First trustee meeting addresses ‘BLUEprint’ commons system changes, student-faculty relationship and more

By RILEY BOARD

In its first meeting of the academic year, the College Board of Trustees and its various committees discussed changes to the commons system, student-faculty relationships, future funding campaigns and enrollment at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). 

When they visited campus, the more than 30 current trustees who serve on the board mingled with staff and students and discussed the board’s agenda. The board votes on proposals for budgetary changes that fall “outside of the normal process,” according to President Laurie Patton.

Patton recently wrote an installment for the SLG (Senior Leadership Group) Corner column that elaborated on the responsibilities and goals of trustees. Although board meetings are not open to the public and their content is confidential, Patton and Board Chair George Lee ’88 spoke to The Campus about the focus and structure of the most recent meeting. 

“We meet in Wilson Hall, the boardroom, the library and while walking with each other through campus,” Patton and Lee said in a joint email to The Campus. “Board members met with students, faculty, and staff as well.” They noted that after the meetings, many board members attend athletic games or spend time in town. 

For their October retreat, the board had four days of meetings, stretching from Wednesday to Saturday. Their two other yearly meetings, in the winter and spring, are each a day shorter. 

A focus of the most recent meeting was BLUEprint, the residential life model developed in response to the How Will We Live Together report. This includes shifts in the structure of the commons system, like removing five separate commons in favor of two first-year “clusters,” establishing Hepburn Hall as first-year housing and the Ross complex as sophomore housing, as well as preliminary talks on a new student center. 

Trustees did not vote on the changes to the commons system because, budgetarily, it is an evolution of the current system; however, they did hear presentations from Residential Life staff and ask questions about the changes. 

In this case, Patton and Lee said, it was the Trustees’ job to “ask us challenging questions and hear updates on our progress.”

“The trustees were very positive and endorsed our directions,” Patton and Lee said of the conversations about BLUEprint, which was subsequently announced to students in an all-campus email. “They gave us an overall endorsement of our directions and we are excited about moving forward.”

Student Government Association (SGA) President Varsha Vijayakumar serves as the student constituent overseer to the College Board of Overseers, which functions like a committee within the Board of Trustees. This past weekend was her first time serving formally in this role, although she attended last spring’s meeting because of her position on the SGA. 

“It’s refreshing to attend these meetings because you realize very quickly that they really do care — they care about how to make Middlebury feel more like a home for all students,” Vijayakumar said. “They care about the biggest issues facing our campus community, and most importantly, they care about developing tangible solutions to these problems.” 

Vijayakumar cannot vote in meetings, but she expresses student voices and opinions through her position. 

The CBO also discussed adding a second student constituent at last weekend’s meeting, according to Vijayakumar. The SGA first introduced a bill to do just that in April 2018, although the suggestion was ultimately not upheld. Vijayakumar noted that her presence at the meeting allowed a student perspective in an otherwise hypothetical conversation. 

“Being there allowed me to ground some of the arguments in favor of the initiative in ways that wouldn’t necessarily have been possible had I not been present,” she said. 

In addition to the student constituent, a faculty constituent and staff constituent also attended the CBO meeting and made recommendations. These roles are filled by History Professor Bill Hart and Associate Vice President for Advancement Operations Jami Black, respectively. 

“My role is to listen carefully and to offer faculty perspectives, plural, on any given issue, such as curricular matters, or student internships, or faculty mentoring, or student financial aid, or on inclusivity and diversity, two key touch stones at the core of the College’s mission,” Hart said. “I and most of the faculty find these issues critically important for the full educational experience of Middlebury College students.”

Other topics discussed at the meeting included the faculty-student relationship and a fundraising initiative called the “Comprehensive Campaign,” which involves raising money for the college through campaigns focused on “themes that are part of Middlebury’s future,” according to Patton and Lee.

“We are particularly excited about themes of data literacy, increasing our global network, and creating a more cohesive student experience,” they said. 

Within the Board of Trustees are several committees, like the Resources Committee, which deals with the college budget. Resources does a deep dive into the college’s finances at every meeting, according to Patton and Lee. After the workforce planning efforts of last year, the college has managed to reduce its deficit without formally laying off any employees, although the process has left many feeling “voiceless and overworked,” according to The Campus’ coverage of unionization efforts.

Last January, the board unanimously voted to divest from fossil fuels, and to create the broader Energy 2028 initiative, in response to years of student activism.

Correction: A previous version of this article conflated the College Board of Trustees and the College Board of Overseers, a committee within that board. 

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