Verbum Ultimum: Confused and Mistaken

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 3/7/13 11:00pm

Yesterday, the College released nine strategic planning working group reports, detailing a two-year reflection process on Dartmouth's operations and priorities. Interim President Carol Folt invited students to provide input that will be synthesized and presented to President-elect Philip Hanlon when he arrives in July. Overall, the release of these long-awaited ideas is poorly timed and unhelpfully vague.

We are rather confused by the College's decision to release these reports on the last Thursday of winter term. With finals beginning next week, most students are too busy to give the reports more than a passing glance. Moreover, most students will likely spend spring break taking a much-needed hiatus from college life. The College has worked on the reports for over two years, and originally planned their release last December. Given how long the reports were delayed, why not wait to release them at the beginning of spring term?

While mostly vague, the reports introduce some concrete proposals that merit serious consideration, such as greater outreach to high schools and efforts to reach into the academic pipeline earlier to attract a more diverse student body. But much of the material lacks substantive content. It is a soup of buzzwords and jargon that leaves the reader uncertain of what is actually being proposed. Ultimately, the reports read more like bureaucratic generalities than a document that possesses a coherent strategic vision.

We question how actionable these ideas would be even if they approached the verge of implementation. They are, at best, mildly intriguing and, at worst, implausible. Perhaps we would not immediately dismiss projects that attempt to dole out more postgraduate fellowship funding or require a "Dartmouth Project" from each graduating senior. But ideas about eliminating letter grades during freshman year, designing an "advising team" for each student, creating a "college within a college" and building more parent and alumni networks sound dubious or infeasible altogether.

Many of these proposals simply reinvent the wheel or completely mistake the problems faced by Dartmouth students. For instance, how does the proposed mini-course on how to succeed at Dartmouth differ from the existing "Learning at Dartmouth" course, which students can already take for P.E. credit during their freshman fall? A proposal for "living learning communities" misses the point of student complaints about college housing. Increasing intellectual engagement in dormitories is not the answer to student frustration with the transient, hotel room atmosphere of upperclass dormitories.

While Dartmouth certainly needs to change to meet the challenges of the 21st century, many of these suggestions are out of touch and impractical. We sincerely hope these ideas undergo significant reevaluation before any action is taken.