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The College and the Institute

A look inside Middlebury’s complicated relationship with Monterey

Nonproliferation, economic diplomacy and localization management are terms seldomly heard on the college’s Vermont campus.

But 2,500 miles away on the coast of California, more than 600 graduate students and hundreds of faculty and staff research these very topics at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies (MIIS), an establishment as deeply institutionally intertwined with the college as its Schools Abroad or Bread Loaf School of English.

In 2005, Middlebury College’s then-President Ronald Liebowitz floated the idea of affiliating the college with the Monterey Institute, as it was known at the time. The institute was a graduate school founded in 1955 with a focus on foreign languages that evolved to include programs in areas like international policy, translation studies and terrorism studies. In 2003, it was placed on probation by its accreditation institute because of a pattern of operating deficits.

A 2005 Faculty Council vote about the possible acquisition of the institute overwhelmingly opposed the idea, with nearly 80% voting against acquisition. Liebowitz and the Board of Trustees pursued an affiliation anyway, at which point the college absorbed the institute’s debts and assets. Five years later — in 2010 — the college officially acquired MIIS, and by 2015, the school was renamed The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Over the last 15 years, administrators have made extensive efforts to bring the two institutions closer together. They’ve created funds to encourage inter-campus interaction, promoted collaboration between faculty and created opportunities for undergraduates to study away at MIIS. However, relations between MIIS and the college remain disjointed, partially as a result of their separate histories but manifesting more recently in financial concerns.

In April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic intensified, Middlebury’s faculty gathered to vote on the Sense of the Faculty Motion submitted by college Professor of Mathematics Frank Swenton recommending detaching MIIS from the college. The motion was spurred by fears of impending financial challenges resulting from the pandemic. Swenton believed disconnecting the schools was the most effective immediate step in avoiding risk of cuts to salaries and services at the Vermont campus.

The motion sparked renewed debate in both Vermont and California about the place of MIIS in the college’s mission. In this series, we explore the forces, people, events and decisions that led to the relationship between the schools, the sentiments that persist at both institutions and visions for the future of the relationship.

Click through the parts below to read more.

Part 1: An Unstable Spring
Part 2: California Dreamin’
Part 3: Show Me The Money
Part 4: Making Waves Out West
Part 5: Lost in Translation
Part 6: Looking Ahead
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The College and the Institute