College May End Commons System ‘As It Exists Now’

By JAMES FINN

The steering committee for the How Will We Live Together project, which has worked over the past year to assess strengths and weaknesses of the commons system, released its final report on Monday. The document, the final installment of the first full assessment of the commons system since it was formed in 1998, makes recommendations that if implemented in full “would effectively mean the end of the commons system at Middlebury as it exists now.”

“This represents the first time in 20 years that a comprehensive review of our residential life system has been conducted, something that was long overdue,” wrote Derek Doucet, associate dean of students for student activities and education, in an email to The Campus. “It was done in a collaborative fashion, involving students, staff and faculty.”

The final report elaborates on suggestions proposed in February’s draft of recommendations. The report suggests creating an “office of residential life and education” that would focus on housing operations and health and wellness, as well as improving new student experiences through steps such as geographic consolidation of first-years. Another key suggestion is the implementation of a “student care system overhaul” that would result in a “care database” of students’ well-being across areas such as physical and mental health, academic performance and financial status.

Doucet served as co-chair for the steering committee, a group of students and administrators that worked alongside an external review committee of staff from other liberal arts colleges to develop the project over the past year. The external review committee visited campus last October and published a report containing their findings in January. Over the past year both groups surveyed students, held comment periods and published updates with the goal of proposing improvements to the system that has served as the foundation of students’ residential experience for the past two decades. 

The final report is now up for consideration by the college’s Senior Leadership Group (SLG). While full replacement of the commons system is “one possible outcome” of the SLG’s deliberations, it’s more likely that a “refined” version of the present system will emerge in the coming years, Doucet wrote. 

“In either case, I’m confident that essential elements of the present system will be preserved,” he wrote. 

Some successful elements of the system that might be retained include residential life staff working in close proximity to new-student dorms, a “team-based” and professional training approach to student res-life staffing, and faculty engagement in the commons, according to Doucet.

While the SLG is now tasked with deciding which of the final report’s recommendations to approve, the task of implementing the recommendations will ultimately fall on the residential life staff.

“Depending on which recommendations are ultimately accepted, such a transition plan could take several years to complete,” Doucet wrote. 

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