Live Free or Die

by Ryan Clark | 6/29/01 5:00am

As a member of the Greek Life Steering Committee, I am deeply disturbed by the new policies announced by the Office of Residential Life last Friday, but I probably should not be. After all, the administration has a horrible track record of operating in good faith. I guess I was either stupid or nave to believe that this would change when they said they were forming the GLSC to give students a role in implementing the Student Life Initiative. As the process went along, signs began to appear that demonstrated that they were less concerned with what we, as students, wanted our vision of the future of Dartmouth social life to be, instead it appeared that the report would reflect what the administration wanted to implement. Throughout the process, items appeared in the drafts of the report that the committee had not approved. I know a few of us spent a considerable amount of time discussing specific issues with Dean Barnhardt, and we expected some version of the report to appear in May. I still have not seen a final draft of the report, a month and a half after the supposed "deadline" for all our comments to be in. As time went on, I began to become concerned that the delay meant that administrators had problems with the work of the committee and that new proposals would "appear" in the report when it was finally released. The actions of ORL on Friday convince me that this is the case.

The committee did approve a rule that alcohol would be prohibited outside, as Dean Redman points out. However, it was part of a larger group of proposals relating to alcohol. Most of these were rejected, and the ban on alcohol outside was, in my view, a compromise position. I do have to disagree with Dean Redman's comment to The Dartmouth, "You can't stand in front of Mass Row with a beer, why should you be allowed to stand outside anywhere else on campus with a beer?" The answer is, of course, self-evident: PROPERTY RIGHTS! The College owns Mass Row, but for the most part it does not own the houses in the Greek system. But I guess property rights are not really that important, a fact made obvious by the second dictum from Friday, the ability of Safety and Security officers to search houses whenever they please. This was never discussed at any of the GLSC meetings. Such a proposal should have been front and center in the discussions of the GLSC. However, we were never informed that such a proposal was even being considered by ORL. In my opinion, it just proves that the administration had no real interest in ever listening to student opinion. If they did, why would such a proposal never be brought up to the committee that was charged with reforming the Greek system? Why did we spend hours working on this when it did not really matter in the end? I guess it turns out that the administration was just playing us as fools in order to create an impression of "student approval" when they were just going to do whatever they pleased all along.

Throughout the committee process, and throughout much of the discussion of the SLI, we heard about the "Animal House" image problem of Dartmouth. It is amazing how much a twenty-year-old movie can scare so many supposedly educated professors and administrators. This was the true basis of the ban on outdoor consumption of alcohol. Certain members of the committee were concerned about others in the community seeing students outside playing pong. Basically it boiled down to this reaction: "Oh my god, it looks really bad when others see our students drink, they're just going to think that this place is Animal House. More importantly, it may hurt our pedagogical work in the eyes of others." Therefore, everything must be done to recreate the Dartmouth social structure into something that will be accepted by other members of the Academy. Total ignorance of the actual Dartmouth social life is filtered through the prejudices of political correctness. This is reflected in the rantings of Professor Randy Testa at the GLSC meetings, the professors who spoke at the May faculty meeting (whose remarks were marked with numerous factual inaccuracies), and the letter signed by 101 members of the faculty. They are largely uninformed and unaware of reality (and probably have never set foot in a Greek house) but they certainly portray themselves as experts in how students should live their lives.

The faculty and administration seem bound and determined to recreate Dartmouth in the image of Harvard or some other perceived ideal. It should be obvious that Dartmouth is never going to have the cachet of Harvard. Instead, why not continue to build a Dartmouth "brand" unique from other institutions? What's wrong with being known as a strong academic institution with an active social life? Why be a lesser version of something else than be something unique? I know many people who came to Dartmouth not only because it was challenging, but because there was a social life outside of the classroom. I certainly think it creates a more well rounded individual. Students like going to places away from the watchful eye of colleges and universities. In most places around the country, this happens at off-campus bars and restaurants. In Hanover, it happens in Greek houses. Colleges have a horrible record at creating "student social spaces" which are usually not student-controlled nor all that social, precisely because students do not want to always have the college looking over their shoulder. The College will always fail when it tries to create a social life, which usually results in sterile, bland spaces like Poison Ivy and Lone Pine, simply because they are working against human nature. I think the word of the College's attempt to strip Dartmouth of any brand that once attracted people to it has gotten out. That is probably the true reason behind the 5 percent drop in applications, not that students are offended by the "controversies" of the past few years, as the College claims. It is becoming obvious that Dartmouth is becoming less and less fun every year.

As a result of the actions taken by ORL and the fact that it is completely obvious that the College is not acting in good faith when it claims that it wants to involve students in the decisions it makes. For the members of the Greek system (I was not a member of any house), I think you use the New Hampshire state motto as your guiding principle. Live free or die. As a result, the houses that are able to should go independent of the College. I do not think that the College will ban the Greek system. Instead, it will whittle the houses down one by one through the kangaroo court methods that they've employed all spring. You can no longer submit to the actions of an institution that does not respect your rights and tramples upon them every time they come into conflict with the doctrines of political correctness. The rights and freedoms of students are essential to the proper functioning of a true liberal arts institution. The administration claims that this is not true and that the current social choices made by students are at odds with an academic institution, but all they are doing is stifling the diversity that they claim to hold so dear.