Verbum Ultimum: Questions, Not Answers

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 1/29/15 10:52pm

Yesterday, College President Phil Hanlon announced his “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan to combat binge drinking, sexual assault and exclusivity. The plan includes a variety of measures that address sexual violence prevention, alcohol policy, residential life and academics.

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Hanlon stressed the importance of community, safety, accountability and academic rigor. In his speech, he reiterated these goals, emphasizing leadership and courage.

While Hanlon has the right goals in mind, the translation of those goals into effective policy will prove to be the real challenge. Yesterday, Hanlon presented us with a framework, but we are left with more questions than answers.

It is clear that Hanlon has made an effort to consider student input, especially in terms of reform to the Greek system. We appreciate the plan’s recognition of existing student-led initiatives to promote a safe and healthy campus, as well as its emphasis on increased accountability. These steps indicate a commitment to working with students, rather than against them.

Without specific details about the structure and timeline of these initiatives, however, it is difficult to criticize or endorse the plan.

The residential communities, arguably the most detailed proposal, still fail to explicate just how they will be different from previous, similar housing initiatives. Changes to residential life can only succeed when they offer a better alternative to students than what is currently in place. Hanlon has yet to provide evidence that this new initiative will prove any more attractive. We welcome this much-needed effort to support dorm-based community, but without a long-term vision for Dartmouth’s residential life, it falls short.

As for Hanlon’s academic proposals, there is little evidence to demonstrate how earlier class times will result in a more rigorous curriculum, and even less information regarding when this proposed change will come into effect. Further, while the plan mentioned curbing grade inflation as a concern, it included no concrete method to do so. Announcing that the College will devote money to experiential learning programs without defining any other aspects of the new curriculum is not enough.

Hanlon devoted a significant amount of time to safety and accountability, yet those reforms were the least concrete. The hard alcohol ban, while the most memorable item on Hanlon’s agenda, lacks structure. It is unclear how the ban will function and to what extent it will be enforced, particularly in regards to first-years, for whom it has always been against College policy — and the law — to possess or consume hard alcohol. Further, the policy mandating third-party bouncers and bartenders at social events fails to convey its purpose. It is ambiguous as to which events will require these services, the function these individuals will serve and who will pay for them.

As for sexual assault, the College is presented as a national leader, yet our reported numbers far exceed those of our peer institutions. Hanlon touts the zero-tolerance policy as progressive, yet announces that the College mandates expulsion only in the “most egregious” of cases. That the College finds some, but not all, instances of sexual misconduct “egregious” raises serious questions about safety on this campus. To what extent can a smartphone app or online consent manual prevent sexual violence more than expulsion?

In addition to holding individuals accountable for their actions, Hanlon intends to hold organizations accountable as well. To achieve this aim, Hanlon announced that student organizations will undergo an annual review process, yet he leaves the criteria for review open. What does it mean to “exhibit behavior befitting Dartmouth’s noble mission and name?” And what would the repercussions be if an organization fails to exhibit this behavior?

This is not to criticize Hanlon or his proposals, but to ask for more transparency as these proposed policies take a more concrete form. As Hanlon himself said, we hope that yesterday’s announcement is “only the beginning of much more to come.”