campuses, there are many struggles playing themselves out in our public spheres: how does one acknowledge the discomfort that a true liberal education must entail, while at the same time recognizing and respecting the often difficult and unfair experiences of our students who have walked in the American margins? Acknowledging and honoring those margins as real spaces is essential. Honoring the study and articulation of those experiences is crucial to our well-being as a society. And in honoring those margins, we must pay attention to hurt, to offense, to accumulated injury.   

How do we relate these two fundamental values—the necessary discomfort that a liberal education must entail, and an honoring of the difficult experiences of our students who have walked in the margins? And how do we do so in the context of free speech debates? As a beginning point, I want to cite University of Chicago Law School professor and First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone:

“… experience teaches that the suppression of speech breeds the suppression of speech. If today I am permitted to silence those whose views I find distasteful, I have then opened the door to allow others down the road to silence me. The neutral principle of no suppression of ideas protects us all. This is especially important in the current situation, for in the long run it is likely to be minorities, whether religious minorities, racial minorities, or political minorities, who are most likely to be silenced once censorship is deemed acceptable. Censorship is never a one-way street, and this is a door we do not want to open, perhaps especially in the era of Trump.”

I might put it the following way: if there ever was a time for Americans to take on arguments that offend us, it is now. If there ever was a time for us to challenge influential public views with better reason, better research, better logic, and better data, it is now. If there ever was a time when we needed to risk being offended, to argue back even while we are feeling afraid, to declare ourselves committed to arguing for a better society, it is now. Engaged, committed speech, speech countering other speech, courageous speech, fearless speech, is today essential to our well-being as a nation.

So I leave you with these three guideposts as we move through this debate:

First, I would like for us to read together. We are small enough as a faculty to do so. I share with you a brief keynote by Geoffrey Stone that I quoted above. He delivered it on April 2nd to the Commission on Higher Education. I think it could be a common text that we all might read and argue about together. I would also recommend the recent study by Pen America, in its “Freedom to Write” series, called “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities.” The major contributor to that study was E.J. Graff, a feminist thinker and award-winning journalist. Finally, I would recommend the AAUP statement on academic freedom.

Second, I caution us not to rush to a judgment on these issues. These questions go to the very heart of who we are as an institution, and we should take our time to learn, to debate, to understand, and to reflect.

Third, we have a responsibility to encourage our students to speak out fearlessly and boldly. If we are hearing from students on all sides of the political spectrum that they are afraid to speak in class, then we as teachers have a responsibility to address this. Even if you think your classroom is an open space in which all students feel free to express their views, and that it is someone else’s classroom where students are afraid to speak, you are likely mistaken. This is a near-universal problem that I hear from the left and the right and the in-between, and we must aspire to be better. We must encourage all of our students to speak their minds, to challenge each other, and to challenge us in the process.

The fate of Middlebury as an institution of excellence and of courageous engagement is at stake. Every single one of us has a responsibility to reflect on the dynamics of our classrooms and to take seriously the challenge of creating a Middlebury where students of all stripes learn to be unafraid to defend their views. The students exhibited this strength on the night of the debate about free speech right before spring break. I was deeply proud. This is the Middlebury I recognize, and came to lead. Let us encourage them to practice this over and over again.

And in that vein, I might formulate the problem in the following way: most of us have two commitments. We think that education is about exposing students to different ideas and giving them the skills and courage to choose between them. Most of us also think that education is giving students the skills and courage to make this a better world. Most of us agree that both are fundamental to our excellence as an institution. These values are usually not in conflict. However, in our most painful moments, such as the one we experienced in early March, they were indeed conflicting.

In my view, the first of these commitments is a necessary precondition of the second.  Education must be free enough to expose students to a wide-range of conflicting and even disturbing ideas, for only then will we be able to give our students the wisdom, the resilience, and the courage to make this a better world. 

While I am here with you, I will work as energetically as possible for both inclusivity and freedom of speech. There are no more important projects than these. But this is possible only if academic freedom and freedom of speech are defended on all sides. It is only through this principle that we will enable our students to discover truth and achieve the work of making society more just, and it is only in this way that we will in the long run ensure a public sphere that is more inclusive, more vibrant, and more engaging. That is, after all, what we are most fundamentally about. 

March 6, 2017: Letter to the Middlebury Community

Dear Middlebury Community Members,

This is the first of what is likely to be a series of communications from me in the days and weeks ahead.

