Dartmouth will not build large College park dorm, Hanlon announces

by Amanda Zhou and Zachary Benjamin | 2/27/18 2:25am

Dartmouth will not build a 750-bed residence hall in College Park due to the high cost of such a project, College President Phil Hanlon announced during yesterday’s termly faculty of arts and sciences meeting. The original proposal potentially threatened to demolish Shattuck Observatory.

“We have determined the cost of building 750 beds is simply beyond our current financial capacity,” Hanlon said during the meeting.

However, Hanlon left open the possibility of building smaller residential facilities, noting that these dormitories would not necessarily have to be built in College Park.

Hanlon said the “pot of money” for a 750-bed residence hall would have to come from donors. He emphasized the issue of underfunded depreciation — that the College had not adequately set aside money to counteract the effects of declining property values.

The Board of Trustees, upon hearing last month that the 750-bed complex was not financially possible, recommended that the College continue to explore smaller options, which could potentially be built on sites other than College Park. Hanlon added the College is currently investigating these options.

“Multiple sites are possible,” he said.

Hanlon emphasized the importance of constructing new “swing space” — housing that will provide breathing room to relocate and house students while the College begins work on renovating or demolishing other dormitories like the Choates and the River Cluster.

The College has been investigating the possibility of the 750-bed construction project since September 2017, prompted by the fact that the College is currently at its maximum housing capacity. Since its announcement, the College has received significant pushback against the plan, with many students, faculty and alumni expressing concern that this project could threaten Shattuck Observatory, located in College Park and one of the older surviving college observatories in the country. The faculty in the physics and astronomy department circulated a letter, signed by 88 faculty, staff, students and alumni, on Oct. 17 expressing opposition to the construction. The department’s alumni board also sent Hanlon a letter on Nov. 1 echoing the first letter’s concerns. At press time, 1,949 people had signed a separate petition against constructing the new residence hall on a site that could threaten Shattuck.

According to a College press release issued after the meeting, funds for new construction will come from philanthropic donations or reallocation in the operating budget.

Hanlon also gave an update on the Task Force on Enrollment Expansion, which has been charged with exploring the effects of the College expanding its student body by 10 to 25 percent. Hanlon said a summary of the committee’s findings will be presented to the Trustees in an upcoming meeting. From there, the Trustees will decide whether it is the “right time” to increase enrollment. Should they decide to go forward, Hanlon said the committee will seek more community feedback.

“At this point, no decision has been made one way or another,” Hanlon said.

The faculty also passed a motion for all arts and sciences faculty committees to evaluate the enrollment task force’s report and transmit their thoughts to the Committee on Priorities before the committee’s next meeting on April 30. The Committee on Priorities, which promotes the priorities of the arts and sciences faculty in regards to the budget and resource allocation, previously recommended this motion be passed on Feb. 12.

At the meeting, Hanlon reiterated two justifications for a possible student body expansion: that a larger student body would enable the College to foster more people who can do good in the world, and that it would enable the College to recruit a more diverse student body, incorporating dimensions of diversity that it cannot currently fit in.

During the meeting, F. Jon Kull ’88, chair of the steering committee overseeing the College’s reaccreditation report and dean of the School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, detailed the College’s upcoming reaccreditation process. Dean of the College Rebecca Biron also gave an update on the nascent housing communities, introduced in fall 2016. She provided an overview of the house system for the faculty members present and encouraged them to “activate their house membership” and participate in house events.

Last, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid Lee Coffin gave an update on admission strategies. From a survey of Dartmouth applicants, he said that while students view Dartmouth as “adventurous” and prestigious, they do not necessarily think of the College as global or flexible. To that end, he detailed changes in the College’s admissions strategies that he has put into place, such as focusing admissions messaging more on the liberal arts rather than the D-Plan and on underrepresented states and countries.

At the start of the meeting, Hanlon also thanked the audience for the cards he received during his recovery from a recent surgery.

“My new hip is working great and I’m back to 100 percent,” Hanlon said.