First-Year Report Disappoints
Dean of the College Lee Pelton took the easy way out by watering down his recommendations in the "Final Report of the Committee on the First-Year Experience," hindering his goal of increasing the quality of the first-year experience. The final report, which The Dartmouth received Friday, is a mere shadow of the initial report released more than a year ago.
In the process of gathering information over the past year, Pelton learned the majority of the student body did not support freshman residence halls and some students questioned other aspects of the report's recommendations.
But if Pelton truly believed the committee's initial suggestions in the First-Year Report would significantly improve the first-year experience at the College, then he should have taken the initial report to the Board of Trustees, instead of the shallow proposals he has just released.
Last year, Pelton created and chaired a committee to examine the first-year experience at the College. In May, to increase intellectualism, the committee recommended the creation of primarily freshman residence halls, where freshmen would be grouped by their choice of seminar, with a Senior Faculty Fellow living in a house next to the cluster.
Pelton writes in the new report that it "adopts a modification of the First-Year Report on a limited, trial basis with the understanding that a decision to go forward with an expanded program will be made based on what we learn during this trial period."
Sadly, Pelton's new report is so weakened that it cannot hope to achieve the original goals of the committee.
Pelton recommends creating "one mixed-class cluster," which would include a faculty associate, additional dining and social facilities and an increased programming budget. The creation of primarily freshman residence halls, coupled with increased faculty involvement, would have been a better method to increase intellectualism and the sense of community on this campus.
Pelton said one of the primary reasons he scrapped the proposal was budget constraints. But if Pelton really believed the First-Year Report would dramatically improve life at Dartmouth, then the benefits would outweigh the fiscal costs of the plan.
But, after measuring campus sentiment, Pelton decided that the campus does not want primarily freshman residence halls. However, instead of diluting his proposals, Pelton should have convened another committee to investigate increasing intellectualism at the College without the option of freshman residence halls.
The recommendations released by Pelton today are inherently flawed and should not be adopted. Pelton seems to be trying to back into the recommendations of the First-Year Report. He should have either adopted the First-Year Report in its entirety, with a few small modifications, or he should have dropped the report completely.
The new recommendations are unfair because they create unnecessary distinctions among students based upon random housing assignments. Given the opportunity, any student would choose to live in a cluster that has a "private dining room, seminar and study rooms and a small student grill" and a larger cluster programming budget than the rest of the campus.
Pelton would be creating one "supercluster" that would be better than any other cluster on campus. The increased intellectual environment of primarily freshman residence halls -- and the comfortable stability offered by upperclass affiliation with a particular cluster -- are lost under the new proposals.
Improving the first-year experience and increasing intellectualism on campus are admirable goals and Pelton's initial report would have gone a long way toward achieving those goals. His new recommendations will most likely do very little to change the residential atmosphere or increase intellectualism. The Dean of the College has let a wonderful opportunity to improve the College slip right through his fingers.