Leadership in Limbo

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 11/17/06 6:00am

While anecdotal evidence and exit surveys report accurate high levels of student satisfaction with the Dartmouth experience, a sudden and vast College leadership void has affected many areas of campus. Though search committees are in place for many of the several administrative vacancies, a lack of leadership has exacerbated the usual student-administrative divide on campus.

First, the departure of Dean of the College James Larimore has once again thrust Daniel Nelson into the acting dean position. Nelson, who normally serves as a senior associate dean, is a very competent and committed administrator. Unfortunately, his policy-oriented approach to the position has negatively impacted Safety and Security's interactions with students. In Wednesday's issue of The Dartmouth, for example, Nelson indicated that Safety and Security has been given more stringent enforcement "checklists" ("Greeks question new SEMP policy," Nov. 15). Nelson continues to emphasize policy minutiae -- such as penalizing organizations who do not require wristbands at parties for students of age -- which do nothing but further student frustration with the administration. Students often find these rules unrealistic or confusing, which leads to more frequent rules violations and consequent heightened mistrust of the College.

Second, the departure of multiple deans, especially Tommy Lee Woon in the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, has caused serious damage to the institution's diversity infrastructure. Instead of focusing on filling Woon's job, the College has had to spend time redefining what was already a poorly-articulated role. The gap has been especially noticeable this fall; strong OPAL leadership may have defused many of the incidents related to diversity issues which occurred this term.

Finally, despite The Dartmouth's call for a significant overhaul of Student Assembly last spring and the election of write-in candidate Tim Andreadis '07 as student body president, Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia has failed to acknowledge the deep-seated problems with the institution in its current incarnation. Instead of pushing the Assembly to be an effective source for change, Sateia has urged members to spend the fall "not do[ing] too much but instead focus[ing] on getting to know each other." Thanks in part to this viewpoint and a lack of institutional memory this fall, the Assembly has become an even more irrelevant organization. The exodus of veteran Assembly members has caused basic Assembly operations to falter this term while new members recycle old, failed ideas such as the mascot search. Though the discussion of broad topics -- such as diversity issues -- at Assembly meetings creates a nice forum, Sateia needs to provide students with an effective and efficient legislature that can actually foster change.

There is no question that Dartmouth is in a strong position overall. We should not, however, rest on our laurels as a top educational institution. New leaders who can recognize student concerns and relate to the unique undergraduate culture at Dartmouth need to be identified and hired. Waiting an entire year for a new dean of the College may be standard practice, but should not be tolerated now that the dean of admissions, diversity administrators and other College leaders are soon to leave or have left. If new leadership can leave the bureaucratic world behind and focus on bridging the gap between students and administrators, the College will continue to raise its standards of excellence.

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