Petition calls on administration to reprioritize

by Alexa Green | 5/17/16 7:29pm

Student leaders at the College released a petition on Monday critiquing the administration and urging the Board of Trustees and College administrators to “depart from the realm of student life” and instead focus on fiscal decisions they say will enhance campus intellectual and social climate.

As of press time, 1,037 people have signed the petition which also has nearly 200 comments. The current goal is 1,500 signatures.

Senior class president Danny Reitsch ’16, senior class treasurer Michael Beechert ’16, Palaeopitus senior society moderator Robert Scales ’16, Student Assembly vice president Dari Seo ’16 and junior class president Elisabeth Schricker ’17, launched the “Take Back Dartmouth” petition this Monday under the public name Daniel Webster. The petition states it will be delivered to the Board of Trustees, College President Phil Hanlon, Provost Carolyn Dever, Dartmouth students, faculty and alumni.

Reitsch and Beechert wrote the petition, which was inspired by multiple instances of the College administration making poor financial decisions and “overstepping boundaries” regarding student life, Reitsch said.

The petition aims to address “financial mismanagement” and “distracted focus” at the College, the factors the group sees as the two primary problems facing Dartmouth, Reitsch said. Lapses in focus are partly a result of college ranking systems — including U.S. News and World Report — in addition to negative media coverage of the College, he added.

“There is a strain on undergraduate education,” Reitsch said.

The petition also expresses concern with the consistent increases in tuition and attendance fees. This year, the Board of Trustees approved a tuition increase of 3.8 percent, and the cost of attendance at the College has increased by 39 percent from the 2009-2010 to the 2016-2017 academic years.

“It is important that we reprioritize,” Scales said. “Our resources should be emphasizing and underscoring the school’s strengths, and I think when budgeting decisions come up, it is important to be systematic.”

Scales cited the difference between the rate of tuition increase and that of the Consumer Price Index, which is substantially lower.

“The rising costs of tuition and a Dartmouth education are far surpassing actual inflation in the real economy,” he said. “I think that is a real problem.”

The petition criticized the “lack of fiscal discipline” at the College, pointing to the increases in non-faculty staff without stated justification. The petition states that the number of non-faculty staff increased from 2,408 in 1999 to 3,497 in 2015.

Calling administrators “paternalistic babysitters,” the petition also argued that the administration has taken sides in sensitive debates and undermined a free exchange of ideas. The document cited the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s recent lowering of the College’s speech code rating from a green to yellow.

Administrative control over student organizations — including Greek houses — was a major issue raised by the petition.

“Students and organizations are being controlled much more than they used to be,” Scales said. “Instead of the school being a place where you can learn and prepare for the real world, now there are fewer and fewer things that the student body is allowed to do. I think that makes the adjustment into the real world even more difficult.”

Reitsch said that too much of students’ tuition money goes towards over-policing student life and supporting extraneous staff rather than focusing on the central mission of Dartmouth — undergraduate education.

The petition calls for greater autonomy for individual students in making personal choices, saying “We believe that the administration should treat students like the legal adults they are and cease chipping away at free speech, free thought and free association.”

The petition aims to have individual members of the Dartmouth community — students and alumni alike — reach out and express their concerns about the College and its recent policies.

Petition signer Marwan Zelmat ’19 said he believes the school has not been prioritizing its spending correctly, and is allowing unchecked administrative spending.

“I believe that Dartmouth’s priorities are not where they should be, ever increasing administrative bloat and the subtle restriction of student liberties are problems that remain unsolved as the misallocation of funds continues,” he said. “Increasing tension between students and the administration results in poor communication and cooperation between the two.”

Another petition signer James Fair ’18 said that he believes that the College can fix the issues identified in the petition.

“I am an optimist about what our faculty and hopefully the likes of Hanlon can do if they put their minds to willingly reversing the trend of raising tuition,” he said.

Fair added that administrative interference in the undergraduate social scene could make campus more exclusive.

The petition’s target audience is students, alumni, staff and faculty who are worried about the College’s recent direction and policies, Beechert said. He added that the goal is to present a hard copy of the petition to Hanlon and the administration. The authors hope to begin a dialogue about the issues the petition highlights and explore solutions.