“Moving Dartmouth Forward” and other reforms shape 2014-15

by Parker Richards | 8/21/15 6:40pm

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College President Phil Hanlon unveils his the "Moving Dartmouth Forward" policy initiative in the Moore Theater.

Over the past year, Dartmouth has ditched hard alcohol, appointed new administrators to numerous positions, announced a new model for residential life, cracked down on some Greek organizations and seen a surge in efforts to reform the Greek system.

Campus reforms – most notably the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative – have been met with mixed reactions by the student body, while the controversy surrounding Alpha Delta fraternity and its derecognition stretched out over the entirety of the 2014-15 academic year. Meanwhile, some sororities pushed for localization, culminating in Delta Delta Delta sorority’s split with its national organization in May.

A campus climate survey and official records indicate that many believe a problem with sexual assault persists on Dartmouth’s campus, while reporting of campus sexual assault soared.

The College performed well financially, with its endowment seeing a 19 percent return and alumni contributions increased above previous years.

Student Assembly, Dartmouth’s student governing body, also experienced controversy as a new leadership took over in spring term, with the incoming vice president resigning and controversy flaring around remarks made by student body president Frank Cunningham ’16 at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in early May.

Controversy game again in two incidents in the Fall of 2014, when Rick Perry, the outgoing governor of Texas, was heckled in a speech at Dartmouth, and when dozens of students faced sanctions for alleged cheating in a religion class.

The “Moving Dartmouth Forward” Policy Initiative

College President Phil Hanlon announced major changes to student life at Dartmouth in late January, including a ban on all hard alcohol on campus, a new residential cluster system, a mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention program, a code of conduct and an increased focus on academics and grade inflation.

The hard alcohol ban – which applies to all beverages containing more than 15 percent alcohol by volume – came into effect at the beginning of spring term, and was met with general disdain by students and experts alike. In an informal survey conducted by The Dartmouth in early June, most students expressed disapproval. Most students surveyed said that they continued to utilize hard alcohol and that the ban had little impact on their drinking habits.

Experts on alcohol policy interviewed by The Dartmouth for a series of articles throughout the 2014-15 academic year indicated that hard alcohol bans, which are already in place at numerous colleges, are generally ineffective at curbing high-risk drinking and instead can drive drinking underground, making it more dangerous.

Safety and Security director Harry Kinne said in June that that the new MDF alcohol policies produced a slight downturn in recorded measures of student drinking.

Sanctions released in early March called for a sentence of College probation for a first-time hard alcohol possession or public intoxication resulting from hard alcohol, with a one-term suspension for a second offense, a two-term suspension for a third offense and a full range of sanctions including possible expulsion for additional violations.

For organizations providing alcohol to others, a first incident now results in a mandatory loss of recognition followed by a period of alcohol-free re-recognition.

The new alcohol policies also included initiatives for third-party bouncers and bartenders to be present at all parties hosted by the College or College-recognized organizations, although details of the policy are yet to be announced.

In addition to alcohol-related policy changes, Hanlon announced that, beginning with the Class of 2019, incoming Dartmouth students will be randomly assigned to one of six dormitory clusters. Students will live in the clusters beginning in their sophomore year while freshmen will continue to live on first-year only floors. The College announced a $1 million commitment to funding social, academic and intramural programming for the residential clusters. All students will remain members of their residential community, although they have the option to live in Greek housing, affinity housing or Living and Learning communities. The system is similar to that utilized at Dartmouth’s peer institutions in the Ivy League, such as Harvard University and Yale University.

The specifics of the sexual violence prevention program and code of conduct and their implementation will be clarified in fall term, but they are both aimed at increasing safety on campus.

The increased focus on academic rigor will involve changes to the College’s grading policies and a focus on making Dartmouth a more intellectual community, members of the MDF steering committee said at a panel after the policy changes were announced. Weekday drinking was cited by faculty members at the panel as a major cause for concern, and English professor Donald Pease called for Greek organizations to return to the model of the 1850s, where they held debates rather than “late-night drinking parties.”

Hanlon suggested that classes be held earlier on Tuesdays and Thursdays to discourage drinking on Monday and Wednesday nights. Greek organization leaders said that they encourage students to strive academically, and cited the higher average grade point averages amongst affiliated students as opposed to unaffiliated students as a mark of their success.

In an effort to address grade inflation, the ad hoc committee on grading practices and grade inflation released a proposal in late May to attempt to curb grade inflation at Dartmouth. The committee also recommended numerous changes to many aspects of College academic life.

The committee called for the Dartmouth Scholarship Ratings system to be applied universally, with As awarded for excellence, Bs for “good mastery” and Cs for “acceptable mastery. The committee did not recommend any mandatory grade distribution ranges or limits upon number of particular grades awarded.

The committee also recommended abolishing the non-recording option and altering the practices that govern promotion of faculty.

The remainder of the MDF policy changes will be introduced in fall 2015, with the Class of 2019 experiencing the full range of changes.

