The Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences are the core pillars of a liberal arts education. And yet a well-documented crisis in the humanities, evident in declining majors and enrollments, has swept the country and indeed the globe since at least the financial crisis of 2008.
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As faculty members who helped to spread the word about the Mar. 14 school walkout led by students from the Middlebury Union High School, we were gratified to see such a large turnout this morning from the college community, including President Patton. It is heartening that so many Middlebury students, faculty, staff and other community members joined in solidarity with young people at the forefront of social change. We are distressed, however, with some of the content of an “all staff” email that our staff colleagues received at 2:00 p.m. on Mar. 13, on the eve of the march. That email stated that “[the institution’s] obligation is to conduct classes and provide services to our students. In order to provide these services we need all of our scheduled classes taught and offices opened and staffed.” If the leaders of the institution expected scheduled classes to be taught during the walkout, why wasn’t this (or a comparable) note sent to all faculty? Are the expectations about “employees’ engagement in protests and civic activity” different for faculty and staff? If so, why? The “all staff” email went on to say that “[i]f staff choose to take time off for such activities, they should follow the college’s regular time-off policy by requesting time off in advance, and supervisors should review and approve those requests keeping in mind our need to maintain normal operations.” It is not clear to us that all staff would have had the time — from 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday to 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday — to secure such approvals from their supervisors. Moreover, we are concerned about the possibly intimidating effect of this email’s iteration of staff responsibilities, particularly since the email’s ostensible function as a “reminder” about the need to request permission for an absence from work is belied by its timing right before the protest. Furthermore, Middlebury faculty (as far as we know) were certainly not asked to secure permission from their department chairs, program heads and/or the Dean of Faculty to participate in this civic event. Is this a double standard? If so, why is this appropriate? We do not doubt the sincerity of the email’s final sentiments: “We are supportive of your civic engagement, and encourage you to increase your awareness of the issues of our times.” Indeed, it is precisely because we are certain that the college’s leadership feels this way that we hope, upon the occasion of the next comparable community event, that staff and faculty will be treated in the same manner. Regarding robust civic engagement in the public sphere, the faculty’s status should never be privileged. Laurie Essig, Gender, Feminist & Sexuality Studies; Jon Isham, Economics and Environmental Studies; Michael Sheridan, Sociology/Anthropology; Marion Wells, English & American Literatures