By HARRIETTE BRAINARD
MIDDLEBURY — Trustees at Middlebury College met in Middlebury this weekend and unanimously approved a 100-page strategic plan, which will focus on enhancing the Middlebury students’ educational experience through a continued emphasis on creating a more ethnically and socio-economic diverse student body, as well as promoting the college as a leader in environmental issues locally, nationally and internationally.
The strategic plan, the first since 1992, places its focus on strengthening financial aid and faculty programs, rather than on the college’s physical plant, which has seen the most dramatic physical changes in the past decade in the college’s 205-year history. The new plan also emphasizes the continued growth of the college as a world leader, and the next decade will see expansion of the college’s schools abroad.
Maintaining a strong community relationship with the town is also an integral part of the plan, with a special emphasis on expanding civic programs for students and programs for the community on campus.
“The strategic plan focuses on the human dimension of the college, and less on capital projects and new buildings,” said John Emerson, Dean of Planning and Secretary of the College, who led the task force charged with developing the plan. The plan’s development has spanned the past year, with the trustees taking up the issue at six consecutive meetings since February. The process included engaging hundreds of people who shared a commitment and vision for the coming decade of the college’s and the community’s evolution.
Emerson noted that the effort began with 15 task forces and planning committees, which were assembled after a series of college-wide meetings to consider key themes. Almost 750 students, faculty, and staff members as well as more than 3,500 alumni and parents responded to the original extensive survey.
The process and outcome drew praise from Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz. “John Emerson should be given an enormous amount of credit for overseeing this process,” Liebowitz said. “He made sure that we took our time and were highly inclusive of the college community — he really did a remarkable job.”
Liebowitz added that the process was unusual in that it took place over a long period of time and was a grass roots effort that began within the college community.
The strategic plan is built around a new mission statement with the theme “knowledge without boundaries.” The theme refers to the premise that Middlebury’s location “offers an inspirational setting for learning and reflection” and yet the college also “reaches far beyond the Green Mountains, offering a rich array of undergraduate and graduate programs that connect our community to other places, countries and cultures.”
Moreover, the college’s mission “strives to engage students’ capacity for rigorous analysis and independent thought … and to cultivate the intellectual, creative, physical, ethical, and social qualities essential for leadership in a rapidly changing global community. Through the pursuit of knowledge unconstrained by national or disciplinary boundaries, students who come to Middlebury learn to engage the world.”
“This new mission statement appropriately recognizes Middlebury’s expanding role in the international and global community,” Emerson said. “Much of Middlebury’s uniqueness derives from the reality that we are more than a first-rate liberal arts undergraduate college. I expect that the liberal arts college will always be the heart and soul of who and what the college is, but the many other components of the college are becoming more visible and more seamlessly integrated into the college’s agenda.”
A key component to this mission and strategic plan is strengthening the financial assistance the college is able to offer. Emerson explained that the college wants to “make sure that Middlebury is accessible to the most promising students regardless of their economic ability.” The college has had a “need blind’ admissions process since around 1980, Emerson added, but the goal today is to meet the “full need of those accepted, which enhances the education of all students on campus.”
Such a financial aid policy will help make the college more competitive with the other top colleges and universities in the country that offer similar aid programs. The competition among colleges for top students, particularly from areas like the Southwest, has become more intense in the past several years.
The college has already become an international institution, but this strategic plan concentrates on expanding that role as well as strengthening the students’ campus experience.
“This has been an evolutionary process for the college to take the next steps in expanding its role in an international and global world,” said Emerson, explaining that the college will be focusing on global environmental and diplomatic challenges.
Global awareness has always been a significant element to the Middlebury College experience, which includes a large percentage of the students who travel abroad and a strong language program both abroad and on the local campus.
The college sends about 60 percent of its students abroad for study, a very high percentage compared with other institutions, Emerson said. In addition, the college will have language schools in 11 countries abroad, including programs in Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Uruguay, and, most recently, Chile. The college also will be exploring new opportunities for collaboration with the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. The college is also be expanding its graduate level programs.
In 2005, Middlebury College awarded a total of 269 graduate degrees — 266 master’s degrees and three doctorates. About have of these degrees were awarded by Middlebury schools abroad.
With these opportunities in mind, Middlebury will focus on preparing its students to become global citizens.
“We want to continue to create an ethically and economically diverse campus,” said Liebowitz. “The college has gone from having only 1 percent of the student body being international in 1980, to 12 to 13 percent today. This diverse community will create the richest learning environment, providing students with valuable and different approaches to global issues … Middlebury College will be educating leaders from all over the world.”
The students themselves have initiated multiple programs in the past years such as international symposiums on specific areas, including Afghanistan, and on religion, energy and civil rights issues.
Students and the college also are continuing to make a big push into environmental studies.
“Middlebury College has emerged as a leader in environmental education, environmental leadership, and sound environmental practices,” said Emerson. Examples include the building of biomass plant, which will be a significant alternative energy source for the college in the future. Fuel would be bought locally and contribute to local economic growth. The plan also recognizes the importance of the surrounding environment to the identity of the college, and the fact that education takes place within and outside the classroom.
“It is important to enhance what we have here and expand Middlebury’s role internationally,” Liebowitz said, “to integrate all the resources the college has in this beautiful community into leadership opportunities abroad; and to engage and challenge the students in the changing global environment.”
Both Liebowitz and Emerson cited the importance of the relationship the college has with the town of Middlebury and noted that the proximity to the town and the beautiful setting were key components to the ongoing success of the college. The close relationship also provides an abundance of local opportunities for students to engage in civic leadership roles, which have become increasingly important and mutually beneficial.
“We aim to develop and promote creative, imaginative, and ethical leadership in our students. This includes fostering a sense of civic responsibility and stewardship,” Emerson said.
President Liebowitz said he looks forward to the continued constructive engagement between the town and the college, and finding ways for the college to become even more involved with the community.
Emerson agreed that the college could not have a more attractive, beautiful and appropriate setting.
“The college does not dominate the town, as it is not in the middle of the town, such as colleges in other communities. It is an adjunct to the town. We at the college recognize how important this environment is for an educational setting — and the college also provides a wonderful cultural environment for the community.”
Editor’s Note: To view the full text of the college’s strategic plan,