Beechert: Cry Out for the Future

by Michael Beechert | 2/23/16 6:45pm

One of the most beautiful aspects of this beautiful school is something often given little thought. The College’s motto — “Vox clamantis in deserto,” or “a voice crying out in the wilderness” — naturally holds meaning with respect to Hanover’s geographical location; everyone visiting Dartmouth for the first time, provided that he or she hails from actual civilization, is immediately struck by the seemingly never-ending sea of trees that surrounds campus. But we cheat ourselves by believing that this motto, which has roots in the Gospels, is simply a literal reference to the College’s place in the vast northern woods. It should serve, rather, as a poignant reminder that we have a duty as students to use our intellectual capabilities, as expressed by our literal and figurative voices, to speak out in times that demand the presence of forceful and well-reasoned opinions to protest an unacceptable status quo.

What exactly this means for each and every individual on this campus will probably be different. Perhaps you have participated in one of the many working groups established over the past few years to address social and academic issues that have been deemed relevant to the Dartmouth community. You might express yourself through less formalized avenues — in conversations with friends and professors about how this or that policy could best be implemented or reworked, to name one possibility. For me, this column — which I have written since my very first term at the College — has served as a way to share my own voice. Like all of you, I have opinions about what problems exist at this school and how those problems should be solved. My goal in expressing my voice is less to convince readers that my personal viewpoints are correct than to provide a perspective that will spark debate about important topics. The absence of vigorous and vigilant engagement with such issues on our part breeds complacency, and complacency leads to decay.

People have remarked to me, with increasing frequency, that my pieces in this paper have become ever-more negative over the years. This is more or less true, but I long struggled to determine why. I don’t believe that I made a conscious decision at any point to adopt a more jaded or frustrated tone. The unfortunate truth is that, after observing up-close how things tend to work at the College over a period of several years, I’ve simply become much more cynical about the direction in which Dartmouth is headed as an institution. Instead of cutting extraneous costs and refocusing resources towards the undergraduate experience, the College has embarked on an ill-advised quest to become the Harvard-lite of New Hampshire. A stifling sense of political correctness has meanwhile enveloped this campus, granting administrators ammunition to mount a gradual assault against student social life. A select few raise ire now and then, but by and large, Dartmouth’s march downwards continues unabated.

The tacit acceptance of this backwards momentum, I believe, is the wilderness we need to pierce. As an incessant parade of buzzwords — diversity, inclusion, innovation — blankets the College like a never-ending snowstorm and slowly lulls students to a sleepy acceptance of thought-policed mediocrity, the need for a chorus of voices that will say “No!” becomes increasingly urgent. Intolerance towards those of us who would dare to dissent — which, unfortunately, exists in spades here — can be no deterrent. The administration, which has ignored and even demeaned the silent majority on this campus time and time again, can only continue down its path of mismanagement if that majority remains silent.

And so, as my time in Hanover draws to a close, I would give this advice to the younger classes responsible for shaping Dartmouth’s future: use your voices to stand up for what is right, even when your concerns are brushed aside as unimportant or misguided. I don’t know how many cries will be necessary to effect change on this campus, or if it is even possible to right the ship after it has spent so many years askew. A lean, affordable institution dedicated fully to the proper elements of undergraduate education may well be beyond our reach at this point. But if that ideal is still achievable, your words must first break through the wilderness before progress can be made.