Teaching, Research, or Both?
First, I want to get all the compliments out of the way. Dartmouth remains ranked among the top 10 institutions of higher learning in the United States. It is also the only self-described "college" to appear in the top 30. The Wall Street Journal ranks it seventh on its list of top feeder schools. Dartmouth is an elite institution with a unique focus on the undergraduate body and an extensive record of excellent teaching.
Given all that, our college still lags behind the nation's best schools. When competing against the top 10 in college rankings, Dartmouth finds itself at the bottom -- in the past 10 years, the highest we have attained is seventh place. Some would call it continued excellence. I call it a failure to improve that borders on stagnation.
The truth is that Dartmouth lacks in size, faculty and grants to allow for more successful competition. While the Yales and Harvards of the world, just to name a few, have long been transforming themselves from small liberal arts colleges to behemoth institutions of research, Dartmouth has refused to evolve.
The administration seems reluctant to acknowledge this. Our president, James Wright, once called Dartmouth a "research university in all but name," yet the rankings disagree. While institutions dedicated to research, such as Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago, have advanced in national rankings, Dartmouth has fallen behind, from seventh to 10th place. The new Times World University Rankings ranked Dartmouth No. 138, while placing Harvard, Yale and Princeton in the top 10 and the other Ivies in the top 50. Dartmouth was the only Ivy not to appear in North America's Top 50 Universities.
A recent response to the above facts has been to blame the rankings. But while Dartmouth students might disagree with the likes of U.S. News and World Report, its ubiquitous presence in college decisions has led to some unfortunate results. A recently released study of student college preferences showed that in 2004, applicants chose first-ranked Harvard over Dartmouth, ranked No. 10, at a rate of 10 to 1. The rest of the top 10 had similar results. Competing to improve its undergraduate pool, Dartmouth on average lost the brightest applicants to the other top 10 schools.
The reason behind this unfortunate performance is the College's unwillingness to evolve into a full-fledged research institution. This unwillingness remains rooted in the tradition that views teaching and research as two ends of a spectrum -- the less of one, the more of the other. But that is simply not true. An institution does not engage in a zero-sum game when it seeks to improve its research along with its teaching. Yale and Princeton provide perfect examples of the mutually beneficial evolution of rigorous research alongside excellent teaching.
The key to this evolution is growth. Seeking to improve research without increasing the number of faculty will lead to a trade-off with teaching. That route leads to Harvard, and we should be thankful to be able to learn from the mistakes of others. But imagine if Dartmouth chose a wiser route -- if it expanded in number of faculty as well as in ambition. That would allow the administration to offer more classes available for a greater number of terms, more research opportunities, and more exposure to graduate students and graduate-level work.
Those are some of the benefits we could reap from expansion, if we have the guts to choose progress over tradition. And although I have proposed expansion, I have no doubt that other ways exist to achieve the same results. But regardless of this, we must remember one thing: Although we attend a prestigious institution, we must never be content with the status quo. There are always things to improve and the means to improve them.
In my opinion, we must allow ourselves to grow as an institution -- invest in research, invest in expansion. We must evolve to compete or else continue to face the negative effects of stagnation.