Verbum Ultimum: The Path Forward

by Dartmouth Editorial Board | 11/14/13 3:39pm

In anticipation of College President Phil Hanlon’s remarks to the arts and sciences faculty on Monday, we would like to clarify some points made in our last editorial and highlight our hopes for how Hanlon will address student life issues that continue to plague the College. While we would never doubt Hanlon’s commitment to the undergraduate experience, our message last week meant to convey worries that his speech to the faculty did not reflect that commitment, nor chart a substantive path forward. If Dartmouth is to remain the top undergraduate institution in the country, Hanlon’s administration needs to proactively develop iterative innovations in every facet of undergraduate life.

Hanlon’s outreach to the student body, willingness to listen and attention to detail have been unprecedented and welcomed. Though we have full confidence in his ability to lead the College forward, we were simply surprised by the conspicuously thin discussion of issues pertaining to undergraduates in his last address, particularly in light of how actively he has engaged with students since taking office. Moreover, his discussion regarding graduate programs outside of the professional schools as well as the Society of Fellows invites healthy skepticism about where undergraduates stand.

There needs to be an open and frank discussion of how to keep Dartmouth at the pinnacle of undergraduate education. It would be foolish to assume that our number-one status is assured. All competitive systems have one thing in common — the laggards copy the winners and juggernauts, and constant adaptation is essential just to stay afloat.

Hanlon should be chiefly concerned with answering the question of how the College can continue to offer the most innovative and dynamic undergraduate experience. For instance, faculty-led foreign study programs were unprecedented at the time of their introduction. This creative reimagination of an existing structure led Dartmouth to become one of the most highly-regarded institutions for studying abroad, and this is the spirit that needs to dictate Hanlon’s priorities going forward. Revamped distributive requirements, a residential college system and a move toward digital learning will not be enough — we must do more than simply copy our peers to remain on the cutting edge.

It is in this same spirit that Hanlon must approach student life. It is not a secret that issues relating to diversity and residential life deeply impact our campus. How Hanlon plans to tackle such matters is currently the elephant in the room — he has thus far said very little on the troika of Greek life, sexual assault and alcohol abuse. We need to know how he frames these problems and what he plans to do about them. His approach cannot only entail more learning about the issues — former College President Jim Yong Kim tried plenty of that — but involve some doing.

None of this means to declare a state of emergency on campus. The tone and content of the conversation on Dartmouth’s evolution just has to change. It is not enough to say that we must remain number one in undergraduate education — we must live that every day and not through learning or strategic planning initiatives.