On Wednesday, December 1, notable alumnus and donor Kevin Mahaney ’84 purchased a $1,111,111 print on glass containing 200 “non fungible tokens” (NFTs) at the Art Miami exhibition during Art Basel. According to both a press release from artist Brendan Murphy as well as the seller of the artwork, Nicole McGraw, Mahaney plans on displaying the piece — Murphy’s “The Future Has Not Yet Been Written” — in the Middlebury College Museum of Art, which is currently located in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts. The purchase was initially reported by Kelly Crow of The Wall Street Journal.
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The largest anaerobic biogas digester in the Northeast began production on Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury on July 21. Standing beside Vermont Governor Phil Scott and Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray at the summer kickoff ceremony was the college’s executive vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, David Provost. Renewable natural gas produced by the digester will provide about one third of the energy that the college uses for heating and cooling — at the time, Provost called this partnership “critical” in helping Middlebury reach its renewable energy goals.
Faculty and staff will receive a 2% raise on July 1, and the college will address wage compression, according to a June 18 email from Provost Jeff Cason and Treasurer David Provost. A second email sent 10 minutes later from Provost and Cason — received only by facilities and dining staff members — contained details of department-specific bonus incentive programs which aim to alleviate the “significant staffing shortage brought on by the low unemployment rate and the pandemic.” In the first email, administrators announced that “all eligible faculty and staff hired before April 1 will receive a 2 percent increase for the 2021-2022 fiscal year beginning July 1, with the exception of those receiving increases due to promotions.” These raises come after vocal concerns about wages voiced by staff members after a year of increased workloads, reshuffling and scheduling changes. The first email also announced that after a year and a half of student and staff advocacy, the college would address widespread pay compression among its staff members. Pay compression occurs when the wage for entry-level employees is raised, but the wage for more experienced employees remains the same, ‘compressing’ the pay gap between the two. In the email, administrators promised to “apply adjustments to ensure that length of service is considered consistently when setting individual pay rates.” In an email to The Campus, Provost clarified that the administration was aware of the resulting pay compression from the January 2020 pay raises, and is now taking steps to address it. “The rates of pay of all benefits-eligible staff in these ranges were analyzed to ensure a minimum difference in pay for each year of service,” he said. “This step will redistribute employees’ pay above the new minimums, effectively reestablishing a difference in pay between individuals throughout the range, based on length of service, alleviating compression.” One longtime dining staff member, who spoke to The Campus on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution from management, attested to the impact of wage compression on staff. “[Pay compression] is probably the biggest reason why employees at our level are leaving. It has created a significant amount of disgruntlement,” the dining staff member said. “They should have addressed that immediately when they instituted the fair wage entry level raises. People don't buy into the reasoning that the budget wasn't there during the pandemic to take care of compression.” The dining staff member also expressed discontentment with the July 1 raise. “Two percent is not enough, especially for going on two years sacrificing without a raise and being here throughout the pandemic, putting family in jeopardy. Thank goodness they did just about everything they could to make it as safe as possible for us,” they said. The first email also announced significantly increased shift differentials for shifts in the evenings and nights. Staff who work evenings will now make an extra $1.50 per hour from their base wage, up from an extra $0.60, and staff who work nights will make an extra $3.00 an hour, an increase from $1.50. In a May statement to The Campus, Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Laura Carotenuto cited what she described as “recent unemployment incentives” as affecting the college’s ability to fill open positions in dining and facilities. The first email announces that the college “will be implementing a number of programs focused on recruitment and retention of staff” in the dining and facilities departments in response to “a significant staffing shortage brought on by the low unemployment rate and the pandemic.” The second email, sent only to dining and facilities, details the college’s three new programs to fill these open positions. First, all facilities and dining staff members employed on July 1 will receive a $1,000 retention bonus at the end of the Fall 2021 semester, provided that the employee remains at the college until then. The email also announced two new programs aimed at incentivizing applications for open staff positions at the college. New hires in dining and facilities will now receive a $750 bonus after 180 days of working at the college. Furthermore, current college employees who refer a new hire that goes on to work at the college for at least 90 days will receive a $500 bonus. “We are certainly very happy that the senior administration has been giving this its full attention, and we are hopeful this will help us recruit and retain staff,” Dan Detora, executive director of food service operations, said. “Employees I have talked with are very excited and grateful for the $1,000 retention bonus and the fact that their salaries are being reviewed.” Detora noted that if dining is unable to fill the 12 full-time positions that are currently open, they may not be able to open some of their retail operations such as the Grille or Midd Xpress. Such concerns were echoed by the dining staffer. “Staffing issues are a big problem at our levels,” they said. “Lose any more and something drastic will have to happen as to how we serve and prepare food.” The staff member also said that the efficacy of these new incentives is hard to assess at the moment. “The hiring bonuses and incentives are a starting point, but … it will be hard to judge whether it will be enough,” they said. “The college has fallen behind in its wage and benefit competitiveness. They needed to start catching up earlier.”
A year ago, on May 14, 2020, Middlebury College faculty members reinstated the Middlebury chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which by then had been dormant for a few years. Born out of budget austerity concerns, the group of faculty and staff are “dedicated to making sure employees have a seat at the table when the institution makes decisions that affect us all.” Initially, the chapter’s membership consisted of a 60-person email list; now, President of the Middlebury AAUP Laurie Essig, professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies, estimates that there are over 200 members of the group, consisting of faculty and staff from both the College and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS). “We as a community need to take care of each other,” Essig said in an interview with the Campus. Essig synthesized the impetus behind the AAUP’s current work. “When we have staff members, who are risking their lives to be frontline workers, and not earning enough money to eat, that’s a problem. When we have the inability to attract the best and the brightest professors, because our compensation is lower.” A year of work The Middlebury chapter of the AAUP’s reinstatement last year coincided with one of the most challenging years in recent memory. Many faculty and staff that The Campus interviewed for this story viewed baseline maintenance of employee pay and benefits at 2019 levels as a success in light of the pandemic burdening the college’s already weak financials. “I think Middlebury handled the operations/logistics side of things during the pandemic very well. I am grateful for the clear communication around Covid protocols, the ability to work remotely, and the hard work of so many people to keep Middlebury up and running this academic year.” Associate Professor Tara Affolter, a member of the Middlebury AAUP, said in an email to The Campus. “Middlebury's commitment to keep folks employed through the pandemic is important and noteworthy.” Essig believes the administration’s pandemic commitment to employees was due in part to the AAUP’s public lobbying, such as introducing Sense of the Faculty Motions, submitting op-eds in The Campus and the chapter’s working conditions subgroup thinking through employee’s return to campus. Nevertheless, as a recent article in the Campus notes, not all staff members are happy about recent changes made in the name of ‘workplace safety’. One custodian interviewed in the article was blunt about the effect of seemingly top-down decision making has had, “We’re all very upset; morale around campus is really low for staff. We just don't feel like we're appreciated. I don't think any of us feel like we've got an opinion that is heard.” Essig notes that the AAUP is currently working within their five subcommittees: Communications, Representation, A People’s Budget, Alliance Building and Alternative Survey. Furthermore, the group is heavily involved in the Middlebury Open the Books campaign, which is advocating for the publication of the entirety of the College’s financial records. “We believe radical fiscal transparency can happen and we think Middlebury could be a leader in it,” Essig said. She said that the campaign is motivated by a desire to know how many employees are earning less than a living wage, how many executives are earning high salaries, what discrepancies exist in pay among staff and other aspects of college finances that affect staff livelihood. Another central pillar of the AAUP’s ongoing advocacy is the practice of faculty governance, allowing faculty a seat at the table in major financial decision making. “Many of us serve on committees and do a lot of work behind the scenes to try to move the needle on making Middlebury a more equitable and just place,” Affolter said in an email to the Campus. “Yet, when big decisions (such as the recent financial decisions) are announced, faculty committees are not consulted and Sense of the Faculty motions are ignored.” A bumpy road Although the Middlebury AAUP was heavily involved in lobbying for different pandemic safety policies at the College — in June 2020, the Middlebury AAUP’s Working Conditions Subcommittee endorsed a remote fall semester — some wish that their advocacy was more inclusive of staff members as well. One long-time facilities staff member who wished to remain anonymous believes that the 2020 revitalization of the AAUP could have been inspired by the public staff unionization campaign in the fall of 2019. “It was weird because the talk of the union came and it seemed like we had a lot of support from [faculty]. And I think that might have given them the idea, but they actually went together, and we completely fell apart.” The staff member noted that at one large meeting in that fall unionization effort, a faculty member stood up and pleaded with administration to take better care of staff. “Six months later the AAUP came. So you’re like, we put an idea in all