Green: Not So Sweeping Change

by Isaac Green | 1/29/15 10:50pm

It seems that few are completely happy with College President Phil Hanlon’s speech, but likewise, few appear completely unhappy. Yesterday morning, he presented a comprehensive — though perhaps not as far reaching as it could have been — plan to “move Dartmouth forward.” He started his address with a story about College President Emeritus John Kemeny and his visionary guidance of the school into coeducation. At this point, and based upon the fanfare leading up to the speech, I expected some drastic changes to be proposed that would fundamentally alter the course of our school and entirely reinvent the social system. I expected a set of changes that would be second only to coeducation, a visionary plan that would restructure the school’s very mission. He delivered lofty goals and ambitions for Dartmouth’s future that we can all agree with, but in terms of sweeping changes, Hanlon left something to be desired — that is, if sweeping change is what you were desiring.

What he delivered instead was the plan of a lifelong academic. He presented a series of measures that are all well-supported and researched. He relied on the facts and meticulously compared where we stand to other peer institutions in coming to his conclusions. The steps he chose to take will likely be effective on a small scale. What remains to be seen is whether they will be effective in actually combatting the large scale issues President Hanlon specifically intends to address: high risk drinking, exclusivity and sexual assault. Can an academic do the job of a visionary? Can Hanlon incrementally effect fundamental change, and capture the necessary support of the Dartmouth community to catalyze collaboration?

Early signs point to no. Despite articulating the importance of real change coming from a partnership between the student body, the faculty and the administration, College President Hanlon did not take steps today to win the alliance of the student body. Hundreds of people attended President Hanlon’s speech on Thursday morning, which seemed to seriously exceed his expectations. After Moore Theater was full before 8:15, almost half of the total number of people who attended were funneled into Alumni Hall where Hopkins Center staff hustled to increase the seating. Perhaps College President Hanlon expected that an 8:30 a.m. speech on a Thursday would not attract so many students, but apparently the student body cares more about the future of their school than the president might have expected.

College President Hanlon has highlighted the importance of articulating the high standards he has for the student body directly to the students themselves. It almost seems, however, as though he went out of his way to have as little student attendance as possible as he rolled out those expectations. If he had picked the single time of the week least likely for Dartmouth students to attend his speech, it would be 8:30 on a Thursday morning. While perhaps this was an intentional message to the student body that the administration intends to reclaim Thursday mornings for the realm of academia, it conveyed to many students, myself included, a serious disconnect between ourselves and the man asking for our support in moving the College forward. The choice of such a relatively small theater to make such a monumental speech further undermined the importance of his words and the cooperation he claimed he was intent on fostering.

To this end he outlined ideas that would see all student organizations face tighter scrutiny and tougher regulations. He appropriately left the articulation and enforcement of these policies in the hands of the Dean of the College, and it remains to be seen how the Greek system will change in light of new policies like a ban on hard alcohol and a mandatory annual review process. Hanlon focused on an ambiguous concept of “individuals — and organizations — committing to live up to a higher standard of behavior,” while preserving the tradition of a social scene organized by students. The decision to ban hard alcohol on campus is perhaps the single boldest and most concrete step President Hanlon took.

On the topic of sexual assault, Hanlon has implemented policies that mirror the best practices of schools nationwide, such as a zero-tolerance policy. The creation of an awareness program and a Dartmouth-specific mobile phone application are both reasonable steps in conjunction with the progress made last year by retooling the judicial policies and reporting procedures. Dartmouth is on its way to being a national leader in combating sexual assault. To truly address this issue, however, the College must empower women — and unfortunately there was no mention of local sororities, or even a movement towards a co-ed Greek system.

Academically, College President Hanlon outlined a vision to push Dartmouth to fully realize its potential for academic rigor. He began and ended his speech with academics, making it clear that he cares about addressing the social issues facing our school in large part because he worries about how they interfere with the College’s academic mission. It is clear he feels that the environment in which Dartmouth students live and learn is holding us back academically. His academic plans, which include recruitment and retention of minority faculty and curbing grade inflation, are some of the best steps he has articulated for the College. I’m dubious, however, about the need for or efficacy of earlier classes on Tuesdays and Thursday, which seems a hollow statement about the primacy of academics above the activities of Wednesday nights.

His plan is both measured and measurable — but it will only be effective if he receives the cooperation of the Dartmouth community. I challenge Hanlon to rise to the demands of his vision and lead the school not just with academic diligence, but also with dynamism and zeal. I challenge the student body to give these policies a chance and rise in working to meet the lofty goals Hanlon set for the school. Dartmouth, like any other institution of our caliber, has problems. Today at least, we have the courage to publicly admit them, and begin to fix them. Change is coming, and blind resistance or knee-jerk objection is misguided — it is far better to make our voices heard in a constructive way and work with the administration to effect change in the right direction.