What Is This, Russia?

by Chris Curran | 6/27/01 5:00am

A specter is haunting Dartmouth -- the specter of Paternalism. There is a growing acknowledgment on campus of its increased presence. Opposing the Paternalists is a group of liberty-seeking individuals. Many of these Liberty-seekers advocate the status quo. A few of the liberty-seeking elements propose the radical idea of increased rights and responsibilities. Conflict is inevitable as the Paternalists, unable to effect voluntary change in the current free market of ideas, have moved to forcibly seize the means of production of the Dartmouth community to further their cause.

The Paternalists are not forthcoming about their true intentions. This is wise public relations. All liberty struggles are political ones and the Paternalists have discovered that highly publicized unilateral declarations do little to advance their cause. Piecemeal change, in the direction of decreasing liberty, has become the order of the day. This may not be self-evident and so we must examine recent changes as they apply to the means of production at Dartmouth .

The goods produced by the Dartmouth community are not-- contrary to popular belief -- the diplomas awarded annually at graduation. Rather, they are the men and women who are better equipped to positively contribute to the world as a result of their education here. The education of Dartmouth students is intended to produce spiritual, academic and social growth. This is a bit simplistic for the three are often inter-related; nonetheless, the groups are still helpful.

The threat to liberty as it applies to our spiritual development is a dangerous one. There are beautiful stained glass windows in Rollins chapel but they have been covered up due to their religious tone. Erosion of liberty extends beyond mere censorship though. This policy of neglect towards the spiritual development of students is visible in less noticeable ways. Exams are scheduled on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. Perhaps individual professors will accommodate students' religious needs, but the onus is on students to request the change. The default seems to be agnosticism or atheism and the burden for change lies on the student. Let me be clear: I am not asking that the Paternalists adopt, or promote, any particular religious belief. But to foster a community in which there is an excessive burden placed upon religious expression is to unduly threaten religious liberty.

The academic growth of students is the area least threatened by the Paternalists. Fortunately, the First Amendment seems to have an almost mythic role in academia.The right to speak freely, especially by tenured faculty, is virtually sacred. The fact that many Paternalists are former academics and understand the importance of liberty in research may explain the academic liberty we continue to enjoy at Dartmouth.

While the First Amendment has been mythologized in the academic realm, it has been respected selectively. Free speech, even when most objectionable, is sacred. Freedom of association is not. Here lies the threat to the social development of students.

The list of reductions in liberty over the past two years is lengthy and extensive in scope. Many Liberty-seekers have banded together, forming Greek houses. Consequently, they have borne the brunt of challenges from Paternalists, who, having failed initially to rid the campus of these Liberty-seekers, have resorted to more surreptitious and nefarious tactics.

The forced change from fall to winter rush will deprive houses of thousands of dollars in dues and, with one fewer term together, will mean weaker organizations. But that's the desired effect.

Most recently the Paternalists have imposed unilaterally and without advance notice, a policy whereby the officers of Safety and Security will be able to roam freely through all Greek houses, even those privately owned. This precedent will provide the foundation for a future police state. Off-campus houses seem to have been temporarily omitted from this new policy but they will certainly be next when this latest attempt at heavy-handed social engineering fails to achieve its desired utopia. This premise, that campus officers can enter and search privately owned houses, without warrant or probably cause, at all times and in all areas, is about to be established. Once that happens, no area will be safe. This policy does not indicate the erosion of liberty; it illustrates the absence of it.

So when will the Paternalists stop taking a greater share of our liberty in the spiritual and social realms? At what point does the litany of reduced liberty become too great? The writing is on the wall; a conflict is festering.

This piece borrows from the work of Marx's Communist Manifesto. This is intentional. Neither the Communists of the USSR nor the Paternalists of Dartmouth would ever become satisfied until all personal choices were "structured choices." Enjoy liberty while it lasts.