Monday, February 3, 1997

Opinion: Administrative malaise

Published in the Mountainview

Two recent, seemingly separate actions by Middlebury College, one internal, and one public, have drawn attention to the changes planned for the future of the College. There is significant concern among students, alumni, staff, faculty, and local residents about these changes; these concerns are well-founded and deserve clear, direct responses from College administration officials.

The first, an internal event, is the termination of the Sig Ep social house. The circumstances surrounding this event are serious, and demonstrate tremendous culpability on the part of all involved, including potential negligence by College officials. Over the years, single-sex fraternities have been driven off-campus and underground; now it appears that co-ed social houses will face the same fate. Current students complain that the specter of the Commons system as the only source of social events is bleak. The major criticism of the Commons system, and indeed of recent changes in the social house system, is that small, specialized groups are forced into all-inclusiveness. This ruins a sense of common identity which first fraternities, and then social houses, felt within themselves and used to distinguish themselves from the other houses on campus.

I am not suggesting that we return to the days of discrimination, sexual harassment, and worse. I am, however, suggesting that the opposite of discrimination, all-inclusiveness, has clearly not solved the deeper social problems of sexual politics and intoxicated misconduct. The College's attempt at a "quick fix" has failed. Social houses, Commons, and academic interest houses will always have deeper societal problems until the College takes them on directly.

This in no way absolves students of responsibility or accountability; it does, however, place the College in its proper role: a model of behavior and community participation and improvement. At this time, the College has abdicated that role.

The second event, the College's master plan, recently conditionally approved by the town Planning Commission, further indicates College abandonment of responsibility. The first major blemish on the plan is the priority given to renovation of Starr Library: in the third tier, to begin within five years. For a College with almost an entire top administration made up of faculty members, this is a tragic flaw. The library is in drastic need of renovation immediately; the mold on the first floor in 1994-1995 was only the beginning of the end for a building which still lacks a proper ventilation/climate control system.

The administration has forgotten what, above all else, makes Middlebury attractive to students: academics. President McCardell has declared that this will be the "college of choice" in the twenty-first century. By deciding that the library will not be renovated until two years into that century, he has doomed that goal to ignominious failure. He has taken a decisive action to decrease the value of every Middlebury degree ever granted, including those to be conferred this weekend, and in May.

President McCardell and his administration are the employees of every student and every graduate. We employ them to keep the value of a Middlebury degree at its peak. He asks, "What does it mean to have gone to Middlebury?" The answer, all too soon, will be, "A very large tuition bill and a meaningless piece of parchment from an institution whose reputation is at its nadir."

Executive Vice President and College Treasurer David Ginevan has written of the College's fiduciary duty towards its land. He and his colleagues have neglected to consider its fiduciary duty towards its alumni and to its students.

Administrative neglect is rampant at Middlebury. It is a time when it is difficult for the trustees to make significant changes in the administration: we are halfway through a major $100 million capital campaign for the College's bicentennial. Yet the trustees must see that the damage being done to the College at present will be almost impossible to reverse. Action must be taken now, before our degree values plummet at the same time as tuition and enrollment skyrocket. Students must refuse to acknowledge an administration which is doing them nothing but disservice. Students must demand that change occur immediately. Alumni must support the students in their efforts, and contact their friends and colleagues to ensure the success of this initiative.