Community Council Update

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On Tuesday, April 19, the Community Council began with a brief update regarding the election of David Pesqueira ’17 as the Council’s next Student Co-Chair. Tiff Chang ’17.5 cited Pesqueira’s work with Midd Included and on the SGA’s Educational Affairs Committee as indicators of the issues he will hopefully bring to Council’s agenda.

Later in the meeting, several Council members provided updates on projects they had been focusing on. Associate Dean of Students for Residential and Student Life Douglas Adams shared several brief suggestions regarding Winter Carnival — namely, to reinstate Friday classes that week while retaining all of the Carnival’s extracurricular activities.

“In return, you get an academic calendar that flows correctly,” Adams said. “You get faculty members who can teach their Friday class and not have to teach an immediate Friday class again on Monday … Right now, statistically speaking, students aren’t attending the activities that they’re taking the day off for.”

While Adams’s proposal received some pushback, particularly from student members, the Council plans to return again to the subject.

Next, Ethan Brady ’18 gave an update on his proposal to increase transparency at Board of Trustee Meetings. His multi-part proposal, which he has discussed with President of the College Laurie L. Patton, includes calls for all-student emails summarizing all trustee meetings, and the addition of a second student member of the College’s Board of Overseers.

Brady shared that President Patton was enthusiastic about measures to increase transparency, but cautioned that some may not support an additional student member. Some Council members worried that the trustees might censor important aspects of their meetings, but others expressed less concern.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually feel that there are issues that students don’t need to be privy to,” Emma Bliska ’18 said. “The Board of Trustees handles a lot more than Middlebury’s campus … students are only here for four years, and we can’t expect to know everything about this institution to the extent that the trustees do.”

Before the Council acts on his recommendation, Brady plans to speak further with President Patton and Assistant to the President Dave Donahue.

Finally, Bliska presented data to the Council pertaining to a survey on protected breaks that had recently been emailed to students.

According to Bliska’s data, over 95 percent of respondents reported having had “major assignments” due over a school break. An identical percentage felt that these assignments interfered with their enjoyment of breaks.

Bliska then shared the varying opinions of several faculty and students regarding the possible institution of protected breaks — that is, a ban on giving major assignments during a break or due within the immediate aftermath of a break.

“The purpose of this policy is not to micromanage little details, but rather to instigate a cultural shift in the way we think about breaks,” Bliska said. “The policy would bring really good visibility and exposure to the fact that students and faculty alike don’t really consider breaks to be times where we prioritize our mental health.”

Bliska said she will meet with administrators in the near future to further discuss the idea.

On Tuesday. April 26, the Council welcomed Dan Detora, Executive Director of Food Services, to discuss the possibility of expanding faculty access to dining halls.

Detora revealed that the College’s current program, which allows faculty or staff to eat with students once per week, has proved popular, exceeding its $5,000 budget in each of the past two years.

Expanding faculty access, Detora said, could cause problems in terms of both cost and crowds – according to a study conducted last year, the participation rate for lunch at on-campus dining halls is 103 percent.

“Our capacity at the dining halls is really at a max,” Detora concluded.

Detora noted, however, that breakfast hours are significantly less busy, and that expanded access during the morning could be more realistic.

Still, some students and faculty expressed reservations; Ramachandran wondered if expanding faculty access could harm student autonomy.

“As much as I love all my professors and want to see them all the time, I feel like dining halls are a space for students to chill,” he said. “I’m all for professors getting coffee and community-building, but holding that student space is difficult.”

Afterward, Bliska gave an update regarding her protected breaks proposal. Having met with Vice President for Academic Affairs/Dean of the Faculty Andi Lloyd, Dean of Curriculum Suzanne Gurland and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott, Bliska said that support for her proposal was generally strong.

“We came to the conclusion that this will be discussed by the senior leadership group,” she said, with the likely result being an opt-in or pilot program that could eventually become policy if successful.

The Council ultimately voted unanimously to approve Bliska’s recommendation.

Finally, the Council conlcuded with a brief discussion of President Patton’s recent alteration to the campus pet policy. Some staff members have voiced displeasure at the prospect of cleaning up after the dogs of facuty despite not being allowed to keep pets of their own, and plan to discuss the issue further with President Patton.

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