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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Board of Trustees meets to discuss Middlebury’s future

The Board of Trustees Middlebury wasted no time during their brief visit to campus at the end of October. Between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28, the Board covered a wide range of topics, including “For Every Future:” The Campaign for Middlebury, artificial intelligence, the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), conflict transformation and the college’s financial health. 

The trustees kicked off their time in Vermont with a panel on the current use of artificial intelligence at Middlebury and possible plans for the future. President Laurie Patton and trustee George Lee ’88 facilitated a panel with Brooke Clarke ’25, Katie Macalintal ’24 and Amy Collier, associate provost for digital learning, according to the college’s announcement on Nov. 14. 

Clarke presented his recent Instagram poll on student opinion on artificial intelligence, which found that not everyone is on the same page about the usage of AI tools. Clarke’s poll will serve as the launching point for future inquiry.  

“I suggested that we all learn to utilize it as a learner partner rather than something we use to break the honor code of the school,” he wrote in a message to The Campus. 

Collier presented a project from the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry’s faculty fellows program. The initiative supports faculty to identify places where generative artificial intelligence might enhance learning, Dan Chatham, associate professor at MIIS, wrote in an email to The Campus.

This project is designed for the MIIS course, helping students to manage people and resources in cross-cultural contexts and aims to help students practice working on challenging management situations, according to Chatham. 

“This particular technology project was kind of a ‘wish list’ item, and working with Tom Woodward in DLINQ it has started to materialize. He's been able to translate this concept into an actual working persona generator and brought this to life,” he wrote. 

Tom Woodward, director of learning spaces and technologies, has developed the interface and logic of the AI persona generator, which can be tuned in to act as a dialogue partner from different cultures and demographics. In the next stage, more context, such as the student’s job and name for the character, will be added, according to Chatham. 

“The character will (eventually) interact with a student verbally after being configured with a text-based description of its persona, the context for the interaction, and some guidelines about how it should interact (be empathetic, exhibit frustration, etc),” Chatham wrote. 

The trustees also visited the newly renovated Christian A. Johnson Memorial Building to attend the launch event of Middlebury’s “For Every Future” campaign, which has raised $383 million of its $600 million goal as of this year. After the event, they walked over to the Dana Auditorium for a Moth-Up-style storytelling event, according to the college’s press release. 

“A few alums and a current student told stories with the theme of place. I can’t do it justice by summarizing the stories. All I can say is that they were incredibly moving and reminded me of what makes Midd such a unique place,” said recent graduate Trustee Kenshin Cho ’20, who joined the board this year. 

Next, Jeff Dayton-Johnson, vice president for academic affairs and dean of MIIS, updated the Board on the execution of the business plan for the institute. He highlighted a refocusing of the curriculum around global security, climate resilience and intercultural communication as well as the launch of several new online degrees.

The Board also heard from Sarah Stroup, director of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation and professor of political science. The $25 million initiative has produced 36 Graduate Conflict Transformation Fellows, 28 K-12 teachers at the Bread Loaf School of English, 11 new faculty research projects, 96 undergraduates in a “CT Skills” course, 51 college faculty and staff trained in conflict transformation, 124 college and 27 MIIS student experiences and projects in Japan, Cameroon, Argentina and France, according to the college’s announcement. 

The Board established these as well as three additional learning goals: new understandings of conflict, the desire to understand self and others and a commitment to action are developed in collaboration with the heads of five different “pillars” of the collaborative and their patterns, Stroup wrote in an email to The Campus. 

The Bread Loaf School of English added two new courses to its conflict transformation curriculum “Teaching, Writing and Acting for Change,” which enrolled 28 K-12 teachers this past summer — “Oral and Community Histories, Rhetorics and Literacies” and “Disability Narratives in/as Conflict,” according to the grant’s 2023 mid-year report.

At Middlebury, the grant has funded classes, events and projects. In January 2023, Stroup, along with Associate Professor of Philosophy Steve Viner and international mediator Julian Portilla, taught the first “Conflict Transformation Skills” course. The grant has also funded several student internships, five Middlebury College Alternative Break Programs, three undergraduate participants in the Middlebury Social Impact Corps and a Social Entrepreneurship Fellow’s project, according to the report. 

The grant funded 44 Conflict Transformation Graduate Fellows for the 2022-23 academic year and currently are sorting through 93 applications for the 2023-2024 fellows, in addition to supporting further graduate and faculty research. 

The report also included an assessment with MIIS cohort fellows. For three statements, one of which being “I am more prepared to work with people from backgrounds other than mine,” the average response was 4.14 out of five (strongly agree). 

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The trustees also discussed Middlebury's current finances. The college ran an $8.2 million deficit this past fiscal year, an increase from the $4.5 million deficit last year, but a decrease from about $11 and $12 million in the three years prior, David Provost, executive vice president of finance, wrote in an email to The Campus. The college’s announcement attributed the deficit to inflationary pressures, and Provost told The Campus that even with the operating deficits, the college financial wealth has grown over the past year from endowment returns and donor gifts.

Middlebury generated a tuition revenue consistent with past years. The total assets, which is everything the college owns, including buildings, the endowment and cash, increased from last year’s record $2 billion to $2.015 billion, thanks to a $17 million increase in contributions from the campaign, according to the announcement. 

The college’s press release closed by announcing that the board passed two motions: one to approve the 2024–2025 Institute tuition and fees and another to establish a Doctor of Modern Languages in Japanese in the summer of 2024. 

After a long few days of meetings, the trustees departed Middlebury. They will return for further discussions during J-Term. 

“The board’s role is an interesting one,” Cho said, reflecting on his first experience as a trustee. “You don’t want to supplant the administration or the faculty in making decisions that are in their realms, but you also owe a duty to the institution to be informed on what’s going on and make certain high-level strategic decisions that are in the school’s interest. This was my first meeting, and I tried to listen and figure out what our role as trustees are."

Katie Futterman

Katie Futterman '24 (she/her) is a Managing Editor.

Katie previously served as a News Editor and Staff Writer. This past summer, she was a news intern at Seven Days, and she held the same position at the Addison Independent the prior summer. In her free time, she loves to read, write, and bask in the sun.