these people’s heads,” they said. “What some staff expressed to me, and it’s all anecdotal, was that last spring, the AAUP was loud, vocal, they helped preserve our checks, with the administration, of course. They were a large voice in dipping into the endowment. And they were making some noise about paying essential workers more,” Tim Parsons, the college’s landscape horticulturist and former President of Staff Council, said. “And then, after the semester was over, it was radio silence, and some staff I talked to felt like, well, where are they now for us? And we never heard from them again until October.” However, one long-time administrative staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity disagreed with Parsons’ description of AAUP-staff relations, “[the AAUP] is intended to be a faculty organization, but the Middlebury group has welcomed staff membership and has identified staff equity as a priority.” In an email to the Campus, librarian Brenda Ellis noted that friction between faculty and staff often comes from the budgetary realities defined by the administration. “There is actually no rift between faculty and staff. In fact faculty are very supportive of higher wages for staff,” she said. “But there’s a limited pie — a limited amount of money the College is willing to spend for employee compensation, so if the College increases faculty salaries to keep up or rise with their competition (as they’ve advocated for), it is going to mean that the staff raise pool won’t increases as much unless the College increases the amount for overall employee compensation.” Essig acknowledged that the criticisms of the Middlebury AAUP regarding staff representation have merit. “Here’s the problem: the AAUP was set up for professors of the American Association of University Professors. That’s what it was set up for,” she said. “I 100% agree that we don’t do a good job working for staff because that’s not what we are.” The AAUP does include staff on every committee, including the Executive Committee. However, according to Essig, they are almost exclusively professional staff and are still far outnumbered by faculty. Not all staff members even knew that they could join the AAUP. “I didn’t realize [the AAUP] could also include staff… I thought it was like a different aspect of basically the same thing, a union for faculty, but I didn’t realize staff could also be involved,” said another longtime facilities staff member who wished to remain anonymous. On May 3, the Middlebury AAUP website was updated with a new introductory section clarifying their mission in regards to including staff members, “We use the AAUP principles of faculty governance to make sure the voices of employees are heard and support our colleagues on staff with any movement toward collective representation they make.” An approaching horizon Faculty cannot currently unionize under the National Labor Relations Act due to the landmark 1980 U.S. Supreme Court case National Labor Relations Board vs. Yeshiva University, which ruled that faculty at private universities are managerial employees. Essig believes that professors should organize anyways. “I support professors’ attempts to unionize. I mean why not? We can be the first, I don’t see why Middlebury can’t lead,” Essig said, “We don’t have to just follow what everyone else does.” Until recently, the college’s Senior Leadership Group had refused to even recognize the Middlebury AAUP’s existence. After repeated requests from the AAUP over the last year President Laurie Patton agreed to meet with members of the AAUP budget subcommittee on April 16 regarding their concerns over the Board of Trustees’ January meeting in which the Board capped endowment draw to 5% and raised student tuition and fees by 2.5%. Such a hardline stance by the Board on the endowment has many concerned about the already prevalent issues of pay compression and undercompensation that affect many employees. At that same April 16 faculty meeting, a Sense of the Faculty motion drafted by the AAUP expressing discontent with the Board’s recent budgetary decisions passed with 87% of faculty in support. “The administration’s attitude seems to be that if staff don’t like it, they can ‘vote with their feet.’ We have actually seen a lot more of that in recent years. Staff leave the college for less stressful jobs,” said the administrative staff member in an email to the Campus. “This used to be a workplace where people built lifelong careers and was known locally as the place to work. Not so much anymore, when wages are low and expectations are very high.” There are currently 37 unfilled positions on the Middlebury College job board. The college is struggling to fill dining and facilities positions. In 2019, due to a shortage of custodians, the College hired independent contractors to clean some small houses on campus. In response to advocacy for higher staff wages in late 2019, in early 2020 the College raised its minimum wage to $14.00 an hour. But this increase had broader repercussions of pay compression, as longtime staff members suddenly found themselves making little more than their newcomer peers. Even still, many employees are still earning below a living wage in Vermont. An op-ed that Parsons wrote in March detailed how after working at Middlebury for 21 years — and while also working a second job — one staff member has to regularly go to the local food bank to feed their family. “I know I’m not going to get rich doing what I’m doing,” said the second facilities employee, “It’d be nice to not have to worry about, ‘am I going to have enough money to put gas in my vehicle so I can get to work?’ That’d be nice.” With the end of the pandemic in sight, many staff want to return to the conversation about low pay at the college. “It’s going to take the work of faculty, staff and administration to say, ‘This is our priority, this is what we want to spend money on,”’ said Parsons. “They’re in the middle of trying to figure out whether or not we’re going to get a percentage raise July 1,” said the second facilities employee. “So that’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’ right now, and whether or not we’re going to have to storm the castle, you know?” The first facilities employee provided a different characterization. “I think if we don’t get a raise in July, there’s going to be a lot of people who are really, really upset.” Editor’s Note: The staff members interviewed in this piece were granted anonymity because of their fears of retribution from staff or management. A previous version of this article included a quote that contained a noted grammatical mistake. The error has been corrected in the original source and in this article.
Besides Panopto lectures and PolicyPath surveys, one of the most drastic changes to Middlebury College life in the pandemic has been the digitization of Middlebury’s social scene and community spaces. For students, many of these online spaces are familiar: the all-powerful meme page, topical Twitter threads and specialty Instagram accounts. Now, they also fill the interpersonal void created by remote schooling. Important and imperfect, online communities are now sometimes all we have — and just like in-person communities, they require thoughtful reconsideration and momentum toward inclusivity. Created in the shadow of Charles Murray’s 2017 visit, the Facebook meme page “Middlebury Memes for Crunchy Teens” now boasts over 3500 members — larger than Middlebury’s own enrollment. The page has been widely known since its conception, even receiving some institutional recognition through a partnership with Special Collections in 2019 to archive relevant posts for future generations. So it only made sense that the page took on a new role when students were sent home in March 2020: the central chatroom for a student population who had no idea what was going on. Although originally founded to be a space for satirical commentary on serious issues, the page’s new role in the pandemic was still unfamiliar territory for its hard- working moderators. During the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer, moderators suspended its rule that “posts must be memes’’ to broaden the mandate of the group to serve as “a forum for students and alumni” — a “temporary” change that remains to this day. For page administrator Torre Davy ’21, such a shift in mission has come with a learning curve. When posts first started to get serious in April and May, Davy worried that there was no way to appease every group member. But as more people got used to the new rules of the page, tensions eased. While the page strayed from its formula, it did start to resemble a different, familiar Middlebury public forum. “It kind of turned into the online Proctor board,” he mused. “Some people did post their crush lists there.” If the meme page is the Proctor board, then Middlebury Twitter has taken the place of the lively din of a noon Atwater lunch: camaraderie, humor and the occasional serious discussion taking place among a broad, relatively unconnected portion of the Middlebury community. Keith Chatinover ’22.5 has appreciated the candor that the platform lends itself to. “[Midd Twitter] ended up really helping to remind me that I wasn’t the only one struggling with mental health and class work,” he said. Unlike the meme page, where students continue to post chiefly about student issues, the public nature of Twitter and the knowledge that professors, staff and townspeople can read the tweets results in a different rhetoric. “I think it’s cool having this informal platform to interact with professors, including professors I’ve never had classes with,” Taite Shomo ’20.5 said, also acknowledging that the publicless necessitates some self-censorship. Michael Koutelos ’21 was quick to identify the important role that the Midd Twitter played in one of the more disturbing moments of the fall semester, when Rodney Adams ’21 and Jameel Uddin ’22 were harassed by a racist student outside the Ross complex. That same night, they took to Twitter to recount the attack, garnering widespread support from students, alumni, faculty and the broader community. There are, of course, other online Middlebury communities that have popped into relevance during the pandemic. Specialty Instagram accounts such as “Middlebury Missed Connections” “Midd Confessions” and social media pages for clubs and societies on campus have increased their presence in response to restrictions on in-person gatherings. Across the internet, Midd students gather in different spaces and ways not unlike they once did physically. But just as those in- person communities had their flaws, inequalities and exclusions, so too do our newly minted digital ones. As our community becomes more nebulous, online spaces become unquestionably important hubs — but we can’t forget their nuances or limitations. These spaces are sometimes ignorantly student-centric, dismissing or disparaging the views and actions of faculty, staff and townspeople, and can also be exclusive even among students. This is not to say that different sub-communities are not essential in providing safe spaces online. But our current online communities are closed ecosystems built imperfectly for certain types of community members. We must be intentional in our use of these spaces and cognizant of the ways they do — and don’t — serve the entire Middlebury community. When the pandemic does — eventually, hopefully — end, much of our lives’ migration online will remain: some work will forever be remote; Zoom calls will stay a part of our lives. Reconsideration of the online places where we go to connect with others is necessary for a healthier Middlebury community.
