No to Petition Candidates

by The Dartmouth | 4/11/05 5:00am

By Mohamad Bydon '01

After the successful campaign of T.J. Rogers, many alumni feel emboldened to stand against the increasing emphasis on scholarly research at Dartmouth. The nominations of Todd Zywicki and Peter Robinson seem to be part of this trend, but it has left many of us disappointed and frustrated. In "Petition candidates run for trustee spots," Robinson spoke of the College as drifting away from its message to undergraduates (Feb. 25). Both candidates are said to share the opinion that Dartmouth should not attempt to pursue a national reputation as a research university. These views are held by many College alumni who seem to believe that undergraduate education and research are mutually exclusive concepts.

While Dartmouth needs to be better at educating its undergraduate students and should make serious efforts to decrease class size as well as the student/faculty ratio, it should not ignore the graduate education that has had a presence at the College since 1797. Those who talk about Dartmouth's mission as an undergraduate institution forget that the College has the nation's fourth oldest medical school, the oldest school of engineering and world's first graduate school of business. Recently, important research on cervical cancer and cognitive learning has emerged from Dartmouth's graduate programs. Dartmouth is currently in a state of transition: Over the past few years, the College has seen research funding increase from less than $100 million to over $200 million. The efforts of some alumni to resist this trend have been well-intentioned but misguided. Research does not threaten the undergraduate experience at a university. It merely enhances it. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute recently launched an initiative to encourage their investigators, among the top biomedical researchers in the world, to teach undergraduates in order to promote interest in the sciences. These HHMI funded professors from various universities, each of whom runs a $1 million laboratory, are paving new frontiers in undergraduate education.

HHMI has also reported the big investments that small colleges like Williams and Wellesley are making in their science research facilities. These colleges realize the importance of exposing undergraduates to mentors who have succeeded at the highest levels of critical thought and scientific investigation. There is much to be said for learning biochemistry from a leading authority in the field or for working in the laboratory of a renowned expert. These experiences strengthen undergraduate education. In the past year, I saw two bright students turn down Dartmouth because they felt there were more opportunities to work with leading researchers at other universities.

Undergraduates at Dartmouth are truly fortunate, but they receive no better an education than their counterparts at research-oriented universities like Stanford or Princeton. Dartmouth would be well-served to increase the size of its faculty (so that students can benefit from smaller classrooms), to invest significantly in the Life Sciences, and to make available to its students the opportunity to be involved in cutting-edge research. For these things to become priorities, Dartmouth's alumni need to vote and they need to reject the candidacies of Zywicki and Robinson.

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