Friday, December 6, 1996

Opinion: Price Chopper episode should be a lesson to College

Published in the Mountainview

The big decision has come; the town and College alike now know that there will not, at least for the moment, be a Price Chopper where the Maple Manor now stands. The College's sale of the land was undertaken because the current use of the land "does not contribute to a greenway around Middlebury" (from an August letter from College Treasurer David Ginevan to the faculty and staff). That sale will not be to Myron Hunt, the College alumnus who also owns the A&P/Ames shopping center. Hours after the Planning Commission's decision was made public, he withdrew his application, which is seen to indicate that he will not appeal the decision.

As the Addison Independent's recent editorial and Sunday's Burlington Free Press noted, there was a significant opposition by town residents, and the work of Citizens For Middlebury cannot go unrecognized. Both pieces also noted the general discontent in the town regarding the College's ownership of the parcel. But this is not a time for recriminations.

Instead, in our collective relief, we must make certain the College is never involved in another similar dispute. The Price Chopper controversy placed the College in the position of having to get rid of a piece of property which was costing the College money. However, the highest - perhaps the only - bidder required the College to part from its time-worn path of respect for the community and the environment. This must never happen again.

The College walks a fine line with the town, and subscribes to higher goals and standards than mere zoning ordinances. This is an academic institution driving to be "the college of choice" for the 21st century. Every move we undertake must be with that purpose in mind; we must not forget that what affects the town affects the College, and vice versa.

The College must in every decision, at all levels, look to the mission and goals of the institution and ask whether the proposed action furthers those goals or hinders them. We must interpret our reality through the ideals to which we hold ourselves. If we see that something is a threat to the College or the community, we must immediately act against it. Good citizenship means not waiting for the venue of last resort to expunge a threat to the community.

I caution the reader: the ideas of development in the Price Chopper proposal are not gone from Middlebury. Hunt himself owns town property; other parcels of land are tempting to other developers, including the College.

It is clear, however, that Middlebury residents care about their town and the land in and around it. The College must take advantage of this resource and gain information about others' ideas for the land owned by the College.

The College must, of course, make the final decision regarding what to propose to the town for College land. If the design process, before a proposal, is inclusive of all interested parties, on and off campus, greater understanding will be achieved, and faster progress had towards better goals. That is the highest goal of any educational institution.

I will not question here the ability of the current administration. I will, however, point to them a way of planning which will prevent them from being surprised by a negative reaction to a new plan. Hearing all sides is an excellent beginning. The College must, however, maintain the moral high ground, open its mind and blueprints more than anyone, and subject its ideas to the light of discussion and evaluation which is the heart of the academic experience.

We all know that this is a critical time in the College's history. On it rests the value of the Middlebury degree, for all students, current, past, and future. On it rests the reputation of the Middlebury name in academia and the business world. And it all depends on what we can do today, together: alumni, students, faculty, staff, administrators, townspeople.

We must all look to the good of the community before we undertaken any action; we must cease any detrimental action before it starts. That is our fiduciary responsibility to each other and ourselves.

Alumni profile: Ashby's reflections on times past

Published in the Mountainview

Carolyn Ashby '94 says she "just didn't move" when she graduated from Middlebury. She did, however, leave the "familial" Russian department, in which she had majored. She worked for and studied with members of the Russian and East European Studies faculty, but is adamant that she majored in Russian. She found the department a tightly knit, "funky little community" and enjoyed learning as well as singing with the Russian Choir. "It was an experience," she laughs, meaning not only the choir's tour of Russia, but also of her college career as a whole.

During the autumn of 1994, Ashby taught at Mount Abraham Union High School, and then "was unemployed for a very long time." She then spent what she calls "a very short stint" at the Kingsland Bay School, working with troubled young women. She has recently heard that most of those she worked with have now left KBS and started more positive chapters of their lives.