Many of us still are processing what happened inside and outside Wilson Hall and McCullough Student Center last Thursday. The protests and confrontations in response to Charles Murray’s appearance laid bare deep divisions in our community. The campus feels different than it did before. It will take time and much effort to come together, and what the future ultimately looks like may not be anyone’s ideal—at least not for a while.

Today I write on the topics of accountability and community.

Let me turn first to accountability. Because of the complexity of the events and actions that took place, we have initiated an independent investigation to establish a baseline of information. Once that work is completed, the College will follow a process of determining a course of action for each individual understood to be involved in some way in the events of last Thursday. This will take some time. Our process must be fair and just. To be clear, I want to state that peaceful, non-disruptive protest is not only allowed at Middlebury, it is encouraged. We all have the right to make our voices heard, both in support of and in opposition to people and ideas. Our concern is acts of disruption and violence, where available means of peaceful protest were declined.

Separately, the Middlebury Police Department will investigate the confrontation that took place outside McCullough following the event, which we believe involved individuals from both on and off campus. We will cooperate fully in that investigation and encourage all members of our community to do the same.

Let me turn next to community. Creating true community is hard work, and yet that work is essential and is our collective responsibility. This week, we will mark the beginning of opportunities for reflection and engagement. We have already heard from many community members on all sides of the issues and that has been deeply encouraging. Existing groups on campus have written to help us understand what the community is feeling and might need going forward. We have much to discuss—our differences on the question of free speech and on the role of protest being two of the most pressing examples.

In addition, I am extending an invitation to everyone to submit community-building ideas for consideration. These ideas may be modest or bold. We will work with existing groups of faculty, staff, and students to collate these ideas into plans of action over the next semester and beyond. Katy Smith Abbott, Susan Baldridge, Miguel Fernandez, and Andi Lloyd will provide information about how to share your ideas in a subsequent message.

This was an extremely difficult episode, especially because in the last year we have worked so hard to affirm that Middlebury is committed to unlocking the potential and brilliance of every student, no matter their race, class, sexual orientation, religion, disability status, or any other personal characteristic. If you are here, it is because you earned your way here, and you belong. We are also committed to upholding the right to speech, even unpopular speech, especially in times of division or uncertainty. If colleges and universities cannot serve this role, who can?

I urge us all to keep listening and connecting, and am myself in active communication with students and faculty on all sides of the issue. I want to acknowledge the anger and frustration that many people feel. There is hard work ahead for all of us: learning to be accountable to one another, and learning to stand in community with one another. We must affirm our shared values and goals and hold each other to them, and we must listen differently, helping others to be fully heard and seen.

My faith in our collective ability to grow into a better place is unshaken. I look forward to the many conversations we can and must have over the coming months.

Laurie Patton


March 3, 2017: Letter from President Patton Concerning Last Night’s Events

Members of the Middlebury College Community:

As many of you are aware by now, a large group of student protestors disrupted Charles Murray’s talk yesterday afternoon in Wilson Hall in McCullough Student Center. I am deeply disappointed by the events that I witnessed and it was painful for many people in our community to experience. I know that many students, faculty, and staff who were in attendance or waiting outside to participate were upset by the events, and the lost opportunity for those in our community who wanted to listen to and engage with Mr. Murray.

With some effort, we were able to move Mr. Murray to another location where he and Prof. Allison Stanger, who was scheduled to moderate the Q&A following his talk, were able—though with challenges—to go ahead with the talk and a probing conversation afterward.

Following the event, protests continued outside of McCullough as well. Unfortunately, one group of demonstrators aggressively confronted Mr. Murray and Prof. Allison Stanger as they left McCullough Student Center. That confrontation turned into a violent incident with a lot of pushing and shoving, and an attack on the car in which they were leaving campus. We believe that many of these protestors were outside agitators, but there are indications that Middlebury College students were involved as well.

We will be responding in the very near future to the clear violations of Middlebury College policy that occurred inside and outside Wilson Hall.

Today our community begins the process of addressing the deep and troubling divisions that were on display last night. I am grateful to those who share this goal and have offered to help. We must find a path to establishing a climate of open discourse as a core Middlebury value, while also recognizing critical matters of race, inclusion, class, sexual and gender identity, and the other factors that too often divide us. That work will take time, and I will have more to say about that in the days ahead.

