The Office of the President has decided not to revive the defunct MiddView outdoor orientation program for first-year students in 2011, overruling a months-long student initiative and a Student Government Association (SGA) pledge to reinstate the activity.
The estimated cost of the program did not include wages paid to staff and the cost of opening buildings early, said Derek Doucet, director of Middlebury Outdoor Programs (MOP).
“The program costs [calculated by the SGA] cover the food of everyone, but do not include the staff hours and salary,” he said, emphasizing that no cost estimates for programs on campus include these costs.
President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz cited the strain on both staff and facilities as the principle reasons for the decision.
“It became clear that the schedule for reinstituting MiddView — opening the residence halls earlier and having to provide daily services — would have a significant impact on College resources, especially the staff,” he said.
Dean of the College Tim Spears stressed that Facilities Services has lost 12-14 percent of its staff. Asking members of the depleted crews to come in early would create additional non-financial costs.
“We’ve always been operating on a really tight schedule,” he said. “The staffing reductions have put further pressure on that schedule. The staff at this college have done amazing things to make this college function as well as it does, but their time and energy are not unlimited.”
Students behind the push to bring back MiddView were highly disappointed by the administration’s decision. Former President of the Middlebury Mountain Club (MMC) Ben Meader ’10.5 recognized the difficulties of staffing the program, but described it as an excuse for the decision. “I would be interested in what the staff themselves think about opening the campus a bit early,” he said. “I am not convinced that this is the reason that the SGA’s bill has been tabled. We’ve seen repeatedly that there is something about this program that the administration doesn’t like. I think they can expect to hear from a mountain of disappointed alumni and students.”
The SGA bill, passed by the Senate in December, offered to fund MiddView for three years with money drawn from the annual student activities’ fee. The SGA bill also proposed to expand eligibility for the program to include all first-years. This year’s SGA has been unusual in its willingness to spend.
MMC members were emboldened to see the Senate take action on their behalf, but said they were disappointed not to have received more than a superficial explanation for the administration’s objections.
“We can hope that this will tease out the underlying issue,” Meader said.
“I am puzzled at how after petition, poll, interim program and overwhelming student support, the administration remains sluggish.”
Spears said the administration admired the student initiative and did not object to the program, but simply could not devote the resources needed at the present time. He pointed to the success of this year’s orientation as proof that students could orient themselves to Middlebury through in a variety of programs.
“This isn’t a criticism about the program,” he said.
“Now just isn’t the moment to move forward. It doesn’t mean if you take away MiddView you can’t have an orientation experience that is excellent in some other way.”
Although disappointed with the decision, Pier LaFarge ’10.5, one of the student leaders in the push to restore MiddView, remained optimistic.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re confident that we’ll have it back,” he said.
Students themselves held a variety of opinions about the program. Some praised it; others mourned its loss.
“I think it’s an amazingly important experience,” Jeannette Giammattei ’10 said.
“It gives you people to talk to on the first day of school and people to eat lunch with.”
Others found that the experience did not add much to their social experiences at the College.
“It was a good time, but not necessary,” Edwin Suh ’12 said.
“The socializing aspect of it was really nice, but once you’re [back] in Middlebury and you just go around meeting people, the socializing you do overwhelms the socializing you do in MiddView.”
Associate Dean of the College Katy Abbott said she understood the need to postpone the program for at least another year.
“While it is an enormous disappointment to me and many others to see MiddView waiting in the wings for at least another year, I am sensitive to the impact that this program has on countless staff members,” she said.
“The SGA contribution, while magnanimous, did not take into account such costs as staff overtime hours to prepare student rooms two weeks in advance of new student arrival, provide food for leader training, facilities set-up for all the spaces needed, and more.”
Spears stressed that the decision was not made lightly and that the financial costs were not the only factor considered.
“It takes a lot of institutional energy and dedication to mount these programs and so the money itself doesn’t cover all the costs,” he said.
“We have a really dedicated staff. People like Derek [Doucet] and Katy [Abbott] and [Director of CCAL] Doug [Adams] would like nothing more [than] to bring MiddView back, but it takes more than that group of people to make it happen.”
Additional reporting by Anthony Adragna.