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The Dartmouth
February 25, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College guides portray Initiative inaccurately

As a result of the ongoing Social and Residential Life Initiative at Dartmouth, some recent editions of college guidebooks have been publishing misleading, even erroneous, information about the College.

While most guidebooks have mentioned aspects of the Initiative in their profile of Dartmouth, some make conclusive predictions about what may happen to the College's Greek system, while others have declared that the system no longer exists.

For example, the Greek system at Dartmouth will "eventually be abolished altogether," according to the 1999 edition of the Insider's Guide to Colleges, published by the Yale Daily News.

Even more drastic, the Princeton Review's Pocket Guide to Colleges reports fraternities and sororities have already been prohibited at the College.

In Barron's Guide to the Most Competitive Colleges, the Initiative is not mentioned at all.

Although such prospects have been anticipated by many Dartmouth students, no concrete decisions regarding the future of the College's social life have yet been announced by the Steering Committee, let alone enacted.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg criticized the publishers of the guidebooks for not updating the profiles of the schools enough.

Because of this, important developments at the College can go unnoticed and unreported from one edition to the next, Furstenberg said.

"For any college guidebook to be unaware of this development would suggest that editors who you would think should be following the news closely" are not following it as closely as they should be, Director of Public Affairs Roland Adams said.

However, guidebook representatives said it is not their responsibility to actively seek out information about colleges.

"If there is a dramatic change on campus, I would hope that [the college] would contact us," said Director of Guidebook Publications at The Princeton Review Robert Frannek.

The Princeton Review has not been sent any information from the Public Affairs Office regarding the Initiative, he said.

Adams said, however, that one press release has been issued, along with a brochure on the Initiative. A College web site details the Five Principles and other relevant information concerning the Initiative. Forums discussing the Initiative have also been open to news organizations, Adams said.

The College does make an effort to disseminate information to the press and the public about new College policies and statistics, but they cannot reach everyone, Adams said. It is up to the guidebooks themselves to pursue accurate and updated information, he said.

In gathering information from various sources, guidebooks contact the admissions office and offices of institute research on campuses and students.

Many college guidebooks, such as the Princeton Review's Top 331 Colleges review schools every three years, on a rotating basis.

Dartmouth was last surveyed by the Princeton Review early in 1999, and it will be surveyed again for the 2002 edition of the book.

Guidebooks include information such as tuition, location, average standardized test scores, academic reputation and faculty-to-student ratios. In many cases, student input is considered a valuable addition to the summary.

The Princeton Review gathers their information in a survey process in which roughly 175 surveys from each school are collected and compiled by hired authors, who try to portray the general impressions of students.

The Princeton Review sends hundreds of pencils, banners, and posters of the current write-up of the school to Dartmouth in a survey year, setting up a desk in a well-traveled area of the campus where students can submit their opinions on the College's food, quality of life, administration, academics, and financial aid options.

In guidebooks such as The Princeton Review's Top 331 Colleges, the Insider's Guide to Colleges, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which is compiled by The New York Times, student opinions are emphasized.

"The whole point of the book is to show the students' view, and we try to keep to that -- there have been cases where the administration have tried to give input, and we have ignored them," said Seung Chin Lee, editor-in-chief of the Insider's Guide.

This effort by editors to include only student reaction may be one of the causes of the misrepresentation in guidebooks of the Trustee Initiative at Dartmouth. Student reactions do not always coincide with official administrative reports. When these reports are not included, and even disregarded, discrepancies can occur.

The Insider's Guide does check facts with web sites and private editors, said Lee.

Furstenberg said guidebooks may not pursue correct information because "sensationalistic" information such as student reactions to the Initiative sell more books, and that is their ultimate goal.

"We've been trying to hammer away at [guidebooks] -- we call them up, send them passages, make corrections -- sometimes it gets in and sometimes it doesn't. We have only so much control over these things," Furstenberg said.

Guidebooks take certain characteristics of institutions, especially public images, and exaggerate them, focusing on select aspects of schools and leaving out other important information, Furstenberg said.

"They harp on the Animal House thing," Furstenberg said, referring to a 1978 film about fraternity life that was loosely based on one undergraduate's experience at the College.

"They don't appreciate the variety of things going on at Dartmouth," Furstenberg said.

With a top 10 spot on this year's Princeton Review "Major Frat and Sorority Scene" list, and a ranking of 11th on the publisher company's "Lots of Beer" list, the College seems to be clinging to its legendary Animal House reputation, despite guidebooks' varying levels of acknowledgment of the Initiative.

The Princeton Review welcomes volunteer student opinion about the Initiative, says Frannek, encouraging students who are dissatisfied with the College's profile to e-mail him directly with input.