Faculty considers Rehnquist, fundraising

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Kathryn Flagg

Addressing topics ranging from the controversial Rehnquist professorship to the College’s upcoming fundraising campaign, members of the Middlebury College faculty convened Monday for their monthly faculty meeting.

In what was the most enlivened debate of the meeting, Professor of Russian Kevin Moss addressed the faculty and announced a motion to reaffirm the College’s commitment to diversity despite the recent unveiling of the Justice William H. Rehnquist Professorship of American History and Culture.

“Here I am again,” said Moss, taking the podium. “I don’t long to be the person who gets up here and says these things. I want to express just how pained I am and a number of my other colleagues were.”

Moss contended that the Rehnquist professorship signals a strong affront to minorities on campus. In an interview he said, “A number of marginalized groups – lesbians and gay men, people of color, women – feel alienated by the decision to name a chair after a powerful figure who did a lot of real harm to us.”

Moss’s statement comes on the heels of widespread debate from students, faculty and staff about the appropriateness of the Rehnquist professorship, and precedes the predicted student protest slated for Friday afternoon outside of Old Chapel.

During his statement, Moss called for the College to examine and question the criteria for accepting an endowed chair, and challenged members of the faculty and administration to recognize the professorship as supportive of the “real discrimination” he sees embodied in Rehnquist’s decisions made during his time on the Court.

“Some minorities are not here and now in our position,” he said. “It irks me that our anger at Rehnquist’s real and on-the-record homophobia with huge repercussions for our community is met with denial, dismissal and stonewalling.”

Although Moss’s motion will not be voted on until the December faculty meeting, his statement drew support from several faculty members. The statement also garnered a cautious response from professors. Gamaliel Painter Bicentennial Professor of Physics Frank Winkler stressed that he was “uncomfortable with the idea of having politically motivated criteria by which we choose to accept or reject the gifts made to the College. It’s a slippery slope.”

Following Moss’s motion, President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz updated the faculty on the College’s current fundraising efforts, announcing an ambitious plan to raise around $500 million to fund the implementation of recommendations in the Strategic Plan. The Board of Trustees will likely set the final campaign goal by May, and Liebowitz later predicted that the campaign would have between $225 and $230 million in pledges by that time. He guessed that the campaign would go public after that point, most likely next fall.

During Monday’s meeting, he also announced two recent pledges from anonymous donors of $10 and $15 million, and revealed that a major goal of the upcoming campaign is to strengthen the financial aid endowment, which currently consists of $140 million of the College’s total endowment. Liebowitz stressed how this might affect the faculty, noting that the funding of faculty positions resonates with donors and alumni of the College.

Although the College has not officially launched the upcoming campaign, Liebowitz noted that the “silent phase” of any financial campaign is crucial to total fundraising. He explained that during this period, the College approaches top prospects for pledges and can expect to raise between 40 and 45 percent of its total goal.

In addition to addressing the Rehnquist professorship and College fundraising, the faculty examined a report from the Faculty Council considering amendments and alterations in language to the review process for physical education teachers and coaches. Associate Professor of Geography Pete Nelson spoke about potential “midstream” improvements to the review process, including outlining more specifically the requisite credentials for candidates and removing the Director of Athletics and the Dean of Student Affairs from the voting process for candidates.

The faculty also considered a brief report from the Educational Affairs Committee examining early strategies for tackling Strategic Plan recommendations and initiatives.

At the close of the meeting, following his fundraising update, Liebowitz also addressed admissions numbers for the fall, announcing the rise in the number of early decision applicants and encouraging professors to take part in the admissions process.

The faculty will convene again in December to consider, among other items on the agenda, Moss’s motion for reaffirming the College’s commitment to diversity.