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Since Isaac Hayes’ death on August 11, I have been searching the Internet in vain for news stories that mention his visit to Vermont in November of 2005. It’s a weird and irresistible aspect of cyber-culture that you can google your way to history, but even the world’s greatest search engine has limits.
We brought Hayes to Middlebury College as part of a lecture series on the arts and political activism, which also included photographer Bill Bamberger and playwright Larry Kramer. For me, Hayes’ visit was particularly special since his music has been part of the American landscape since he helped define the Memphis Sound and co-wrote “Wrap it Up” and “Soul Man,” both of which were recorded and made famous by Sam and Dave.
While at Middlebury, Hayes had lunch with faculty, staff, and students, did an interview at WRMC—and a radio spot that still gets played from time to time—and spoke in Mead Chapel. His informal, if somewhat rambling talk got mixed reviews, and some were taken aback by his praise for Scientology. But Hayes had a presence, warmth, and sense of humor that were hard to resist. And when he sang a slow R & B tune in Mead after his talk—accompanying himself on the piano—he got a standing ovation. You knew then why Hayes was one of the major forces in pop music during the 60s and 70s.
Hayes’ best-known song, “Shaft,” came out in 1971 when I was in seventh grade, and established Hayes as an icon of black power. When he performed or made a public appearance—resplendent in fur robes, or wearing his trademark gold chain vest—he meant business. Check out the DVD that comes with “The Ultimate Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It?” (a great compilation, by the way), and you can see Hayes command the stage before a packed house at Los Angeles Coliseum, introduced by a young Jesse Jackson.
Given Hayes’ image, I always assumed he was a very big man, so when I picked him up at the Burlington airport and saw he was definitely under six feet, I expressed my surprise. He laughed and said that during the Shaft days, he had been doing a lot of weight lifting and was really buff. He also told me he had sold his gold chain shirts on eBay.
People talk about about being “touched by history,” and I felt that way after spending time with Isaac Hayes. He will be missed, but I am grateful I can still listen to his music and be connected to the legacy he left behind.
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Mea culpa, at least a little. In my last post, I did not disclose the full contents of the Provost’s office. I did not mention the College Museum (directed by Richard Saunders), the Committee on the Arts and associated operations (chaired/administered by Glenn Andres), the Rohatyn Center (led by Allison Stanger), Environmental Affairs (headed up by Nan Jenks-Jay), the Admissions office (overseen by Bob Clagett), or the office of Off-Campus Study (whose dean, Jeff Cason, also works with Michael Geisler on a variety of international programs).
And I did not mention Library and Information Services, which employs more than 100 staff members. Mea maxima culpa.
To make amends, I asked Mike Roy, our new Dean of LIS, who just arrived from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, to give his first impressions of the College.
I’m Mike Roy. I started at Middlebury this July as the Dean for Library and Information Services. As part of my effort to learn about all things Middlebury (you can see that plan at http://tinyurl.com/first100days), I had lunch with many of the students who work at LIS over the summer. One of them asked me (in the nicest of ways): “So, what is your job, anyway?”
I said that I go to meetings. I then muttered some stuff about how I try to make sure that the work of LIS is aligned with the goals of the college, how I work on budget and planning to make sure that we have the resources we need to do the work we are asked to do, and work on management and organizational questions to make sure that we use those resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. Before I could say much more, I noticed that a glazed look had come over his previously inquiring face.
“That sounds fascinating” he said.
“What’s your favorite department in the library?” he then asked. I wasn’t sure if this might not be a trick question. Did he want me to say that I liked our collection development area more than I liked circulation? Or was he wondering if I preferred American literature over the Reference section? I hedged. I told him that all areas had fascinating aspects to them, but that for me, probably the most interesting question surrounding the work we do in the library (and in technology) is how that work will change given all of the changes that we are living through. What will happen to our video and audio collections when vast collections become available for download over the web? What will happen to our monograph collecting habits as more and more publishers move to electronic formats? As tools like Google Scholar mature and proliferate, what role will the library website play in the research habits of our students?
He listened politely, but it wasn’t clear to me that these were issues that spoke to him, since these were questions that concerned the professional identities and futures of those of us who work in this area, and even though he worked in the library as a student worker, he had no particular reason to find these questions relevant to him. And that’s understandable.
