Faculty member advocates Middlebury let go of Monterey institute

By RAIN JI

COURTESY OF THE MIIS
Middlebury formally acquired its Monterey institute in 2010 after a five-year affiliation agreement.

Professor of Mathematics Frank Swenton submitted a Sense of the Faculty Motion prior to the faculty meeting last Friday, recommending that Middlebury release the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) from the college. In it, he alleges the college has been forced to cut down on health benefits and staff positions to balance the deficit caused by the institute. Swenton claims that the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the financial situation.

An earlier version of Swenton’s motion alleged that around half of the college’s current deficit “stems directly from MIIS.” However, after a Campus reporter asked him about this point, Swenton said he suspects the current deficit estimates do not account for losses from Monterey, and removed that sentence from his motion. Swenton also pointed out that MIIS costs accounted for $5.3 million of the college’s total $10.5 million deficit in 2018, information that can be found in the minutes record of a Special Faculty Plenary meeting held in November of that year.

“The College will fail to meet its budget this year by an estimated $17 million, and severe cuts are unavoidable,” reads the new version. College Treasurer David Provost said in an April 7 email to faculty that the college would see “a total revenue shortfall related to COVID-19 of $17.3 million” in the 2020 fiscal year.

Swenton connected his claims about cutting down on health benefits to the new insurance plans that were offered this fall, but Provost did not not mention anything about cuts in benefits. Provost has said that the college’s budget advisory committee will meet to discuss potential recommendations to ameliorate losses — for example, the administration will ask department heads to consider expense reductions and has already implemented a hiring freeze for all staff positions. These efforts come a year after the college wrapped up its year-long workforce planning effort, which was spearheaded to reduce the college’s then-shrinking deficit. That process saw staff at both the college and the institute take voluntary buyouts.

Due to time restraints, the motion was not formally introduced last Friday. It is likely that it will be discussed at the upcoming faculty meeting this Friday as unfinished business, following the vote on the mandatory credit/no credit grading policy proposal.

Faculty of the college opposed affiliation with the institute from the outset. A vote in April 2005 to acquire the institute was met with strong opposition — 80 faculty opposed the acquisition, 21 endorsed it and 15 abstained from voting. Despite faculty protests, Middlebury formally acquired the institute in 2010, after a five-year affiliation agreement.

“In my dream world, the Trustees and Administration would take a long, hard look at MIIS and finally do something about it,” Swenton wrote in an email to The Campus. However, he is aware that the proposal might not be enough to change their minds, since he said the numbers and statistics he presents are already known by the administration.

The Sense of the Faculty Motion does not have any binding effects — Dean of Faculty Sujata Moorti said such a motion is instead meant to”register faculty sentiment about a particular topic.” But Swenton said he still hopes that the proposal can demonstrate to the administration Middlebury professors are paying attention.

“The faculty technically have no power in these decisions, yet we’re the ones having to shoulder the consequent burden via cuts in benefits, staff, ” he wrote.

While this is the first time Swenton has submitted a formal proposal on this issue, the relationship between the institute and the college has been on his mind for a while. At the November 2018 faculty meeting, Swenton questioned whether the allocations as presented are a true representation of the situation. According to the minutes record, he said, “Isn’t that money that would have been for Middlebury?”