Town-gown relations redux

Over at the Middletown Eye (in my opinion, easily the best source for Middletown news & culture), a post about “Middletown and Wesleyan” sparked a considerable amount of comment discussion.

Blogger and History Prof Vijay Pinch links to Melissa Pionzio’s Courant piece, which links to John Milardo’s Dec. 22 MMPA (Middletown Managers and Professionals Association) newsletter piece, “Where is Wesleyan University?

… Anyway, Milardo writes an interesting perspective, and the whole newsletter is pretty short, so it’s worth a read. Here are some highlights:

Over the years, I have read about the enormous amount of money the Wesleyan alumni contribute to their alma mater. How many millions of dollars the school has in investments around the world, and how financially sound they have been. Student tuition for the university is not something for the faint of heart; their admission fee is commensurate with the education you receive.

I grew up in the neighborhoods surrounding the University. My parents and their parents lived in the same neighborhood before me. I know the school grounds like the back of my hand. The only thing I don’t know about Wesleyan University is; what do they do for the City of Middletown residents?

…Wesleyan is not like any other college town I have ever visited. Other universities and students involvement with their towns is much greater and noticeable than what our city’s university is. In Middletown, it’s almost as though the student body is directed away from involvement in the community. It’s a weird sense of they being their own town within a town; separate and distinct.

…Many private colleges and universities in Connecticut and I would guess, around the United States, pay their respective municipalities, voluntary payments and fees, in lieu of taxes. Yale University pays an estimated $10 million dollars to the City of New Haven each year; they have their own Police and Fire Departments so the taxpayer does not have to cover this cost.

I know Yale is much larger than Wesleyan, but there is so much more Wesleyan could do for our community. It would be very important this year for Wesleyan to step up to the plate because of projected hard economic times. Our elected officials will have to cut programs, services, or ask employees for give backs in this year’s fiscal budget. The State of Connecticut is juggling their own budget problems this year, so for communities to rely on them for assistances is unrealistic. The business community is having a difficult time with the economy; so that is not an option.

We are talking about an educational institution with 175 years of presence in the same town. I would think with a city the size of ours, Wesleyans involvement with Middletown residents and government would be much more than it currently is?

…Legally, the school is paying what it must; morally, they could be truly making a positive impact on the entire City of Middletown and its residents. The financial problems of Middletown have a negative effect with the City’s work force, services and programs. It affects employees through layoffs, which in turn trickles down and further affects the economy, especially the local economy. It affects those elderly taxpayers who cannot afford a decrease in programs and an increase in taxes. It will affect families with young children, and those with college aged kids. In essence, it affects everyone who is not wealthy.

Wesleyan University has the opportunity to really be part of Middletown, and make the most positive impact on the community it ever has; if they want to.

However, at least note the humorous disclaimer on the newsletter… I appreciated it:

Disclaimer: This News Letter is for the viewing by union employees only! Any claims, statements, omissions, or deletions, are not intentional. The names in this story may have been changed to protect the innocent. This News Letter is not intended to be distributed to any Councilpersons of the City of Middletown, their families, friends, cousins, neighbors, butt kissers, or descendants thereof. In the event this News Letter is offered to a “Scab”, “Spy”, “Rat”, or your ordinary Narcissist, there is a good chance said individual will not be able to tolerate it because it is not about them.

Still, I think there are some major problems/assumptions in his piece. Vijay Pinch does a great job of explaining why it doesn’t make sense to compare Wesleyan to Yale considering our relative endowments (and also has other GREAT comments definitely worth reading, which I would have quoted, but this post is already way too long), but I’d like to add to that.

In addition to having a much smaller endowment, Wesleyan University must first and foremost take responsibility for its students. As Milardo himself points out, “Student tuition for the university is not something for the faint of heart.” And that’s a problem. Most families in the United States can’t afford to pay Wesleyan tuition out of pocket, especially in these economic times. Wesleyan’s primary financial concern should be to assure that need-blind admissions can continue: no one should be turned away from learning because they can’t pay the high tuition. As Milardo also points out, everyone is having hard financial times right now, and that certainly doesn’t exclude Wesleyan University. On the university administration’s “Securing the Future” webpage, President Roth wrote that “Wesleyan’s endowment continues to outperform market indexes, its value has declined by approximately 20 percent to about $511 million…” and that was only November 25th.

Wesleyan University as an institution has a commitment to do what it can for Middletown. Unfortunately, right now, it can’t. Losing the ability to pay financial aid for Wesleyan students who need it isn’t much of an option, and for that reason, Wesleyan must concentrate on keeping its own endowment strong.

