Nelson to postpone action on COS reform

by Allie Lowe | 11/8/06 6:00am

Acting Dean of the College Dan Nelson recently informed the Committee on Standards Task Force that he will not take action on their recommendations because of his status as an acting dean.

"The dean of the College [has] been identified by the president and trustees as the person who has overall responsibility for Dartmouth's undergraduate judicial system. It's a very important part of the life of the institution and the responsibilities of the dean, and it would be kind of presumptuous of me as acting dean to put [a review] process in motion while we are in the process of searching for a dean," Nelson said.

Nelson said that he supports the intent to review the COS, and will suggest that such a review be initiated under the leadership of the new dean.

"I think there are questions for review that certainly include the questions that the Task Force examined, but some they didn't as well," Nelson said. "That review is something that should happen under the auspices of whoever is next appointed dean of the College."

Nelson did not offer a clear opinion on any of the Task Force's recommendations.

"I don't think any single one of [the] recommendations is outlandish, and I think each and every one of them have got valid points that can be raised for and against," Nelson said. "All of them merit serious consideration one way or another by whatever process is put in place to engage in the overall review of our disciplinary system next year."

Nelson said that Dartmouth has historically conducted reviews of the disciplinary system on a periodic basis. He chaired such a review of COS about eight years ago.

In an interview with The Dartmouth in July following his appointment, Nelson noted that his goals during his time as acting dean included supporting students' education and responding to student input.

"I don't think that anyone will experience any reduction in service," Nelson said at the time.

Nelson, however, does not believe that the delay in action on the Task Force report represents such a "reduction in service."

"The input [of the Task Force] is well received [and] appreciated," Nelson said. "What the Committee is calling for are some fairly significant changes in the long- term structure of the College disciplinary system. ... [The issues raised in the report] have enough potential long-term implications for the College and for student life that the process for responding to those really needs to be under the purview of the person who will be dean of the College for the foreseeable future."

Nelson noted the balance between action and restraint that he must find as an acting dean.

"When I was asked to take on the responsibilities of the acting dean, part of what I told my colleagues and told students was that I don't have any interest in treading water, that there are projects and responsibilities that are in motion and that are too important to simply stand still on. On the other hand it wouldn't be appropriate for me to launch any major new initiatives that could potentially change significant policies or programs or priorities, out of respect to the leadership that the next dean needs to provide, that I wouldn't [back] whoever that next dean is into any particular corner," Nelson said.

Task Force Chair Adam Shpeen '07 said that he was pleased with the outcome of the Task Force's meeting with Nelson, despite the delay in action on the recommendations.

"I'm delighted that Dean Nelson is in agreement with the Task Force that changes need to be made. I trust that the process that Dean Nelson is initiating will be thorough, and more importantly, efficient," Shpeen said. "I don't consider [the delay] an obstacle. We don't see it as an impediment to enacting changes."

Shpeen noted that although the Task Force was formed when it was not known that former Dean of the College James Larimore would leave, when Nelson was appointed it became obvious that delays would occur.

"Delay is inevitable because of Dean Nelson being an interim dean," he said, "[A delay was] anticipated because of the unique nature of the circumstances that we were confronted with."

Task Force member Michael Herman '07 expressed disappointment about the delay, which will prevent many of the Task Force members from taking an active role in COS's eventual review.

"While I understand that this is an interim dean, and so in many ways he is constrained if he wants to make a major policy decision, it is a disappointment for us that no action will be taken until at the earliest next fall, particularly since five of the six Task Force members will have graduated by then," Herman said. "The Task Force members spent a lot of time [on] this and we would have liked to be a part of this administrative review."

Christopher Chen '09 is the only Task Force member who will not have graduated by the start of the next academic year, when a new dean is likely to have been chosen.

Herman said that now that they have met with the dean, Task Force members plan to gather together in order to determine what their next actions should be.

"At this point I'm not sure what more we can do because the COS is under the dean of the College, so he makes the call. Going forward, the only thing we can do is make sure that the [Student Assembly] president next year is aware of [the Task Force recommendations and] that students continue to have knowledge of this," Herman said.

Shpeen stressed the importance of continuing dialogue with the dean's office.

"What's important at this point is to figure out who will become the next dean... and make sure that whoever [that is] understands what we have done and what we would like to see in the future," he said.

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