I organized this lunch as a way of signaling to our students that I am very interested in building relationships with them, as a means of understanding how Middlebury students use our services, our facilities, and our materials to do their academic work. As we plan out the future of classrooms, computer labs, study spaces, the college website, the distribution of software, the network, reference and instruction, our library collections, and all of the other things that we do, we need to find ways to understand the student perspective on these matters. It is a challenge to figure out ways to gain that understanding, since often the only voices we hear from are the voices of the discontented. Over the course of the year, we’ll be trying out various ways to gain a fuller perspective: surveys, focus groups, observation, and more formal advisory groups that can help to ensure that we have regular two-way communication between students and LIS.
One simple experiment that we’ve just launched is a suggestion box/blog (at http://blogs.middlebury.edu/lissuggestions/) , which we are using to provide a public space to ask questions, make comments, and offer friendly suggestions. We’re hoping to respond in some fashion to all questions, at least at the start of this. Suggestions can be emailed to LISSuggestions@middlebury.edu.
If you have thoughts about how we can improve our services to best meet your particular needs, please do try out the blog. If you have thoughts about how we can create better communication channels to make sure that we evolve our services with regular input from students (our only paying customers!), let me know by sending me an email (email@example.com) or set up a time for us to meet to discuss.
Back before Ron Liebowitz was president of Middlebury, and Ron Liebowitz Day was just a glimmer in the eye of some middle schooler, Ron was Provost. One day he got an email from a student, responding to an all-campus email that had gone out from the Provost’s Office. “What the hell is a Provost?,” the student wanted to know, and “who the hell is Ron Liebowitz?”
WhiIe I believe we can set the second question aside, the first one lingers, and is the subject of a recent post on MiddBlog. The term “provost” is a bit rarified, and the administrative structures that govern even liberal arts colleges like Middlebury remain a mystery for most students who bother to think about them. So I thought I would try and shed some light on this subject. I have a personal interest in this topic since I will be serving next year as “Acting Provost” while Provost and VP Alison Byerly is on leave.
Middlebury’s administration breaks down into several divisions or lines, beginning with the President who reports to the Board of Trustees. The President’s direct reports include Executive VP and Treasurer (Bob Huth), VP for Administration (Patrick Norton), VP for Advancement (Mike Schoenfeld), VP for Communication (Mike McKenna), VP for Language Schools (Michael Geisler), VP for Institutional Planning and Diversity (Shirley Ramirez), and the Provost. Despite its image as a small college in rural Vermont, Middlebury is a complex institution that employs roughly 1200 staff members and 270 faculty members—totals that don’t include the people who work in the schools abroad, Bread Loaf, the language schools (another separate 230 faculty members), or Monterey.
For students or parents who have a question, problem, or matter they want to address with “the College,” navigating this bureaucracy can be a challenge. Consequently, some people just start with the President, and then follow-up with other offices as directed. This approach—which reinforces the idea that we have a top-down administration—deserves its own separate discussion. For now, though, let’s stick with the big picture.
Most, but not all, issues related to Middlebury’s educational programs are in the Provost’s domain. Significant exceptions are the areas administered by Michael Geisler and Shirley Ramirez, who, respectively, oversee the language schools and study abroad, and work with students on a variety of diversity issues. Also, several critical student services report up to Patrick Norton—for instance, Student Financial Services and Dining.
The Provost’s office includes the Dean of the Faculty (Susan Campbell), the Dean of the Curriculum (Bob Cluss), and the Dean for Faculty Development and Research (Jim Ralph). These administrators—all faculty members—are responsible for hiring faculty, and supporting their teaching and research. The office also incorporates, among others, the Director of Athletics (Erin Quinn) and the Dean of the College (Gus Jordan), who in turn works with the Associate Deans of the College, the Commons Deans, and a range of student-life professionals, who direct offices such as CCAL and CSO.
People sometimes joke or complain about all the deans and administrators Middlebury employs, and they have a point: we have put in place a lot (human) resources to guide various initiatives, many developed by faculty and staff and others the product of student energy and creativity. On the academic side, the College is largely governed by the faculty, namely elected committees that make tenure decisions and allocate teaching resources (decide what sort of faculty to hire), though it would be disingenuous to say that administrators don’t play a significant role in making the trains run on time or routing the tracks in a particular direction.