Ashby moved on too, working as a temporary retail employee at the Frog Hollow Arts Center in Middlebury. Shortly thereafter, the operations manager left, and she began working with the inventory. In August, she became the operations manager, dealing with inventory, shipping, and computer systems.

This spring, Ashby started working with Youth Aware, a local group for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. She said the group has about 3 high school students who attend gatherings regularly, along with "bunches of college students." Ashby is one of the people who have taken a lead planning role in the group. They are working on offering one event each week, rotating between a coffee house, a movie night, planning meetings, and a support group primarily aimed at high school students. Right now, the events are held in the Ilsley Library, though the group is looking at other locations around town. The support group is not yet active, due to a lack of training of potential facilitators. The group also hopes to be able to offer to local schools' guidance departments on gay and lesbian issues.

Despite her happiness with her job and her volunteer activity, Ashby says she finds living in the area very difficult, as a College alum. She is disturbed by the College's actions in recent years. She notes that nearly all of the Middlebury students she knows are leaving, or are taking time off from their studies, which Ashby blames on the general College atmosphere.

"It is not a good situation," she says. "At issue are the basic needs of the students. They need a functioning residential system, a useable library, and student opinion can only be asked for and then ignored for so long. It is approaching a critical point," she warns. An open critic of the College, she sees a disparity between what administrators say and what they do. She foresees massive student departures and falling enrollment. "Visitors will talk to students and know that nobody is happy, and they will not come." Ashby notes that many students have no respect for the administration, and remembers the same feeling in the student body her freshman year; she says the problem has been present for a long time and has worsened with age.

Ashby further argues that the state of the College and its plans for the future run the risk of alienating alumni who are unhappy with the changes. "The money supply will stop," she says. She knows she is taking a harsh position but has seen nothing to convince her she should hold any other.

Ashby has not forgotten her Russian - indeed, her dog Kayli responds to commands in both English and Russian - and is hoping to return to Russia at some point in the next couple of years. She is looking to work with arts organizations similar to Frog Hollow, because "there is such fabulous stuff being made over there, but there's no outlet except exploitative exporters." She says that she will probably go to graduate school, "when I'm tired of working," but doesn't see that happening for another 4 or 5 years. Beyond that, she says, it's anybody's guess.

Wednesday, November 27, 1996

Alumni profile: Newell bakes her way through life

Published in the Mountainview

I found Martha Newell in her bakery, in the basement of her home in Shoreham. She let me interview her while the honey oat bread was baking. When I asked what the most important thing about her Middlebury College experience was, she grinned. First was friendships formed throughout her four years at Middlebury. Second was her department, Geography.

She spoke admiringly about the department, faculty and students alike. The faculty realized and valued, she said, that students had lives outside of the department. The students brought their lives into the academic realm, making her education a demanding mix of practical and theoretical. "They didn't coddle us at all," Newell says. "I did C work, and I got a C."

She admits that what she is doing now has little to do with her academic discipline, but everything to do with the life she had outside academia, which she was able to integrate into her studies.

During summers in high school, and in the autumn before her February arrival at Middlebury, Newell worked as a cook at the Outward Bound School near her home in Bethel, Maine. There, preparation of wholesome food was coupled with individual responsibility.

She worked two college summers on the Camden, Maine schooner Mary Day. She not only learned to sail, but also cooked three meals a day for 35 people, over wood. "It was intense," Newell says. "I was the cook. I had only one person to help me." She had free rein over the entire menu and a captive audience for experimentation and feedback. "[The crew] knew what I'd made before, and told me what they thought." She did not have control over the boat, however, and tells a dizzying story of trying to cook while the boat was thrashing wildly in rough water. "I said, 'I'm trying to cook down here and you're up there dipping the siderails!'"

Obviously unsunk, Newell spent a semester at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's SEA Semester program. During that time, Newell learned that two friends (both Middlebury '93) were selling their bakery. The idea of owning a wholesale local bakery was exciting, but she was unwilling to undertake such a task alone. She also "couldn't see the light at the end of the college tunnel" and so remained uncommitted.

