Dartmouth by Numbers

by Joe Asch | 5/26/06 5:00am

A management consultant learns to "push the numbers:" to look for the real meaning behind figures advanced by corporate executives. This exercise bears fruit at Dartmouth, too.

a) "We have about 60 percent of our classes with under 20 students in them," intoned Dean of the Faculty Carol Folt in her webcast on Dec. 5, part of the run-up to her permanent appointment as Dean of the Faculty. However, upon hearing this figure, more than a few students shook their heads in disbelief; their classes were just not that small.

Averages can deceive. After all, if you were at a university that offered, say, only 20 classes each year to its student body, eight classes with 1,000 students and 12 classes with 19 students, your school, too, could boast that 60 percent of its classes had less than 20 students. However, the reality in this example is that students attend huge classes 97.2 percent of the time.

The truth at Dartmouth is only a little more complex. In the 2004-05 academic year, an individual Dartmouth student had only a 32.6 percent chance of being in a course with under 20 students, and that statistic includes all introductory language courses, Writing 2/3 and 5 and freshmen seminars.

The odds were 28.5 percent of being in a class with 20 to 39 students; 22.8 percent of being in a class of 40 to 74 students; and 16.1 percent of having more than 75 students in a class.

Perhaps the next time Folt goes on the Internet to speak to alumni, she should accurately say that Dartmouth students should expect to find themselves in classes with less than 20 students only "about a third" of the time.

b) Only 14 percent of current students stated on their Dartmouth applications that they planned to major in the humanities. Over double that number, 28.4 percent, said that they would major in the social sciences, and 37.6 percent indicated they would major in the sciences (the remainder were undecided or sought interdisciplinary majors).

The average number of incoming humanities-bound students has been remarkably steady over the past five years -- so steady, in fact, that you might ask why Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg's Admissions Department has such a bias against poets and philosophers? Is the overall applicant pool skewed this badly against the humanities?

In the meantime, tell your high school friends who want to major in the humanities that they should apply as future pre-med or history majors to substantially increase their chances of being accepted to Dartmouth.

c) When I was a student in the late 1970s, Dartmouth professors taught five courses per year. The late College President James Freedman, in the name of research, cut that down to four courses each year, and in the last couple of years, the teaching load for Dartmouth's science division faculty was dropped to three courses per year. Where the sciences go, can the social sciences and the humanities be far behind?

Think about these numbers next term, when you find yourself on the waitlist for yet another over-subscribed course.

d) Does 32 equal 36? At semester schools, students take eight courses per year; to graduate they need a total of 32 courses. Dartmouth requires 36 courses to earn a degree, so one would logically surmise that a Dartmouth course is worth only eight-ninths (32/36), of a semester-school course.

Our faculty should therefore teach nine courses every two years in order to have a teaching load equivalent to semester schools, where professors teach eight courses every two years. If this change were made, we would find ourselves with 12.5 percent more courses offered in the humanities and social sciences, and 33 percent more science courses -- and we would move toward the small class sizes that befit our beloved college.

e) $0.00 is the amount of money that Dartmouth contributes toward the purchase of equipment for our Olympic-athlete-producing, nationally ranked ski teams.

Our student athletes should spend their time training and studying, not holding bake sales and fund-raising because the $45,000 that their parents pay each year to Dartmouth does not cover their basic athletic expenses. How about a little more green for these Big Green club teams?

As a gesture, College President James Wright did proffer an extra $30,000 this past year to club sports, increasing the total annual budget to $60,000. This pitiful figure is less than 0.001 percent of the total College budget.

Almost 1,000 well-rounded Dartmouth students play inter-collegiate club sports. No, they are not varsity athletes. Yes, they compete seriously and stay in great shape in tight-knit athletic communities. Will the administration ever recognize this special feature of the College in deed and not just in word? Mens sana in corpore sano, anyone?

Dartmouth spends over $7,000,000 each year in order for the VP's of Alumni Relations and Public Affairs to sing the College's praises. These budgets have grown rapidly over the past five years. That is a lot of money to spend, especially when, as the recent trustee elections have shown, the alumni are not distracted from the College's problems by the puffery in Dartmouth publications and the hors d'oeuvres at alumni events.

A memo to the administration: spend money on the heart and soul of this great academic institution. We don't need the newly created Associate Deanship of the Arts and Sciences. Surely Dartmouth already has enough deans.