First-year Feb Isabeau Trimble ’24.5 returned to their room on Tuesday morning to find the contents of the whiteboard on their door edited to display a homophobic slur. A resident of Forest Hall, Trimble had originally written “FAQ” on the board followed by a few personal fun facts. On Tuesday, however, a portion of the letter “Q” in FAQ had been erased, turning it into a “G,” according to Trimble. As a first-year Feb, Trimble had only been on campus for a little more than a week before the slur was put on their whiteboard. “It was really surprising to me that it happened here. I’ve been aware of the very open and very accepting culture that exists here and so it was surprising to me, obviously,” Trimble said. Trimble, who uses all pronouns, immediately sent a message to the Forest Hall GroupMe, notifying their neighbors of what had just happened. “Everybody was like ‘Holy crap, this is hate speech,’ — which, like, it is hate speech,” Trimble said in an interview with The Campus. “What surprised me the most was how everybody [in the GroupMe] reacted to it. I come from a very Trump-y area of Virginia and calling gay people that there is the norm and if you don’t laugh at it then you’re oversensitive,” they continued. “So it was refreshing to see that it was taken so seriously.” Trimble was unaware they could file a formal complaint with the college until The Campus referenced the process in an interview. Nevertheless, they do not plan to file a complaint. “It’s annoying, for sure, and it would be really great if it didn’t happen,” they said. “Maybe I’m giving this person too much benefit of the doubt, but whoever did it probably had a middle-school mindset, did the little erase, went ‘hehehe,’ and left.” Trimble explained that they did not want a potential formal investigation to damage the perpetrator’s academic career. “Should they have done it? Absolutely not. Should they feel bad about it? Yeah. But I don’t know exactly what the repercussions are here for hate speech but I imagine [the administration] probably takes it very seriously,” Trimble said. “I just don’t want to completely ruin somebody’s academic career over something like that, as annoying as it is to me that I had to put up with it.” “I definitely would say that obviously to me that’s not representative of the whole group. It was a little surprising but overall it didn’t really affect how I view the community,” Trimble said. “If anything it was refreshing to see that it was taken so seriously, if anything it made me feel better about the community here.” This is the second instance of hateful language being directed at students in as many semesters. In the fall, Rodney Adams ’21 and Jameel Uddin ’22 were accosted and called the n-word by a white student while walking near Ross. Fellow Forest resident Jasmin Animas Tapia ’21, who sits on the board of Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC), wasn’t surprised that this had happened. “I was disappointed but not shocked because Middlebury isn’t free from prejudice or discrimination and that people will let you know of this through their words and behaviors,” Animas Tapia said. “It’s just a tiring reminder that these things happen and that if you are openly queer or read as queer, you are never really safe.” Forest Community Assistant Ben Beese ’21.5 was upset when he found out about the slur. “This is the sort of thing that you know happens in the world but my expectations of my peers and the people I live with is so much higher than that… I think it’s a sign of how much more work we have to do when it comes to building community.” Beese says community as a concept is nuanced and complex. “We're talking about the difference between people living in proximity to each other, in physical co-incidence, and people who form an interconnected whole,” Beese said. “In community, people care about each other and, to a large degree, depend upon each other. I think an incident like we saw the other day demonstrates how that’s not the case here.” Although they do not plan on filing a complaint with the school, Trimble still has a message for whoever directed the slur at them. “Just because I’m accustomed to it and just because I wasn’t hurt that much by it, if someone else had been the target, they could have been impacted much worse by it,” Trimble said. “Just because some people are more used to it than others doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be vigilant in not-hating on people. Don’t be jerks, people.”
Nonproliferation, economic diplomacy and localization management are terms seldomly heard on the college’s Vermont campus.But 2,500 miles away on the coast of California, more than 600 graduate students and hundreds of faculty and staff research these very topics at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies (MIIS), an establishment as deeply institutionally intertwined with the college as its Schools Abroad or Bread Loaf School of English.In 2005, Middlebury College’s then-President Ronald Liebowitz floated the idea of affiliating the college with the Monterey Institute, as it was known at the time. The institute was a graduate school founded in 1955 with a focus on foreign languages that evolved to include programs in areas like international policy, translation studies and terrorism studies. In 2003, it was placed on probation by its accreditation institute because of a pattern of operating deficits.A 2005 Faculty Council vote about the possible acquisition of the institute overwhelmingly opposed the idea, with nearly 80% voting against acquisition. Liebowitz and the Board of Trustees pursued an affiliation anyway, at which point the college absorbed the institute’s debts and assets. Five years later — in 2010 — the college officially acquired MIIS, and by 2015, the school was renamed The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.Over the last 15 years, administrators have made extensive efforts to bring the two institutions closer together. They’ve created funds to encourage inter-campus interaction, promoted collaboration between faculty and created opportunities for undergraduates to study away at MIIS. However, relations between MIIS and the college remain disjointed, partially as a result of their separate histories but manifesting more recently in financial concerns.In April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic intensified, Middlebury’s faculty gathered to vote on the Sense of the Faculty Motion submitted by college Professor of Mathematics Frank Swenton recommending detaching MIIS from the college. The motion was spurred by fears of impending financial challenges resulting from the pandemic. Swenton believed disconnecting the schools was the most effective immediate step in avoiding risk of cuts to salaries and services at the Vermont campus.The motion sparked renewed debate in both Vermont and California about the place of MIIS in the college’s mission. In this series, we explore the forces, people, events and decisions that led to the relationship between the schools, the sentiments that persist at both institutions and visions for the future of the relationship.Click through the parts below to read more.
On Dec. 3, 2020, Middlebury’s official Instagram account posted a story encouraging students to join the new Facebook Campus platform, a section of the app wherein college students can only interact with other students at their school, which rolled out at select colleges this fall. “As a Middlebury student you have access to @facebookcampus,” read the Instagram post. “Visit @facebookcampus and start developing a community based on your interests, hometown, class year, fandom, or field of study.” Such language is eerily similar to that used by Facebook in its own advertising for the new feature: “College is a time for making new friends, finding people who share similar interests and discovering new opportunities to connect – from clubs to study groups, sports and more. In the early days, Facebook was a college-only network, and now we’re returning to our roots with Facebook Campus to help students make and maintain these relationships, even if they’re away from their college.” This post raises a lot of questions regarding the nature of the college’s relationship with Facebook; it goes without saying that it is uncommon practice for official college accounts to post advertisements for private companies, much less one of Facebook’s size. When I noticed the college’s Instagram story in December, I asked on Twitter what the nature of the college’s relationship to Facebook was. I received a reply from @middlebury clarifying that “there was and is no financial exchange between FB/Midd for access to Facebook Campus.” Middlebury was one of the 30 colleges that was given early — free — access to the new platform this past fall. I’m sure most students are aware of this fact due to regular posting by Campus Ambassadors — students paid to turn their personal social media pages into advertising verticals for Facebook — that has flooded students’ feeds for the last few months. Further emails and direct messages inquiring about the relationship between Middlebury and Facebook remain unanswered. Moving forward, the college should not only publicly clarify the nature of their relationship with Facebook but also sever whatever relationship that may be. Further advertisement of the platform by the college would serve as an endorsement of the unethical business practices that Facebook employs around the world to take advantage of their users — including Middlebury students. There are many reasons to critique Facebook both as a company and as a social media platform. Some examples include but are not limited to: its ethically-questionable founding, its well-documented experiments with emotional manipulation, how Facebook subsidiary WhatsApp’s lack of moderation led to lynchings in India, how Facebook’s own lack of moderation led to genocide in Myanmar, its outsized manipulative influence on elections around the world, the inhumane working conditions its moderators are subjected to, Facebook’s fraudulent inflation of video metrics which led to mass layoffs in journalism, its permittance of rampant Covid-19 disinformation, its comically massive lobbying budget, its advertising of weapons accessories following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and many other transgressions. Any one of these issues is reason enough for the college to distance itself from the platform. But if none of them hit close enough to home, here’s a fact that will: one of the biggest problems with Facebook is its extractive business model that treats users as reservoirs of accessible personal data and little more. Facebook Campus aims this model directly at students. In that same December tweet clarifying the college’s relationship with Facebook, @middlebury added a claim that “[Facebook Campus] is 100% designed for students” before linking to marketing material from fb.com. This is a lie. Facebook Campus is no more designed for students than an oil rig is designed for the Earth. Facebook needs our user data to profit, and they are willing to go to great lengths to extract it. At Facebook, the user is the commodity. Ninety-eight and a half percent of the firm’s revenue comes from advertising to users and harvesting user data. By being famously cagey and greedy with their privacy policies, Facebook has perfected mass data collection. Reading the Facebook Data Policy leaves one feeling curious at what aspect of a user’s experience they aren’t surveilling, with nearly every user action quantified and stored for later use. In many ways, Facebook Campus presents an even scarier opportunity for such data surveillance. By centralizing the college experience onto its platform, Facebook no longer has to make educated guesses about the minutiae of students’ lives; instead, students give it to them. Facebook Campus is able to glean which classes, clubs and majors students are in, along with who they study with and even where they live. This intimately detailed personal data will then be auctioned off for any number of purposes or will be used by Facebook themselves to sell students things. Facebook Campus did not grant us early access because they care deeply about fostering community at Middlebury college. They did it for the free and robust collection of personal data that we provide them. Of course, most students have already signed up for at least one of Facebook’s platforms and are already being surveilled. I once shopped for a hat by saying “baseball cap” into my phone’s microphone and looking through the resulting Instagram ads. But the purpose of this op-ed is not to shame individual students for using Facebook. The platform is good at doing what it is supposed to do — connecting people. Even if one is able to escape from Facebook and the portfolio of social media platforms it owns, true freedom from Facebook’s data supervision would require almost no usage of any online platform, something that is nearly impossible to do in 2021. One may ask, then, what the purpose of Middlebury disavowing Facebook Campus is if the data extraction is already happening. Such an observation dismisses the importance of an institutional endorsement. Just as Middlebury rescinding Rudy Giuliani’s honorary degree matters and just as the college’s divestment from fossil fuels matters, so does the stance of the college on predatory products that target its students. Middlebury’s advertisement of Facebook Campus is a tacit endorsement of the shady practices and unethical policies that Facebook uses. Regardless of what individual students decide to do with their own personal data, the college should not be advertising for a platform that will overindulge and invade students’ personal privacy. Facebook can be fixed — there are reforms, redirections and antitrust lawsuits that can be enacted to improve the company. There are some good, earnest people employed there who are actively working to create a better social media platform. Middlebury has no role to play in advertising these reforms, nor do we have a role to play in Facebook’s inevitable brand rehabilitation campaign. The stated mission of Middlebury — and of the other 29 colleges and universities that Facebook has chosen to test Facebook Campus on — is one that revolves around education, not the wealth of corporations. The college must prioritize students’ privacy over the access — and surveillance — that Facebook Campus is offering. Jake Gaughan is a news editor and a member of the class of 2022.
