Top 10 stories of 2014: #9 — Middlebury College chooses Duke dean as next president
Middlebury College has been called “the town’s college,” and many things the college did in 2014 did indeed effect the town and surrounding communities. And some of the things that happened up on the hill were simply important in and of themselves.
The most momentous occurrence this year, of course, was the selection in November of Laurie L. Patton, a dean at Duke University, to succeed current President Ron Liebowitz when he steps down next summer.
When she takes over as the 17th president of the 215-year-old college on July 1, she will be the first woman to hold the post.
Patton, 53, is a Danvers, Mass., native. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1983, a master’s from the Chicago Divinity School in 1986, and a Ph.D. in history of religions from the University of Chicago in 1991. She has authored nine books on South Asian history, culture and religion and two volumes of original poetry, and she has translated into English the classic “Bhagavad Gita” from its original Sanskrit. She has lectured widely on interfaith issues and on religion in public life. Her husband, religion professor Shalom Goldman, will move with his wife to Vermont and join the Middlebury College faculty.
At a press conference announcing her appointment, Patton said she would like to expand diversity at the college — in particular diversity of financial background — as well and improve integration of the many schools and institutes that fall under the Middlebury College umbrella. A prolific fundraiser at Duke, Patton said she would work to make the college more affordable to students by increasing the size of the Middlebury’s endowment, which in 2014 eclipsed $1 billion, and diverting more resources to financial aid.
Patton said she would also work to maintain the strong relationship with the town of Middlebury that Liebowitz championed.
One of the town-gown projects that will be central to the Liebowitz legacy got off the ground in 2014 when Middlebury voters approved — twice — the transfer of the land at 94 Main St. to the college in exchange for the college paying off the majority of the cost of a new town office. Later in the year college officials said the institution would increase its contribution to ensure that the new building will be a net-zero user of energy (consume no more energy than what it produces).
Also on the real estate front, Middlebury College acquired the Lazarus building at 20 Main St. and conveyed it to the town for demolition for better access into the Marble Works Business District. Then the college elected to donate 1.4 acres on Bakery Lane to the town to use as it sees fit for a project to drive economic development in town.
Construction workers toiled throughout 2014 on a big new field house off South Main Street. The 110,000-square-foot building, due to be finished this month, cost around $50 million, all raised from alumni, parents and other donors.
One construction project that wrapped up when workers put the finishing touches on the college’s 17,800-square-foot squash facility by installing a green roof, which featured growing plants set in a soil medium on top of a waterproof membrane installed on top of the building’s roof.
And one can’t forget one other spectacle that came courtesy of Middlebury College just before Halloween. Workers lifted the Osborne House from its 200-year-old foundation in the center of downtown and trucked it in the wee hours across the Cross Street bridge to a new address. It made room for the new town office.
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