As for the issue of Wesleyan not doing enough for Middletown in general – that’s another issue entirely, and a complicated one at that. Being a Wesleyan student can confuse your identity. Where is “home?” Are you a real Middletown resident? You’re there for four whole years of your life, interacting intimately with the town community – but then, you know the whole time that your stint in Middletown is probably time-limited. It doesn’t help that commenters on the Hartford Courant call all Wesleyan students “spoiled brats” or that many Middletown residents seem to assume you’re a passer-through with no regard for the town.

On the contrary, I believe that most Wesleyan students do become real Middletown residents. Whether through excitement over local politics, through interaction with local businesses, or through community service (such as tutoring at MacDonough Elementary or Traverse Square or one-on-one with high school students, or helping out at the soup kitchen, and many more ways), Wesleyan students DO care about Middletown.

So, how can we improve relations with Middletown? How do we interact more with our neighbors, our community? I don’t know. What about a potluck meet-and-greet block party somewhere on the border of campus/not-campus, on Pearl St. or on High St. past the Butterfields? What about making more of an effort to invite residents to more of our campus events? Or, hey, what about just reading the Middletown Eye and becoming more knowledgeable about the community we live in?

Let’s start with just reading the comment discussion on Pinch’s “Middletown and Wesleyan” Eye piece. At least it’s a start toward hearing what Middletown residents have to say. Hopefully it’s just a start, and not an end.

As always, this blog post is my own personal subjective opinion. I obviously do not and cannot speak for all Wesleyan students. Also, sorry for the length of this post!

40 thoughts on “Town-gown relations redux

  1. Anonymous

    Fuck that. What makes the Mid-town residents so entitled? They treat us like shit, sic their dogs on us, steal from us and then expect us give them money. Come on… commie bastards.

  2. Anonymous

    Fuck that. What makes the Mid-town residents so entitled? They treat us like shit, sic their dogs on us, steal from us and then expect us give them money. Come on… commie bastards.

  3. johnwesley

    Mad – yes, I’ve seen those hoops in the backyards. And, I’m just brainstorming, here.Where are the opportunities for Wes students and local residents could have pick up games? Maybe even a handball court? Is there some neutral place within walking distance of campus? That wouldn’t require an operating budget; or even much in the way of organizing on a daily basis. Just people having fun?

  4. johnwesley

    Mad – yes, I’ve seen those hoops in the backyards. And, I’m just brainstorming, here.

    Where are the opportunities for Wes students and local residents could have pick up games? Maybe even a handball court? Is there some neutral place within walking distance of campus? That wouldn’t require an operating budget; or even much in the way of organizing on a daily basis. Just people having fun?

  5. rob

    sds is going to be hosting a series of forums in the coming weeks for students to discuss what they think wes-middletown relations should be like and what we can do to bring that vision about. if you’re interested, definitely attend. more formal announcements will follow.

  6. rob

    sds is going to be hosting a series of forums in the coming weeks for students to discuss what they think wes-middletown relations should be like and what we can do to bring that vision about. if you’re interested, definitely attend. more formal announcements will follow.

  7. Mad Joy

    11:50: that’s awesome! i’ll definitely attend.5:36: internet communication is as legitimate a forum for communication as any other. I mean, hey, you’re posting on Wesleying, right now. Hopefully this can lead to more meaningful face-to-face interaction as well.johnwesley: Some of the tsquare residents have their own basketball hoops that kids use and practice on. there’s a fair amount of open space there where the kids play, and there’s a garden and also what was formerly a large sandbox that’s starting to grow things in it :(.

  8. Mad Joy

    11:50: that’s awesome! i’ll definitely attend.

    5:36: internet communication is as legitimate a forum for communication as any other. I mean, hey, you’re posting on Wesleying, right now. Hopefully this can lead to more meaningful face-to-face interaction as well.

    johnwesley: Some of the tsquare residents have their own basketball hoops that kids use and practice on. there’s a fair amount of open space there where the kids play, and there’s a garden and also what was formerly a large sandbox that’s starting to grow things in it :(.

  9. Anonymous

    wesleyan also isn’t in the best place in middletown. there are worse places in the world, but after hearing a police officer talk about how there are spikes in vandalism and burglary at the parts of the year that people usually get out of jail from their last offense and remembering all the muggings and how scary it was to walk around a neighborhood at night looking for an off campus-housed friend…honestly, most wes students relate middletown residents with sketchypeople and many middletown residents relate wes students to the rich, annoying wives that luncheon at amici’s on weekdays. our mutual exposures aren’t the greatest.middletown isn’t the greatest area. i’m sure that most colleges have better town/gown relations than us, but the ones with surrounding towns like ours are probably similar to us: many little-known but effective outreach programs and lots of mutual distrust.

