Pelton created revolutionary 'supercluster,' lifted ban on kegs

by Maura Henninger | 1/6/98 6:00am

Dean of the College Lee Pelton arrived on campus in 1991, so eager to learn about student life at Dartmouth that he spent a day with a student attending classes and extracurricular activities with him -- he even stayed overnight in the student's fraternity house.

Since coming to the College, Pelton has spearheaded many crucial changes, including the implementation of the East Wheelock supercluster and a reexamination of the College's alcohol policy.

But reflecting on his years at the College, Pelton pointed elsewhere to find his proudest accomplishment.

"I worked in conjunction with the president in his efforts to bring to the College an enhanced intellectual life," Pelton said. "Overall I look back with deepest satisfaction to the growing sense of Dartmouth as an intellectually vibrant place."

College President James Freedman said Pelton was received with great respect and warmth when he first came to the College.

But Pelton was also met by students furious about the existing alcohol policy.

Alcohol policies

Pelton arrived when the College was in the middle of a controversy surrounding a College committee recommendation that common sources of alcohol be banned.

Because Pelton questioned the validity of the Greek system at his former institution, Colgate University, some students were concerned about the future of the Greek system and alcohol policies at Dartmouth.

The College's alcohol policy underwent changes as a result of Congress' 1989 Drug Free Schools and Community Act, which required all colleges and universities to ensure local and state alcohol laws were upheld.

The College banned kegs in September of 1991, and more than 800 students rallied against the policy in a discussion with administrators in Webster Hall.

That winter, students built a 26-foot Winter Carnival snow sculpture of a Grinch perched on a keg to protest the ban.

Three weeks into Fall term, The Dartmouth reported that the ban had not significantly reduced the amount of underage drinking.

Angry students claimed the Greek system was becoming exclusive and fragmenting the campus.

Pelton was the driving force behind the decision to bring back kegs in November of 1992.

"I would much rather have parties with beer than hard alcohol," he said.

Students applauded Pelton for his efforts to make the administration more receptive to the concerns of the student body.

Pelton may very well leave the College in the same circumstances in which he found it as students await his decision on the new CCAOD recommendations.

In October, 1995 he reconstituted the CCAOD and temporarily appointed a professional evaluator, charging both with examining the role that alcohol plays in campus social life.

"Unfortunately, like much of American or collegiate culture elsewhere, Dartmouth student culture is one in which alcohol has a priority and value," Pelton said. "Dartmouth is dominated by a social structure that supports high-risk rather than low-risk drinking."

Last November, the CCAOD released a 20-page report containing several recommendations, which, if implemented by Pelton, could radically alter the College's social scene -- especially the Coed Fraternity Sorority system -- possibly as early as the beginning of next term.

Implementation of the CCAOD recommendations will occur completely at Pelton's discretion, and he can choose to accept or ignore any or all of the committee's suggestions.

Increasing intellectualism

Throughout his tenure, Pelton has worked on many projects to enhance the lives of students at the College.

In 1994, Pelton undertook the task of increasing intellectualism during students' freshmen years. He formed the Committee on the First-Year Experience and recommended overhauling the residential life system.

In a final report, released in May 1995, Pelton drastically scaled down the initial recommendations of the Committee on the First-Year Experience, discarding the proposal of three primarily freshman residence hall clusters.

The final report called for the creation of a single "mixed-class cluster."

At its Winter term meeting in 1996, the College's Board of Trustees voted to implement the Dartmouth Experience proposal, set forward by Pelton.

Under the plan, the East Wheelock cluster underwent a $600,000 renovation the following summer and became the "supercluster" -- complete with a snack bar and faculty advisor.

Pelton said he hoped the plan, which was the realization of the recommendations of the committee that he created and chaired, would result in the "marriage of intellectual and social life" at Dartmouth.

Pelton said success in the East Wheelock cluster would possibly lead to similar renovations in other Dartmouth residence hall clusters.

But he said he worries about the future of the East Wheelock cluster.

"I certainly hope the College will continue to support the East Wheelock venture. I believe that we need another version of the East Wheelock cluster soon," Pelton told The Dartmouth yesterday. "I think it's difficult for East Wheelock to stand alone without becoming idiosyncratic."

Keeping up with students

Because of his efforts at the College, Pelton has earned the respect of both his colleagues and the students.

Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia described Pelton as "well-respected" by students and a "very good advocate for their interests."

In a recent interview with The Dartmouth, he said the toughest part of his job as Dean of the College is keeping up with the constantly changing student population.

Pelton said he understood the difficulties of being a policymaker when Freedman cited fatigue and lack of personal time as reasons for his decision to step down after Commencement this year.

Pelton said his job requires him to "bring to issue a kind of freshness" for each class and "maintaining that freshness is not easy because there is never a sense of completion," he said.

"A lot of deans in my position have a sense of burning out" when issues are not fresh and renewed, Pelton said.

But Pelton said he is not "burned out."

"I'm not there yet," he said.