Verbum Ultimum: The Class of the Hour

The Class of 2022 is uniquely well positioned as it joins the Dartmouth community.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 9/14/18 2:20am

It is easy to argue that for a college approaching its 250th anniversary, the arrival of a new class of students gracing the Green is a humdrum affair in Dartmouth’s very long history. True to Dartmouth’s jolly stereotype, however, the Class of 2022 was welcomed to campus with the same energy, flair and Cascada Best Hits™ tracks that many classes past were introduced to themselves. While so many aspects of a freshman’s first few weeks at the College are painstakingly rehearsed and prepared, the festivities were not unfounded. There truly is cause for optimism at the College today, and the Class of 2022 is in a unique position to take advantage of it.

The campus that the Class of 2022 has arrived on is the envy of students and professors around the world. Some of Dartmouth’s long-term denizens tend to forget how good many students and faculty have it here. To be fair, anyone may be forgiven for such a lapse when there is so much obviously wrong at the College. The myopia of elite academia also dims spirits, with many questioning why they aren’t outdoing peers in Cambridge, Providence or Palo Alto.

This is not, however, a school on the brink of shuttering its doors. To the contrary, the College’s recently posted investment results for fiscal year 2018 show a 12.2 percent gain in the College’s endowment fund, leading to a record value of $5.5 billion. This is nearly double the median annual return nationally, a figure of 7.4 percent. Insofar as faculty designated growing the endowment as one of the Hanlon administration’s top priorities, current trends suggest that chief investment officer Alice Ruth and others have delivered.

Many of the issues that beleaguered the College at the beginning of the Hanlon administration have also seen progress. In the highly competitive market for top-tier faculty, especially faculty of color, the College has been willing to step up its game by investing in higher professor salaries and conducting multiple search groups that have brought several scholars to campus in a relatively short time. It is yet to be seen whether any of these professors will receive tenure or have their scholarship recognized, yet early efforts undeniably give some cause for hope.

Social life on campus has also seen improvement in terms of both options and safety. The Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative will be more a fact of life for the Class of 2022 than a draconian policy cast from on high, as many in previous classes saw it. Such is the same for Dartmouth’s still nascent house system, which has seated its first house senate in the Student Assembly. At best, these policies create a safer and more inclusive campus. At worst, they are well-meaning but useless efforts. The College is trying to improve campus climate and foster community, however, and should be commended for such.

Greek life, a perennial issue at the College, has reformed and jettisoned many of its former policies and members. Although alternative social spaces proliferate on campus, Greek life remains the unquestionable center of social life at the College. It’s a system that has proved adaptable to the higher standards set against it, a fact that has hopefully benefitted the entire campus climate.

It may even be argued that the sobering results of January’s campus climate survey on sexual misconduct as well as recent internal investigations that unearthed the sexual misconduct of three professors in the department of psychological and brain sciences, may be commendable for the College. The same could be said for the recent resignation of Geisel professor Dr. H. Gilbert Welch following an investigation into plagiarism.

That the College is uprooting its weeds should not be decried. Bad press aside, it will benefit the entire Dartmouth community, in the long run, to eliminate any cultural rot or institutional malfeasance on campus, regardless of whether it is conducted by students, faculty, staff or administrators.

Integral to this progress has been the earnest activism and enduring work of many students in classes past. The Class of 2022 will be the beneficiaries of student activists who demanded policies and engagement that prompted action and change on campus. Many of the resources available to the Class of 2022 to handle issues of mental health, diversity and inclusion, accessibility, academic support and so much more are the direct result of students crying out for change and laboring to implement it. It is a process that has happened countless times at the College now, one that the Class of 2022 will no doubt continue themselves.

Many of the threats and anxieties at the College today are shared by other institutions in academia, especially those considered part of the same elite tier as Dartmouth. That the College responds to most, though deplorably not all, issues on campus and in the wider Dartmouth community with sincere effort shows why progress has been made here while issues of accessibility, diversity, sexual violence and academic achievement cause unmanageable crises at other institutions.

Dartmouth is and has been a deeply problematic institution for a long time. This is again not something unique to the College; the entire Ivy League, and indeed most American institutions, have had necessary self-reckonings many times over. The Class of 2022, however, is in a unique position to impact this school. Standing to benefit from a campus wealthier and better resourced than ever before at a time of great change and innovation, much is expected of this class in this special moment at the College. Hopefully they, like classes before, will depart from a campus better than that to which they arrived, a direct result of the actions of those who loved it.

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