Trustees Talk Restructuring, Goals

By Mitch Perry

The Middlebury College Board of Trustees convened over fall break for their first meeting of the academic year. The biannual meeting traditionally consists of setting an agenda for the year and hearing presentations from various committees and student representatives.

President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz called this year’s meetings “different” because the College is in the midst of a nine month process of governance review.

“[We are] restructuring the board to make it more reflective of the institution that we’ve become,” Liebowitz said.

The board has six weeks to reflect on and refine recommendations made by the special committee — dubbed the governance review group — before a potential vote on their proposals at the December meeting.

The weekend began on Thursday, Oct. 17, with an all-afternoon retreat at Taproot – the 337-acre gift to the College by alumnus and trustee emeritus Will Jackson ’51 and his wife Carolyn Jackson ’61 and concluded with an early dinner before a full day of committee meetings on Friday, Oct. 18.

Friday meetings began with the Educational Affairs Committee that discussed admissions and the evolution of liberal arts. The trustees then agreed to the establishment of a MA program in Hebrew, which will be taught at the College’s summer language schools.

That afternoon, the Student Affairs Committee assembled to hear presentations from SGA President Rachel Liddell and Community Council Co- Chair Luke Carroll Brown.

“I was focused on giving the trustees an honest, pointed, and relevant update on the SGA,” said Liddell. “I also wanted to give them a real-student perspective, as opposed to the student perspective through the lens of the administration.”

In her discussion with the Trustees, Liddell updated them on her work thus far which has focused on enacting a policy that allows students to receive credit for summer internships, among other things. This has been a focus of Liddell’s since her campaign for SGA President. She then informed the Trustees on actions taken to increase sustainable food in the dining halls and the challenges of defining and sourcing this it.

Brown subsequently spoke to the importance of the Community Council in creating non-academic policy change. The Community Council is comprised of faculty, staff, administrators and students and is dedicated to addressing concerns of the whole community.

“We discussed a few of the larger issues facing the Community Council: hard alcohol policy, the potential use of surveillance cameras, and how to promote increased student/staff interaction,” Brown said.

Both Liddell and Brown found the experience to be a positive one. Liddell wrote of the Trustees, “They asked excellent questions, and clearly cared about my answers. I felt like a valuable member of the conversation.”

Brown echoed Liddell’s sentiments, “Students, administrators, and the Trustees each brought different backgrounds and skill sets to the table. Having all of us together led to interesting, dynamic conversation.”

Prior to the Trustee’s arrival, there was growing sentiment to increase opportunities for student-Trustee interaction – even prompting The Campus to call on the Trustees expand direct engagement with students.

“I think one of the things that came out in the governance working group’s work is that more Trustee involvement with students, faculty and staff can only be a positive thing,” Liebowitz said. He went on to explain that this includes Trustees and students having discussions on the direction of Middlebury as an institution and promoting the role of Trustees as a network for student resources.