The Derecognition of Alpha Delta

The struggles of Alpha Delta fraternity over the past year, which ultimately led to its derecognition in spring term, began in the fall, and culminated when the fraternity was accused of branding new members’ buttocks as part of an initiation ceremony.

AD and Psi Upsilon fraternity were suspended and put on probation in the fall, and were required to put new alcohol distribution regulations in place once their punishments lifted. Psi U’s probation ended in winter term, and they were once again allowed to serve alcohol at events, but AD’s suspension was extended following gossip website Gawker’s publication discussing alleged branding of new members by the fraternity.

AD’s initial suspension, which began on Oct. 2, stemmed from two incidents in 2014, in which they served a variety of alcohol when they intended to only serve beer and later had numerous individuals at a party not registered for such activity. AD had been on probation for nine of the 12 terms preceding its suspension.

AD’s suspension was extended in late March following revelations that the fraternity branded new members in the fall of 2014. In a statement, AD’s attorney, George Ostler, said that the branding was “self-expression” and did not represent hazing, nor was it a requirement for membership in the fraternity.

On April 20, AD was officially derecognized by the College in relation to the branding incident. Members were asked to vacate the fraternity’s East Wheelock St. house. The fraternity appealed the decision, but that appeal was denied in early May. AD’s leaders at that point said that the fraternity was considering continuing its operations without College recognition and might seek to assemble a rush class the following fall.

The recently elected Inter-Fraternity Council president, Chase Gilmore ’16, was a member of AD and resigned following the fraternity’s derecognition. He was replaced by Sam Macomber ’16, a member of Beta Alpha Omega fraternity.

Greek Leaders Institute Reforms

Leaders of Dartmouth’s Greek organizations and College administrators and faculty proposed and executed numerous reforms of the Greek system over the past year, while other proposed changes failed to materialize.

The Panhellenic Council, which governs Dartmouth’s sororities, released a guide on sorority localization in the spring and Jordyn Turner ’16, the Panhell president, said that she hoped more sororities would become local organizations. Frank Cunningham ’16, the newly elected Student Assembly president, ran on a platform that included vocal calls for sorority localization.

The efforts to localize sororities culminated in the announcement in late May that Delta Delta Delta sorority would disaffiliate from its national organization and become a local group. While intending to maintain its identity, Tri-Delt’s leaders said that they felt the organization could better exist financially and in spirit as a local group. They cited ideological differences with their national organization as a major reason for the split.

In fall term, Greek leaders released a proposal entitled “Moving Dartmouth Forward – The Greek Perspective” that aimed to cut down on high-risk drinking and sexual misconduct while promoting house renovations, inclusivity and freshman safety in Greek spaces.

The Greek proposal called for mandated expulsion of members following sexual assault-related suspension from the College, designated sober monitors at all events with 50 guests or more, the institution of a faculty advisor program that would require male and female co-advisors for each house and increased dialogue between Greek and non-Greek groups.

At a faculty-wide meeting in early November, the arts and sciences faculty voted 116 to 13 to recommend abolishing the Greek system, with three abstentions. The motion does not impact official College policy, nor does it have any immediate impact on the Greek system.

In fall term, Panhell sororities gained equal representation on the Greek Leadership Council. Although there are more fraternities that are members of the Inter-Fraternity Council, Panhell’s overall membership is roughly the same as the IFC’s due to the smaller average size of fraternities. Panhell’s members will now get 1.875 votes each at GLC meetings while IFC organizations will continue to get one vote each.

Efforts to reform elements of the Greek system continued throughout the year, with new door monitoring policies tested in the summer of 2015 and other suggestions surfacing throughout the year.

Administrators in New Posts, Facing New Challenges

The college saw the hiring of numerous new administrators – or reassignment of current administrators – in the first half of 2015. Comparative literature professor Rebecca Biron was appointed Dean of the College, effective July 1, while former interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer was given the new role of vice provost for student affairs, a post that includes nearly all the responsibilities previously assigned to the Dean.

College Provost Carolyn Dever said that Ameer will serve as a force of accountability for student affairs in her new role.

Biron’s role will involve overseeing new residential communities and the professors directing them, and she will also work on inclusivity and diversity, the College announced. She will also deal with admissions and financial aid strategic planning.

A student petition calling for writing professor Jennifer Sargent to be appointed dean gained hundreds of signatures, but the suggestion was not adopted by the administration.

Additionally, interim vice president for communications Justin Anderson was appointed vice president of communications in April. He will oversee the College’s office of public affairs.

Sexual Assault Reporting Up, AAU Survey Conducted

The number of reported sexual assault cases at Dartmouth has jumped dramatically in the past two years, the change largely attributed to climactic changes at Dartmouth and nationally that make survivors of sexual violence feel more comfortable reporting their experiences.

The Committee on Standards, a branch of the judicial affairs office responsible for adjudicating sexual misconduct cases, amongst other things, has seen an average of just three reports of sexual misconduct per year for the past 11 years. In 2014, there were 17 such reports, although not all went before the COS.

Since June 2014, there were five investigations of sexual assault and two Title IX complaints not related to sexual assault at Dartmouth. Judicial affairs director Leigh Remy indicated that the reporting of such events could have risen due to new College policies, including the mandatory expulsion of those found guilty of sexual assault and the introduction of an independent investigator to monitor such issues.

