PubSafe: The Other Side of Rebranding

By Alex Epstein

If you ask most Middlebury students what they think of the College’s recent effort to rebrand the school, the odds are that most responses will be in regards to the logo.  Small petitions to stop the change came and went in the fall, and the closest thing to a result that we got was the Campus publishing a front-page pie chart showing how a large majority of students opposed the new logo.

However, Middlebury’s logo is only a very small piece of the much larger rebranding pie. Our school is about to welcome a new president, we have significant turnover in the administration, we just finished an addition to our athletics center; and we are expanding our language program and our programs in California into online classrooms. Middlebury has realized that if we want to compete with schools like Williams, Amherst, and others, we must embrace growth and change.

Growth, change and rebranding are excellent buzzwords, but in reality, they don’t mean much on their own.  The rebranding-type changes Middlebury is undergoing are largely to boost our school’s reputation and prestige – in the rankings, amongst high school students and amongst the employers who go on to hire our graduates.  All of this is, in concept, a great thing.  Our degrees that we earn here are expensive.  Even for those on financial aid, going to Middlebury represents a huge investment of time, energy and money, all to earn a diploma.  The higher the opinions of our school, the more valuable that diploma will be to us in the future – hypothetically.

The problem I have with this is that it seems like Middlebury is doing the right thing with one hand, and shooting itself in the foot with the other.  While to the outside world, it may appear as though Middlebury is changing for the better, here on campus, some change is most definitely for the worse – namely our social scene. Over the course of my first year here, I have seen firsthand how Public Safety has stepped up their enforcement of alcohol, marijuana, parking and other policies.  The rules haven’t changed much, (except for our recent hard alcohol ban), but the rigor of enforcement seems to have increased dramatically.  

The party scene on campus is dying. By and large, every week seems more boring than the last, and the difference between the party scene now and the scene when I first arrived is night and day.  Upperclassmen friends have told me that this trend is nothing new – it’s something that has been going on here for the past few years.  Aside from the fact that my weekends are less fun than they potentially could be, I fear that Middlebury, in the process of rebranding, is turning its back on its roots, and as such counteracting it’s efforts to garnish its reputation.

Let me explain what I mean.  In regards to our rankings, which have a huge impact on how our school is regarded as a whole, one of the most important factors, in addition to acceptance rate, is yield rate – or what percentage of accepted students actually decide to enroll.  When applying to a school, but even more so when actually deciding to attend a school, one of students’ most important deciding factors is if they like it.  Does it seem like a place where they want to spend the next 4 years of their life? 

In Middlebury’s case, our school has long been advertised as a “work hard play hard” school.  Many students, myself included, came here after being sold on that idea by parents, parents’ friends, college counselors and countless other adult sources.  In high school I personally saw people choose not to apply to schools like University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon and instead look toward schools like Duke and Northwestern (or in my case, Middlebury) because we were told that the former were for people whose idea of a fun Friday night revolved around the library – which ours did not. 

The issue is not that I’m a bro who just cares about drinking – I’ve been there to see the library close on Saturday nights before – but that our school is becoming less fun for people who don’t find that fun, and given time, it will hurt our acceptance and yield rates, the same way it has for schools like MIT and Chicago relative to their peers like Princeton and Yale.

 The other, debatably more important side of the issue is our reputation amongst employers.  At the moment, Middlebury punches above its weight in recruiting for top-notch jobs.  A large part of the reason firms prefer Midd Kids to our colleagues at schools like MIT or Chicago is because we “integrate” better.  In the real world, in DC, and New York, and most other major cities, when the work day ends, the office moves to the bars, or clubs or social scene in the area.  At a law firm, a bank, or other prestigious workplaces, your performance outside of work socially and amongst your colleagues is almost, if not equally, as important to your performance in the office. 

While Middlebury’s academic rigor is excellent preparation for a real-life workload, a college education is about more than just academics. One of our school’s edges over our competitors is that we have long been known for our education outside of the classroom – in Atwater, Tavern and the like – which has historically prepared our graduates for social life after leaving the office. However, from what I saw of DC’s social scene as a political intern last summer, Middlebury no longer provides an adequate education in how to go out on a Saturday night.  It is a question of when, and not if, the recruiters who hire our students for the prestigious jobs that form one of the cornerstones of our school’s reputation figure that out, and when they do, no one, students or administrators, will like the result.