Editor's Note: The below letter was sent to all college administrators this morning with all students cc'd. It has been reprinted here with permission.
To the administrators of Middlebury College,
The Student Government Association (SGA) exists to be the democratic vehicle of the will of the student body. We believe that students and administrators are a partnership, a two-way street working toward a collectively better future for Middlebury College. Through conversations with alumni, students, staff, faculty, and various community groups, it has become evident that the connection between the administration and students has been reduced to a one-way street. The administration has failed time and again to listen to the desires of its students.
Administrators’ neglect of students’ wishes has been the consistent trend of the past few years.
On November 20, 2016, four hundred students met outside Old Chapel to rally in support of making Middlebury College a sanctuary campus. In response, the SGA passed a bill echoing the call for sanctuary campus status. The Community Council followed suit. Middlebury ultimately refused to meet the demands of protesters, the SGA, and leaders in Community Council.
On March 2, 2017, President Laurie Patton introduced Charles Murray despite a recommendation from Community Council and separate petitions from alumni, faculty, and students requesting that she not give him the service of introduction.
On April 12, 2017, the SGA passed a bill asking for specific changes to protest policies in the aftermath of the Charles Murray incident. The bill’s request languished in committee for a full academic year. In the end, the requested changes were not adopted in the protest policy draft announced in late 2018. Rather than a prohibition on violence by Public Safety officers, the final draft included a prohibition on civil disobedience itself.
On October 8, 2017, the SGA passed a bill to protect the right of students to request an open disciplinary hearing. The bill was panned by the administration.
On April 8, 2018, the SGA passed a bill requesting a second student representative, in addition to the SGA President, be added to the Board of Trustees. Despite sponsorship by the SGA President and endorsement by the Middlebury Campus Editorial Board, no second student representative was added to the body that is ultimately responsible for all decisions at Middlebury College.
Even innocuous requests, like that for more accessible exercise equipment, have not been fulfilled.
While we have cited a series of slights against student wishes, these represent only a fraction of many. The SGA and Community Council are only two avenues by which students appeal to the administration. Individual students, organizers, and organizations have all implored the administration for a variety of requests. Many requests have been ignored, most notably last week, when student desires to both listen to Legutko and protest what he stands for were overridden in administrative decision-making. The cancellation of Legutko’s talk and the protest led to yet another crisis on campus in the national media. We are extremely disappointed that only after hearing threat of SGA’s dissolution did an administrator publicly clear organizers of blame as the unnamed security threat that led to cancellation of the Ryszard Legutko event.
Repeatedly, we have been asked to abide by a “Conversations First” approach, which has been used to berate student leaders for taking swift action. Yet in crucial decisions, the administration has not used its own “Conversations First” model in engaging the student body. We find this intolerable and unsustainable. Our tuition funds the College, and the College’s purpose is our education. Middlebury College is first and foremost a school, not a corporation. Why is it that decisions are often made with little to no consent or involvement from us in our own school?
The SGA refuses to be a mouthpiece for the administration; we represent the students and students alone. We are reminded of our predecessors in the Student Association, who disbanded their organization in 1967 because it served as a “sounding board [...] with little power.” Their disbanding resulted in the creation of our SGA. When circumstances mirror those faced by student leaders half a century ago, we must consider options similar to the ones they faced. In the words of Brian Maier, the equivalent of an SGA senator at the time, “we must take power rather than ask for it.”
We desire transparency and accountability. We desire real democratic participation by students in decision-making. We desire the enactment of the following proposals for community healing:
- The SGA President and the Co-Chair of Community Council will be admitted to all Senior Leadership Group meetings.
- One student, staff member, and faculty member will be elected as representatives by the student body, Staff Council, and Faculty Council to the College Board of Overseers. Each of these representatives will be responsible for compiling a report for their constituencies on relevant information from each meeting.
