This May, Dr. Michael J. Middleton stepped into the role of provost and vice president for teaching, learning and growth at Ramapo College. Middleton comes to Ramapo from Hunter College in New York City, and has served in various roles at Harvard University, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Massachusetts Boston and George Mason University.
When asked about what drew him to Ramapo, Middleton specifically pointed to the title of his position extending beyond provost. “Most universities will call [the position] vice president of academic affairs,” he said. “I thought any place that would be thoughtful enough to call the [provost] in charge of teaching, learning and growth is a place I want to get to know more.”
Although he’s only been here for four months, Middleton has already spent time getting to know the Ramapo community. After spending the summer going in and out of different offices and meeting the faculty, Middleton said he’s been “really impressed by a number of things.”
“Something I’d like us to advance even further is the notion of experiential education. We should be in classes and… students should be doing and not just absorbing information.”
– Dr. Michael J. Middleton
“One thing is that people who come to Ramapo like it a lot and stay,” he said. “People say to me ‘I’ve worked here for 15 or 20 years’ and that’s great.” Middleton also praised President Cindy Jebb for building a strong leadership team and for “providing that group with her trust and confidence that they can do a good job and then letting us carry out that work.”
Despite coming from schools with student populations exceeding 40,000, Middleton said he’s in familiar territory in regards to the size of Ramapo.
“At Hunter, my School of Education had about 3,300 students… so I’m used to working in that size environment and having leadership in that sense,” Middleton said. “I’ve always valued those smaller relationships, those close teaching advising relationships.”
As for what he has planned for Ramapo, Middleton spoke at length about the Boldly Ascending Strategic Plan (BASP) that Jebb introduced in July.
“A lot of that plan focuses on some large goals, what’s right for the campus,” Middleton said. “The first one really is to strengthen the Ramapo experience… and by that I mean a liberal arts education that values exploration, values choosing an area to go deep, values collaboration and helps you learn to communicate.”
Continuing on the BASP, Middleton said they want to think about “how we are a campus that values diversity and inclusion, that [Ramapo] is a very diverse campus with people from all different backgrounds, and how do we have each of those individuals feel like they belong, they’re valued and they’re included.”
Middleton mentioned that he meets with the Student Government Association every week to better understand the student population. “Whether it’s because of gender or race or disability status, you should feel like Ramapo is a place where you have access to a great education and [access] to the people who are here,” he said.
Middleton also wants to help faculty in their professional development, so they are at “the cutting edge” of their fields and know the best way to educate.
Inside the classroom, Middleton said he “wants to help advance the work… where students are more active, connected to the community, engaging in research and producing knowledge and ideas.”
“Something I’d like us to advance even further is the notion of experiential education,” Middleton said. “We should be in classes and… students should be doing and not just absorbing information.”
Middleton’s philosophy revolves around being a big believer that we can solve problems together by sitting down and talking through them. When his position became official, Jebb said “Dr. Middleton is an inspiring educator, research scientist, and leader… We look forward to welcoming Dr. Middleton to Ramapo at such a consequential time as we embark on a bold new strategic plan.”
“There’s so many wonderful things here to celebrate,” Middleton said. “I really hope that in my role I can be a champion for our faculty and our students in the work they do.”
Featured photo courtesy of Carolyn Herring