Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter to Phil Hanlon

President Hanlon needs to keep speaking out to help refugees and immigrants. ​

by Yuliya Komska | 1/31/17 12:20am

In these times of uncertainty, American universities depend on regular communications from their leaders about the responses to the barrage of President Donald J. Trump’s myriad detrimental policies and their implementation.

More than two months elapsed between your two such statements, the first concerning Dartmouth’s continued support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students on Nov. 18, 2016 and the last related to the international students affected by Trump’s executive order from Jan. 27, sent to campus on Jan. 29. In the meantime, America’s new administration embarked on an entrepreneurial-military course. It attacked science, assaulted truth and moved to violate basic human and constitutional freedoms and rights. Two months is a long time to be silent on these issues and receiving piecemeal answers hardly paints a reassuring picture.

It is not only about DACA or international students. The concerns are much broader. How will Dartmouth protect academic integrity and support its many other vulnerable community members? What is your vision for the College and its mission in the rapidly changing nation? More fundamentally still, what joint steps do university leaders anticipate undertaking in response to the nationwide events?

These are not accidental questions. In the last few decades, higher education has taken an unambiguous path toward entrepreneurship. In parallel to the Cold War-era university-industrial complex, we have witnessed the global growth of the similarly corporate university-entrepreneurial complex. Experiential learning incentives increasingly recall the tenets of vocational training. Pilot research institutes and initiatives draw on corporate funds and skew toward neoliberal ideas of for-profit innovation. Principles of Taylorism, a method for streamlining industrial efficiency since the late nineteenth century, guide assessments of faculty’s output, privileging productivity and quick dissemination of research over depth and quality. Tenure, meant to guarantee academic freedom, is threatened and, in some places, virtually dismantled from above.

These changes suppress the dynamic, and rightfully difficult, ethical and philosophical questions that have propelled and disciplined academic inquiry for centuries, shaping the university as society’s “critic and conscience.” They hamper the education of citizens driven by concerns about morality and accountability. Last but not least, they produce disquieting parallels between the trajectories of our campuses and the new government in Washington.

Yours, no doubt, is a job burdened with many challenges. Answering to the community is one of them. I thank you in advance for your effort to do so more consistently and comprehensively.

– Yuliya Komska

Komska is an associate professor of German at the College.

The Dartmouth welcomes guest columns. We request that guest columns be the original work of the submitter.

Submissions and questions may be sent to both opinion@thedartmouth.com and editor@thedartmouth.com. Submissions will receive a response within three business days.