Last night we failed to live up to our core values. But I remain hopeful. Last evening, several students, faculty, and staff representing a large spectrum of political perspectives remained in Wilson Hall to discuss the events and to talk about building bridges. Their ability to reach across differences in a rigorous but respectful way was a stark contrast to the events that preceded it. I firmly believe these are the Middlebury values that we have lived so long and that we must strive to embody in the future.

I extend my sincerest apologies to everyone who came in good faith to participate in a serious discussion, and particularly to Mr. Murray and Prof. Stanger for the way they were treated during the event and, especially, afterward.

Laurie L. Patton


February 8, 2017: President Patton Winter Convocation Address

Welcome to Middlebury. 

To begin, I would like to continue a custom by putting into circulation this most recognizable of College symbols—Gamaliel Painter’s cane. 

Gamaliel Painter was one of the visionaries who helped to found Middlebury College over 200 years ago. He was a familiar sight to the College’s first students as he frequently roamed through the town’s streets and strolled by the College, which then was entirely located on the site that is now Twilight Hall at the bottom of the hill on the way into town. 

As he strolled about the town and College, Gamaliel Painter carried with him a walking stick. When he died, Painter bequeathed to the College $13,000, which was a significant-enough sum of money to secure the future of this fledgling institution. He also left us his walking stick. 

It has become a tradition for newly arrived students, at opening Convocation, to pass among them Gamaliel Painter’s cane. I ask you to pass it among yourselves, but please remember to give it to Feb Orientation senior co-chairs Lizzy Stears or Tommy Ben Rose when done, so future first-years can share in the tradition!

And now, I want to warmly welcome you as Febs—that special class of people who arrive in winter. Febs are bright newcomers to our community, who bring all their light and energy to the darker days. That’s why we welcome you with candles—they are a reminder of who you are. 

There’s also something about winter that brings us down to the bare bones of things—we see the beautiful skeletons of things. We hear the sparser songs that exist underneath the songs of summer. The poet Mark Strand invites us to think about winter as a kind of listening: “listening to the tunes our bones play.”

Here’s how he puts it in “Lines for Winter”:

Tell yourself 

as it gets cold and gray falls from the air

  that you will go on 

walking, hearing 

the same tune no matter where

  you find yourself— 

inside the dome of dark 

or under the cracking white 

of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow. 

Tonight as it gets cold 

tell yourself 

what you know which is nothing

  but the tune your bones play 

as you keep going. And you will be able

  for once to lie down under the small fire 

of winter stars….

You all have dreamt Middlebury. And you have done so powerfully. You have listened to the tune your bones play and found this place. 

You may even have dreamt that, once you arrived, on one of these snowy Vermont nights, you would lie down and gaze at the small fire of wintry stars. You were so effective in your dreaming about Middlebury that you have landed here, in this space. I hope it looks and feels the same way you dreamt it.

And even though you did everything right to get here, perhaps you are still anxious right now. You are looking left and you are looking right. You may be thinking, “I wonder how many of these people have done amazing things?” You may wonder if you’re worthy, because someone casually happened to mention this morning that they were an opera singer. Or that they already knew two languages. Or they designed a new solar-powered boat. And the worse thing was they were really nice about it. Or perhaps you are unbelievably impatient to get started right now—so much so that all this orientation and syllabus sharing and training is getting annoying. “Seriously, guys?” You are thinking. “I get the good intentions, folks, but let’s just dive in.”

Yes, you might be anxious. You might be feeling inadequate. You might also be impatient. In each case, however, you are no longer alert and directed, but you are distracted by your wish, your longing to be somewhere or something else than here, being what you are. I wish I were a singer or a musician. Why can’t I learn languages? I’m not an environmentalist. I am completely uncoordinated. Do I belong here? 

As your president, I am going to ask you this: How long will you dwell there in distraction, focused on what you are not, instead of getting on with the glorious business of being who you are? Sitting here in the pews in Mead Chapel, you are the same person we admitted last spring: the person who might be an uncoordinated non-environmentalist, non-language learner, non-opera singer. We admitted you. The person who dreamed Middlebury and who has come here to dream other dreams. To be inspired by the fires of winter stars. 

So what does it mean to follow the tunes your bones play, now that you are here? First and foremost, it means being aware of all the opportunity that is around you and keeping yourself healthy at the same time.

