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Sunday, Dec 4, 2022

Keep Professor Povitz

Dear President Patton,

Professor Lana Povitz has had a transformative impact on our lives since she joined our community in the fall of 2018. Her courses focus on the histories and legacies of liberation struggles in the United States, including Black and Jewish radical traditions, and movements for sexual freedom and gender justice. A passionate and enthusiastic educator, she supports students in becoming not only critical thinkers, but, just as importantly, critical actors in ongoing struggles for justice.  

Due to Professor Povitz’s tenuous status as a Visiting Professor, she has been forced to look for other positions with more job security. We are now in danger of losing Professor Povitz to the University of Montreal, where she has been offered a tenure-track position. The effects of this loss on our campus would simply be unfathomable. We are asking you to take swift action to match Professor Povitz’s tenure-track offer so that she is able to remain at Middlebury.

We are living through a wave of escalated antisemitic white supremacist violence. In the wake of the deadly Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh and defacement of the Addison County Havurah House with swastikas, it’s especially important to teach American Jewish History. As of right now, Professor Povitz is the only faculty member who does this.  

Her unique courses are leading to a resurgence of the Jewish Studies Program at Midd. Last fall, thirty-four students flocked to her Modern American Jewish History course — the first (but we hope not the last) time such a course was ever offered here. This is precisely the moment for the administration to invest in supporting the program by retaining Professor Povitz. Without her, so many of us would be lost, without avenues to explore who we are and where we come from, eager to turn elsewhere, instead of finding a home here at Middlebury.

Supporting a vibrant Jewish community, rooted in the antiracist feminist politics that Professor Povitz cultivates, is absolutely vital to our equity and social justice work as a college. Under your leadership, Middlebury has promised greater accountability for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the hope that our predominantly white institution can disentangle itself from a long history of exclusion and white supremacy. 

Of course, Middlebury’s DEI work is not simply a matter of diversifying the student body and faculty. It is also about having faculty and pedagogy that critically encourage students to engage in systems-thinking, to consider and understand our own positionality within those systems and to learn from historical precedents of successful resistance. We do not believe this work should fall solely or particularly on the shoulders of faculty of color. The justice-oriented commitments of white faculty members are essential to successful DEI work. 

Action speaks louder than words. Retaining Professor Povitz would be a way for Middlebury to honor its promises and actualize its rhetoric.

Despite the tenuous nature of her current position as a visiting professor, Professor Povitz has invested so much in Middlebury, both through her transformative, timely courses and creative teaching style and through her impact on Jewish life on campus. Whether through her work creating an informal text study group, participating in activities with Hillel or supporting student leaders, she has consistently demonstrated her commitment to Middlebury as a community. Students look to Professor Povitz for advice, support and connection, even when they have never taken a class with her. Many of us will stop by her office hours simply because we know of her, feel seen and heard by her, or want to talk through something. As the pandemic has emotionally drained our energies, Professor Povitz has gone above and beyond in supporting students’ too-often overlooked mental health. 

The time is now for Middlebury to recognize the precious investment Professor Povitz has made in us by fully investing in her. President Patton, you have an opportunity to leave a tremendous legacy here at Middlebury by supporting the student-led initiative to keep Professor Povitz. In a moment of rising antisemitism, you can make a material commitment to strengthening Jewish life on campus by retaining Professor Povitz. As the College struggles to retain women of color faculty, you can choose to support the first queer faculty partner hire in Middlebury history, helping to ensure that both Professor Povitz and her partner Professor Dima Ayoub (Assistant Professor of Arabic, CV Starr Fellow of International Studies, and former Director of the Middle East Studies program), a beloved faculty member who contributes in countless ways to our community, will continue to have a transformative impact on Middlebury students for generations to come.

Please visit go/keeppovitz to see the outpouring of student voices encouraging you to take this important action. 

Cara Levine ’20

Eloise Berdahl-Baldwin ’21.5

Kristen Morgenstern ’24

Remi Welbel ’22.5

Yardena Gerwin ’22.5

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