More than a train conductor, the Provost is the College’s chief academic officer (after the President, of course), charged with directing traffic within the administration and—of prime importance—facilitating the work of the Promotions and Reappointments Committees, which make recommendations to the President on the tenure and reappointment of faculty members. The Provost also chairs the Staff Resources Committee (which considers staff hires), administers the allocation of endowed funds, and works with the Grants Office and College Advancement to raise funds externally. So there is plenty to do and, fortunately, lots of very talented people, both faculty and staff, to make sure all the work gets done.
How clear the administration’s work is to the rest of the community is hard to say. Although faculty and staff generally know where to go when they have a question or problem, the student who wondered “what the hell is a Provost” was probably not alone in his befuddlement about how Middlebury’s administration is organized. Part of me thinks that is just fine. After all, students should be pursuing their education and following their interests, blissfully free from concerns about “Old Chapel.” On the other hand, life is more complicated than that, even within the Middlebury bubble, and students should know where to turn when they need information or help. The Commons Dean or Head is always the best first contact, but some issues necessarily lead students beyond their immediate neighborhood.
Here in the blogosphere, I’d like to devote more posts to how the administration functions and what it hopes to accomplish in the near future. To that end, I plan to enlarge the line-up at One Dean’s View and bring my administrative colleagues in for guest shots so that they can talk about the projects they are working on. Despite serving as Acting Provost, I mean to hang on to this dean’s view, and continue to address issues that are relevant to student life. But we are going to mix it up, expand the scope, and maybe find out what else is in the administration.
And, if any readers have questions, we will try to answer them too.
This past weekend, I traveled with Associate Dean Gus Jordan and twelve students to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend Nick Garza’s memorial service. The service took place on Saturday night at Albuquerque Academy, Nick’s high school, and was very well attended—by family, friends, classmates, teachers, and community members.
I spoke on behalf of the College, and offered the following comments about Nick’s time at Middlebury:
Reflections on Nick Garza
If there is anything uplifting about grief, it is that the pain of loss can bring joyful memories of the person who is gone. Through remembering, we come to understand—more clearly than ever before—the love that connected us to him, or her.
Nick Garza was well loved. He was loved in Albuquerque, and he was loved at Middlebury College. In my remarks tonight, I want to share some thoughts about what Nick meant to our community.
I begin with a letter from our president, Ron Liebowitz:
It is with a heavy heart that I write these words to you today. Nothing affects the life of Middlebury College, or of a school like Albuquerque Academy, more than the loss of a student. And nothing is more painful for a parent than the loss of a child. Natalie, you shared your son with us, and we came to know you and your family during months of terrible waiting…and searching…and hoping. There are no words for this kind of loss, or for this kind of grief.
And yet we search for words because we are teachers; we are mentors; we are colleagues, students, and friends. We seek to understand the world around us, and the mysteries of life and death, through study and words. And when that effort fails, as it does tonight, we reach out to one another and we speak of our loss because speaking binds us together as one, gives us strength, and opens us to the holy and the sacred. Ultimately, words spoken among us here and across the miles between our two homes allow us to not only mourn a life, but to celebrate and treasure it, and to announce to one another without hesitation that what Nick brought into your world here, and into ours, was a gift to us all.
You shared Nick with us last fall, and he forever linked our communities together. He brought the very soil and soul of New Mexico to Vermont and in his brief time with us, touched us. He brought to us his passion for politics, debate, poetry, literature, hockey, and music; you may have heard that shortly after arriving on campus, Nick introduced and hosted his own rock show–“”W.R.M. Sweet” he called it–on the College’s radio station. In just 4 short months Nick had made an impact on our campus, and of course, during those months he also made friends.
Some of those friends are here today. They come literally from across the country and across the world. We invited 12 students to represent our College, and all 12 said yes without a moment’s hesitation. I’m so pleased that our students can meet you, and can see this wonderful community that helped Nick become who he was. I’m equally pleased that your students, as well as Nick’s family and friends, can learn a little more about who Nick was becoming with us.
Please know that Nick’s death pains us beyond words. And yet we speak, for in speaking we draw together grief and gratitude, and in that unity we touch the deep mysteries of life and faith.