College faculty have come a long way from their meager 21% support of Monterey in 2005 to a slight majority at 52% in 2020. But some proponents of MIIS are still dismayed that, nearly 15 years into their relationship with the college, some college faculty remain hesitant to fully engage between campuses. David Provost has a glass-half-full perspective on the matter, noting the jump in support for the college’s connection with Monterey. Staff and faculty at the institute also have a positive outlook on the future of the relationship between the institutions, the potential for collaboration and the increased benefits to students as that relationship grows. “My sense of the trajectory is positive, it's my perception that there's growing recognition that Monterey is an important part of Middlebury writ large,” MIIS Professor of Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies Philipp Bleek said. “I think there's also a growing recognition that being part of Middlebury is important to what we do in Monterey.” The pandemic, for all of its challenges, has revealed in many ways the potential for remote connection. Provost recognized that this should mean a reconsideration of whether constant travel between California and Vermont is truly necessary, and Sawin noted that academic connections between the schools are strengthening, as undergraduates will be able to take classes at MIIS this spring semester as a part of their regular course load. Bob Cole, MIIS Director of Exploratory Initiatives and Partnerships, sees the pandemic as a harbinger of a greater cultural change. “In the wake of our extraordinary shift to remote work and teaching, I would hope that faculty and staff, wherever they are located, might get beyond the binary of the institute and college,” Cole said. “Perhaps this is not a common outlook, but if I am to trust the decisions of the administration and the Board of Trustees over recent years, Middlebury is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Opponents of the faculty motion claim that while budgetary motives are the stated reason for the opposition to MIIS, the real reasoning could lie in perceived cultural or prestige differences between the two schools. “A lot of the faculty on campus come from fairly elite backgrounds, to be honest. And for them, they think about the status of a school as being an indicator of the quality of the instruction. For those of us who went to all state schools, we don't have that same sort of bias,” added Teets, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, a Master’s degree from The University of Chicago, and Master’s and PhD degrees from The University of Colorado. “I don't want to come off as elitist. Just the fact is, Middlebury is a top five to top ten program … Monterey, I don't even know everything it does,” said Swenton, who earned his undergraduate degree at The Ohio State University and his PhD from Princeton University. “I had never in my life heard of Monterey Institute until we acquired it. People have heard of Middlebury.” Other terms have been used to describe what some see as an untenable gap in student experience between the missions and cultures of MIIS and Middlebury College. “As for ‘fit,’ at last spring’s faculty meeting, I was listening for programmatic reasons that the college should maintain its relationship with the institute, and all I heard were descriptions of two or three instances benefitting at most 50 college students in all,” Bremser said in an email to The Campus. Teets and Newhouse both disagree, arguing that the vocational training that MIIS provides can supplement the college’s own liberal arts education. “As valuable as a liberal arts education is, and as much as I will battle to keep the Middlebury College education as true to its core of humanities and liberal arts as it can be, students understand the need for practical training and to understand how to implement the education they get from the college,” Newhouse said. The institute’s own graduate education offerings have changed over the years. In 2019, after 37 years of offering an MBA program, MIIS abruptly shut it down after a prolonged decline in demand for the program. Teets’ own professional work has given her opportunities to collaborate closely with faculty and staff at MIIS. In her view, it’s this collaboration that allows college faculty to fully realize the value of the institute, and the potential of their own research and academic pursuits in California. Programs like the One Middlebury Fund, which offers grants to faculty and staff across all of Middlebury’s holdings to encourage inter-campus collaboration and is allocated between $50,000 and $100,000 annually through a handful of restricted endowments, seek to strengthen and expand that collaboration. Sarah Bidgood, the CNS director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at MIIS, who was a recipient of the Fund in 2018, also noted that increased academic collaboration between the college and institute is key to the future of that relationship. “The point of the grant is to facilitate closer interaction between the two campuses,” Bidgood said, noting that there may be some bad feelings about the history of the relationship but that, under the present “Big M” Middlebury umbrella, programs like the fund are necessary instigators of inter-campus collaboration. “We have the opportunity to really do this integration the right way and to build these connections that are going to be really valuable to students,” she said. “If we're going to do that, we need to find more ways to interact more regularly and, I think, more substantively, particularly as it applies to our work.” From Swenton’s perspective, however, these very programs are the reason that he sees MIIS as an unsuccessful addition to Big M. “The faculty members who spoke up against the motion, with possibly no exception, were all people who had a vested interest in Monterey,” Swenton said, noting that these faculty members had done work for the School of the Environment, or been a recipient of the One Middlebury Fund or otherwise had interacted with MIIS. “For the college as a whole, I don't think it really relates to our program as much as they'd like to make it sound.” Gracey Carroll ’22, who did a winter term internship at MIIS in 2020, found the experience to be one of the highlights of her time at Middlebury. “Being in an environment of intensive research and expertise was really life-changing and helped me to discover where I want my career to take me,” she said. “The sort of hands-on learning that I was able to do at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies was really different from the more theoretical classroom learning we do at Midd.” Carroll says that she didn’t hear convincing arguments from proponents of breaking with MIIS, but she does believe that better communication with the schools could help bridge current tensions. “Everyone I know who has tried to take classes at MIIS as an undergraduate has gone through bureaucratic hell in trying to make MIIS classes work on Middlebury’s terms, and I think the lack of cohesion between schools is a deterrent to students who would otherwise challenge themselves with courses at the graduate level,” she said.