In November 1994, Newell spoke with her friend Martha Love and brought up the bakery. Love said, half-seriously, "I'd do that." In August 1995, the pair bought the bakery. The newly renamed Two Marthas' Breads baked for the 1995 holiday season, and began "in earnest" the day after Newell graduated, in February 1996.

She opens the oven, checks the loaves, and continues. Newell describes the opportunity to buy the bakery as "the right opportunity with the right person at the right time; I couldn't pass it up." She had not previously thought of staying in the area after graduation, and still misses the ocean and sailing. She is, however, learning business skills and enjoys the challenge of finding her bearings with her business partner, Love.

She turns to begin cutting and weighing raisin walnut dough, and shapes it into loaves as she speaks. The bakery is an active community participant, providing breads to local businesses and the Middlebury Farmer's Market. Newell loves providing fresh, good bread to the community and contextualizes the bakery's role in a return to an older style of shopping, where shoppers go to different purveyors for different foods, instead of today's "Grand Union style" supermarket.

Newell's experience with the community as a student at Middlebury was "fairly limited," but through her business, especially the summer-only Farmer's Market, she interacts with a large cross-section of the community.

Without looking at a clock, she knows the bread in the oven is done, and removes it as I ask her about softball. Newell plays in the Middlebury summer co-ed league. She played softball in college, and enjoyed the opportunity to play on a team during the summer. On her team were league founder David Weedman, local media personality Jeff Kaufman, and a former head writer for the "Guiding Light" soap opera, among others from across the county.

She is connected fairly closely to the College: the Crest Room and the Gamut Room are clients, and she uses the library and goes to movies shown on campus.

Newell envisions a number of things in her future. She may bake for a while. "I do love this ... it's such a great experience." She does miss the ocean, though, and may work on boats. She stresses that she is not leaving now, and has visions of having "a cool coffee shop" with her baked goods on the counter, but acknowledges that such a business "is a commitment of a different sort."

Newell has achieved a fascinating level of understanding with bread, and is "constantly surprised by the process." She says, "you can control the bread and make it do things you want, but there is a point at which you have to abandon control and let the bread do its thing. The most important elements of the process are time and careful observation." As she puts the loaves onto a baking sheet and turns to the oven, she laughs, "Nothing is ever routine about my life."

Wednesday, November 20, 1996

Alumni profile: From hockey to education: Bell gives it all

Published in the Mountainview

Elizabeth Bell arrived in Middlebury in February 1989, and has neither stopped learning nor teaching since. A psychology major with a concentration in elementary education, she played lacrosse and ice hockey in Middlebury jerseys. She says the most important things about her experience at Middlebury were her friendships and connections to the town community.

Active in programs for children since arriving, she says she felt much more like a resident of the town of Middlebury than a student at the College. She speaks fondly of her sophomore and junior years, when she "could walk through town and know - at least by face - nearly everyone."

She became more involved in the Mountain Club in autumn 1992, and spread her contagious good cheer there as well.

Upon her graduation in February 1993, she journeyed west but soon returned, arriving in Middlebury that May to spend the summer working at the Mary Johnson Children's Center.

She spent autumn in her Teacher Education professional semester teaching at the Cornwall Elementary School. At the end of 1993 she moved to Washington, D.C. to teach kindergarten. The following summer she taught English as a Second Language to international students at the Fay School, a boarding school outside Boston.

In autumn 1994, Bell began a master's program at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. It was a one-year program which also certified her to teach at the elementary level. As part of her graduate program, she taught at a Northampton school.

Last autumn she began her first job with her own classroom, in Clarendon, Vt. This year she is teaching first grade at the Barstow School in Chittenden, and lives in Cornwall.

She has a "beautiful" forty minute community which provides the opportunity to rehearse her day's plans before arriving at school. Though she works long hours (leaving home at 6 am and returning sometimes after 7 pm), the drive also permits her to clear her mind before returning home to her housemate, friends, and her dog Fern.

