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.