Board of Trustees Restructures

By Ellie Reinhardt

The Middlebury College Board of Trustees held their first meeting under the new governance structure on Sept. 18 – 21. The bi-annual meeting of the Trustees was held at the College and addressed resolutions regarding the new Identity System and Sustainability and Carbon Neutrality.

The most important outcome of the meeting was its determination of the functionality of the new structure. President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz said of the meeting, “It was both a test of the new structure and really a learning experience for us to find out what needed to be tweaked and adjusted. I think the biggest challenge was for Trustees who were totally used to the old system.”

Under the new structure, what used to be a series of individual committees has been broken down into a group of three Boards of Overseers and a group of six standing committees. The three boards of overseers represent the undergraduate College, the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and those “Schools” associated with the College including the Middlebury Language Schools, the Bread Loaf School of English, the C.V. Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Unique to the structure is the representation by the Board of Overseers at the meetings of the committees and vice versa, creating a crossover that allows for completely informed discussions.

The new structure also included student representation for the first time, which could help to alleviate recent complaints against a lack of transparency from the administration.

Liebowitz believes that the College can help other institutions realize the importance of an improved level of governance communication. 

“Institutions of governance are recognizing that the world is changing,” said Liebowitz. “The external pressures that are on higher education in general means that Boards need to look at their governance structures, many of which have not changed in decades, including our own, which is why we made our changes,” he said. “Whether or not others follow our lead, we are in the forefront of institutions like us talking about governance,” he concluded.

Last Monday, Liebowitz attended a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Mellon Foundation on the issue of Boards of Governance. 

“We’re sort of on the forefront now; we will tweak the system; we will change the system over the next few years once we learn what works and what works less well,” he said.

Liebowitz claimed that the College is only “one-third of the way through.”

 He said there are still steps to be taken in respect to changes in faculty and student governance at the College. 

“Eventually we think students will have to look at their governance structures,” he said. “Do they need different committees, does a community council really meet the needs of students, and should students be represented differently? What are the issues over which students ought to have oversight?”

The meeting began on Thursday, Sept. 18 with a Trustee orientation and a retreat about faculty governance. The Trustees invited the Faculty Governance-working group and the Faculty Council to the retreat and heard from faculty on what was most important to them about governance.

The three Overseer Boards spent Friday morning doing more orientation in order to be best educated about the different programs. Meetings of the Overseers and the Committees took up the rest of the weekend for the Trustees.

Although the biggest point on the agenda was the new identity system, there was not very much headway made in implementing it. The specific logos of the identity system are proving to be the biggest issue, according to Liebowitz. Although the Trustees did not vote on any logos, there was a consensus that the Identity System is important and the issue of the logos should be figured out soon.

“In terms of showing our so-called logos I believe we are in a good place. It’s going to be a compromise,” said Liebowitz. 

The College is going to hold two open meetings on the College and the Monterey Institute of International Studies campuses. Liebowitz says that the College hopes to get feedback from both communities in an effort to confirm and implement the new Identity System by January.