  10. Anonymous

    wesleyan also isn’t in the best place in middletown. there are worse places in the world, but after hearing a police officer talk about how there are spikes in vandalism and burglary at the parts of the year that people usually get out of jail from their last offense and remembering all the muggings and how scary it was to walk around a neighborhood at night looking for an off campus-housed friend…

    honestly, most wes students relate middletown residents with sketchypeople and many middletown residents relate wes students to the rich, annoying wives that luncheon at amici’s on weekdays. our mutual exposures aren’t the greatest.

    middletown isn’t the greatest area. i’m sure that most colleges have better town/gown relations than us, but the ones with surrounding towns like ours are probably similar to us: many little-known but effective outreach programs and lots of mutual distrust.

  11. johnwesley

    does anyone know why Tsquare doesn’t have a basketball court? Is there a playground anywhere in walking distance of downtown?

  12. johnwesley

    does anyone know why Tsquare doesn’t have a basketball court? Is there a playground anywhere in walking distance of downtown?

  13. Anonymous

    who the fuck cares… this entire situation exists in blogs and posts… which doesn’t change anything, but nothing is actually going on here. when it comes down to it, were not thinking about them and theyre not thinking about us… that is, until we plop down in front of the computer.

  14. Anonymous

    who the fuck cares… this entire situation exists in blogs and posts… which doesn’t change anything, but nothing is actually going on here.

    when it comes down to it, were not thinking about them and theyre not thinking about us… that is, until we plop down in front of the computer.

  15. Mad Joy

    4:14, I think you put it all beautifully. I really like the idea of sending info about open Wesleyan events into the Middletown Eye. I also like the idea of encouraging Wesleyan students to engage with Middletown in more significant ways – in ways other than community service (which, although great and useful and a fantastic way to meet awesome M-town residents, can in isolation have an element of condescension) and eating in M-town restaurants.5:08, I think you also make a good point. Blaming people doesn’t do much. I really think it would be cool to have a block party that’s specifically designed to mix Middletown permanent residents and Wesleyan students. I don’t have time to organize it semester, but I’d love to see it happen.

  16. Mad Joy

    4:14, I think you put it all beautifully. I really like the idea of sending info about open Wesleyan events into the Middletown Eye. I also like the idea of encouraging Wesleyan students to engage with Middletown in more significant ways – in ways other than community service (which, although great and useful and a fantastic way to meet awesome M-town residents, can in isolation have an element of condescension) and eating in M-town restaurants.

    5:08, I think you also make a good point. Blaming people doesn’t do much. I really think it would be cool to have a block party that’s specifically designed to mix Middletown permanent residents and Wesleyan students. I don’t have time to organize it semester, but I’d love to see it happen.

  17. johnwesley

    to whoever made the comment about the shell of the pick-up truck that was used as a sled on Foss Hill last year: your response gave me hope.

  18. johnwesley

    to whoever made the comment about the shell of the pick-up truck that was used as a sled on Foss Hill last year: your response gave me hope.

  19. Anonymous

    Most of these articles, including the ones written by wes students, seem to be more interested in blaming the respective parties and holding them responsible for change than in making an effort to actually forge a bond between Wesleyan and Middletown. All of us are unfortunately focused on issuing accusations, defenses, and demands. Until we start asking questions of the other side without expecting certain answers and without pushing our own agendas, I don’t think anything is going to improve.

  20. Anonymous

    Most of these articles, including the ones written by wes students, seem to be more interested in blaming the respective parties and holding them responsible for change than in making an effort to actually forge a bond between Wesleyan and Middletown. All of us are unfortunately focused on issuing accusations, defenses, and demands. Until we start asking questions of the other side without expecting certain answers and without pushing our own agendas, I don’t think anything is going to improve.

  21. Anonymous

    Wesleyan already spends a large amount of money on services for the Middletown community when it doesn’t have sufficient resources to support its own students, faculty, staff, and infrastructure. This article is perplexing.

  22. Anonymous

    Wesleyan already spends a large amount of money on services for the Middletown community when it doesn’t have sufficient resources to support its own students, faculty, staff, and infrastructure. This article is perplexing.