- Any organization or academic department that invites a speaker to campus will be required to fill out a due diligence form created by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in coordination with the SGA Institutional Diversity Committee. These questions should be created to determine whether a speaker’s beliefs align with Middlebury’s community standards, removing the burden of researching speakers from the student body.
- Additionally, administrators will ask Faculty Council to require all academic departments to have Student Advisory Boards which will have access to a list of speakers invited by the department at least a month in advance. The Student Advisory Boards’ purpose will be to ask the student body for potential community input when necessary.
- The administration will communicate explicitly to students about ongoing projects, progress on these proposals, and the development of programming. This must be communicated on a monthly basis to the entire student body. Students who work on these initiatives alongside faculty must receive credit for their work, and will not be excluded from these initiatives once faculty begin working on them (i.e. Divest Middlebury, It Happens Here, JusTalks, etc.).
Improvements to Existing Programs:
- Recurrent bias training will be provided to all hired staff, faculty, administrators, as well as all students, with implementation beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. The names of any faculty, staff, or administration members who do not participate in bias training should be publicly available to students so that they can make informed decisions on courses and interactions.
- In this bias training, participants must learn about the importance of preferred gender pronouns. All faculty must ask students’ names and pronouns on the first day of each new semester, and preferred names and pronouns must be respected.
- The administration will reconsider the current protest policy, in line with SGA’s previously passed bill. The improved proposal must accurately reflect the will of the student body, especially in ensuring protections for all staff members to protest as they see fit.
- The Green Dot Training Program on campus will be improved. We ask that the video currently used during orientation be replaced with a serious informational session that discusses/defines the following terms/policies/procedures on campus:
- The definition of consent, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.
- The process of reporting sexual misconduct both at Middlebury and outside of Middlebury (to local officials).
- The disciplinary process and repercussions of committing sexual misconduct on and off campus.
- Progress in bringing all buildings up to the standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be accelerated. These buildings must prioritize the implementation of gender-inclusive bathrooms in all future construction and also make restrooms in existing buildings gender-inclusive.
- Student representation on the Community Bias Response Team (CBRT) will increase, as will direct communication with the student body regarding the causal reasoning for the cancellation of campus events.
- A clearly outlined plan for the implementation of an LGBTQ+ Center, with faculty support and modeled on the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, will be implemented within the next two years on campus. While we recognize that the entire campus should be made inclusive of queer identities, we believe the positive example of the AFRC illustrates the power of a center through which programming can be centralized. We call for current faculty/staff or new faculty/staff to serve as advisors and programmers for this space, similar to those who work at the AFRC. This space can be taken from the new office spaces which will be created from the elimination of the Commons Heads houses, or another space.
- All organizational expenditures at Middlebury will be available on the College website, including the names of both organizations and specific individual donors. We recognize that certain donors will be anonymous; we request anonymous donors be included as “Anonymous” on the publicly available information.
- A strategic plan to hire more counselors who are femme, of color, and/or queer and provide a more robust health service for transitioning people will be created. New counselors will work closely with students at the new LGBTQ+ Center and the Anderson Freeman Resource Center. The strategic plan must include a better incentive package than the one currently offered. These counselors must be hired within the next two years before the creation of the LGBTQ+ Center.
- The administration will support the development of a Black Studies department. We also request a specific faculty-student group dedicated to developing the Black Studies department, working alongside the Faculty Educational Affairs Committee during the academic year (2019-2020) in order to ensure its successful implementation for the following academic year (2020-2021). There must be appropriate funding allocated to the department, and sufficient tenure track positions must be made available for the immediate development of the department.
These proposals were created in consultation with the student body and we expect each to be fulfilled as stated. We would like to give the administration time to consider adequate ways to address our proposals. As such, we ask the President to address students at a town hall on Tuesday, April 30. If tangible plans to implement these proposals are not released, a majority of SGA Senators will resign such that the SGA Senate will no longer be able to make quorum, effectively dissolving the body. More importantly, students will witness again the continued inaction of the current administration.
We await the administration’s response.