My thoughts and prayers are with you tonight.
Ronald D. Liebowitz
I turn now to Nick’s classmates, the friends who traveled across the country to be with us tonight. Here are some of their reflections:
- Nick was one of the first people I met at college and for the entire first semester and January term I hung out with him every day. He was always in our room, playing typing games online, watching movies, introducing me to music I had never heard before, or “man-caving” (a term he made up which referred to when he slept on our futon as we napped).
- A young man with a keen social sense, Nick reliably contributed good laughs for all of us at Middlebury. I found that he was a very smart guy, and dealt with his work without much difficulty. In addition, Nick demonstrated great skill on the ice as he participated in intramural hockey.
- Nick was a hilarious, great guy who always put me in a better mood. He made my transition from high school to college so much easier for me and he will always be a part of my life.
- Another good tidbit to know about Nick is that he played “Genesis” by Justice at least seven times a day. In many ways it was his anthem and no one in the Dungeon can play it anymore without remembering him dancing, poorly, in his room to it.
- Everyone who knew Nick also knew his humor: the PF Flyers, slim jeans, and the way he’d talk and laugh and get angry, his face getting red and eyebrows dark, and you not really knowing whether he was kidding or serious, but loving it all the same. I remember his buying ski goggles off the Internet when we were all going to try skiing. Although they cost only thirty dollars, he wore them with the price tag still on them, proud and haughty, and the tag dangled and read “1,000 euros” in black sharpie, written in his own handwriting
- My strongest memory of Nick is watching the Graduate with him in my dorm room in Allen Hall. Neither of us had ever seen it and we had no expectations, but after it finished we sat for about an hour just saying over and over again “that’s the best movie ever made.” When I watch the film by myself now I feel strongly connected to him.
- Nick insisted on having intellectual dinner conversations. I can’t remember how he felt about free will vs fate, but the fact that he forced us all to discuss it speaks to his nature. Nick was an academic. He loved philosophy in general, and he, like me, thought Republicans just had to be kidding and should not be taken too seriously. He loved his friends from home, and he loved being from the mountains.
And, finally, a letter to Nick:
You were the cornerstone of our fraternity of brothers. We were lost in the dark without you. You were incredibly well read, opinionated and inspiring. You taught me so much, and continued to even after you left us. I now see life clearer than ever as you have showed me true insight into the hectic world around me, a way of life that now guides many of my decisions. You taught me that life is about relationships and whom you choose to surround yourself with. I feel full every night because you have showed me this, what I now consider to be the key to a happy life. I think about you every day and will continue to forever. Your friends and I are closer than ever, a band of brothers if you will. You are truly missed and I love you.
This is a follow up to my May 4 post, addressing the problems that students have had with Middlebury Confessional, the anonymous online forum.
In my May 3 letter to students, I tried my hand at moral suasion, asking posters to Middlebury Confessional to treat one another with some civility. However, at the end of that note, I suggested that the Handbook does give concerned students some options for redress. Here they are:
1. File a complaint based on the College’s harassment policies. Middlebury College prohibits “any form of coercion or harassment that insults the dignity of others and interferes with their freedom to learn or work.” The Handbook provides a comprehensive definition of harassment as well as instructions for filing a complaint. Potential complainants should consult the Handbook and speak with one of the College’s human relations advisors if they believe they have been subject to harassment.
2. File a complaint with Library and Information Service based on the College policies regarding the “responsible use” of computing and network services. The Handbook notes that “the same standards of civilized discourse and etiquette that govern our face-to-face interactions should apply in cyberspace. All users of our computing and networking facilities bear the responsibility to avoid libel, obscenity, undocumented allegations, attacks on personal integrity, and harassment.” Anyone who feels that these standards have been violated may file a complaint with LIS, and LIS will “investigate and act, including cooperating with legal authorities, if necessary.” Contact person: Carrie Rampp, Area Director of Resource Development & Services, LIS. Ext 2451; firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Register a complaint with Community Council. Community Council “considers policies and issues in all areas pertaining to the nonacademic life” and recommends actions to the president and administration “in which the council has an interest.” Any member of the Middlebury community may bring a concern or recommendation to Community Council for its consideration.
These options will also be posted on the Dean of the College web page.