As the sun begins to set ever earlier in the afternoon, and the bitter chill creeps into students’ dorm rooms, the reality of winter in Vermont slowly but surely sets in across campus. These last two weeks of the fall semester and the looming reality of J-Term represent significant changes to student life on campus.
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Ivan Valerio ’26 passed away last Tuesday. Evelyn Mae Sorensen ’25 passed away in mid-September. Yan Zhou ’23 passed away of apparent suicide on Oct. 20, 2021.
At Harvard University, the administration and student groups have been engulfed in controversy and doxxing after issuing statements on the Israel-Palestine conflict. At Dartmouth College, two students were recently arrested for camping out to protest the school’s approach to the war. And at Columbia University, student organizations have staged huge protests, while professors have come under national scrutiny and faced petitions calling for their removal.
With the Board of Trustees on campus and meeting throughout this week to discuss institutional priorities and planned spending, we want to take advantage of this opportunity to directly address the people who have a major role in deciding how the funds raised by “For Every Future: The Campaign for Middlebury,” will be used. As the first major fundraising campaign since 2015, aimed at raising $600 million, $383 million of which has already been received, this presents a unique opportunity to consider where Middlebury currently stands and what its future will look like.
With the Early Decision I deadline approaching on Nov. 1, we want to address this editorial to prospective students considering applying to make Middlebury as their home for the next four years. It is both an advantage and a privilege to apply early. Students are more likely to be accepted in the Early Decision rounds than in the Regular Decision round, but the contractual commitment to attend when applying this way often privileges those who can afford to visit campus or pay the $83,880 sticker price.
It has been two years since Middlebury removed the name of John A. Mead from the Middlebury Chapel following a unanimous vote by the College’s Board of Trustees. In 1914, Mead and his wife made a donation — equivalent to more than two million in today’s dollars — to build a new chapel on the “highest point” of campus. Mead, however, was an advocate of eugenic theory both in policy and in legislation, speaking in favor of the potential benefits of marriage restrictions, sterilization and segregation. The chapel renaming followed the Vermont government’s efforts earlier in 2021 to “sincerely apologize and express sorrow and regret” for the state’s complicity in the eugenics movement, including the forced sterilization of over 250 Vermonters.
This week, our Editorial Board reflected on how Covid-19 continues to affect campus life. Trust us, we are just as tired of editorializing on this issue over three and a half years since the start of the pandemic as you are of hearing about it. Unfortunately, however, a recent surge in student cases indicates that the virus is still very much present on campus and retains the power to substantially impact our lives. We call for the administration to share with the student body any information they have on Covid-19 cases, make test kits and masks more accessible and establish clearer guidelines to how professors and students should deal with the virus.
The fall 2023 Student Involvement Fair was a success. The quad in front of McCullough Student Center buzzed last Wednesday afternoon with club leaders eager to recruit new members and first-years itching to find their extracurricular niches at Middlebury. Some clubs, including Middlebury Ski Patrol, Middlebury Pranksters Ultimate and Riddim World Dance Troupe came prepared with active demonstrations of their clubs’ activities. For some of our Board members who are seniors, this sight was bittersweet. Their first club fair in fall 2020 — when the club fair was split over multiple days and held on Zoom — felt like a far cry from this year.
The student body is now very familiar with Middlebury’s pandemic-related over-enrollment issues. We have previously editorialized and reported on how the consistently larger-than-usual student body over the past three years has affected class size, dining hall lines, parking spaces and housing. Middlebury has taken numerous steps to manage over-enrollment, including purchasing the Inn on the Green and using the Breadloaf campus for upperclassmen housing.
For this week’s editorial, the graduating seniors of the Editorial Board reflected on how Middlebury has changed –– for better and worse –– since they enrolled in fall 2019. Our non-seniors offered their perspectives on how these changes have shaped their college experience thus far. Of course, the college has developed in ways that were inevitable due to the pandemic’s disruption of both Middlebury and the world at large. As we finish up a year without pandemic restrictions, we must reflect on how students’ priorities have changed and the college has failed to keep up with the changing times.
Of the 1,112 students surveyed by this year’s Zeitgeist, two-thirds admitted to breaking the Honor Code, in which students affirm that they have not given nor received unauthorized aid on a given assignment. The vast majority of cases involve using aids such as Google Translate, Sparknotes or calculators on assignments where their use is not allowed. The second most common violation was cheating on exams, and the third was using ChatGPT and other unauthorized AI tools.
Most current Middlebury students are familiar with a college that is understaffed. In addition to some academic departments being low on faculty, Facilities Services, Custodial Services and Dining Services have battled persistent understaffing since 2020. The degree of this staff shortage has fluctuated over the past few years, in part due to large-scale forces such as the pandemic and the state of the national economy. However, local factors like Middlebury’s remote location, the lack of affordable housing in Addison County, non-competitive wages and the new skill matrix and disrespectful student behavior have likewise continually threatened the size of the college’s workforce. These past couple of weeks have brought new urgency to the understaffing issue as dining operations, including the Grille, Crossroads and MiddXpress, Davis Family Library, and the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office have had to reduce their hours or the availability of certain services, leading to frustration among the student body.
While we may still be surprised by another snowfall, it’s safe to say that we’ve made it: spring is here. We’ve ditched the winter coats. The days are getting longer. The sun feels warmer. The UV index is slowly creeping up and flowers are starting to bloom. Middlebury is finally starting to regain some color after a long, gray winter. With these welcome changes, we are reminded of all the warm weather activities Vermont has to offer.
At 10:28 p.m. on Sunday night, the college received a call reporting an ongoing shooting and mass casualty incident in the Davis Family Library. After an investigation that included a search and evacuation of the building, law enforcement concluded that the call was a hoax — one of an increasing number of swatting calls targeting academic institutions. But for an hour and a half — while many students hid in dark rooms and behind barricaded doors, while others were confronted by armed police and escorted to guarded safe zones — the threat appeared incredibly real. By failing to quickly inform the campus community about the event, the college left students to bear the burden of responding on their own during the crucial hours of the situation.
Middlebury students are often taught that the skills a Middlebury education fosters are ones that will prepare us to be leaders, to make our own informed decisions or to strike out on our own paths. The “Our Students” tab of the college’s website even touts that Middlebury is home to students who want to “make [their] own future.”
“I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment.”
The Middlebury College experience is marketed to prospective students as a place full of extracurricular possibilities and opportunities. We’ve all seen the brochures and heard the classic line about student organizations at Middlebury: If you don’t see a club that interests you, start one.
Over the past few years, Middlebury community members have become accustomed to the impacts of having a larger-than-typical number of students enrolled at the college — a housing crunch, packed classes and stressful course registration processes. Historically, around 2,500 students have called Middlebury home each year. In recent years, however, that number has crept up to more than 2,800.
With few Covid-19 guidelines still in place, many parts of campus life are starting to return to pre-pandemic routines. Students are once again able to eat in the dining halls, attend most classes without masks and go out to parties or other gatherings on the weekends.
Next week, Middlebury’s Board of Trustees will meet to discuss, among other things, tuition for the 2023–24 academic year. They will almost certainly increase tuition, in keeping with the trends of past years. Tuition increased by 4.5% last year and 2.5% the year before.