Verbum Ultimum: A Time to Lead

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 5/8/14 5:45pm

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson will leave Hanover at the end of this academic year, and Dartmouth must find a new leader of student affairs. The time for change at Dartmouth is now. With the College’s social climate at the forefront of campus and national attention, we cannot wait on yearlong search committees — College President Phil Hanlon must fill this position permanently by November.

For decades, administrators have struggled to address Dartmouth’s student life issues. The student life initiative in 1999-2000 brought intense criticism and protest. More recently, Johnson’s random walkthrough crackdown and subsequent characterization of the approval of the “silent majority” attracted derision and ridicule from many students.

Historically, the Dean of the College has served as the top administrator who handles social initiatives. Yet with his more public, proactive stance rallying for systemic social change, Hanlon has stepped into this role.

Hanlon’s job is not to address student life issues. We need to select a strong leader who can take back the bulk of this responsibility, one who can deftly juggle these roles and connect meaningfully with students. We need a dean who will willingly and enthusiastically become a public figure, one who is receptive and engaged in student life issues.

The next dean should be accessible. She should follow Hanlon’s lead and meet with student groups for dinner and discussion to familiarize herself with campus. She should not be afraid to step foot into Greek basements or speak candidly on the record with reporters. Students should view her as an advocate for their interests, not an adversary.

Accessibility and transparency go hand in hand. The new dean cannot expect to connect with students unless she communicates with them openly and effectively. She should readily supply data used to plan initiatives and make decisions. Administrative departures that impact student life should be announced to students promptly.

We need a dean who is not afraid to be bold. No measure should be “off-the-table” or dismissed as unfeasible. She should resist the ever-tempting move to form committees for all issues at hand and instead take action — making mistakes is okay, as long as she then follows them with a direct response and quick, responsible fixes. Most of all, she must not allow for any lag time upon arriving on campus. The new dean must hit the ground running.

We recognize that the position is not an easy job. Our opinion page routinely features students’ frustrations with Dartmouth Dining Services, the College’s health services and the undergraduate judicial affairs office — all of which fall under the dean’s purview.

Many have called this current era in Dartmouth’s history a turning point. The next dean will arrive on campus fresh, with the capital to make much-needed, long-lasting improvements to the College. She must not waste this opportunity.