Politicizing Dartmouth's Future

by Daniel Belkin | 11/7/05 6:00am

With the election of petition candidates Peter Robinson '79 and Todd Zywicki '88 to the Board of Trustees in the hotly contested May election, along with the recent Homecoming Alumni Association elections, unsettling political undertones permeate the debate about the future of the College, especially "The Lone Pine Revolution," the anti-Wright administration movement to change the direction of the College. Dartmouth alumni and the media are divided not just into pro- and anti-establishment factions, but into corresponding political camps. Conservative alumni and media appear to be supporting the anti-establishment petition candidates while liberals have seemingly embraced the Wright Administration.

Some argue that there is no political agenda behind the "The Lone Pine Revolution." Though revitalizing Dartmouth's focus on the undergraduate experience is non-political, the manner in which the media has framed the insurgent movement suggests there is indeed a secondary political dimension to "The Lone Pine Revolution."

The political nuance to "The Lone Pine Revolution" is based on the fact that conservatives are "outsiders" in American academia. Like most American colleges, Dartmouth is a bastion of liberalism.

Conservatives, and some liberals, decry Dartmouth and other American colleges for the lack of intellectual diversity and its negative implications for a thorough liberal arts education. George Mason University in March 2005 found that 72 percent of collegiate faculties at American universities are self-declared liberals while a mere 15 percent are conservatives. Many seek to chip away at this ideological monopoly. Given that liberals are the "insiders" at the College, is it just a coincidence that the anti-establishment figures are conservative?

In criticizing the Wright Administration's attempts to change the Alumni Constitution to hinder the success of petition candidates, The New Hampshire Union Leader opinion editor concluded the previous week, "You don't hear a lot of left-wingers crying about the powerful oppressing the weak, or the well-connected rigging the system to keep out the outsiders, when the powerful and well-connected are left-wing academics and university administrators."

If the leaders of "The Lone Pine Revolution" were Trotskyites, instead of conservatives, yet still advocated the same platform for the College, would The Dartmouth Review and other like-minded publications so enthusiastically support their ascension?

The media attention that the "Lone Pine Revolution" has garnered illustrates that the movement is not simply anti-establishment, vis--vis the Wright Administration, but anti-establishment, in terms of the liberal dominance at Dartmouth. If "The Lone Pine Revolution" was exclusively about smaller classes, then the personal politics of the revolutionaries would be a non-issue, meriting as much attention as their shoe sizes. However, the reality is quite different.

The conservative New York Sun, oddly looking beyond New York and national news, offers context to the October Alumni Association elections, reporting that "the election comes against the backdrop of a concerted effort among conservative-leaning alumni to influence academic policy by winning seats on the 18-member board of trustees."

The prominent national conservative publication, The Weekly Standard, sums up the petition candidates victory in May, "Two conservative underdogs emerge victorious in Dartmouth's alumni trustee elections," and cites the effective use of the "conservative blogosphere" in the election campaign.

The political climate of college campuses can matter because excessive political correctness suppresses intellectual experimentation and free speech. Though the Wright Administration may prevent the next valedictorian from performing "The Aristocrats" during his or her commencement speech, from contentious Middle Eastern analyst Daniel Pipes' lecture last January to former Bush Administration lawyer John Yoo's defense of "coercive interrogations," Parkhurst has thankfully allowed for thought-provoking controversial speech on campus. Free speech at Dartmouth need not be a source of political infighting.

So what if there is a secondary political aspect to the debate over the future of the College? The use of political labels breeds insularity and muddles the sincere discussion between equally passionate alumni who love Dartmouth about the direction of the "college on the hill." From science to the media, too much in American society today is already politicized.

"All politics is local" but Dartmouth students generally do not care about the epic struggle between liberals and conservatives for parity in higher education. At the end of the day, we care about the apolitical aspects of Dartmouth reform. Dartmouth students simply want to get into the classes we choose and learn in smaller, more personal environments. And oh yeah, beating Harvard in football once in a while would be nice too.

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