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.