Verbum Ultimum: Looking to the Future


Despite the lack of hard alcohol on campus and the occasional grumblings about so-called academic rigor, the start of this fall term has been business as usual. As College President Phil Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative approaches the nine-month anniversary of its announcement, it has begun to lose its novelty. Going forth, administrators and students alike must remember the passion that went into the initiative during its inception. Borne of an institutional identity crisis, “Moving Dartmouth Forward” has always aimed to improve Dartmouth, despite sometimes-fierce disagreement over precisely how to do so. As more components of the plan enter the admittedly less glamorous implementation phase, we cannot lose sight of this goal.

Interim dean of admissions and financial aid Paul Sunde recently remarked that he hoped that “Moving Dartmouth Forward” will be reflected in the U.S. News and World Report’s university rankings, where the College recently dropped from 11th to 12th place. We must admit that we are puzzled by Sunde’s remark. We fail to see the connection between the content of the policy initiative and the College’s standing in the U.S. News’ rankings — particularly when the initiative is still in its infancy — let alone its ability to reverse the College’s downward trend.

A more constructive response would have enumerated exactly which parts of “Moving Dartmouth Forward” will boost the College’s ranking. We can hardly expect any reform to reverse a decade of gradual decline in the U.S. News’ rankings in less than a calendar year.

A contrasting vision of “Moving Dartmouth Forward” comes in the form of a remark President Hanlon made in a September interview with this newspaper — “I’m expecting that this transformation is going to take place over a period of years — it’s not going to change on a dime.” Substantive change takes time. For the policy initiative to have a truly transformative impact on campus climate, we need to remember its guiding vision. We cannot expect to create a series of boxes to tick off along the implementation timeline and hope that change will follow.

From the outset, President Hanlon made it clear that “Moving Dartmouth Forward” is about the values of our school and our community. It will succeed if it can put those values into action. We strongly believe that the College must focus on delivering effective change, and always in the service of students and their success, not just feel-good publicity. Without a strong unifying vision for what Dartmouth — post-“Moving Dartmouth Forward” — looks like, it is likely to fail. The College would be wise to ensure that all policy announcements are transparent about the desired end result and its decision-making process.

Above all, there must be a finish line for “Moving Dartmouth Forward.” As of now, we cannot tell you where it is, let alone if we’re headed in the right direction. But what is most important is not when we reach it, but what the College looks like when we do.