In J-Term of 2017, Thor Sawin swiped his ID card to get into a Middlebury College building for the first time. Sawin, an associate professor at MIIS, was teaching a winter term course in linguistics, and had a moment of realization when he first set foot on the Vermont campus. “I'm like, ‘Oh yeah, I'm home,’” Sawin said. “I didn't even need to do anything special. I can check out a book out of the library with the ID card that I already had. It works in both places.” Sawin, who also serves as the current president of the Faculty Senate at MIIS, understands that faculty at the college might not know just how intertwined the two schools are. He had been previously asked by college faculty who his provost was (Jeff Cason, just like the college) and who his president was — to which he replied, of course, “Laurie Patton.” Financial fears about MIIS and its purported drain on the college aren’t the only barriers to total cohesion between the two institutions. Some college faculty still believe that MIIS simply doesn’t offer anything to the undergraduate liberal arts experience that Middleury provides, while others suggest that a failure of communication has left college faculty in the dark about MIIS’ efforts and values. And for some, a belief that MIIS is a fundamentally independent institution colors these sentiments. “It's just not Middlebury. It's not Middlebury College to me,” Frank Swenton told The Campus. From an administrative perspective, that simply isn’t true. “Monterey employees are Middlebury College employees. These folks are part of the family. They do fantastic work for the College and for Big M,” Provost said, using the term for the whole Middlebury institution, which includes the college, institute, schools abroad, Bread Loaf School of English and more. He also noted that Middlebury’s effort throughout the pandemic to provide wage continuity for employees and educational continuity for students applies unquestionably to all units, including the college and the institute. However, for Monterey faculty and staff, a division between the institutions described by some college faculty isn’t just less visible — it’s impossible. “Here in California, we can't help but be constantly thinking about Vermont. Everything that happens in Vermont totally affects our life.” Sawin said, noting that many decisions at MIIS can't be made "without thinking about Vermont first," but that college faculty aren't always obligated to think first of their California counterparts. Word traveled in pieces to MIIS after Middlebury’s faculty voted 122 for and 133 against ending the college’s relationship with the institute. Even though the motion lost, a nearly-split vote was a blow to morale at the institute, according to Sawin. “It was a depressing feeling around here,” Sawin said. The vote was especially disheartening in light of herculean efforts taken by institute faculty over the last several years to fit themselves into Middlebury by streamlining work, adjusting their jobs and cutting costs. MIIS reduced its full-time faculty from 84 to 71, 11 of them through a workforce planning process, last year, and the institute’s programs are currently well-enrolled despite an expected hit because of pandemic. However, Sawin said, the college’s faculty didn’t seem to be recognizing these painful belt-tightening measures and intense enrollment efforts. In reflecting on the climate at Middlebury that led to the vote, Sawin noted, “Either [college faculty] don’t know what we do, and we haven’t done a good job of telling our story,” Sawin said. “Or what if they know our story and they still think that what we do is not valuable?” Swenton’s proposition to move some current MIIS programs to the Vermont campus rather than eliminating them was met with mixed feelings. Sawin emphasized that while some faculty would be happy to do their job anywhere, many have a deep sense of pride about being Californians, and connect their academic work to the state and local environment. Sawin cited the institute’s close relationship to Silicon Valley, connections to Asia and the Pacific and research on oceans as some of the ways that the California location is integral to the work of its faculty. “We’re glad that you like us, and we get that ending our campus doesn’t mean you want to fire us and throw us into the street,” Sawin said. “But California is a big part of what we do, and what we are.” Swenton likens MIIS to an office of a company being moved, or employees being transferred to a different branch, and he says that expecting individuals to move for a job is “legitimate and not unexpected”. “I don't think it's an unreasonable ask,” he added. While moving operations to the Vermont campus may be plausible — if not academically practical — for the institute’s faculty, this strategy doesn’t present a contingency plan for staff in California, who would likely lose their jobs were the campus to be dissolved and its programs transplanted. Swenton acknowledges that job loss would likely occur, but says that this fact does not excuse the expenditures of maintaining MIIS. In his view, Middlebury bailing out a bankrupt Monterey on accreditation probation 15 years ago has already been a service to the employees of MIIS, but the college is not obligated to maintain that employment in perpetuity. “Would I say that for sure every single person who is used is working there, every single staff member and faculty member, would be moved over? I don't know, maybe that's part of the reason for the resistance,” Swenton said. From an administrative perspective, moving Monterey’s programs to Vermont isn’t on the table — in addition to the benefits of having a West Coast presence, David Provost says that the presence of 600 graduate students alone would be unsustainable for Addison County. “There isn’t housing stock in Addison Country to support 600 new individuals living here,” Provost said, noting that their existence would require massive new development. “Where would we put them? Where would they learn?” In addition to unrealistic infrastructure investments, Provost also noted that, without a doubt the closure of the Monterey campus would result in job losses for staff. He said that while he believes the college would hypothetically offer new jobs at the college to those staff first, asking those individuals to transplant from Northern California to the drastically different central Vermont would be logistically difficult for both those staff and the college and would lead to the widespread layoffs that the college has tried to avoid. Correction: An earlier version of this piece identified the wrong number of faculty who left MIIS through the workforce planning process. It was 11, not 13.
Proponents of the Sense of the Faculty Motion argue that such questions around keeping or releasing MIIS are necessary due to MIIS’ seemingly precarious financial situation. The motion references a staggering $100 million loss on the institute and suggests that cuts at the college were taken to subsidize expenses at MIIS. Further investigation into institute and college finances presents a more complicated budgetary situation. In 2005, when Middlebury and MIIS, then known as the Monterey Institute, began their affiliation, the college injected $7.4 million into MIIS for general improvements. In 2010, the college acquired the institute’s assets, which were valued at around $40–50 million at the time. Annual Middlebury College financial statements for the last 15 years are publically accessible through the College’s website. MIIS’ individualized financial statements are only available for the fiscal years of 2007, 2008 and 2009. The institute was profitable for all three years, and in 2008 held $24.7 million in long-term debt and $54.6 million in assets. In 2008, the college took on a total of $22.8 million of debt from MIIS. In 2009, the college operated at a loss before bouncing back to profitability in 2010. For the next few years, the college operated at a budget surplus. In 2014, the college began operating at a loss. The college’s Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration David Provost attributes this downturn to stagnant tuition prices, not MIIS. “My assessment is that [deciding to cap tuition increases at 1%] was fine, but there was no effort to control expenses going up at the same rate, and we saw expenses going up from 2013 to 2016 at the rate of five to seven percent,” Provost said in an interview with The Campus. Patrick J. Norton, the college’s Vice President for the Finance and Treasurer’s Office from 2008 to 2016, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Regarding claims about the size of MIIS’ role in the financial struggles of the last decade, Provost stated that from 2012 to 2020, the institute’s annual operating deficits only ranged from $2 million to $5 million while the college’s annual deficit ranged from $10 million to $22 million. “Strictly from a percentage standpoint…Monterey is contributing to about 20% of the financial struggle,” Provost clarified. In 2020, both the college and the institute were expected to break even on their budgets. While neither school did due to the pandemic, the institute is expected to break even in fiscal year 2021. In the motion, Swenton suggested that due to MIIS’ annual losses of $5–7 million as well as its $30 million of debt from 2005, the institute has accounted for “somewhere from seventy million to over one hundred million dollars” of debt service. Provost estimates that when accounting for MIIS’ earlier budget surpluses, that number is closer to $30 million. The $100 million number is a particularly popular, albeit incorrect, figure amongst those advocating for MIIS’ dissolvement, with multiple sources citing such a large deficit as their reason for supporting the motion. Many proponents of the motion point to the higher cost of living in California as a needless drain on college resources. At Middlebury College, the lowest hourly rate for staff in 2020 (the most recent year published) was $11.00/hr, Vermont’s minimum wage is now $11.75/hr. In 2019 (the most recent year published), the lowest hourly rate at MIIS was $12.00/hr; California’s minimum wage is now $14.00/hr. Opponents of the motion don’t dispute the operating losses of MIIS, but they do refute what they see as an “us or them” mentality and a lack of attention to student experience. “One thing that I really worry about when we have discussions like this is that I feel like they should be based more on student priorities versus who earns what,” said Jessica Teets, an associate professor of political science at the college. Others have a more pragmatic stance. “In defending MIIS, one of my colleagues said, ‘We’re a nonprofit — we’re not supposed to make money,’ which is true, but not relevant.” Bremser told The Campus. “For fifteen years, the college part of this nonprofit has been shifting resources to the Monterey branch, to make up for the fact that MIIS still can’t sustain itself.”
MIIS first appeared on Middlebury’s radar through a trustee connection in 2004. Later that year, the college conducted an exhaustive probe into the finances and academics of the institute. Liebowitz and a committee presented their findings and answered questions in March 2005, determining financial concerns to be outweighed by the expanded opportunities of affiliating with Monterey. “At the time of the merger, there was a strong emphasis on maintaining independence between the campuses,” Noah Graham, a professor of physics at the college, said, “both financially because many at the college were concerned about Monterey’s deficits, and academically because — as President Liebowitz put it at the time — we did not want to become like a university, where ‘undergraduate students compete with graduate students for the faculty’s time and attention — and usually lose.”’ Faculty at the time were given the sense that the institutions would remain financially and academically separate. In an email to The Campus, Priscilla Bremser, a professor of mathematics at the college, recalled that, “Ron Liebowitz and his team assured us that there would be a ‘firewall’ between the finances of the two institutions, that our reputation would be enhanced by the association, that Monterey would not be a distraction and that it was a good fit because … sorry, I found that argument so utterly unconvincing that I can’t even paraphrase it.” A Campus article from 2005 notes that “Liebowitz stressed that the final arrangement agreed upon is not an acquisition but an affiliation” in response to the overwhelming faculty disapproval. However, a 2010 progress report written by the college notes that the relationship “initially took the form of an affiliation, with the aim of a merger as the ultimate objective” if the affiliation was successful. By February 2008, Middlebury had notified the NESCAC of its intent to merge with MIIS. In a 2014 interview with The Campus, Liebowitz — with the benefit of nine years of hindsight — clarified his future goals for the relationship. “My hope, then, would be that students take advantage of the opportunities to combine a professional international education offered at Monterey with their undergraduate traditional liberal arts experience to the benefit of their post-college plans; that they would use the resources that Monterey offers for both advanced degrees and a robust, international-oriented network,” he said. Liebowitz, who left the college in 2015 and has been the president of Brandeis University since 2016, declined to answer questions from The Campus. A spokesperson wrote that “President Liebowitz and many other academic and administrative leaders at Middlebury worked together and with the Board of Trustees to bring about the affiliation with and acquisition of the Monterey (now Middlebury) Institute prior to his departure from Middlebury five years ago,” and directed questions about the relationship between the institutions to current administrators at Middlebury.
