Blueprint for a Clearer Vision

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 11/27/02 6:00am

As details of budget cuts emerge and arguments escalate, administrators are apologizing for short-term difficulties while reminding everyone to focus on broader goals. But the long-term vision is too blurry to guide the College, and every member of the community must accept that there is a pressing need to clarify that vision.

Top-level administrators -- the president, the provost, the deans -- are directly responsible for long-term planning, so it would be simple to blame them for a lack of direction. In recent instances when administrators have shown boldness, however, they have not been rewarded. When former Provost Susan Prager delivered a sweeping report on academic planning in 2000, faculty members badgered her until she submitted a surprisingly early resignation. And the Student Life Initiative was hampered by its poorly-planned introduction, but even after the fallout from that fiasco had subsided, students continued to rail against the "Five Principles."

This is not to say that the proposals were perfect. They had major flaws, which is to be expected from first drafts. In both cases, however, the community's failure to formulate alternatives resulted in a muddle of misconceptions, grudges and languishing committees -- and no vision.

We don't believe that the faculty and students of Dartmouth are so cynical that they are content to criticize without offering solutions. Rather, the problem is one of opportunity.

Dartmouth has become entrenched in a system that shunts forward-looking discussion of broad policy change to closed-door committees. These groups deliberate on the issue at hand, often for what seems like an interminable and arbitrary length of time. Because students and faculty are perfunctorily included, the College claims that there is sufficient input from the community.

In their current form, though, committees effectively quash discussion rather than advancing it. Because the committee process is so secretive and drawn out, the issues being considered fade from the limelight. Inevitably, the abbreviated terms and fast pace of Dartmouth lead people to consider more immediate, less consequential problems. When a report is finally released, the campus has forgotten that a discussion was even taking place.

The College needs to drastically restructure its scheme for committees. A committee's meetings should be held in an open forum, with direct -- rather than representative -- input from community members. Committees should conduct discussion over a period of one term and release a report with policy recommendations at the beginning of the next term, with the expectation of significant progress, not perfection.

Additionally, one high-profile committee should highlight a major issue, such as academics or social life, each term. Smaller discussions of other concerns would continue, of course, but with a central group devoted to long-term vision, the College would have a viable chance of moving forward with greater support from students and faculty.

These changes are designed to create a reasonable opportunity for all voices to be heard while crystallizing a view of the future Dartmouth. If the administration offers this opportunity, then the community's only responsibility will be to accept it.