Bell loves Vermont, though admitting that if she had not gone to Middlebury she would probably not be here now. She returned to Vermont after graduating from Smith because her own classroom was a positive step along her career path. She is now thinking of moving west, to Colorado or California, to be near family, with whom she is very close. She talks animatedly about seeing her brother and sister more often. At the same time, however, Bell expresses concern about the state of education, particularly in California. A recent California state mandate would force Bell to give up part of her teaching philosophy to be allowed to teach there. All is not lost, as she notes: another recent California initiative provides state funding to schools which attempt to lower their student-teacher ratios.

Bell is also concerned with the state of education closer to her present home. Last year, when Middlebury College's Teacher Education program was embroiled in controversy, Bell returned to campus to speak with the review committee. She is enthusiastic about the opportunities Middlebury's Teacher Education program has available. She appreciates that the Center for the Arts and Starr Library are specific College facilities which are open to both local teachers and alumni. "I'm glad we're welcome here," she says. She adds that because the College draws an intellectual community, the schools in the area are excellent; student teachers have access to experienced, capable teachers who love what they do. Bell cites her own experience as an example. During her student teaching at Cornwall, she was able to collaborate with other teachers, and even team-teach with other student teachers in the school. She finds Vermont's educational climate less inclined to have "knee-jerk" political reactions to educational programs, and notes Vermont's traditional position as a leader in educational innovation.

Bell's latest contribution to the community is an attempt to organize a regular pond hockey game, demonstrating her continuing desire to have more fun, learn, and teach. Of her demanding profession, she says, "It's all worth it when you see their smiling faces and talk to them and learn from them."

Opinion: Gun control vs. crime control

Published in the Mountainview

On NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning, November 10, 1996, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said that gun control was an issue he would like to bring up again in the next session of Congress. His primary reason for this, he said, is that people need guns to protect themselves.

Aside from the oft-quoted statistic that people are more likely to be hurt with their own firearms than to use the successfully in self-defense, there are serious flaws with Sen. Lott's opinion.

But if people "need" these weapons to defend themselves, and "to feel safe" (which was his second reason for reducing legal controls on guns), we must explore the reasons for this. Why do people feel unsafe in their own homes? I will assume for the moment that large numbers of Americans are at this moment cowering behind sofas, with stereos blasting, attempting to allay their fears that "jackbooted thugs" are about to kick in the door.

People feel unsafe in their own homes because they are unsafe in their own homes. News report after news report warns us that convicted killers are on the loose (as was true after a northern New York prison break this summer). We also hear of burglary rings, shootings like the sobering and saddening accident last spring at the Otterside Apartments in Middlebury, and drug problems. Read even the police blotter in the Addison County Independent and you will see all of these problems are prevalent in Vermont as well as many other areas of the country.

Bob Dole contributed his idea for the legalization of guns. "Instant Check" was the name of his system of doing immediate background checks on prospective gun buyers. At present, this process takes seven days. Dole suggested that anyone who wanted a weapon should be able to buy one and leave the story with it immediately, as if he had purchased a gallon of milk. His proposal ignored the black market for firearms which relieves criminals of their need to buy guns from legal gun dealers. This black market prevents criminals from facing a background check at all, and provides them access to weapons only U.S. military personnel can carry legally.

Neither of these men - the current and immediate past Senate majority leaders - have come up with any other ways to make people feel safe in their own homes. Neither has suggested that President Clinton's idea to put 100,000 more police on America's streets was an effective crime-fighting initiative. Neither has suggested that we take the money we would spend on gun lobbying and implementing gun controls, and interdict illegal weapons shipments into and around the country. The New York Times reported last year that over three-quarters of America's illegal weapons are transported on "the Iron Road," Interstate 95 between Washington, D.C. and Boston.

