"Moving Dartmouth Forward" external review panel finds most initiatives are on track

by Anna Staropoli | 11/9/15 8:34pm

Following the release of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” external review panel’s first report, panel members spoke highly of the College’s recent policy changes and voiced their support for the new policies. All policy initiatives were deemed “goal met,” “continuing” or “ongoing,” with one exception — the creation of an online consent manual is “behind schedule.”

The panel consists of five members who have been tracking the implementation of “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policies and reporting progress. The policies — which were announced by College President Phil Hanlon last January — include the new residential college system, a ban on hard alcohol and an increased focus on academic rigor.

Panel members include Tufts University president emeritus Lawrence Bacow, Stanford University associate vice provost and dean of residential education Deborah Golder, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s division of epidemiology and prevention research Ralph Hingson, former Palaeopitus senior society member Malcolm Leverett ’14 and Harvard Law School student Rachel Siegel ’12.

On Friday, the panel, which typically convenes every six weeks, met with faculty members, staff and administrators in preparation for a presentation to the Board of Trustees on Saturday.

The compilation of the report involved not only the five panel members, but also members of the Dartmouth community who offered feedback on the policies. Administrators responsible for implementing the changes, leaders of residential houses and Palaeopitus senior society members were all included in discussions prior to the presentation.

In the report, the panel wrote that it is “too early to evaluate the plan’s impact on the campus,” and as such the report documents the progress of specific goals rather than their effectiveness.

“The first year was certainly us seeing whether things had been implemented or not, and in the latter years, we’ll definitely start evaluating whether or not it’s addressing the issues that it said it would,” Leverett said. “We’ll likely recommend tweaking some things if they don’t have the intended effect, but we will be able to truly substantially measure whether they’re successful or not.”

The report outlined the status of the five main goals of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan. The first focused on the transformation of residential life, particularly on the new housing system that will be put fully in place in fall 2016. The panel noted that this progress is on track in accordance with the initial plan.

The report also encompassed the promotion of a safer and healthier campus. These initiatives included the hard alcohol ban, Dartmouth on Purpose’s Thrive program for student well-being and required third-party security and bartenders at large social events hosted by the College or College-sponsored organizations.

“The value is helping to reduce some of that high-risk behavior that we witness on campus,” Leverett said. “I think the policies in place for the ‘Moving Dartmouth Forward’ plan very clearly attack those in ways to address a lot of the issues that students experience or witness.”

Over the past several years, the incidence of high-risk behaviors has been decreasing, Hingson said. The College has been tracking this progress, he said.

“There are several indicators which they’re tracking to look at whether or not there are increases or decreases in harms related to alcohol misuse and sexual assaults,” he said.

Indicators for the decrease in risky behaviors include student surveys, judicial affairs office records and incident reports. The panel reported that the College has met the goals of creating a Dartmouth-specific safety smartphone app for students. The LiveSafe app, launched earlier this term, had been downloaded by 7 percent of the student body as of Nov. 3.

To further address campus safety, the College is developing a mandatory sexual assault prevention and education program and plans to create an online consent manual. The progress for the prevention program is ongoing, however the panel noted that the creation and distribution of the consent manual has fallen behind schedule.

The online consent manual is the only policy that is currently behind schedule, according to the panel’s report.

In the College’s implementation report available online, the consent manual is deemed to be in the “implementation phase” instead of “behind schedule.” The College’s report projected that the manual be posted for community comment in Sept. 2015 and put in place fall 2015.

The consent manual will be released in the near future, Leverett said.

For the plan to “strengthen academic rigor while enhancing learning outside the classroom,” the panel reported that the College has allocated $1 million for experiential learning this year. Ongoing progress toward this goal includes the development of academic proposals from the Faculty Curricular Review Committee and the Committee on Instruction, as well as new “immersion” course offerings that travel during the winter interim period.

In the final section, “accountability,” the panel finds the College has met its goal of creating an external oversight committee and is continuing progress on conducting two regular climate surveys. The American Association of Universities climate survey was conducted in the spring of 2015, and results were released in Sept. 21, 2015.

The AAU survey had at 41 percent participation rate at the College. Fifty-six percent of students reported having been the victims of sexual harassment, and 13 percent of students reported having experienced attempted or completed nonconsensual sexual contact by incapacitation or physical force since matriculating at the College.

Both rates were higher than the AAU aggregate rate for the 27 participating institutions.

The College also distributed a campus-wide survey in October that closed on Nov. 3. The panel reported that the College has committed to sharing the results.

The panel received a large amount of feedback about the hard alcohol ban.

“I specifically asked [Palaeopitus] about the provisions for prohibiting hard liquor at campus activities,” Hingson said. “There was an initial reluctance about it, but when we talked to them on Friday, they said they felt that there were fewer episodes of intoxication on campus in freshmen as a result of the implementation of that policy.”

The board meeting offered updated information about the status of “Moving Dartmouth Forward” initiatives.

“We essentially gave the board members things that had happened since the report that had been written. Overall, they were extremely receptive, very much on board and had very thoughtful questions,” Leverett said.

The Greek system also needs to be a key component in monitoring changes going forward, Hingson said.

“Because a large percentage of students at Dartmouth are involved in the Greek system, the Greek system needs to be involved in the monitoring,” he said.

The “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy changes are still in their early stages, so any definitive conclusion about their success cannot be determined, according to the panelists.

Bacow — who chairs the panel — wrote in an email that he immediately accepted Hanlon’s offer to participate due to his own experiences at Tufts with addressing similar issues. As outsiders, Bacow wrote, the panel members have the opportunity “hold a mirror up to ‘Moving Dartmouth Forward’” and offer objective thoughts on the programs implementation and how it may be improved.

The panel will continue evaluating the success of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policies throughout this year and in years to come. Presently, the panel is focusing on the implementation of the policies, rather than the vitality and efficiency of these changes.

“Of course, it’s much too early to draw any conclusions about the long-term impact of this,” Hingson said. “Much of the plan has yet to be implemented.”

The current progress is in line with expectations and set goals at this point in the process, Bacow wrote.