At Middlebury, you will have a wealth of people to support you in that effort: Commons heads, Commons deans, JCs, RHAs, the faculty who teach you in first-year seminars, librarians, coaches, faculty who teach you in your other courses, people whom you happen to meet on campus. 

And they will help you listen to that tune that is yours alone, and in doing so, develop wisdom. 

You see, at Middlebury, we are going to ask you not just to be smart but to become wise.

Make no mistake: at Middlebury, you will be all about using your smarts, your intellect. You will be challenged to master material more than you ever have before. And there will be days when you will feel that meeting such an intellectual challenge is enough. But once you have done that, we will not simply let you rest on those laurels. Intellect is not wisdom. At Middlebury we will challenge you to take the next step after being smart, which is to understand the role of that knowledge in the world, how it has shaped human hearts and minds over centuries, and how it continues to do so. Ask Cassandra Wanna. She’s a senior studying psychology, and she’s spending this year at Middlebury’s School in Jordan. Her plan was to spend just a semester in Jordan, and then head to Paris for the spring. But she’s been volunteering at a refugee camp, and her work is having such an impact that she’s changed her plans. She’s now doing an internship with Care Jordan inside the camp, and she’s looking toward a career of working with refugees and helping to communicate their plight to the rest of the world.

At Middlebury, we will also ask you to pay attention, to be mindful and to reflect on the purposes of your own education. Mindfulness is part of being aware of what you are doing—not just following a well-traveled route or a rote course of study. Some people call this slow learning. We call it better learning. Just ask the team of 12 Middlebury students who recently helped create an award-winning animated film and a website about the Collinwood Fire of 1908. Their work, including painstaking research and significant trial and error, allowed them to tell this complex and tragic story, now almost 110 years old, through the lens of the present, and across media and in ways that have not been available to previous generations of students and scholars. There’s no way to go through that task but slowly, carefully, and paying full attention.

What you will soon see too is that, at Middlebury, we will ask you to carry your work lightly. That doesn’t mean that you don’t take your work seriously. It means that you understand the power of trying many times and in many different ways. At Middlebury you will learn that trying twice, trying three times, even four or five times, is part of the equation. Just ask the students at the Potomac Theatre Project in New York City. They have built a major theater company over the past 30 years with Middlebury College that is the only collaboration of its kind between equity actors and college learners. But they did it not in the blink of an eye, but by trying two, three, four times. With the public. With the College. First in Washington, D.C. And now at its home in New York City.

At Middlebury we will challenge you to think of the wisdom that you gain here as more valuable than gold or silver. Those reminders mean that, if you get a great internship or a fabulous high-paying job when you graduate, and you think you have accomplished what you need to, then you will not be wise. And we will not have done our job as educators. If we have done our job well, then you will see that true wisdom is found in seeking a deeper and richer life, not one that just focuses entirely on material ends. Just ask the planters and sowers at the Middlebury College Organic Farm, who don’t grow their crops for a profit, but rather to support the local economy, to deepen a sense of place, and to create a source of local food for Middlebury College and the town. This kind of wisdom gives the Middlebury farm staff members the resilience to try different agricultural experiments, and to build new stoves and different kinds of shelters for plants and people. All of that work is happening there right now. 

At Middlebury we will also challenge you to be receptive to others’ points of view. That, too, is a great quality of wisdom, and a real skill, and when you learn it you will know the value of others’ arguments and become willing to respect them. At Middlebury, we view arguments as moments where people are thinking their best thoughts together. If you are willing to be open to others’ arguments, you will have the support of others around you because they know you are willing to listen to them. That, too, will help us become a better community together—a community of people who know how to listen, and to talk, to each other. Just ask the members of Oratory Now, including Mariah Levin ’16.5, a Feb like you. They founded Oratory Now in 2014 as a way to cultivate the art of public speaking among students. They’ve restarted the Parker Merrill Speech Competition, which first began at Middlebury in 1825 and has been dormant for 50 years, and they’re working toward ultimately shaping a College-wide oratory program. They’re helping build a community prepared to speak, and to listen. Join them.

