Simineri: Hanlon, Hear Us Roar

by Nicole Simineri | 9/30/15 6:31pm

In the last year or so, administrators have implemented many changes, ranging from the momentous “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative to the recent shift from a need-blind policy to a need-aware financial aid policy for international student admissions. Many of these decisions have been criticized within the pages this paper, and social media are likewise littered with student complaints about the College’s decisions, lack of transparency and unresponsiveness. Instead of continuing to strong-arm the student body, administrators should take student criticisms into serious consideration, provide transparent responses and offer more opportunities for students to get involved and have their voices heard.

The President’s Office currently presents no way for students to contribute meaningful thoughts and opinions on decisions prior to their development. According to its website, the President’s Office has exactly two opportunities for students to involve themselves in “Moving Dartmouth Forward” — joining either the house student advisory committee or one of the three ad hoc working groups. These options have only been offered after the fact, however, and thus give no opportunity for students to be seriously engaged in the decision-making process itself — chalking outside Class of 1953 Commons and Improve Dartmouth were not the most meaningful of communicative channels. And while they did meet with various, specific student groups, that is not the same as transparent accessibility for the student body at large.

Furthermore, while the house student advisory committee and ad hoc working groups will recommend various actions, they must be “consistent with the framework that [College] President [Phil] Hanlon has established.” Because of this limitation, these opportunities will likely only attract students who agree with said framework, thereby severely limiting the diversity of opinions and viewpoints. Moreover, these opportunities are rarely advertised, putting the impetus on students to hunt for these channels.

When administrators have offered opportunities for students to be involved in the decision-making process, the number of students selected has been negligible and the selection process opaque at best. When formulating “Moving Dartmouth Forward,” for example, Hanlon “convened” a steering committee to “solicit input from the Dartmouth community.” The presidential steering committee was comprised of a mere 10 members, and of these only three were current students — there were four, at one point, but that member left the committee. Considering that no formal application was made available to students, it remains a mystery how these students were chosen for this position, leaving those who would like to contribute unable to do so for lack of transparency.

Though Hanlon holds weekly office hours, these are insufficient considering the volume of complaints and the limited time he dedicates to hearing them. Office hours are only once a week and last from 4 to 5 p.m. There are understandably many disgruntled students, so expect a long line and a disheartening sign-in sheet even if you arrive an hour early, as I once did. Even this small fraction of time is not guaranteed — when I went to office hours last spring, Hanlon was about 20 minutes late, taking a significant chunk of time away from the office “hour.” This leaves students who want to communicate with Parkhurst two options — sending emails that can easily be ignored, or waiting for office hours that will likely offer more frustrations than answers.

Even Student Assembly is an insufficient venue for student involvement. The stated goal of Student Assembly is to “strengthen student participation in the College’s decision-making process” — a noble mission. Yet the Assembly’s membership is limited — some might even say exclusive. Moreover, as its recent struggle against weekend classes clearly demonstrates, even the Assembly can often only fight administrators’ decisions once they have been made as opposed to being an active part of the decision-making process.

As a private institution, the College is not obligated to offer venues for student input on administrative decisions. Yet by failing — or refusing — to provide such opportunities for student participation, administrators are contradicting everything that the College supposedly represents. The College’s mission statement emphasizes the importance of “independence of thought” and the “open debate of ideas.” Even in his “Moving Dartmouth Forward” speech, Hanlon expressed his desire to make the College a site of “innovation, a place of big ideas [and] bold efforts” — but these words are empty as long as students do not have access to platforms to express the ideas and to make the efforts Dartmouth apparently encourages.

If administrators truly values innovators, then they should provide students with opportunities to participate in the decision-making process and giving feedback on College policies. Both administrators and students want what is best for the College and have access to unique and helpful experiences and skills, so let’s end the uphill battle and begin the upward climb toward a safer, happier, better Dartmouth together.