Verbum Ultimum: The Reason We’re Here

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 5/22/14 7:05pm

With all this talk about the College’s hijacked social scene, administrators have been sidetracked. Though high-risk student behavior undoubtedly merits senior-level attention, the College must also revitalize its academic vision. Yes, we are unbeaten in undergraduate teaching, but students must build academic expertise within the fast-moving D-Plan. We recommend that, upon arrival, incoming Provost Carolyn Dever propose requiring thesis projects for all seniors.

Theses would let students immerse themselves in subjects that they normally could not tackle during Dartmouth’s quick 10-week terms. They require critical forethought, extensive research and numerous revisions, skills that the D-Plan often does not give students a chance to hone. Such a move would improve Dartmouth’s academic reputation, raise standards and boost faculty-student collaboration.

Dartmouth must constantly strive to provide students with new opportunities for academic growth, beyond the emphasis on experiential learning. At its core, the College is a research institution, and all students could benefit from a glimpse of the work to which professors devote themselves. We need to expand student-faculty relationships from the occasional office hours session to lasting mentorships. This would reflect College President Phil Hanlon’s academic vision by promoting research, emphasizing exploration and encouraging travel. Students could find a trusted advisor as they prepare to graduate.

More and more students are taking on thesis projects — in fact, over 230 will graduate with honors credit this year. And “thesis season” shows strong peer support as students pack into lecture halls and seminar rooms to hear their colleagues speak about their areas of expertise.

Mandating thesis projects could fundamentally change the College’s pool of applicants for the better, drawing the most inquisitive high school students to Dartmouth.

We recognize that this is not a radical or new proposition. The 2013 strategic planning initiatives suggested adding a mandatory “Dartmouth Project” that could take shape as a thesis or internship. And Princeton University has long required its undergraduates to complete both a senior thesis and a junior paper to graduate.

Dever was an external pick for the provost position, which signaled to some that the College was open to change, to reinvigorating its academic experience. Mandating theses could show deep faith in the type of work that our undergraduate students can accomplish while projecting to them that it’s time to buckle down and get serious about the reason we’re here — to learn.