At Middlebury, we will also challenge you to trust. You will need to trust that even if the outcome of your efforts is not always what you think it should have been, you will eventually understand what the meaning of your work is. You will find your place. You will hear that tune your bones play in the middle of winter, and many other seasons too—in the fertile mud of spring, the green hush of summer, the heart-stopping colors of autumn. And you will need to trust that there will be people around you to work with you in all seasons of your student life. Just ask the students who, over last winter term, imagined creating a new remote-controlled rover. They collaborated with the facilities team, and with professors, and with each other, and they created a whole lab full of prototypes that don’t look anything like what they ultimately created: a sleek, low-slung remote-controlled inspection vehicle with infrared, which they completed and tested during a STEM Innovation program last summer. Such a device can inspect tight places where people can’t or shouldn’t fit—and now, it’s slated to be used to help facilities with our annual steam system inspections and evaluating steam trap efficiency. These students created a tool to solve a real-world problem on our campus. They didn’t do it alone. They didn’t do it quickly. They did it over the course of several seasons. And they did it together.

And a final note about what you will learn here at Middlebury: being wise means being resilient. What do we mean by this? Resilience is one of those words that we think we know, but we don’t necessarily stop to reflect upon. Resilience is about bouncing back from adversity, but it also refers to the ability of an object to return to its original shape after being stretched out of proportion—as might happen in a crisis or time of trauma. Resilience in both those forms is essential in a diverse learning community. You are awake and resilient when you know your own shape and know that you can find it again. You are resilient when you have the courage to learn and make mistakes and find your shape again after the worst thing that could happen happens. Resilience means finding your own shape, and staying in shape, in body, mind, and spirit. So that you can create your own path. The poet Mark Strand reminds us about resilience in winter:

you will go on

  walking, hearing 

the same tune no matter where

  you find yourself— 

inside the dome of dark 

or under the cracking white 

of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.

So I ask you once again: How long will you dwell in distraction, focused on what you are not, instead of getting on with the glorious business of being who you are? You have dreamt of Middlebury, and now you are here. You have arrived bringing us light and laughter. And we will help you follow the tune your bones play. We will help you to become wise. We will help you go on walking, no matter where you find yourself—inside the dome of dark 

or under the cracking white 

of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.

Now go, and get on with the glorious business of being who you are.

February 2, 2017: Muslim Student Association Rally

Welcome Middlebury community, the college, and the town.

So many different people from so many different parts of Middlebury are here today and that warms my heart. We are all here in solidarity with the Muslim Students Association (MSA). As the MSA knows and has worked so hard to teach us, and as we should all continue to learn, an educational community is deeply strengthened by the open exchange of ideas. In that open exchange of ideas we explore, we ask questions, we criticize. Today we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters because there are individuals who can no longer participate in that exchange because they are prohibited by policy from entering our country, and if they are already here, they are forced not to leave it. We must stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in resisting this state of affairs. Education is about dignity and respect, and this ban is about neither. No one should have to choose between family and work, which is what so many, including some of our own, will now have to choose between. No one should have to see their family turned away at the borders, simply because of their country of origin.

The Quran itself teaches in Surat al-Mumtahana 8, that “God loves those who are just.”

And James Baldwin taught us “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed that is not faced.”

Let us face and change this injustice. If we do nothing else with our educations, if we do nothing more for our students, our teachers, our friends, and family, let us work for a more just world now. Do one thing every day to make our world more open and free—to make education live up to its deepest values and to resist the injustice we suddenly see visited upon us. I want to ask you to repeat with me because it is so true more than ever now. We, with our Muslim brothers and sisters—we are all Middlebury.

Thank you.

February 1, 2017: Middlebury’s Commitment to Openness and Access

To the Middlebury community:

This has been a distressing week for the greater Middlebury community, as it has been for many Americans. As an institution of higher learning, Middlebury holds dear the value of the free exchange of ideas, the principle of open discourse, and the importance of bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to study, teach, and work in a free and open society. It is central to who we are.

That is why the new administration’s decision last week to issue an executive order blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States startled our conscience as a global community of educators and learners. It strikes at the heart of our deepest values as a community and as a nation. For us, education promotes dignity and respect. But this action encourages neither. And on a practical level, the impact on us at Middlebury has been significant already and threatens to become worse.

Middlebury is deeply committed to global education and has been for more than 100 years. We have formal operations in 17 countries outside the United States and educational partnerships in many more. Nearly half of our third-year class at Middlebury College studies abroad each year. More than 30 percent of the students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and 10 percent at the College are international students in this country on student visas. We have numerous faculty members at all of our schools who are citizens of other nations or who have immigrated to the United States to pursue their passion for teaching and research.