At the time that Swenton’s Faculty Motion was introduced, the full economic effects of the pandemic were still unknown. Fears of layoffs and pay cuts circulated among faculty and staff, and the college’s refunding of room and board only increased anxieties. After three years of painful “workforce planning” and austerity measures — including different health insurance options — the college was again staring down a sizable deficit. The college has since been able to maintain pay continuity across all employees, but hiring has been frozen since May. Facing pandemic-related financial belt-tightening, Swenton put forth a proposition that traded MIIS for financial stability at the college: “We, as the faculty of Middlebury College, resolve that before any further cuts in benefits, compensation, or staffing are made of faculty and staff, Middlebury should make clear plans to dissolve its campus in Monterey on some reasonable schedule, and to put a stop to additional investments in Monterey in the interim, as a sign of good faith,” the motion reads. But others see the Faculty Motion as something larger than just budgetary hand-wringing. “I think that it is indicative of a stubborn minority of the overall staff and faculty who have either never accepted the decision to buy MIIS in the first place, or have not had enough interactions with MIIS to understand what it's about, why it's special, and why it's worth saving,” Alex Newhouse ’17, a research lead at MIIS’ Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, said of the Sense of the Faculty Motion. In an interview with The Campus, Swenton was clear on his motivations. “The whole reason for the motion was… a constant issue of money lost [at MIIS],” he said. “When we acquired [MIIS], it was back in the days of when the economy was doing well.” In May, however, under the threat of Covid-19-related losses like the chance that students would not want to come back in the fall, Swenton said that the college needed to make various financial decisions to stay afloat, and continuing to prop up Monterey struck him as a concern.
A day of resistance and solidarity was soured by the actions of a pair of students behind Ross last night. Rodney Adams ’21 and Jameel Uddin ’22 were preparing for a relaxing evening after a day of protesting when two white students confronted and harassed them with a racial slur, according to Adams. Per a campus-wide email from Chief Diversity Officer Miguel Fernández, one of the two students has come forward to the college and is speaking to the Department of Public Safety and Student Affairs. At around 10 p.m., Uddin and Adams were walking along the north side of College Street turning right into HMKL Way behind Ross. They were approached by two white students walking towards Ridgeline and the townhouses: one was clothed, wearing a gaiter and carrying a traffic cone; the other was shirtless and maskless. Initially, the masked man warned Adams about carrying alcohol outside as Public Safety officers were in the area. Adams, who is 21 and was carrying a closed bottle of wine, replied, “Okay, thank you.” The other man, without a mask, then quickly approached Adams and Uddin and said, “Well look here goes them n******.” The man then stared down Uddin, who is South-Asian, and Adams, who is Black. Adams asked the man to repeat what he had said and to identify himself. “He wanted a response,” Adams said in an interview with The Campus. “And it took everything out of us to not hit him.” The other man, with the traffic cone still in tow, then called out, “Charlie, Charlie, c’mon, it’s time to go.” Both students then walked off towards the Ridgeline Suites. About an hour after the incident, Adams posted a Twitter thread detailing the event titled, “Experiencing a hate crime first hand on Middlebury’s Campus a thread:”. The tweets quickly went viral, with students reposting screenshots of the tweets to their Instagram stories and professors and alumni replying to Adams’s original tweet. At time of publication, the top tweet in the thread had amassed over 200 retweets and close to 500 likes. Popular Instagram account @dearpwi, an account with over 31,000 followers, also posted screenshots of the thread.
As total Covid-19 cases in the United States topped six million late last month, thousands of students from all over the world returned to Middlebury in anticipation of a largely in-person fall semester. Staff members’ experiences have varied greatly across departments since the college announced its fall plans in June and subsequently put in place a hiring freeze. Many staff now deal with uncertainty and the looming threat of furloughs should students be evacuated prematurely this semester. Cautious optimism Many community members, including staff, feared that students’ return would bring the same infection spikes — and resulting campus closures — that have plagued colleges and universities across the country. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Katie Gillespie, associate director for research compliance and a representative on the Staff Council. “The test results that have come back are very promising.” Following Day Zero and Day Seven testing, just two students have tested positive for Covid-19. Despite the encouraging signs, many worry that cases will eventually spike. “I am concerned a little bit about once the initial phase is over,” said Amy Holbrooke, the economics department academic coordinator. “Then things start to loosen up a little bit, and they start leaving campus or sneaking their friends in.” Some staff expect the college to close well before Thanksgiving break, according to Tim Parsons, the college horticulturist. Parsons served as president of Staff Council last year and is a current Staff Council representative. “Everyone feels like they’re trying to make the best out of a bad situation,” he said. “They’re not really expecting it to last.” Staff worry that a sizable outbreak could result in students being sent home, leading to a partial refund of students’ room and board fees and putting their Covid-19 pay protections in jeopardy. “Some people are worried about what might happen if we do have an outbreak,” Gillespie said. “We’ve been told they’re going to reevaluate in October, and if students are sent home and they have to refund room and board, then the furloughs happen.” Amid concerns, many staff members are glad to see students in person again. “I am happy that the students are back for sure,” said Custodial Supervisor Dan Celik. “Every student I speak to is so appreciative to be back and makes sure to thank me/us for what we have been doing to the campus … I hope we can be a model for other institutions.” Safety and clarity first Many staff members were happy with their new work environment’s protections, including barriers, personal protective equipment and social distancing, all provided or mandated by the college. “I think they’re really trying to make it a safe work environment,” Holbrooke said, adding that the college has encouraged staff who can work remotely to do so. Staff also feel more positive about the administration’s communication, which they believe has improved since March, according to Parsons. Many have also found the administration to be especially receptive regarding concerns about workplace safety, Gillespie said. Gillespie cited an incident in which a constituent of hers felt uncomfortable being scheduled to work at the entry testing site. In response, administrators offered information about safety measures at the site and the option to meet with Medical Director Mark Peluso. This, along with conversations with students who completed testing, reassured the staff member, according to Gillespie. One longtime dining employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution, echoed the reserved praise of the administration's handling of the return to campus. “I think the administration is doing that best they can, with having students come back. Was it the right decision to have on campus classes? It is such a double edged sword, but we can only hope for the best,” they said. “There is more work for the rest of us to cover” Still, many staff members in departments like Dining and Custodial have seen their workload increase since students first began arriving on Aug. 18. New safety measures along with preexisting staffing shortages have left employees feeling the strain. “From our work standpoint in Dining, it has been a real challenge,” the anonymous dining staff member said. “The procedure for feeding (students) now requires a substantial amount of time because we just don’t have the people to pull it off in a normal paced timeframe.” All hiring has been frozen until July 2021. As some dining staff retired, left for new jobs or faced childcare issues, the anonymous employee estimated each dining hall had lost at least two staff members. The employee noted how this has increased work for the remaining staff members in conjunction with the new practice of packaging students’ meals in to-go boxes. On top of added Covid-19 processes, as the majority of students moved in, entered room quarantine and had all meals delivered to their door, dining staff received jumbled communication on how many meals to prepare. “There were last minute changes and shifts on the numbers,” the anonymous dining staff member said. “We had to pivot and shift gears constantly for four straight days because the numbers and situation kept shifting. It may not have been anyone's real fault, but people feel there’d better be a pretty hardy debrief after this is over, especially if we have to go through this again in January for spring semester.” The custodial department has also been heavily impacted by the increased workload. “They’re slammed, they’re down a lot of positions,” Parsons said. “[Custodial] had to expand some of their shifts.” Custodial reorganized their work schedule to accommodate cleaning classrooms and implementing the extra round of disinfection, Celik said. “We now have shifts that work around the clock, seven days per week,” he said. “We do have to get most of our work in the residence hall completed between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., which has posed some time challenges. But, as we learn the routines, we are getting more efficient at it.” In an Aug. 28 email to most of the Senior Leadership Group and a lengthy list of staff and administrators, Dean of Students Derek Doucet asked for help to “make sure students stay spread out as they line up and get their food” and attached a sign-up sheet. The email was soon passed along to many staff members across departments. To fill in the staffing gaps, staff, coaches, faculty and administrators have been enforcing social distancing in dining lines. Following confusion among staff regarding whether hours spent enforcing distancing in dining halls would be eligible for overtime pay, Karen Miller, vice president for human resources and chief risk officer, specified in a Sept. 3 email that enforcing distancing in dining hall lines is treated as volunteer work and will not count as overtime. Staff eligible for overtime — mostly hourly workers — cannot volunteer. As staff members face additional pressures at work, the complications of home life create an evermore challenging situation. Childcare is a source of stress for many staff members: those with children are particularly overscheduled as they attempt to balance work with homeschooling and childcare, Gillespie said. Schools in Addison County will be using a phased approach to their fall semester and will begin in-person class two days a week, although that is subject to change based on Covid-19 transmission both in the county and statewide. While some staff members worry about the potential for an outbreak of Covid-19 as on-campus restrictions are relaxed in phases two and three, others fret about the polarizing nature that the college’s return has had to the town of Middlebury. In the weeks prior to students’ return, there were increasing calls by local community members and college employees for the college to switch to remote learning in anticipation of a Covid-19 outbreak. Parsons only sees one way out. “We need to really band together and treat this like a community problem and have this not be so polarizing.”
