Increased number of alumni respond to survey, comment on "Moving Dartmouth Forward"

by Briana Tang | 10/22/15 7:11pm

Dartmouth alumni sent more than 1,300 emails to the Alumni Liaison Committee expressing opinions and concerns on academics, student life and administrative initiatives at the College during the 2014-2015 academic year, according to the committee’s annual report to the Board of Trustees. The topics addressed in the greatest number of emails were the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy changes and the increased use of living learning communities, according to statistics in the report.

In response to an email sent by the Alumni Liaison Committee to alumni following College President Phil Hanlon’s Jan. 29 announcement of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative, alumni sent about 100 emails to the committee.

Former Alumni Council president and Alumni Liaison Committee chair Mark Davis ’81 Tu’84 said the majority of alumni expressed support for the College’s efforts in their correspondence.

“There was a generally very positive response from alumni about the effort Phil Hanlon has taken to address these issues head on,” Davis said.

Some alumni disagreed with the “top-down” approach to alter student behavior. Negative responses were often directed at very specific parts of the initiative, notably the hard alcohol ban. Some alumni wrote that college is the time for students to learn to live in society, even if that involves making bad choices.

The majority of the Class of 1977 thinks that the hard alcohol ban could eliminate some high-risk behavior and help to address the issue of sexual assault, class president Nancy Parssinen Vespoli ’77 said.

Class of 1967 president Sam Ostrow ’67 said that most of his class thought that “Moving Dartmouth Forward” constitutes a major step toward addressing the issues on campus, but noted that no preventative measure can succeed absolutely and that the problems that the College is facing are those that many colleges also face.

There is no perfect solution to binge drinking and sexual assault, and student and alumni perspectives should be incorporated more meaningfully into the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policies, Class of 2011 president Shayla Mars ’11 said.

In total, the Alumni Liaison Committee received 338 emails about administrative issues, including the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative. Administrative concerns also included approaches to addressing high-risk drinking, concerns over the cost of attendance at the College, fossil fuel divestment and efforts to reinstate the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. The number of emails received in this category increased 92 percent from the previous year. Davis said this increase was in large part due to the announcement of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative and the renewed attention on curbing high-risk behaviors.

The expansion of living learning communities was a major cause of concern in emails as well. In response to an email from the Alumni Liaison Committee in fall 2014 asking for alumni views on the communities, alumni sent 151 comments. Much of the feedback was negative. There was concern among alumni that LLCs could fragment the campus.

“Many alumni said that opportunities to associate with a wide range of people in the dorms could dissipate,” Davis said.

He noted that on this topic and others, however, people with negative views were more likely to write in than people who had positive views or were indifferent.

“There are a lot of alumni who are very excited about LLCs, but there are also those who do not like the idea because looking back at their own experiences, they really loved the idea of being placed in a dorm with people with different interests than themselves,” Davis said.

Those who wrote in support of LLCs identified with Hanlon’s goal of creating like-minded communities and homes, Davis said.

Davis also noted that alumni who graduated before 1986 sent more negative emails than alumni from more recent years, though Ostrow — who graduated well before 1986 — said he believes that LLCs are positive for Dartmouth.

Vespoli said that while it may be worthwhile to give LLCs a chance, she enjoyed the diversity of students she met in her dorm when she was at the College.

“I like seeing everyone mixed together and [have] gotten similar feedback from the people in my class,” she said. “I met people who I otherwise would not have met, whereas you might be able to meet people of those same interests at some other organization.”

LLCs do not necessarily cause social separation, Mars said.

“There are many ways you can still become involved with other students on campus,” she said. “If that was the case, there would be a separation between freshmen and upperclassmen. The idea that LLCS contain people to separate buildings is irrational to me. Other colleges have implemented the same kinds of living situations, and their students have been able to maintain an understanding of other students on campus and also feel like they are actually at home, which is the main goal of the College.”

Mars also said that her class’ main concern is sexual assault, specifically that the College may not do enough to handle cases in a way that makes survivors feel safe.

The Alumni Liaison Committee received 1,352 emails from alumni this year, 38 percent higher than the number of emails received in the 2013-2014 academic year and significantly more than in any year prior.

The uptick in emails was a result of the committee’s efforts to increase communication with alumni, Davis said.

For the first time, the Alumni Liaison Committee also reached out to alumni through two surveys on Facebook and Twitter. These in total received more than 3,000 responses from alumni.

The Alumni Liaison Committee also used the Moosilauke Forum, a system designed by Dartmouth’s market research director that randomly surveys 2,000 alumni for questions about professional development and the role of alumni in the admissions process.

More than 800 alumni participated in the survey on professional development. The Alumni Liaison Committee hoped that the information gained from the survey could guide the College’s staff as they develop new programs to support the professional growth of students and alumni. The alumni surveyed said they valued their professional Dartmouth connections very highly and that there is a strong interest in networking with students. Some alumni found that the Dartmouth Career Network and Dartboard were not being marketed enough to alumni, according to the survey data.

More than 500 alumni took the survey on the admissions process. From the survey, alumni generally believe their interviews have an important role in the admissions process. A high percentage of respondents asked for a better understanding of how the admissions office uses the interviews.

The Alumni Liaison Committee received 102 emails about academics, up 50 percent from the previous year, according to the report. The topics most frequently discussed in the emails include balancing the liberal arts curriculum, determining the future of graduate education and utilizing technology in the classroom. Some alumni also expressed enthusiasm for the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network in their emails.

The committee received 220 emails about student life, down 25 percent from the previous year, according to the report. Some expressed a need for social change at the College while roughly even numbers of alumni called for the abolition of the Greek system and its continuation. Most emails regarding the derecognition of Alpha Delta fraternity were written by AD alumni who had been affiliated with the house, and most were critical of the decision.

In response to a prompt about how Dartmouth can differentiate itself from other institutions through its marketing, the Alumni Liaison Committee received 57 responses. The features cited most include Dartmouth’s location and scenery, the student body, commitment to teaching undergraduates, global focus and a close alumni network.