Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Justice Roberts Sweeps Midd

Protesters were stealing the Chief Justice Roberts' thunder by grabbing the media attention prior to Middlebury's biggest event of the year. Media were out in force interviewing students (sometimes not even Midd students...) for TV, newspaper, and radio. Protesters numbered in the 15-25 range consistantly with a few professors even joining in (most notably my own advisor). Some protesters chose to dress up for the occasion, choosing to make their point with silence, signs, and masks. Others stuck to chanting. The Butch Divas (led by Artist-in-Residence Francois Clemmens) also sang songs such as "Down by the Riverside" with the protesters.

Mead Chapel was packed and cramped and hot, as to be expected. It was standing room only but those who really wanted to get in, got in even just minutes before the event was supposed to start. Many (several hundred) chose to hit up the satellite locations in Dana and BiHall after an announcement was made that Mead was "full." Lines, at their longest, reached almost down to Painter and Starr. Security was tight all around with the hired event staff in their bright yellow jackets. Secret service agents were in and about at all times.

President Liebowitz introduced the Chief Justice but more importantly announced the establishment of a new professorship position. The William H. Rehnquist Professorship in American History and Culture. The first recipient: James Ralph of the History department.

The Chief Justice himself gave a very brief lecture mostly idolizing Rehnquist and establishing how much the dude was "unconventional." Roberts wasn't particularly inspiring. Many had hoped for something controversial but alas, what do you expect? The least we could have hoped for was something fun or even intellectual but it was mostly bland. Several students asked questions of the Chief Justice which were answered in perfect, side-stepping, lawyer speak. All in all, the Chief Justice left Midd with nothing particularly gained or lost (except perhaps the Justice's visit to a Sam Lazarus' dorm room in Battell). He played it safe, as he should. He was pulled away from the swarming students at the after-party in the social space (good brownies there, btw).

Was it worth it? The school obviously paid a good deal of money to get the Chief Justice here (although, it's possible that we got him to talk on Rehnquist at a discount). We have a nice little grant to make big lectures like this happen every few years but was it worth it? I'd say, yes. It got students here talking about politics and policy like I've never heard. Most of this campus is rather apathetic when it comes to politics. We're isolated AND we tend liberal. Why care? The excitement surrounding the Chief Justice really spurred some great discussions among students today and hopefully will continue to keep students abuzz, even if for just a few days.

Update: It's a little odd that Dean of the College Tim Spears' wife is one of Rehnquist's children, hence the memorial lecture dedication to Rehnquist -- not exactly the best topic for a liberal arts lecture. That's the school's "in" with Roberts who clerked for Rehnquist, who coincidentally also spoke here at the school in 1998. [tip submitted by Karina Arrue].

Update2: Reports are coming out on the web already about the protesters at the lecture this evening.

Update3: Stefan Claypool ('09) blogged about his experiences with John Roberts over on MiddleburyRepublican.com! Sounds like a fun time! Anyone else have responses to the lecture?

Update4: The Campus has come out with their fair and balanced article reporting on the Chief Justice's visit. They also, however, wrote a poorly titled but well thought-out editorial examining the future of such high-profile events on campus. I like the stance The Campus takes because it commends the school for bringing Roberts (yay!) but also encourages them to organize more meaningful discussion along with being more professional in execution.


Hallie said...

His lecture was definitely not what I expected, but I wasn't disappointed. What he said about the supreme court not being a place for personal agenda made sense, so it would be inappropriate for him to discuss his own agenda. Personal beliefs are not supposed to enter into justice, period. So what people were hoping he would talk about wasn't going to happen anyway.
And yes, the discussions in the past few days have been amazing.

Anonymous said...

Nate Edwards says.....
Middlebury College did not pay anything to get Roberts here. As a gov't offical he is not allowed to take money for speaches and other public appearances. Although the college did pay 2.5 million to establish the Reinquest Teaching chair(sry if i spelled his name wrong). Granted the chair was established through anonymous donors who gave 2.5 mil, i think that the money would have been better spent in other ways...maybe 2.5 million to pay for carbon offsets on campus, set up another wind turbine, give students better facilities, give more aid to students who want to attend Midd. but cant.....there are a hundred other ways 2.5 million could be better spent than other teaching chair.

