In Which Ron Liebowitz Paraphrases Comedian Jerry Clower

For those of you at Saturday’s Baccalaureate ceremony, you may remember President Liebowitz’s speech and its quotation of an old Jewish story about a Rabbi and his driver from the Talmud. What you might not know is that Liebz is in good company with his inspiration, with the late Southern comedian Jerry Clower making the same joke in the 70s. Check it out below and let us know if anyone has a video of Ron’s speech that we can post here for comparison!

Ron’s Speech:


Work Hard, Play Hard and Ron’s Speech

President of the College Ronald Liebowitz posted a short message on his blog regarding reaction to his recent Baccalaureate Address saying, “The reactions have been mixed: Many thought the topic (of the address) was inappropriate for the occasion and said they were offended; others thought it was about time the issue of alcohol use was raised and they believed the core message….I certainly did not intend to offend anyone, and I apologize to those I did.” This follows Dean of the College Tim Spears’ oft noted topic in his blog this year with posts on Self Governance and What’s in a Beer.

For those of you that didn’t attend Baccalaureate this year, here are some highlights from the transcript:

“You will soon leave the artificiality of the Middlebury campus, often referred to on many idyllic liberal arts campuses like ours as “the bubble”…Such blissful ignorance of the outer world tends to magnify one’s trivial daily experiences. The elimination of trays in the dining halls, or losing McCullough social space and Proctor to renovation somehow takes on a level of importance equal to truly significant events, such as the recent cyclone in Myanmar or the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, China.”

“The issue I believe we have failed to address effectively is that of alcohol abuse and the consequences it has for individuals as well as for our community. Obviously, this is not a problem particular to Middlebury. But of course, simply because so many colleges and universities seem to exhibit paralysis on this topic does not mean we should accept irresponsible and self-destructive behavior….At the heart of the problem is the prevailing attitude one hears so frequently from students … that it’s OK, indeed normal, to drink heartily once, twice, or three times/week because one has worked so hard.”

“It is interesting to hypothesize as to why this generation in particular has taken the work hard, play hard approach to life in college to the extremes it has. Some who have written on the subject believe it is the need to release pressure that students feel coming from their parents…; others see it as a reaction to the pressure caused by increased competition for jobs and opportunities brought about by globalization; and others, still, including many students with whom I have spoken during the past three years, believe it is simply a function of the current work and activity load at Middlebury, which, I agree may very well be out of whack. The great amount of work assigned by our faculty, they argue, prevents many students from pursuing a healthy day-to-day balance between work and non-work activities, which creates the kind of pressure cooker that is best relieved by intense drinking.”

“For us, as an institution of higher education, responsible for providing the best possible liberal arts education, our limited success so far calls upon us to rely more on student leadership and peer pressure than on administrative policies and programs. Administrative directives can’t get us very far when the socialization among newly entering students into the newer version of work hard, play hard is so strikingly quick – or has taken place before students arrive here. Students themselves need to be a large part of the solution, and some have already shown how effective their involvement can be.”

Challenging the Class of 2008, Ron says,
“Do not accept self-destructive behavior from your friends and peers. You would not have come to college here in the first place, nor exercised the diligence and focus necessary to complete your degree, had you not believed firmly in the values of a liberal arts education. Believing in the liberal arts means you believe in learning, in the lifelong worth and possibility of personal growth and engagement in the world around you. Our world today needs you and your generation to combat the self-destructiveness of extreme behaviors with the creation and support of communities characterized by individuals watching out for one another. We look to you, now steeped in the life-affirming values of the liberal arts, to work hard and play hard with wisdom into the future.”

Taking a page out of the Sarah Franco playbook, MiddBlog asks: Was this the most appropriate time for President Liebowitz to give this speech? Do you agree with what he had to say?