In the fall of senior year at my high school, the question people were constantly asking each other was not ‘where are you applying ED?’ but rather ‘to which Ivy are you applying ED?’ Given this attitude of my classmates, I hope that none of you will judge me on the following dilemma I faced.
I visited Middlebury on March 31st, 2010 (I remember the day because it was the first time I had ever truly fallen in love with a place). The beauty of the campus, with its trees starting to bloom and the backdrop of snow-peaked mountains, struck me immediately as a sign of a tranquil environment, exactly what I was seeking in a college. As I went on the tour and my tour guide elaborated on the academics, extracurricular and social opportunities, I became more and more convinced that I absolutely had to spend four years in this place.
Come the next fall, however, I was trying to convince myself that I loved Dartmouth (the Ivy I thought was most similar to Midd) because of the Ivy-obsessed culture of my high school. Dartmouth is obviously a great school, but it had none of the attributes I wanted in a college. In fact, I hated it; the classes I sat in on, the appearance of the campus, the prominence of the frats, basically everything. Essentially, the only thing Dartmouth had that Middlebury didn’t was the prestige of being an Ivy League school, which, not to sound totally superficial, I truly craved. Today, I thank my lucky stars that I came to my senses and sent in my application to Middlebury rather than Dartmouth in October of 2010 (though I do feel bad about making my best friend write me a peer recommendation. But hey, sunk costs, amirite fellow econ majors?).
With the recent brand re-evaluation (which is covered extensively in this issue), I have several concerns about the future of the Middlebury undergraduate experience. First and foremost, (and this might read as greedy, selfish and/or entitled, attitudes I don’t intend and for which I apologize) with diversifying our image to emphasize the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), the C.V.-Starr Middlebury Schools Abroad, and the Bread Loaf School of English more, I worry about the diverting of funds from the undergraduate institution into these graduate and abroad programs. I want to ensure, as people say, that we ‘maintain the campus’ current lifestyle’. I want to ensure that we still have the funds, for example, to bring the Dalai Lama to campus, to host speakers such as Wade Davis (a follow-up to whose discussion is taking place this week and should definitely be attended!), and ensure that MCAB is able to host as many activities as it currently does. I will seriously drop out of this school if funding for the biweekly trivia night at Crossroads is cut (shoutout to the Ron Liebowitz Search Committee!).
One purpose of this rebranding, it seems, is to increase our presence on the national and international stage of colleges. As I previously mentioned, the only thing Dartmouth had going for it, in my mind, was its preeminence. So shouldn’t I be happy that Middlebury is looking to increase its prestige, since that was the only reason I didn’t want to apply early here was its lack of prestige, at least relative to Dartmouth? My short answer, at least now, is no, because I have come to realize that prestige often comes at the expense of the undergraduate experience. For example, many universities’ research labs overlook undergraduate students when seeking out research assistants, and I worry that if our brand is reconfigured such that our graduate institutions begin to share center stage with our Vermont undergraduate campus, then we will fall into the same trap.
In short, although we are repackaging our brand to play up our other campuses, both domestic and international, I truly hope that the focus of the entity (or whatever you may call it) of Middlebury remains squarely on the eponymous campus and the undergraduate students. It would be a real shame if years from now, when my kids inevitably matriculate to my Alma Mater, they’ll be attending ‘Middlebury University’.