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Trustee takes on local establish'mint'

<br><span class="red"><b>Ohanian Comment:</b> <br> <br>If Middlebury Trustee Fritz thinks a bookstore is no place for politics, how does he feel about the liberal arts college which he oversees? <br> <br>Middlebury is a small town, just over 8,000 in the 2000 Census. Middlebury College is the intellectual home to 2,350 undergraduates, so its influence is huge. It is long past time for the college to do something about town-gown relations. A good first step would be to reprimand the Board of Trustees chair. <br> <br>FREDERICK M. FRITZ <br>Retired, Bank of Boston/Fleet after 33 years, 1985-2002 as head of private equity group, which grew to over $3 billion in asset size, with offices in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Palo Alto. Member, Director or LP of Fresh Tracks; Digital Bridges; North Country Angels; The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Inc., Shelburne, VT; Sonnax, Inc., Bellows Falls, VT; Draper Laboratories, Cambridge, MA ($250mm Applied Research enterprise); and President of Miles Lumber Co., Arlington, VT (family lumber, hardware and heating oil business). Middlebury College, Charter Trustee and Chairman of the Board. Middlebury College BA 1968; Amos Tuck School Dartmouth MBA 1970; 1st Lt US Army 1971-73. <br> <br>Surprise. Surprise: <br>In 2004, Frederick M. Fritz gave $2,000 to the George W. Bush campaign.</span> <br> <br><b>by Ward Wolff</b> <br> <br>On a late October afternoon, Becky Dayton, owner of the Vermont Book Shop on Main St., received a phone call regarding mints on display near the register. The enormously popular mints, a product of the ever-clever Unemployed Philosopher's Guild, come in a small tin box of many varieties - indictmints, impeachmints, embarrassmints, all adorned with a humorous caricature of President Bush. The caller was Frederick Fritz '68, chair of the College Board of Trustees, and he was not amused. <br> <br>According to Becky, Mr. Fritz claimed that bookstores are held to higher standards, that they are a higher class of retailer that promotes the free exchange of ideas. In short, an independent bookstore is no place for a political statement (even if in a box of mints). Flawed logic aside, he spoke in such a way as if he were entitled to dictate what she or any town merchant should be able to sell. Becky spent the rest of the day deeply shaken. <br> <br>With a College administration that is always looking for new opportunities to improve day-to-day town and College relations, Mr. Fritz's actions are unacceptable, and the symbolic weight of this event is striking. <br> <br>The bookshop is a shining example of a space ripe for College and town interaction. Everyone is invited to explore the shelves filled with local flavor, to sit on the couch and browse through books by College faculty and other Vermont authors and spend money as they wish. What is first so disheartening about Mr. Fritz's actions is that, despite his position as one of the most powerful members of the College administration, he has a fundamentally skewed notion of what role an independent bookshop such as this plays in the community. As is the case with most local, independent ventures, the beauty of the independent bookstore is that store inventory is highly responsive to local character, interest and demand. The shop carries Vermont hiking books, local history books, books on environmental issues, contemporary fiction and more because that is what the people who come in are seeking and what they will probably buy. <br> <br>From behind the register, I have heard nothing but hearty laughter in reaction to these mints - if people did not buy them or at least were not amused by them, the store would not feature them, just as the store would not have an entire shelf dedicated to Robert Frost if so many titles were not sold every week. That Mr. Fritz felt compelled to attack mints, of all things political that could possibly be found in a bookshop is a clear bullying tactic, a cheap shot, using his position with the College to flex muscle for his own agenda. If Mr. Fritz actually cared for a politics-free bookshop, one would think that mints would be the last place to start. In fact, in his vision of a bookshop, I think we'd have to pull books from the shelf until the bookshop had no books at all, and would be stocked only with sunflowers and lollipops. <br> <br>But aside from this discouraging take on local business and books in general, the larger issue at stake is one's personal role within a community and accountability for one's actions. If Mr. Fritz, for many the "face" of Middlebury, can go into town and throw his weight around under an erroneous ideological pretense over a measly box of mints, how can we even begin to take concrete steps in the right direction? <br> <br>They are the small things that each one of us, from the top down, does everyday that determine the character of the College-town relationship. Think of it this way - every time you cross College Street without even looking, you are making a statement imbedded with the notion that you, a Middlebury student, are protected from the workings of a larger community. Maybe you were really rushed, or you were having an important cell phone conversation or maybe you just forgot that it is, in fact, a road, but you have just sent a message to all the passers-through declaring your unquestionable right of way, your entitlement. <br> <br>In Middlebury's 111-page Strategic Plan, "Knowledge without Boundaries," there is just one reference to the town, found in Recommendation 32. It calls for a "Community Partners" program in which the College recognizes those who "make significant contributions to College programs," in hopes that these recognitions would strengthen Middlebury's relationship with local individuals and businesses. Note the lack of reciprocity in the language. And, while I am aware that this strategic plan is for the future of the College and not the town, I would think that us prospering as a Middlebury community would have to include us both, not just through a "good neighbor" policy, but through encouraging a symbiotic relationship. <br> <br>The administration's enthusiasm regarding the lease of the former Eat Good Food space is a promising step in the right direction. I have faith that it will be fruitful as long as we are able to uphold our mission in bringing students downtown and creating a space for town and College collaboration. <br> <br>In this shop, a Middlebury crossroads, mints have created more buzz than any task force or strategic plan. Mr. Fritz is a community member himself, and Becky's husband is an active alum, class of '87, who is also a part-time employee of the College. The mints are still proudly on the counter, but as long as we are not personally accountable for each of our actions, there is no question where the problem resides. Maybe, with some help and good example from the higher-ups, we can bridge the town-college divide in ways that initiatives and dollars cannot. Entitlemints, anyone? <br> <br>Ward Wolff '08 is from Greenbrae, Calif.

— Ward Wolff



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