Part+5%3A+Lost+in+Translation

Benjy Renton

Part 5: Lost in Translation

Benjy Renton

Opponents of the faculty motion claim that while budgetary motives are the stated reason for the opposition to MIIS, the real reasoning could lie in perceived cultural or prestige differences between the two schools. 

“A lot of the faculty on campus come from fairly elite backgrounds, to be honest. And for them, they think about the status of a school as being an indicator of the quality of the instruction. For those of us who went to all state schools, we don’t have that same sort of bias,” added Teets, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, a Master’s degree from The University of Chicago, and Master’s and PhD degrees from The University of Colorado. 

“I don’t want to come off as elitist. Just the fact is, Middlebury is a top five to top ten program … Monterey, I don’t even know everything it does,” said Swenton, who earned his undergraduate degree at The Ohio State University and his PhD from Princeton University. “I had never in my life heard of Monterey Institute until we acquired it. People have heard of Middlebury.”

Other terms have been used to describe what some see as an untenable gap in student experience between the missions and cultures of MIIS and Middlebury College. “As for ‘fit,’ at last spring’s faculty meeting, I was listening for programmatic reasons that the college should maintain its relationship with the institute, and all I heard were descriptions of two or three instances benefitting at most 50 college students in all,” Bremser said in an email to The Campus. 

Teets and Newhouse both disagree, arguing that the vocational training that MIIS provides can supplement the college’s own liberal arts education. 

“As valuable as a liberal arts education is, and as much as I will battle to keep the Middlebury College education as true to its core of humanities and liberal arts as it can be, students understand the need for practical training and to understand how to implement the education they get from the college,” Newhouse said. 

The institute’s own graduate education offerings have changed over the years. In 2019, after 37 years of offering an MBA program, MIIS abruptly shut it down after a prolonged decline in demand for the program.

Teets’ own professional work has given her opportunities to collaborate closely with faculty and staff at MIIS. In her view, it’s this collaboration that allows college faculty to fully realize the value of the institute, and the potential of their own research and academic pursuits in California. Programs like the One Middlebury Fund, which offers grants to faculty and staff across all of Middlebury’s holdings to encourage inter-campus collaboration and is allocated between $50,000 and $100,000 annually through a handful of restricted endowments, seek to strengthen and expand that collaboration. 

Sarah Bidgood, the CNS director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at MIIS, who was a recipient of the Fund in 2018, also noted that increased academic collaboration between the college and institute is key to the future of that relationship. 

“The point of the grant is to facilitate closer interaction between the two campuses,” Bidgood said, noting that there may be some bad feelings about the history of the relationship but that, under the present “Big M” Middlebury umbrella, programs like the fund are necessary instigators of inter-campus collaboration. 

“We have the opportunity to really do this integration the right way and to build these connections that are going to be really valuable to students,” she said. “If we’re going to do that, we need to find more ways to interact more regularly and, I think, more substantively, particularly as it applies to our work.”

From Swenton’s perspective, however, these very programs are the reason that he sees MIIS as an unsuccessful addition to Big M. 

“The faculty members who spoke up against the motion, with possibly no exception, were all people who had a vested interest in Monterey,” Swenton said, noting that these faculty members had done work for the School of the Environment, or been a recipient of the One Middlebury Fund or otherwise had interacted with MIIS. “For the college as a whole, I don’t think it really relates to our program as much as they’d like to make it sound.” 

Gracey Carroll ’22, who did a winter term internship at MIIS in 2020, found the experience to be one of the highlights of her time at Middlebury. “Being in an environment of intensive research and expertise was really life-changing and helped me to discover where I want my career to take me,” she said. “The sort of hands-on learning that I was able to do at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies was really different from the more theoretical classroom learning we do at Midd.”

Carroll says that she didn’t hear convincing arguments from proponents of breaking with MIIS, but she does believe that better communication with the schools could help bridge current tensions.

“Everyone I know who has tried to take classes at MIIS as an undergraduate has gone through bureaucratic hell in trying to make MIIS classes work on Middlebury’s terms, and I think the lack of cohesion between schools is a deterrent to students who would otherwise challenge themselves with courses at the graduate level,” she said.