We do not, as a matter of policy and principle, discriminate by citizenship, nationality, or religion when accepting students for admission or faculty and staff for hiring.

We currently have four enrolled students—three at the Institute and one at the College—who are citizens of one of the seven countries singled out in the executive order’s travel restriction. Three are from Syria and one is from Sudan. At the time the order was signed, one of our faculty colleagues at the College, professor of religion Ata Anzali, was on leave in his hometown of Tabriz, Iran, with his wife and their 12- and 9-year-old daughters. Despite the family’s status as permanent U.S. residents (and the younger daughter’s status as a U.S. citizen), Ata was faced with the terrible choice of attempting to come back to his home in the U.S. ahead of schedule and perhaps being cut off from relatives in Iran for years, or to remain through the duration of his leave and face an even more uncertain prospect of return. As I send this, he is about to attempt the trip home to Middlebury. It is beyond ironic that Ata’s scholarship is dedicated to fostering greater understanding between religions.

We have no way of knowing at this stage exactly how many individuals or academic programs will be impacted by the executive order, but I am concerned about it affecting the willingness of international students to continue to travel to the United States and of all of our students to take advantage of study-abroad opportunities and internships at a time when our nation is engaged in a profound ideological conflict with other nations. Each year some 1,500 students study at the Middlebury Language Schools, usually in preparation for international study or work. Many students at the Middlebury Institute plan for careers outside the United States.

The Middlebury community will stand up for and work to support any of our members who are impacted by the travel restrictions, just as we are for our students who are living with the uncertainty over this administration’s intentions regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which permits undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 to remain in the country.

Any Middlebury student or member of the faculty and staff, regardless of location, who has questions or concerns about their ability to travel to and from any of our schools should contact Kathy Foley, director of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). In addition to the support Middlebury can offer directly, over the last several days a number of campus organizations have stepped forward to support our community in a variety of other ways. We have created and will maintain a webpage on the ISSS site with a list of events and resources in both Middlebury and Monterey. Given the fluidity of the situation and the many unknowns, we will update this page often. If you have information you would like to include, please contact Baishakhi Taylor at the College, or Ryan Kasmier at the Institute.

Middlebury has joined with other colleges and universities in vigorously opposing the new travel restrictions and any effort to weaken or eliminate DACA protections for students. And we will continue to make our views known through our federal, state, and local elected representatives in Vermont and California.

For everyone in Vermont, I also want to bring your attention to a rally of solidarity that will be held on Thursday, February 2, at 4:15 p.m. outside McCullough Student Center. It is being organized by the Muslim Students Association and I encourage you to attend if you are able.

I am proud of the forceful way our community has responded in spirit and through concrete effort to the government’s actions. In recent days I have heard from many of you who are concerned about those most affected, and it is comforting and encouraging to hear and read your words of support—from our campus, from our sites abroad, and from parents and alumni everywhere. It matters to all of us, and especially to those among us who are members of the Islamic faith and who feel particularly vulnerable at this time. We are all Middlebury.

Laurie L. Patton


January 28, 2017: Message from the President: International travel advisory

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,

I know that many of you are following news reports on the impact of the executive order that President Trump signed on Friday restricting entry into the United States by individuals from seven countries. This is a deeply distressing development. Staff at Middlebury are working hard to determine the impact of this order and to understand how we can support members of our community who need to travel to and from Middlebury from any of these countries. Our colleagues at ISSS are working in partnership with the senior administration to monitor the situation carefully. We also are in touch with Senator Leahy’s office to seek their guidance, and are working one-on-one with colleagues and students who are abroad and may be affected by this order.

There remains significant uncertainty, and the situation is fluid. I know that the lack of certainty may make it difficult for individuals to make decisions about travel. At this time, I can only advise acting with caution. International students or scholars traveling abroad should be in touch with ISSS staff, who stand ready to provide guidance and up-to-date information on the situation. You will find their contact information at the bottom on this email. Our dynamic and diverse international colleagues are central to Middlebury’s mission and our community.

At this moment in time, I want to encourage all of you, and all of our students, to keep working to ensure that all travel outside the contiguous U.S. is registered ( so that we know where our community members are, and how to be in contact with them, when emergent situations arise.

We will share information with you as it becomes available. Please do not hesitate to be in touch with any of us in the administration or with ISSS if you have questions or concerns.


Laurie L. Patton