We could spend less money more effectively fighting illegal gun traffic than we can implementing a legal system for gun purchase. We are very far behind the rest of our trade partners in this arena. This autumn, the United Kingdom, in response to last year's massacre of schoolchildren in Dunblane, Scotland, made it nearly imposible for any adult to own firearms. U.K. police need special permits and intensive training to carry weapons, even in the execution of their professional duties.

We are in a country where the police are heavily armed, ambulance crews purchase their own bulletproof vests as self-insurance, and where the people are still afraid in their own homes. With the assault weapons ban and the Brady Bill, we have created a functioning national system which ensures that anyone who attempts to buy a gun legally will undergo proper scrutiny before being allowed to leave a gun shop with weapons. We now need to take on this issue of illegal weapons. We need national leadership against criminal use of weapons and against weapons smuggling. The intransigence of the national leadership to recognize this shortfall in American domestic crime policy is staggering.

Thursday, November 14, 1996

Opinion: Be proud of the diversity in our community

Published in the Mountainview

At Convocation, incoming students are made "welcome to the Middlebury community," and then, moments later, assured that the next time they are in one place with all of the members of their class will be at Commencement. Is this group a true community? They will meet twice in four years, and never with all of the other Middlebury students, staff, and faculty. Can, as the Admissions Office hopes, this community not only exist but be diverse? Diversity, rooted in differences, and community, based in similarities, seem contradictory goals, though each has its own merits.

Middlebury has a broader diversity than might appear at first blush. While many people would remark upon the pervading "whiteness" of the student body, there are many members of minority groups and international students at Middlebury who broaden the range of cultural experience. Even among the white students on campus, there is diversity. A man from Brooklyn very likely has a background dissimilar to that of a woman from Iowa.

Middlebury also has more community than we might think. Many people see in disagreement a lack of community. "How can someone who thinks so differently from me be part of the same community" they ask. People begin to define an "us" and a "them." This threatens to split the group, but instead brings them closer to each other, and further encircles them within the same bounds of community which they wish to escape.

Disparate viewpoints form a community by strict adherence to the same rules of discourse. In the recent presidential campaign, Bob Dole's onslaught of negativity led many voters to believe he was playing from a different rule book than they were. This hurt him, even though he made some valid criticisms of Bill Clinton's record.

We must not get confused between "commune" and "community," though the two words are related. A "sense of community" only requires everyone to play by the same rules, whether they agree or disagree. A "sense of commune" connotes a softly-lit meadow of ideas in which all members of a tightly-knit group sit quietly talking, thinking, observing butterflies, and agreeing unanimously on all things.

The commune is anything but diverse. A community, however, must be diverse; indeed if it is not diverse, it can be described as a commune. Diversity informs community members of viewpoints and ways of thinking which are not their own. A community which is cognizant of itself in a larger context is a stronger community than one which is unaware of its surroundings.

At college, as at no other time in your life, you are forced to live among a group of people many of whom disagree quite fundamentally with your own views. Further, because the institution imposes a framework to which all participants must subscribe, everyone is required to play by the same set of rules.

This available diversity permits students to take advantage of others' experiences which would not be accessible elsewhere. The world outside Middlebury is diverse; in light of Middlebury's task to educate you to operate in that world, diversity is one of the best educational tools available.

The sense of community which Middlebury creates is at least a place where the participants cherish diversity and endeavor to learn from it. This is one of the common precepts which members of the Middlebury community embrace. Diversity can, indeed, be a foundation of community.

Not everyone at Middlebury does, can, or even should agree. With widespread agreement diversity disappears. What of the community which does not respect diversity? In Afghanistan, Taliban fighters recently took over Kabul and imposed ancient Islamic law on all inhabitants. Taliban troops can arrest, and even kill, a woman who goes to a job she held before the town was captured. What was previously a city successfully walking the precarious line between Muslim tradition and western commerce is not caught in the grasp of an intolerant power. The risk of lack of respect of diversity is rarely so clear, or so costly.

The danger at Middlebury is more insidious for its comparative invisibility. The community must be diverse to be strong, and all participants must adhere to one guiding rule: diversity is valuable.