MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – The Middlebury Board of Trustees focused on the redesign of student life, faculty work culture, and Middlebury’s broad-based support of the region and state at their regular October meeting. Other topics that the board discussed included the Conflict Transformation Collaborative, equity and inclusion initiatives, and finances.
Faculty Work Culture
On October 20, trustees, advisors, and members of the Senior Leadership Group participated in a board retreat, where they first discussed faculty work culture and how the job and support have changed over the last decade. President Laurie Patton gave opening remarks. Michelle McCauley, interim executive vice president and provost, provided context on the connection between workload, stress, and satisfaction. She noted that even as faculty shared challenges, they reported great connection and satisfaction with their work with students, and with faculty colleagues. McCauley said that the administration, in partnership with faculty leadership, is responding to these challenges through efforts that include reducing unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and allowing more opportunity for faculty to focus on teaching, mentoring and advising students, and pursuing scholarship. Patton and all members of the SLG reiterated that this emphasis on continuous business improvement and removing unnecessary burdens will also be focused on staff.
Patton, McCauley, and trustees Karen Stolley and Helen Riess facilitated the conversation, and AJ Vasiliou, chair of Faculty Council, served as a resource and a participant.
Commitment to Vermont
The second half of the retreat highlighted the College’s long-term commitment to the local community and Vermont. Patton, who has made this effort a priority of her presidency, described the College’s broad-based support, and noted that Middlebury is engaging on a multitude of fronts, involving key on- and off-campus stakeholders, employers, nonprofit organizations, local and state government, and economic development groups.
Patton offered examples of Middlebury’s financial efforts, including approximately $500,000 for summer and winter Vermont internships—out of a total of more than $1 million for internships overall. Student panelists described to trustees their experiences as interns for local organizations through the College’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), Center for Careers and Internships (CCI), and the Innovation Hub.
“We want to expose students to the many opportunities that exist right here—whether they want to start a business or work for a nonprofit,” said Patton. “Our goal is to nurture meaningful and deep connections to Vermont with the hope that students will choose to stay and work here after they graduate.”
David Provost, executive vice president for administration and finance, also pointed to Middlebury’s involvement and multimillion dollar investment in a new community childcare center, affordable and workforce housing, rural broadband, and efforts to attract new business to Middlebury.
In the evening on October 20, the trustees hosted a reception and dinner in honor of local and state officials, first responders, and partners who supported the Middlebury community throughout the pandemic. Invited guests included Vermont State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and Vermont State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso, both of whom participated in a facilitated discussion with Dr. Mark Peluso, chief health officer and college physician, regarding the College’s collaboration with them and other health department officials on its COVID response.
Student Affairs Redesign
On October 21, Smita Ruzicka, vice president for Student Affairs, shared an update on the restructuring of her division, including an outline of key changes to enhance student experience, support, and programs. She described the new class dean role, the new care management and integrated care approach to working with students facing barriers and challenges, and the creation of a student engagement area to highlight leadership development for students.
Ruzicka noted that Student Affairs staff is working this year to intentionally build beginners’ access to the outdoors, to engage more students who are traditionally underrepresented in outdoor programs, and to emphasize the role of the outdoors and wilderness therapy in mental health.
“Although the challenges regarding COVID have eased, our student body has lived through intense times during the pandemic and now has different needs than it did previously,” said Ruzicka. “Our programming emphasizes certain life skills that may have been absent when they were in high school.”
According to Ruzicka, an evolving strategy for student life across the institution includes a stronger partnership with the Language Schools and the inclusion of representatives from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey on Community Council—a group of students, faculty, and staff that meets to discuss non-academic issues on campus.
On October 22, Patton discussed a number of her priorities for this year, from the importance of financial sustainability, funding financial aid and meeting campaign goals to academic excellence, where one of her key areas of focus is supporting McCauley, the interim provost, in her work with faculty. Patton also stressed the need to maintain Middlebury’s environmental leadership and the importance of creating global experiences for students and faculty in the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, a seven-year, $25 million Middlebury project.
Following her remarks, Patton joined with Sarah Stroup, professor of political science and director of the Conflict Transformation Collaborative, in a discussion about the collaborative’s priorities and progress. In her presentation, Stroup said its goal is to support the development across Middlebury of skills and dispositions that allow us to move from binary and divisive conflicts to productive engagements across difference. The collaborative’s projects from this year range from three new courses in conflict transformation that were part of the Bread Loaf School of English curriculum in 2022 to the training of almost 80 students in restorative practices through Residential Life.
David Provost provided an update on Middlebury’s finances, which are strong due in part to a rebound to pre-pandemic tuition levels and successful fundraising. He said that as the negative effects of the pandemic recede, Middlebury has been better able to pursue the path to financial sustainability it has been seeking since 2017 by managing expenses. Middlebury’s unaudited operating deficit of $4.45 million in fiscal year 2022 was significantly smaller than the deficit of the three preceding fiscal years: $11.9 million in 2021, $11.6 million in 2020, and to $11.3 million in 2019.
Looking ahead, Provost said that if current trends continue, there will be a deficit of $6.5 million for fiscal year 2023 largely due to tuition falling short of estimates; the need for financial aid by 54 percent of the incoming class at the College was greater than expected. Tuition for the Middlebury Schools Abroad will be lower as students are returning after the pandemic at a slower rate than expected. Expenses other than salaries and benefits, such as supplies, equipment, utilities, and contracted services, are also higher due to inflation.
Provost noted that Middlebury committed to an increase of more than $9 million to faculty and staff salaries in the fiscal year 2023 budget. “The pledge that we are fulfilling now—to raise the salary budget by 7 percent—is one of the larger commitments to increase compensation amongst our peers and in higher education,” he said.
According to Provost, maintaining an endowment draw of no more than 5 percent on average over the last 12 quarters, endowment growth, reduction of deficits, and managing expenses has improved Middlebury’s annual financial performance by a total of $48 million since 2016, just before Patton became president.
Provost also shared with the trustees that although the S&P, a key economic indicator, was down 11.98 percent during fiscal year 2022, Middlebury’s endowment was down only .4 percent for the same period.
In other financial news, the board approved the Middlebury Institute’s 2023–2024 tuition and fees, which increased by 4 percent. There are 514 full-time and 135 part-time students enrolled at the Institute this fall.
The board will meet again January 26 through January 28, 2023.