Verbum Ultimum: It's Not About Today

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/23/13 10:00pm

Yesterday evening, Interim President Carol Folt and seven other administrators sent a campus-wide email informing the Dartmouth community that all undergraduate and graduate classes in the arts and sciences would be canceled today. In place of classes, there will be numerous events including a lecture by a social justice consultant and "teach-ins" to be led by faculty and staff. While these actions certainly do represent a response, if belated, by the administration, they are completely one-sided.

On Monday, we called on the administration to confront student life issues. While the cancellation of classes and the scheduling of community-focused programming may not be exactly what we had in mind, the administration has certainly responded to the situation in a serious and unequivocal manner. Although this response is much delayed, it is better than no response at all.

Even at this point, however, we find ourselves starkly at odds with the administration. While they have done an admirable job of condemning and responding to threats against Friday's protesters, no administrator has stepped forward to comment on the protest itself. This was a major event that has precipitated a dramatic polarization of our campus, and for the administration to leave the protest unaddressed is a gross abdication of responsibility.

By remaining silent, the administration has implicitly approved the protesters' tactics and strategy, thereby tacitly endorsing their disregard for Standard VIII of the Dartmouth Student Handbook. Beyond the administration's refusal to condemn the protest, Interim President Carol Folt and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson met with the protesters yesterday morning.

From this collection of events, the message seems to be that, if you fly a political banner, are sufficiently angry and manage to break enough College rules, you can gain a stranglehold over the administration. We cannot shake the feeling that a handful of students have hijacked not only the broader campus conversation, but also the administration's control over the situation. Furthermore, these students and administrators refused to speak with The Dartmouth yesterday to add any context to their meeting and decision.

The decision to cancel classes for a day is also questionable. In the past, even the gravest of circumstances have not prompted days off from school. Two Dartmouth students have died since January 2012, events that Dean Johnson described as "tragic" and "unimaginable," and in 2001 married College professors Half and Susanne Zantop were murdered, sending shockwaves throughout the Hanover community. On a less serious note, the intense New Hampshire winter weather has frequently prevented many of the College's faculty and staff from traveling to work and made venturing outside a dangerous task for students. Yet classes have not once been canceled due to weather since 2007. While the gravity of and potential for today's events are admittedly great, we are not sure that they warrant the suspension of academic activity, let alone in the midst of midterm exams. The programming could easily have been scheduled for this weekend, when students will be more available and no instruction time would be lost.

We wonder what the administration actually hopes to accomplish on this day of no classes. If the insensitive party emails that many students received last night are any indication, it seems unlikely that most undergraduates will take today's events seriously. They may have taken advantage of last night to play pong, but probably will not seize today's opportunity to engage in the campus-wide discussion that the administration envisions. While the College's actions may be perceived as dramatic but justified to the non-Dartmouth community, we are skeptical about how much can be accomplished today.

Meaningful and enduring change will not unfold simply because the College has endeavored to bring us all together to talk about our feelings. Today will go down in Dartmouth history, not due to the speakers or "teach-ins," but because of what happens tomorrow and in the future whether our student body can learn to live as a community that truly accepts and respects each other. Unless the administration has a plan for how to initiate and sustain this sort of momentum, we worry that any immediate progress will quickly fall by the wayside.

We urge you to attend today's events and voice your opinions. But remember that this conversation does not end today, or ever we must constantly work to reinvent Dartmouth and protect this incredible institution.