Verbum Ultimum: Crisis Averted, Crisis Ongoing

Dartmouth cannot continue to meander around its housing issues.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 9/21/18 2:10am

 Finally, a rejoinder is made. On Monday, Sept. 17, the College’s Board of Trustees approved the construction of a new 350-bed dorm on the site of what is currently the Alumni Gym tennis courts and House Center A, commonly referred to by students as the Onion. The decision is a necessary step in alleviating Dartmouth’s ongoing housing crisis; executive vice president Rick Mills and his team may be lauded for their discourse and counsel throughout the process.

It is a shame, then, that what should be at least a commendable moment on the part of the College is mired by the disappointing circumstances leading up to it. The College’s current decision was determined only after the Board declined the administration’s proposal for a 750-bed residence hall in College Park following backlash from students and alumni.

The Board’s recently announced plans for residential housing are in clear alignment with a history of reactionary housing policy at the College. Each of the most recently proposed sites were all overlooked in initial surveys, conducted just months ago, at least in part because they could not fit a 750-bed complex. The demise of the Onion, built as a temporary structure, is insubstantial but ironic in that one seemingly hasty decision regarding the College’s housing system will now displace another.

Housing scarcity and insecurity at the College is a pressing issue that campus is increasingly unable to ignore. The College has successfully vaulted one more hurdle in a decades-long race. But creative thinking, more forceful planning and a greater sense of urgency are essential if this is a struggle Dartmouth intends to overcome.

The new 350-bed dorm announced next to the Alumni Gym is far from the first incident of reactionary planning in Dartmouth’s history. Neither the Choates Cluster nor the River Cluster were intended as permanent housing situations when constructed. At the time of its construction, Dartmouth did not envision the Lodge, then an extension of the Hanover Inn, as a site where students would still be living on the eve of the College’s 250th anniversary.

One needn’t address the questionable nature of renovations and constructions past to see evidence of Dartmouth’s fundamentally misguided approach to housing. The administration’s decision to eject graduate students from all North Park apartments was an obvious reaction to both flawed admissions planning and an increasingly serious housing crisis. One might argue that the College’s decision to allow freshman students to live in Living Learning Communities and a serendipitous campaign promoting gap year options for the Class of 2021 were similarly motivated.

Indeed, the origins of Dartmouth’s quarter system lie in the same housing crisis that continues to embroil campus. A sexist notion that the Class of 1976 should not have been deprived of any men who would have otherwise been admitted despite Dartmouth’s newly adopted coeducational policy surely contributed to the advent of the D-Plan. But the quarter system was fundamentally conceived of as a solution to how Dartmouth could accommodate a larger student body with a campus far too small for it.

The onus of blame for what institutions and decisions precipitated the housing crisis, however, is irrelevant. What should matter now to the administration, the board and students present and future is that this crisis is resolved before the situation further deteriorates. What is so concerning about the Board’s latest decision, however, is that it does not inspire confidence that Dartmouth has a solid long-term plan for how it wants to improve itself.

A grand vision for Dartmouth’s campus has been discussed openly by the administration since at least the 1990s and likely been the fantasy of professors specializing in urban planning, architecture or design for much longer. Yet the College’s most recent master plan, announced in 2012, has yet to publicly materialize. This is unacceptable for a campus with as much natural beauty and space as Dartmouth.

In the same announcement commending the decision to construct the 350-bed dorm on site of the short-lived Onion, the College also noted the establishment of a project that may eventually culminate in a 250-person accommodating complex for graduate students. In isolation, this project is a foregone conclusion, especially as the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies expands in the coming years. Without pairing such efforts in a broader conception of how the College should look, feel and function, though, this proposal is emblematic of the same myopic thinking that Dartmouth can no longer tolerate. And given past failures, if the College already does have such a concept in mind, it is essential that the adminstration make it known as soon as possible how it hopes to integrate this housing into the broader campus.

It should be noted that Dartmouth’s shortage of beds is not a unique issue, nor is it the most acute example. The College will survive with these difficulties if only because the community has endured them thus far. That said, the housing crisis remains a pressing and increasingly untenable situation, especially as older dorms become filled with black mold while plans stall. A 350-bed dorm is a step in the right direction, but it remains far from clear if the administration or the board are prepared for the long walk ahead of them.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the associate opinion editor, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.