Verbum Ultimum: What Now?

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/3/14 7:34pm

“Welcome to the president’s office. We’ve been expecting you,” an administrative assistant said to the group of students that would later take over College President Phil Hanlon’s office. “Make yourselves comfortable.”

They did.

The students’ yellow banner hung from Hanlon’s window for two entire days. While only a fraction of the student body physically attended the sit-in, the protest hardly went unnoticed. From the live video feed emailed to campus to a Twitter account narrating the sit-in to the flyers bearing Hanlon’s face plastered throughout the library, the “Freedom Budget” was everywhere.

Yesterday, the students packed up their sleeping bags and left in relative silence, stopping to take a photograph on the Parkhurst steps.

To these demonstrators, to administrators, to campus, we ask – what now?

Students have not received a point-by-point analysis of their proposal, which demonstrators said would be the condition of their departure. Their sole success seems to be capturing campus attention by further demonstrating that they are serious about their proposed reforms.

There’s no disputing that the students have passion. In contrast, in their reaction to the sit-in — which hundreds watched in real time — Hanlon and Johnson showed a lack of basic gumption necessary to take clear stances.

“President Hanlon,” a demonstrator asked, “are you opposed to white supremacy?”

“You know, I don’t, I wouldn’t, you know, I wouldn’t know what that term meant,” he responded. “I’d have to understand deeply what that term meant.”

Despite knowing that the sit-in was coming, administrators failed to articulate any firm response to demonstrators’ demands. How long will it take before the administration realizes that a firm yes or no response is needed in a situation like this? Throughout the debacle, administrators released watered-down statements, made vague threats about police action and did not comment on the “Freedom Budget” itself.

On Tuesday, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson implored the demonstrators to move downstairs and called the meeting “fairly productive.” There are many ways to describe what took place in Hanlon’s office, but “fairly productive” was not one.

We remain skeptical that any genuine or effective reform can come of this spectacle. While we appreciate the demonstrators’ passion and believe the administration does hope to enact some form of change, we are dubious because their strategies seemingly conflict. One is loud and radical, the other timid and conservative.

Protests, hardly novel on this campus, are a staple of Dartmouth’s history. But as we’ve seen with addressing issues such as sexual assault, we can most successfully make progress when we combine students’ passion with a practical administrative solution to complex issues.

The “Freedom Budget” movement is still in its early stages, and the demonstrators have the attention of the administration and student body. It is time to refocus this attention on the issues themselves, not the saga du jour.