Middlebury College updates governance as educational offerings grow

MIDDLEBURY — The same day Middlebury College announced that President Ron Liebowitz will step down in 2015, the institution changed its governance structure in order to better deal with the increased size and scope of its educational offerings.
The Middlebury Board of Trustees on Thursday approved several changes to the institution’s bylaws to “oversee the increasingly complex institution and meet the changing demands for higher education,” the college said in a statement.
Liebowitz and board chair Marna Whittington last year created a committee to make recommendations as to how the board should be re-structured.
The committee issued a report in October proposing what the college described as “a sweeping revision of the board’s committee structure,” with 13 specific recommendations.
After evaluating the report, the 33-member board on Dec. 12 adopted a series of changes to the bylaws of the college. These changes include:
•  Reducing the number of standing committees to six — Prudential, Trusteeship and Governance, Strategy, Resources, Risk Management and New Programs.
•  The creation of three new boards of overseers — one for the undergraduate college and one for the Monterey Institute of International Studies, which will replace the current Board of Governors. The final board will represent the “schools,” which include the language schools, Bread Loaf School of English, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the C.V. Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad.
•  Each trustee will be a member of a standing committee and a board of overseers.
“The new standing committees and boards of overseers will create new linkages across the institution to encourage even greater collaboration that leverages academic innovation, technology and the excellence of our faculty and staff,” board chair Whittington said.
The 11-member restructuring committee — made up of faculty, staff and trustees — met five times to discuss and draft recommendations. Its report acknowledged the challenges the college faces as it grows, noting “a discrepancy between the Middlebury of today and its governance structures.”
The six-page document described how “a changing Middlebury and a changing educational landscape — one that is increasingly complex and diverse, with all the opportunities and risk that entails — require different processes and procedures.”
Charlotte Tate, the associate director of the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs and member of the committee that recommended changes to the college’s bylaws, said she was confident in the work the group performed.
“The committee was responsible for recommendations and strategy,” Tate said. “I think the committee reached its goals.”
Fellow committee member Susan Baldridge, Middlebury’s vice president for planning and assessment and a professor of Psychology, described the group’s work as “forward-thinking.”
The college has expanded its operations over the last decade. In 2005, Middlebury became affiliated with the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The college also partners with other institutions, like Mills College in Oakland, Calif., to expand its language programs.
The Bread Loaf writing program, which is based in the mountains in Ripton, expanded to new locations.
The institution’s international presence has expanded to 42 facilities around the world, Whittington said.
“As we become more international, that presents opportunities and challenges to the board in making sure they’re paying attention to all aspects of the college,” Baldridge said. “I think the group was responsive to not only the questions posed by the president and board chair, but also to issues we heard from board members themselves.”
Restructuring committee member and professor of Psychology Suzanne Gurland said the new structure will better equip the board to lead the college in the 21st century.
“The institution and world has changed a lot and the structure of governance hadn’t changed in a long time — it was a mismatch for the present day and for Middlebury,” Gurland said. “I think the new structure is better suited to Middlebury; it is more agile and flexible.”
Gurland said the board of trustees is now empowered to form ad hoc committees as needed, which will allow the body to respond to needs promptly.
Liebowitz will step down June 30, 2015. The changes to the bylaws take effect on July 1, 2014, and the board will begin to change its structure and practices accordingly.
Whittington said that over the next six months trustees will be assigned to the standing committees, and in July committee chairs will attend a training.
There are about 2,450 undergraduates enrolled at Middlebury. This year, the college received 9,112 applicants — the largest pool in the institution’s history. The total cost of attending Middlebury this year, including tuition, room and board, is $57,075.
The college’s endowment, as of March 2013, was $954 million — up from $666 million in 2000. By comparison, the endowment of the University of Vermont is about $350 million. 

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