Karina Arrue said...

Haha. Thanks for props on the tip Ryan. You are one ethical reporter! : )

Tim Spears said...


Regarding your “update” and the reasons you give for Chief Justice Roberts' visit: You suggest that my wife (Nancy Rehnquist Spears) was the College's "in" for inviting Roberts. This is not so. As President Liebowitz mentioned in his introductory remarks, the Chief Justice accepted this speaking engagement so he could help inaugurate the Rehnquist chair, which he did by paying tribute to the late Chief Justice (for whom he clerked). Of course, none of this was known beforehand—hence the surprise of the endowed chair (and the perhaps the topic of Roberts’ talk).

I also want to point out that my wife definitely doesn’t think it is “a little odd” that she is her father’s daughter!

r.kellett said...

Tim, thanks for clarifying all of this! The topic and announcement was certainly a surprise to many including myself.

It would have been nice to hear (maybe it was and I missed it) of the connection to Chief Justice Rehnquist through you and Mrs. Spears. It certainly would have deepened the meaning and emotion of the evening to know that the school was even more closely tied to the people at hand.

I would hope anyone would not find it "a little odd" to be the son/daughter of their parents! I just think the students should know and understand the connection at hand. There's no judgement on that. I ultimately meant that I find it odd that no connections were ever mentioned over the course of the evening when it would have been a nice gesture. Maybe I'm just a stickler for putting things out in the open instead of finding out through dinner table chatter...

Thanks for stopping by MiddBlog, Tim!

Ron Liebowitz said...

Dean Spears pointed me to this blog, so I thought I would provide some explanation about endowed professorships, given Nate's posting. I should note that we did not pay to have Chief Justice Roberts here; he came as a result of the anonymous gift to honor his former mentor.

The endowed professorship means that a donor has given a gift to specifically support a faculty position at the College. Such a gift is "restricted" for that particular use, in this case a faculty position in American History or culture. It can't be used for anything else -- not financial aid, not carbon offsets, not new sidewalks, nothing else.

An endowment is permanent (barring economic catastrophe), and the College is allowed to spend 5% of the average value of the endowment, averaged over the past 12 quarters (done to smooth the ups and downs of the stock market). This 5% spend rate is set by the Board of Trustees, is typical of colleges and universities. Thus, a $2.5 million gift, at 5% spending, generates $150,000, just enough to cover the average full professor's salary plus benefits ($115,000 is the average salary for a full professor at Middlebury, plus about 30% of that again for benefits). So, in this case, this gift, restricted to cover the cost of a prof in American History, will just about cover the cost of one faculty position. Since we think American History will be taught here for a long time, accepting such a restricted gift is not too much of a gamble --- it will always be in use.

The gift, though restricted to the use I described, is great, because it "frees up" the funds formerly used to pay for Professor Ralph's salary and benefits. So while the specific gift for the professorship cannot be used for anything but the faculty position, the freed up funds could be used for other things, such as financial aid, the recently approved biomass plant, or other things to support the College's operating budget.

Our overall endowment, now at about $840 million, provides between 20-25% of funds we need for the College's annual operating budget. Students' comprehensive fee payments, even at $44,000, only cover about 65% of what it costs to educate each student. The endowment, in addition to annual gifts and grants, covers the remainder of the total cost.

As our endowment grows, the amount of payout the original gift for the Rehnquist Professorship will also grow, and so the funds it produces will allow us to cover the professor's salary, benefits, and research funds over time, even with annual salary increases.

I hope this helps answer any question about Professor Ralph's newly created professorship, and why such gifts are so welcome. By the way: we have between 45-50 endowed professorships, which represents about 20-25% of our 225 faculty positions.

Ron Liebowitz

Hallie said...

So does that mean that 5% of the endowment is spent each year until it is gone, or does the 5% spent come solely from interest it generates and the original endowment is always there?

Ron Liebowitz said...

One spends 5% a year, with the goal of making 9% on investments so the principal grows. The idea is not to spend down the principal, but to use it to generate funds to support the budget. In dire times, the principal is there to use.

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