Monday, January 20, 1997

Opinion: Reconciliation begins

Published in the Mountainview

Middlebury College has run afoul of town officials and residents many times in the past two years. These were outlined in a Burlington Free Press editorial on Sunday 12 January 1997. That editorial outlined a plan for Middlebury College to again become the town's college, and for the town to again resume the role of the college's town. This entailed, in large part, slowing the pace of initiatives coming down the hill from the College and into town offices. The Free Press also argued that the College should open dialogue with town residents and officials, and return to a policy of harmony with the town, rather than its current policy of harming the town.

Last Tuesday night, 7 January 1997, evidence, however slight, appeared that the College is willing to open the dialogue again. At developer Myron Hunt's request, the College sponsored an open forum for dialogue about the use of the Maple Manor property. Residents were asked specifically to come with ideas for its use and development. This was not to be, and was not, a free-for-all against Mr. Hunt, the College, or development in general.

Numerous speakers discussed their own ideas, or those of others. Suggestions were brought up which Mr. Hunt no doubt found instructive. One can only hope that the College, by far the largest developer in town, was also listening. President McCardell was in attendance, as were David Ginevan, Ron Liebowitz, Don Wyatt, College Forester Steve Weber, Director of Public Affairs Philip Benoit, and numerous faculty and staff. Sadly, there were no students to be seen.

Principles discussed by town residents included the advice to "think small. It's time for a change after two hundred years." A conference center was suggested, which the College could certainly use as well as other local businesses and organizations. A park, suggested by several residents, would adhere to the intention Mr. Ginevan claimed in a letter to faculty and staff in August 1996, to "contribute to the greenway around Middlebury." A sporting field, also suggested as a complement to the MUJHS campus, would serve as a greenspace as well as a resource for all town residents.

Guiding principles requested by speakers included conformance with the Town Plan (not only a nicety, but required by law), "asking not what the town can do for the College, but what the College can do for the town," and enhancing the character and quality of the Rt. 7 South area in the vicinity of Key Bank. Mixed uses were suggested, based not only in thoughtful ideas but also in the mixed-use zoning criterion of the Village Residential-Commercial zoning desigation of the Maple Manor and adjoining property.

Criticism was voiced by several people, who complained that though the meeting was billed as a forum and introduced by President McCardell as a dialogue, there was no response from either Mr. Hunt or the College. This request was left unfulfilled. The next issue of the Addison Independent indicated that there would not be a continuation of dialogue from the College's point of view. President McCardell expressed his satisfaction that the College was no longer involved with the controversial issue, and could move on.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Middlebury College owns the land; the College must choose to sell the land or to develop it on its own. The College has decided to sell, but even in the act of selling may not shirk its fiduciary duties.

Now is the time to take advantage of positive momentum, the first positive momentum the College has had with the town public in two years. Now is the time for President McCardell and other officers of the College to walk down from the hill, as George Bush walked from Capitol Hill to the White House after his inauguration, to show that they are humble and human and trustworthy. The College has a unique window of opportunity, as the College Bicentennial approaches, to make town-College relations stronger than ever. To miss that opportunity would surely color the next two hundred years of the College's history. John McCardell is an historian. He would not want to be remembered as the man who forgot history. He has a chance today to change history for the better. We must encourage and support him in that effort.