Sandlund: FoCorp

The information gap at institutions of higher education.

by William Sandlund | 11/10/17 12:30am

This article started as a tirade against Dartmouth Dining Services. I know this is an overworn topic — The Dartmouth Editorial Board and The Dartmouth Review have already done a good job airing students’ fresh set of grievances for 2017. But it was 4:30 p.m. on a rainy Sunday, and the KAF line was a long, painful reminder of the inadequacy of our school’s dining options. And so I wanted to know: What exactly is DDS?

My cursory research only made things more confusing. DDS is a private, for-profit organization owned by a not-for-profit institution, Dartmouth College. It is partially overseen by a College administrator, David Newlove, who is also responsible for overseeing the Card Office, the Hanover Inn, mail and delivery services, printing services, the Dartmouth Skiway and transportation, according to the College’s website.

The only information we can get on the entangled structure of DDS is explained on page eight of the College’s 2016-2017 financial statements, which reads in part, “Auxiliary enterprises, primarily the operation of residence halls, dining services and recreational facilities, are included in operating activities.” On page four of the document you can read that auxiliary revenue was $77,680,000 and auxiliary expenses were $83,553,000. So the College ran approximately a $5,873,000 deficit for these expenses this past year. It is hard to believe DDS is not profitable, given their total monopoly over the student body. However, we currently have no way of proving this.

If DDS is profitable, and I suspect it is, it is a disgrace that Dartmouth has found a way to monetize the college education experience in the same way budget air carriers find ways to charge customers for “auxiliary” services that are in fact necessities. But what is more disgraceful still is the way in which they have hidden this fact from the student body. Without transparency there can be no accountability. Without accountability there can be no way of ensuring the needs of a body politic are met. A first step would be for the College to include greater details on revenue and expense costs — grouping together dormitory revenue with DDS revenue makes little sense.

I once wrote about the incompatible needs of students and administrators. Students have a short-term preoccupation with their undergraduate experience. Ostensibly, administrators share this concern. In reality, the purveyors of our education look beyond us the moment we accept our offers of admission. Their eyes are glazed and their mouths are agape because they are forever dreaming of the Future of the College. The dichotomy can be summed up with the following maxim: Our faculty and students care about education, the administration cares about public relations. One camp comprises the substance of Dartmouth College and the other the form. Our school is one of many American academic institutions where form now defines substance.

The College’s administration is a self-justifying entity that has the power to create new uses for itself. The reputation of the College is tied to its raison d’être. That is part of why each incoming class is described in glowing superlatives, backed up by some selectively chosen metrics. For instance, the Class of 2021 was described as “the most academically accomplished and globally diverse class the College has ever accepted.” We are on a trend ever upward, ever forward. But as the College’s administrative staff has grown in scope and power, it has come to occupy a space of limbo. No proven system of accountability exists for this new entity. There is just the pressure of the unseen past, expressed via anxious donors and alumni, the diffuse rabble of the present student body, and angst over the College’s future experienced via the Board of Trustees. The only feasible way to keep all these groups happy is to somehow convince them that things are getting better.

This linear way of conceptualizing Dartmouth is what I see as an endemic part of the administration’s failure to be in touch with the experience and needs of students and faculty. Administrators are essential to maintaining this relationship, but they should really be thought of as facilitators.

A potential long-term solution to this lack of shared interests would be to create a more organized and effective student government. Some sort of student union that is a part of the administration should be considered. More paid bureaucratic positions or internships within the administration, such as the President’s Intern who works part-time in the Office of the President during his or her senior year, could be set up for students to fill during off terms. These students would experience firsthand the Dartmouth bureaucracy and could work as liaisons between the administration and students. We are entitled to real power in our educational system — in modern American higher education, that power emanates from college administrations.