Still Wrong

by Joe Asch | 4/8/04 5:00am

Barry Scherr's reply ("The Administration Strikes Back," April 6) to my column (The "Administrative Life Initiative," April 2) is a model of subtle dissimulation that merits an effort at deconstruction.

For instance, Provost Scherr knows my background well enough to know that it has more intellectual and experiential depth than being the co-owner of the River Valley Club, one of my companies.

The basis for my critique of the College's undisciplined administrative spending comes from my education at the Yale Law School, my years in London as a management consultant at Bain and Co. and my business relationships in 40 countries over the last two decades.

That said, this kind of background is not necessary to recognize that Jim Wright's administrative spending growth of 57.5 percent over the past five years, in an environment that had inflation of only 11 percent, is an example of mismanagement.

I would welcome an effort by Provost Scherr to deal directly with the substance of my criticism:

He dismisses the almost $10 million increase in the administrative budget as inconsequential in the context of an overall College budget of more than $400 million, but he ignores Jim Wright's attempt to cut the swim team to save $200,000. He defends $1 million spent on expanding the College's daycare center -- a worthwhile goal -- but forgets to note that this money was spent in years when reference librarians were fired, libraries were closed, and many small courses were cut.

The thrust of my column, like a column that I wrote last year ("The Wright Priorities," April 7, 2003), is that the College is making wrong-headed choices.

There seems to be ample money to pay for 150 new graduate student housing units in Sachem Village, but why is there no funding for popular and innovative courses like Humanities Vitae? Millions of dollars are available for diversity training, but why did faculty salaries rise last year at a rate below inflation?

In my column last Friday, I asked for whose benefit the College is being run; sadly, Provost Scherr does not provide a thorough answer. Perhaps The D could make additional space available to Provost Scherr to address directly the poorly thought-out spending decisions that I have questioned.

It seems to me that his piece, which simply lists many good things that are happening at Dartmouth, does little to advance a debate over how the College has had to cut programs and staff year after year during a five-year period when the endowment increased, according to Provost Scherr himself, from $1.5 billion to $2.4 billion.

If managed competently, the College would now be looking at the option of spending growth to directly improve the experience of undergraduates, rather than yet another round of budget cuts.

For example, a good place to start would be to finally get going on a solution to the College's decades-old housing crisis (highlighted in the Student Life Initiative and since then moving at a glacial pace). I lived all four of my undergraduate years in the same dorm. Why are students now bounced around campus, or even denied on-campus housing altogether, each time they return to Hanover from an off-campus term? The cost in lost dorm social cohesiveness is a heavy one.

Another serious problem needs attention: In Jim Wright's own words, the increasingly poor quality of Dartmouth undergraduate writing reflects a national trend. However, rather than emphasizing writing, the College now allows more students than ever to place out of English 5.

Why hasn't the Wright administration done anything over the last six years to improve students' writing ability, one of the essential indicators of academic achievement?

All is not well at Dartmouth. It is high time that we accept this fact and speak openly about what ails the College. Many years and tens of millions of dollars have been wasted and to what end? Enough promotion and self-justification. Let's stop drifting and face our problems and the root cause of them. Dartmouth deserves better.