The title of this Notes From the Desk is stolen from an early-pandemic Jacobin essay of the same name written by journalist Alex Press. In it, Press examines the place of literary critic James Wood’s “On Not Going Home” in our current pandemic terror. Press quotes Wood: [pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done.[/pullquote] For Press, before the pandemic lies the home that we’ve left. Covid-19 has shown us all the ways that “normal” was inadequate. The fragility of our system was highlighted when the intensive care units filled and the food pantries emptied. We’ve seen far too much to return to the way things were. For good measure, she adds, “We didn’t know we were entering a new era until it arrived.” For most of the Middlebury community, it is pretty easy to point to the minute that we left “home” and entered “afterwardness”: about 11:10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 10, when, via a leaked email, we were notified that students would need to evacuate campus by the end of the week. Echoing Press’s observations of broader American society, the ensuing months showed us just how weak our home at Middlebury was. After the announcement, some students retreated to comfortable mansions, or worse, continued with their spring break plans, flying around the world with a level of selfishness that was rivaled only by their idiocy. Others were houseless, sleeping in cars and crashing on couches, their graded coursework an intermediary between their wealthy college and their harsh financial realities. This divergence of the two Midds continued into the summer. One is traveling across the country to see friends, posting TikToks from the back of a lake boat. The other is working — not interning — putting themselves in harm’s way to scrounge up enough money to pitch toward a semester of undiscounted tuition. These inequalities have always existed, and so have the college’s failures in addressing them, but now they are inescapable. Just as inescapable has been the national confrontation of the United States’ long, racist history. Press wrote her essay before this summer, a season that will hopefully be stamped in the history books as a turning point in the American consciousness. Millions of Americans taking to the streets to protest an unjust and racist system was another departure from the ignorantly calm “home” we once knew. Middlebury is having its own reckoning; trying — and often failing — to correctly address the racist history and biased structure of an institution that graduated the first Black college student in the country but that may have thought he was White at the time. I’m writing this in anticipation of students returning to campus next month and establishing a new normal. It’s been endlessly repeated that we will be returning to a Middlebury unlike one we have ever known. The home that we left is no longer there; we cannot return to it. It is easy to grasp how social distancing measures and restricted movement will physically change our lives at Middlebury. Of course, this is for the best: the pandemic rages on across the country, and the federal government seems resigned to letting it win. At Middlebury, there will be no football games or packed Atwater parties. Dining will be different, as will studying. The biggest change will be in the classroom — or lack thereof. The success of these measures will rely almost solely on the student body and our willingness to think of someone besides ourselves. Any attempt to return home in this physical regard, whether that be via an off-campus party or dorm room gathering, is an active sabotage of the lives of others. Students have not had the best track record with thoughtful, unselfish decision-making. We cannot return to that. In five years, this fall’s return to campus will be remembered in one of two ways: it will either be a cautious gamble that paid off, or it will be the biggest mistake Middlebury College has ever made. Let’s ensure that it is seen as the former, and not the latter. On a communal level, the pandemic and month of June have exposed how our Middlebury home, the one we just left, is not a home for everyone. On top of the ways that our rushed evacuation from campus revealed the unequal playing field of the Middlebury education, over the last month, many students, faculty and staff have poured their hearts out describing the many instances of racism and discrimination they’ve experienced at the college. The full extent of the college’s failure of Black and Brown community members was finally revealed for all to see. The pandemic has exposed just how flimsily constructed the image of our multicultural, diverse liberal arts college really is. To try to return to the status quo without addressing these issues, without supporting the community members affected, would be an act of malicious cowardice on all of our parts. The mask is off, and to put it back on would be a failure in every regard. These two homes, the physical and the communal, are inextricably linked. You cannot advocate for a stronger community while acting in a manner that jeopardizes it. You cannot protect the community in one breath while supporting its destruction in the next. In her essay, Press writes, “The past had a fog, and we didn’t even know it… We face the facts, and in doing so, we transform what came before. We can never go back.” When the fall semester begins, all of us — faculty, staff and students — will be tasked with many difficult decisions. Our new normal will require every single person on and around campus to consciously take care of one another, both in our prevention of an outbreak and in our construction of a better community. This would be a grand departure from the way things were before. We now all know that the old Midlebury wasn’t working for everyone — the fog has lifted. There’s no excuse for going back.
Looking ahead to August and the return of students to Middlebury, staff members are imagining what work might look like on a campus once again populated by students. Since students vacated campus in March, staff concerns related to employment and compensation have loomed large. A week after students left campus, the college committed to full wage continuity and no layoffs through June 30, a pledge administrators have since tentatively extended to next July in their new 2021 budget. Many staff members have mostly remained at home throughout the pandemic, with others coming in on staggered work schedules. Now, midway through the summer, wages, workplace safety and community health are all concerns on the minds of staff as the college releases plans for a largely on campus fall semester. A new budget for a new normal A staff Town Hall on June 25 sought to answer some of these unknowns. During the meeting, Treasurer David Provost announced Middlebury’s then-proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year, including full compensation for all staff for the duration of the year. The college will begin campus-wide wage and hiring freezes as it seeks to stop the bleeding from an expected $18.5 million shortfall in the upcoming year, according to Provost. The new policies received mixed reactions — some staff expressed understanding of the college’s financial position, while others saw the freezes as a continuation of inadequacies of fair staff pay. One academic support staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, was less understanding of the measures. “The cost of living isn’t going down in Vermont, so not getting at least the minimum cost of living increase is like taking another pay cut,” they said. The staff member also expressed frustrations with the new hiring freeze, arguing that, “there is no job equity, and employees [who are] being asked — requested, really — to take on additional work for the same pay are essentially receiving another pay cut.” With the hiring freeze, the employee fears that any additional position that is vacated will not be filled, but that the work required of that position will simply be distributed among current employees. But landscaping worker Todd Weedman acknowledged the economic realities of the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on the college. “From [Provost’s] perspective, I can understand that,” he said. “Unemployment is as high as it’s ever been. I’m surprised that there weren’t pay cuts.” In the staff Town Hall, Provost has made it clear that the current budget is based on estimations of student enrollment and the college’s ability to carry out a full semester on campus. Deviation from those assumptions may lead to some hard decisions. “I feel grateful the administration has guaranteed us our full wages for the year,” said Katie Gillespie, associate director for research compliance, who is also a representative on the Staff Council. “But I know that’s contingent on enrollment and the tuition that we get. If we are short from the projections that are made, then we would look into less desirable options.” In the June 25 Town Hall, Provost said the college would revisit staff wages in October even with the 2021 budget. In the same meeting, President Laurie Patton elaborated that if the college found that the current budget was unsustainable, they would need to consider cutting benefits and moving toward fractional pay. Although the college set up the Covid-19 pay bank to support staff members throughout the pandemic, many staff who cannot work remotely still needed to use their own combined time off (CTO) to cover their days stuck at home. College Horticulturist and Staff Council President Tim Parsons sees this as a more glaring issue among the other small details of the new budget. “A lot of staff have hardly any vacation time saved up now,” Parsons said. “People aren’t really asking for hazard pay, but they do want their vacation back.” Furthermore, depleted CTO could prevent many from having time off in the event of another emergency cancellation of in-person classes later in the year or even with the current plan for a shortened semester. “Even though the administration has committed to keeping wages and benefits whole for now, [dining staff] are worried about all the CTO they are using up,” said one longtime dining worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution. “[Dining staff] won’t be able to accrue enough [CTO] to keep up with the shutdown time if we have an end date for feeding most students by the week of Thanksgiving.” Safety on campus As staff members begin to return to campus throughout July, questions of workplace safety are at the forefront of many minds. Some departments are still working through how to operate in a socially distant manner — a process that’s far from one-size-fits-all. While a handful of departments, such as landscaping and parts of facilities repair, have less interaction with students and are thus less at risk, others, such as dining or custodial staff, deal with students in close quarters every day. Some staff are more confident than others in the decision to begin the phased return to work. “I don’t think we would be going back unless it was safe for us to do so,” said Parsons when asked about the staff’s return to work. “We don’t have all of the answers right now, but I have faith that we will.” Gillespie has mixed feelings. “It’s tough, and there’s really no good option,” she said. “Middlebury was very deliberate in explaining the decisions they were making, which was good. Whether or not we can do it remains to be seen. I’m nervous yet still cautiously optimistic.” The anonymous academic support worker was less optimistic. “I know that Middlebury plans to take every precaution it can to keep the college community safe, but I feel the risk of a Covid breakout on campus this fall is much higher than an outbreak was in the spring,” the staff member said. “Students will be returning from all over the United States and possibly abroad, where many have been exposed to Covid-19 and may be bringing it with them without even knowing.” “Middlebury raced to send students home in the spring claiming that we did not have the capacity to handle an outbreak in our community,” the worker added. “I don’t believe much has changed in that regard since.” Like many of its peers, the college has used the spring and the summer to explore different safety options. For example, some departments — like dining — used the post-departure period of the spring semester, during which about 70 students remained on campus, as a testing phase for new cleanliness and safety measures. The anonymous dining worker was confident that a safe workplace is possible “as long as everyone follows the rules.” It remains to be seen how diligently students will adhere to safety requirements, though many experts question college students’ abilities to do so. Many of the policies implemented for dining are simply strengthened versions of practices already in place before the Covid-19 pandemic, and some staff think that the college has failed to address the crux of the issue — in-person interactions. “In dining, we are required to keep everything sanitized anyway, so we just have to be even more vigilant about it,” the worker said. “It is something we take seriously... It is interacting with students that may make it difficult.” Students’ return The largest change to life in Middlebury since March will be the return of hundreds and thousands of students to campus in the fall. This mass arrival presents its own unique logistical and epidemiological challenges given the college’s rural setting. Still, some staff members expressed optimism about returning students’ ability to bring back a liveliness to campus that’s been lacking since March. “We’re so anxious and excited for students to come back,” Weedman said. “The campus feels so strange being so empty.” Others expressed more cautious views but nonetheless recognized the communal value of working to craft an in-person fall. “With a small community, there’s always a big question of how an outbreak here affects community health resources,” Gillespie said. “But I think if we all have a community mindset, we can return to campus responsibly and safely.” Still, some staff were less confident in students’ abilities to be responsible. Weedman stressed the importance of students buying into safe practices. “A lot of it is going to hang on [students],” he said. “A lot of people are coming in from out of state, so it might be kind of tough.” “I think that after a few weeks it will get harder and harder to get students to adhere to all of the rules,” said the anonymous dining worker. “You’ll then see staff starting to get upset, as they will feel exposed and then have to go home every night to the rest of their family.” Jarrod Head, a cook in Proctor, is concerned about the propensity for nightlife on campus to spread the virus but sees students’ return to campus as an opportunity for maturation. “We should all be humble and remember that we are here for a safer future and to go back into the world,” he said. The return represents a chance to grow up, he continued. “We all become adults and at some point realize that we are part of something bigger.”
