Middlebury college to take on Monterey Institute
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Sep 6 12:38:00 UTC 2005
Posted on Mon, Sep. 05, 2005
MIIS not changing its mission
'Think globally, act locally' still mantra in new venture
By CLARISSA ALJENTERA
Herald Staff Writer
It's been 50 years since the Monterey Institute of International Studies
was given birth in special but humble surroundings, a small staff teaching
German and French at the Carmel Mission. Or, put another way, it began its
mission in a mission. "To say MIIS was a mom-and-pop operation is
accurate," said the current president, Steven J. Baker. But what began as
a fairly simple effort to promote understanding of other countries has
blossomed into an urban campus in downtown Monterey, home during the
school year to more than 780 students from 50 countries.
It has been, without question, a bumpy ride. Financial struggles caused
some serious budget crunching a few years back, which has now led to an
arranged marriage with the more affluent Middlebury College in Vermont.
And at one point, MIIS lost its accreditation, not for academic reasons
but because it was deemed overly invested in real estate. Call it an
affiliation, a merger or a takeover -- no matter the terminology, MIIS
will remain intact with its own identity but will be managed by a
five-member board and a president appointed by the Middlebury
When the deal is done, Baker will be succeeded by Clara Yu, a retired
foreign languages administrator at Middlebury who now runs an
education-technology research center. Baker says it's all for the best.
"We're poised to fulfill our promise of our mission," he said in a recent
interview. "The affiliation with Middlebury is the sort of boost that we
will need to fulfill our promise."
The promise was first spoken by Gaspard Weiss, a former French government
official who taught at what is now known as the Defense Language
Institute; Dr. Remsen Bird, a former president of Occidental College who
lived in the area; and Dwight Morrow Jr., a former U.S. diplomat living in
the area. The name of the school at first was the Monterey Institute of
Foreign Studies. Weiss' wife ran the business side of the organization
while he helped focus on academics and served as the school's first
president. Baker said part of the original dream was to capitalize on the
phrase, "Think globally, act locally."
"We wanted to do something beyond the community," he added. "We were
focused in a general sense of education as a form of shaping people's
expectations about the world." Now, MIIS is known worldwide for several
programs, especially in language but also international policy studies,
translation and interpretation, international business and educational
linguistics. The first international economics class was offered in 1956.
Five years later, the school was accredited by the Western College
Association, now known as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In 1966, the interpretation program began, and a year later undergraduate
degrees in Russian and Chinese were given out. Former Trustee Howard Leach
remembers how hard the faculty worked with his fellow trustees in the
1960s. "In the early days, it was a struggle to provide the organization
with enough resources to maintain the quality and allow it to grow," said
Leach, who is a former ambassador to France. "It is surprising to see at
which degree it has grown and the terrific quality it has maintained."
A new home|
After it outgrew the Carmel Mission, the school found its foothold in
downtown Monterey. Its first building there was the former Monterey Public
Library, now the president's office.
During the 1970s, MIIS began working with the Naval Postgraduate School,
taking on Robert von Pagenhardt of NPS as its president. Later that
decade, president Jack Kolbert's presidency ran into tough times
Paying the bills and faculty paychecks on a monthly basis was difficult
during the early days. Sometimes Trustee Jean Thomas wrote personal checks
to help out.
"She was captivated by the concept in the troubled days," said Baker.
Thomas also donated two houses to the school, including one that was once
home to author John Steinbeck.
Among the programs added in the 1980s was international policy studies, in
which alumnus Sam Worthington began his career path.
He graduated in 1984 with a master's in the program. Worthington, who met
his wife at MIIS, said he has enjoyed watching the school grow.
"We used to joke that there wasn't a more beautiful place for a graduate
education," he said. "You could be talking with someone about Niger and
Africa with someone who had just been there."
Worthington now works as the national executive director and CEO of Plan
USA, based in Rhode Island. His wife, Renee, was studying French
translation when she graduated in 1986.
Stephanie van Reigersberg, former chief interpreter for the State
Department, said she has often turned to MIIS to find talented
"Monterey is really the only school in the U.S. that can train
interpreters at that level that can work as diplomatic interpreters for
the government," van Reigersberg said from her home in Virginia. "It is an
extraordinarily fertile ground for us. It is the only place there was to
find what I call 'real training.'''
Helping to build the school's public profile have been its terrorism
studies program and its Center for Nonproliferation Studies, which opened
in 1989 as the only non-governmental agency in the country to focus on
weapons of mass destruction. In both areas, MIIS staffers are quoted
routinely in publications around the world.
Student opinions of MIIS have varied in recent years. One graduate, Tarun
Inuganti, who received a master's degree in international business in
1987, said he wishes MIIS would market that program more aggressively.
"In business, it isn't the program that opens doors," he said from his
home in Los Angeles.
Inuganti moved to Monterey from India because he enjoyed the small-school
environment and the diversity of the student body.
Before the Middlebury courtship began early this year, other university
systems considered partnerships with MIIS, but the discussions fell
through, reportedly for financial reasons. The University of the Pacific,
the University of California system and the California State University
system each took a close look at the books. MIIS operated with losses
totaling about $13 million in 2001 and 2002 before Baker took over.
The previous administration blamed the red ink on a decline in foreign
enrollment after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among other
things, some potential students had difficulty arranging visas.
Middlebury President Ronald Liebowitz said the administration there was
keenly aware of the money problems early on.
"The financial situation concerned us," he acknowledged. "They had no
significant endowment to draw from. It was hard to make it to the next
Middlebury's faculty senate opposed the affiliation for fear it would
drain its college's resources, but Middlebury officials say the opposition
has eased as the two faculties -- especially those in language -- have
"I think it is a wonderful fit that serves to raise the profile of both
institutions nationally," said David Macey, director of off-campus study
Middlebury Dean Michael Geisler said, "The two areas that Monterey has
really distinguished itself in is translation and interpretation." That's
a plus for Middlebury, he said, because "outside of two language programs,
we don't have graduate school offerings and not many connections to
faculty and language abroad."
And at least some of the MIIS staff are enthusiastic about the marriage.
"I think the next 50 years will be better than the first," said Edward J.
Laurance, professor of international policy studies. "I don't see anything
but positives coming out of this."
2005 Monterey County Herald and wire service sources. All Rights
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