  23. Anonymous

    I keeping reading the phrase “what Wes can do for Middletown”. Can we change that? Can we say “what Wes and Middleton can do together?” The former smacks of begging for a handout. The latter speaks to collaboration and shared vision. I have never thought Wes (as an institution) is solely responsible for the well-being of Middletown, but we are an integral part of the town and a significant contributor to it’s economy, culture, etc. (That’s students and employees, by the way and has absolutely nothing to do with how much tuition costs; the same can be said about any university in almost any town.) But…There *is* a perception by non-Wes people that Wes students are spoiled brats and honestly, sometimes the label is well deserved. Not always, but sometimes. And there is a perception that any college that is so expensive to attend should open it’s purse a bit wider to benefit the community it resides in. Because there’s lots of money there, right? (But most people don’t understand that an endowment is not a checking account; it’s an investment account. That’s a subject for another post, I suppose.) At the same time, there is also a perception by too many Wes students that their life only revolves around campus, that they are temporarily waylaid in Middletown before their real life begins, and that they don’t need to engage in the community *unless it benefits them in some way*. To be frank, get over yourself. We have a responsibility to each other. That’s what community building is all about. It’s about what we can do together to help support each other and improve outcomes for everyone. So quit pointing fingers and just get to work. Reach out. Say hi to your neighbors. Wes students, find out what is happening off campus and engage with it. Non-Wes people, find out what is happening on campus and engage with it. Don’t see something you’re interested in? START IT. Post it on Middletown Eye. Post it on Wesleying. Invite each other to participate. It’s the only way we’re going to work together on improving relationships, perceptions and most importantly, outcomes. Stepping down off my soapbox now…

  24. Anonymous

    I keeping reading the phrase “what Wes can do for Middletown”. Can we change that? Can we say “what Wes and Middleton can do together?” The former smacks of begging for a handout. The latter speaks to collaboration and shared vision.

    I have never thought Wes (as an institution) is solely responsible for the well-being of Middletown, but we are an integral part of the town and a significant contributor to it’s economy, culture, etc. (That’s students and employees, by the way and has absolutely nothing to do with how much tuition costs; the same can be said about any university in almost any town.)

    But…There *is* a perception by non-Wes people that Wes students are spoiled brats and honestly, sometimes the label is well deserved. Not always, but sometimes. And there is a perception that any college that is so expensive to attend should open it’s purse a bit wider to benefit the community it resides in. Because there’s lots of money there, right? (But most people don’t understand that an endowment is not a checking account; it’s an investment account. That’s a subject for another post, I suppose.)

    At the same time, there is also a perception by too many Wes students that their life only revolves around campus, that they are temporarily waylaid in Middletown before their real life begins, and that they don’t need to engage in the community *unless it benefits them in some way*. To be frank, get over yourself.

    We have a responsibility to each other. That’s what community building is all about. It’s about what we can do together to help support each other and improve outcomes for everyone.

    So quit pointing fingers and just get to work. Reach out. Say hi to your neighbors. Wes students, find out what is happening off campus and engage with it. Non-Wes people, find out what is happening on campus and engage with it. Don’t see something you’re interested in? START IT. Post it on Middletown Eye. Post it on Wesleying. Invite each other to participate. It’s the only way we’re going to work together on improving relationships, perceptions and most importantly, outcomes.

    Stepping down off my soapbox now…

  25. Anonymous

    to be perfectly honest, in my experience so far at wesleyan, i have found that the town simply doesnt treat us very well.from an economic perspective, the wesleyan student body brings a LOT of money into middletown–going to local restaurants, shopping at middletown stores, PAYING TAXES, etc.the response? we get called spoiled brats and are sent to the hospital by police dogs. (police dogs we pay for.)i wish i felt differently about middletown, that i felt there was a community to embrace, but mostly im just disappointed that i need to call middletown home.

  26. Anonymous

    to be perfectly honest, in my experience so far at wesleyan, i have found that the town simply doesnt treat us very well.

    from an economic perspective, the wesleyan student body brings a LOT of money into middletown–going to local restaurants, shopping at middletown stores, PAYING TAXES, etc.

    the response? we get called spoiled brats and are sent to the hospital by police dogs. (police dogs we pay for.)

    i wish i felt differently about middletown, that i felt there was a community to embrace, but mostly im just disappointed that i need to call middletown home.

  27. Anonymous

    While I can appreciate the idea that Middletown needs more help during an economic crises, I don’t think Wesleyan, with its already small and now further shrunken endowment, is the one to do it.

  28. Anonymous

    While I can appreciate the idea that Middletown needs more help during an economic crises, I don’t think Wesleyan, with its already small and now further shrunken endowment, is the one to do it.

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