As thousands around the world protested this weekend against the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the town of Middlebury joined in a collective vigil for Floyd’s life. Roughly 375 people congregated — while maintaining social distance and wearing masks — on and around College Park and the Cross Street Bridge on Saturday to remember Floyd and to protest the act of police brutality that ended his life. The Middlebury chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) and the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (CVUUS) organized the vigil. Due to Middlebury’s rural location and the threats presented by the Covid-19 outbreak, organizers were careful to consider the risk of Covid-19 spread in setting up the event. Organizers planned the event to occur in tandem with a protest held in Burlington, and participants were asked to limit chanting and yelling during the demonstration in order to combat the transmission of the novel coronavirus. “We were all wearing masks and standing far apart. There was something powerful to me about that. Normally rallies and protests have some element of socializing to them, as we greet friends and neighbors we haven’t seen in a while,” Professor Pam Berenbaum, director of Middlebury’s global health program, said in an email to The Campus. “This time, it felt quieter and more somber, as people were aware of the risks of attending a public event during Covid-19 and kept the greetings to a minimum. As a result, the issue we were protesting, racial injustice, seemed to come into sharper relief.” Joanna Colwell, media and outreach coordinator for SURJ Middlebury, sees a connection between Covid-19 prevention measures and the vigil itself. “Both embody a sort of caring for your community,” Colwell said. “Wearing a mask is a way to say that I care about your safety.” The result was a somber and reflective demonstration, a far cry from the violence and rioting that has beset many American cities in the last week. Participants remained on the sidewalk and there was no visible Middlebury Police Department presence. This too was a contrast from similar demonstrations around the country, where protesters marching in streets faced widespread police brutality. In Middlebury, the demonstration remained calm. Participants held signs of the names of unarmed black men and women who had been killed by police around the country. Families used the opportunity to teach their young about the harsh realities of the country, said Economics Professor Jon Isham. Isham was at first taken aback by the vigil’s non-traditional form, a result of the organizers’ Covid-19 prevention efforts. “It was very respectful and very somber,” he said. “Everyone was looking for what to do, looking down the road, looking for an answer.” Echoing a sentiment shared by President Patton in her statement on Floyd’s killing, Isham pointed to the consciousness of Covid-19 transmission as illustrating the country’s battle against what he described as two pandemics, the virus and racism. Yet, organizers acknowledged that in order for the demonstration to be truly meaningful, work must continue through the summer and beyond. Throughout the demonstration, SURJ handed out flyers with information on resources and actions to continue anti-racist work after the event, including links to bail funds and petitions. “Our vigil nourished my faith that Addison County is well situated to be a bright light in the struggle to dismantle racism,” said Reverend Barnaby Feder, minister of CVUUS. “But it didn't undermine the systems and attitudes that make events like the murder of George Floyd inevitable. That is the real work still to be done." Colwell was even blunter, referencing Addison County’s overwhelmingly white population. “As white people in a racist society, we think it’s ‘those bad racist people’ over there, but that is untrue. We need to make sure that people continue to do the work after the moment passes.” The town and college have not escaped incidents of police discrimination and brutality in the past, with Middlebury Public Safety’s history of racial profiling allegations and Vermont’s rise in deaths at the hands of police anchoring the issues in Addison County. Colwell and Feder had originally planned for around 100 participants to arrive on Saturday. They were happily surprised when close to 400 protesters showed up. For Colwell, the purpose of both the vigil and its Covid-19 prevention measures boil down to a simple sentiment: “everyone deserves to be safe.”
As I boarded the final leg of my journey home, a 12-hour flight from Boston to Honolulu, I was overcome with emotion. Not only had the process of moving out of Middlebury been exhausting, but it had also been extremely hard to decide where I was going to go after leaving campus. In the end, I decided to fly home. Upon arrival, I would immediately self-isolate to mitigate any possible Covid-19 exposure to my local community. Still, as I walked down the jetway, I was barely sure of my decision — and so I was shocked when the plane quickly filled up with tourists. A woman behind me gave an explanation. She had the next two weeks off from her work as a school teacher, and had always wanted to go to Hawaiʻi. When she saw how cheap the tickets were, she just had to buy them. I was stunned. This woman was vacationing to the most remote major city in the world, to the state with the seventh oldest population in the country, in the middle of what had just been declared a global pandemic. I immediately thought of my friends who work in the tourism industry and live with their grandparents (a common situation in the islands). Working in close proximity to tourists, they’re at high risk for contracting the disease and passing it along to their family members. Every tourist’s decision to vacation jeopardizes the lives of my friends and their families. I’m aware of how upsetting the drastic change to spring break plans can be. I’m also aware of the seemingly incredible travel opportunities presented by low airplane fares and plummeting hotel prices. But right now, your decisions as a traveler, as a tourist, are bound to have unintended consequences. At present, any travel disregards social distancing recommendations suggested by doctors and actively harms international efforts to minimize the transmission of Covid-19. For some — namely those traveling home — such transgressions are necessary evils. For others, however, these recommendations are simply white noise to be tuned out on their cheap flights to exotic locales. Even under normal circumstances, tourism has an outsized impact on local communities. On one hand, it often drives local economies, creating jobs and expanding businesses. On the other hand, members of these communities are often made to watch as their homes are turned into effective theme parks for wealthy out-of-towners. Given the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment, these impacts are multiplied exponentially. The societal impacts are compounded by much more serious health risks. Residents of these often geographically isolated locations are already at high risk for a pandemic. The very isolation that makes getaways so enticing also makes it harder for necessary supplies to reach the destinations in question. The locales’ healthcare infrastructure is most likely already susceptible to overload. Moreover, placing a further burden on already delicate food and resource supply chains could prove to be debilitating for locals. Such repercussions are so likely that the Governor of Hawaiʻi is asking tourists to stay out for a month. Corona-tourism isn’t confined to the 50th State. Masses of vacationers are flocking to the slopes of Vermont during this crisis. The beaches of South Florida are filled with college students continuing spring break plans. In the time between when my plane landed and this piece was published, the number of cases in the state of Hawaiʻi rose from 2 to 37. Out of the 37 cases, 35 are believed to have been contracted from out-of-state travel. And the still-crowded beaches of Waikiki indicate that the worst is yet to come. The responsibility of flattening the Covid-19 infection curve lies upon all of us. But tourists who use this crisis as an opportunity to vacation should bear the full guilt of actively making things worse and threatening human lives. Jake Gaughan '22 is one of The Campus’s Opinion editors. He is from Honolulu, Hawaii.