In 2013, forcible sex offenses rose to 35 reported incidences from 24 in 2012 and 15 in 2011, data from a Safety and Security report found. The College also reported once incident of dating violence and four incidents of stalking.

In April, Dartmouth joined 27 other universities throughout the country in participating in the Association of American Universities sexual assault campus climate survey. Roughly 40 percent of Dartmouth students participated. The survey format drew critiques from students for asking detailed questions about sexual misconduct.

Data from the survey was not immediately available.

College’s Endowment Performs Well, Gifts Increase

The College’s finances performed well in 2014 and 2015, with a reported 19.2 percent return on Dartmouth’s endowment for fiscal year 2014, raising the total endowment to $4.5 billion in value.

The endowment, which funds more than 20 percent of Dartmouth’s operating budget, outperformed expectations and hit its second consecutive year of double digit growth following a 12.1 increase in 2013.

The College’s revenue increased as well, with the total for fiscal year 2014 totaling $1,310,504,806, up from $1,193,865,978, an increase of over $100 million. In 2014, the College received its largest donation on record, $100 million, from a single anonymous donor.

Alumni contributions broke records in the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The total of $325.4 million exceeding the fiscal year 2014 total by 27 percent. The Dartmouth College Fund and the funds for the Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck Business School also broke records.

Despite the positive changes in gifts, revenue, and the College’s endowment, the College’s Board of Trustees approved increases in tuition, which will rise 2.9 percent for academic year 2015-16. The tuition increase was the smallest since 1977.

Tuition will be $48,120 per year for 2015-16, up from $46,763 the previous year. Tuition at Dartmouth’s graduate and professional schools also rose.

Calls for Resignation Affect New Student Assembly Leadership

After their election in April as student body president and student body vice president respectively, Frank Cunningham ’16 and Julia Dressel ’17 were almost immediately embroiled in controversy.

While Cunningham had previously been involved in the purchase of customized Patagonia jackets for his staff with $1,876 in student money during his tenure as student body vice president, the funds were later repaid and the issue had not stopped him from winning election as president.

A petition was issued calling for Cunningham’s resignation after a video of him shouting at a protesting student at Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority’s annual Derby event surfaced on YouTube. The video, which was shared repeatedly on social media, depicts Cunningham inches from the face of one demonstrator yelling “I can’t breathe” in sync with the protestors. While their chants were directed to students attending Derby, Cunningham directly faced the student. Two videos – one around two minutes in length, the other seven minutes long – were posted by the Big Green Microaggressions YouTube account.

Cunningham issued an apology to campus for his actions, but the petition calling for his resignation still garnered 546 signatures. Cunningham claimed that the protestors called him a “derogatory name,” which The Dartmouth could not independently verify.

The protest occurred due to alleged issues of police brutality across the country, particularly against African-American and black persons. The demonstrators had previously protested at Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity’s annual Pigstick party the same day.

Dressel announced in June, at the end of finals period, that she would step down from her position as vice president with immediate effect. Dressel said that the decision was primarily related to her own abilities to commit her time to the post.

The Assembly announced later that Dari Seo ’16 would replace Dressel as vice president, pending his confirmation by the Assembly’s general assembly.

Sixty-four Students Sanctioned for Cheating in Ethics Class

A total of 64 students were charged with a variety of honor principle violations following an investigation into a cheating incident in religion professor Randall Balmer’s “Sports, Ethics and Religion” course in the fall of 2014, College officials told The Dartmouth.

Punishments – which ranged from four terms of academic probation to two terms of suspension – were handed out following an incident in which students utilized handheld clicker devices to falsely record the attendance of classmates who were not in fact in class, and to answer questions for them for credit.

Thirty students appealed the initial decisions that were handed down, and all appeals were rejected by then-interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer. Most students received a one-term suspension.

The College does not release disciplinary records of students without their express permission, Ameer told The Dartmouth.

The incident garnered attention in national and international media, including reports in The Boston Globe, the Daily Mail of London, The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, and other outlets. The issue also raised questions about the use of technology in classrooms at the College.

Rick Perry’s Visit Gone Awry Due to Student Questions

Outgoing Texas governor Rick Perry spoke about U.S. border security, energy policy, and foreign affairs to an audience of more than 100 people in early November. The appearance generated controversy amongst students, faculty and press following a series of explicit questions on Perry’s views on homosexuality that were asked during the event.

Emily Sellers ’15 asked Perry if he would have anal sex in exchange for sizable campaign contributions, while Timothy Messen ’18 accused Perry of comparing homosexuality to alcoholism. Ben Packer ’17, who wrote and distributed the questions, said he did so because Perry’s views were more insulting than the questions themselves.

Audience members and College Republicans president Michelle Knesbach ’17 said they were offended by the questions. College Democrats president Spencer Blair ’17 agreed, and noted that while he and his group disagree with many of Perry’s stances he found the tone of the questions disappointing.

The issue generated attention in the national press.