In letter to steering committee, Palaeopitus calls for transparency

by Erin Lee | 11/6/14 9:08pm

The Palaeopitus senior society called on the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee to increase transparency and better communicate with students. A letter sent Thursday night, signed by nearly 60 student leaders as of press time, suggested reforms like releasing preliminary recommendations for feedback and detailing its research.

Palaeopitus and signatories aim to increase communication between students and the steering committee as recommendations are developed. The letter also asked the committee to update its website more frequently and better publicize its timeline.

The letter also questions the selection of the committee’s four student representatives.

Kelsey Weimer ’16, one of the student representatives, left the committee in the spring, though her name is still listed on its website. She cited her position as chair of IvyQ as a reason for leaving.

The presidential steering committee, convened in May by College President Phil Hanlon, has solicited feedback and consulted experts throughout the summer and fall to find ways to reduce binge drinking, sexual assault and exclusivity. After the initial timeline was extended, the committee was expected to opened its proposals to public discussion this fall and present Hanlon with its recommendations by the end of the year. Hanlon was originally scheduled to present to the Board in November, but is now expected to do so in January 2015.

The committee will present general suggestions to the Board of Trustees at this weekend’s meeting, committee member Kayla Wade ’16 said.

Palaeopitus began drafting the letter on Tuesday, and the group worked “non-stop” to finish it by Thursday, Palaeopitus member Noah Smith ’15 said.

“To my knowledge we were trying to get it done as soon as possible,” he said. “Everything is happening on such a time crunch with the steering committee.”

Concerns about a lack of transparency have been ongoing, Palaeopitus member Rianna Starheim ’14 said.

Hanlon hosted an invitation-only summit in April, preceding the steering committee’s creation. At the time, mathematics professor Alex Barnett contrasted the presence of Safety and Security officers checking names at the entrance to the summit with Hanlon’s stated focus on inclusivity.

Aylin Woodward ’15, president of Phi Tau coeducational fraternity and a member of a Palaeopitus, explained that students have been concerned about the lack of information they have received from the steering committee.

“In the current campus climate, in this moment of escalating change where nobody really knows what’s going on and information is being circulated, as a group we came to the conclusion that the information scarcity problem is at the heart of the student-administrator communication issues,” she said. “Instead of being a two-way communication, it’s from the top trickling down and we really don’t have a say in the argument.”

Kevin Francfort ’15, president of Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering, said that he had heard of other student groups trying to raise awareness about issues with the steering committee but was initially surprised that Palaeopitus was taking action. After reading the letter, he said he appreciated the society’s “balanced response” and consideration of a broad range of student interests.

Smith said Palaeopitus is unique because it represents a diverse array of student groups and individuals on campus.

Steering committee member John Damianos ’16 said there was no application process for members because the committee was formed shortly after Hanlon announced it. The President’s Office reached out to students who were highly involved across campus, he said.

Damianos noted that he meets with students to talk about campus issues nearly every day and reaches out to those who publicly criticize the committee.

Student body vice president Frank Cunningham ’16, a steering committee member, said he fights for the student body on a daily basis and is committed to ensuring the student voices are not overlooked.

While he was under a non-disclosure agreement due to his position on the committee and could not comment fully, he said he thought the letter was “appropriate.”

“I don’t go in there thinking about Frank Cunningham, I don’t go in there thinking about the steering committee,” he said. “I go in there thinking about us.”

Palaeopitus sent Hanlon and the steering committee a copy of the letter Thursday afternoon. It was then released in a campus-wide email.

Woodward said the letter was made public to demonstrate that there is solidarity among the student body and to spark change in the committee’s practices.

“One of the things that we’re asking for the in the letter is for the steering committee to be more transparent, so we wanted to make sure that in our interactions with the committee we were as transparent as possible,” Starheim said. “As a group, we serve as the liaison between the student body and the administration.”

Signatory Mary Peng ’15, president of the Dandelion Project, which works with a school serving the children of Chinese migrant workers, said she agreed with the emphasis of cooperative approach between the administration and the students.

Zach Queen ’15, president of Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity, said he signed the letter because he is concerned about the committee’s secrecy and its “Orwellian” structure. The committee is not considering the views of the entire student body and “seems intent on forwarding a personal anti-Greek agenda,” he said.

Woodward is a member of The Dartmouth opinion staff.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!