Brown: Hanlon’s Lack of Vision

The College’s administration lacks any real vision for the College.

by Matthew Brown | 4/7/17 12:30am

The end of this spring term will mark the first year of Moving Dartmouth Forward’s full implementation on campus. Despite the establishment of flagship policies such as the budding housing system and the hard alcohol ban, students seem to have adapted when MDF affects us and forgotten its existence when it does not.

This is a strange outcome for a program so aggressively advocated by the administration and controversial among the student body. One might be tempted to credit how young many aspects of the program are for MDF’s decreased campus impact. In the case of the housing system and the growth of graduate research, this may be correct. However, the main problem with MDF is not its novelty but rather the policies themselves.

Even a cursory reading of The President’s Plan announced by Phil Hanlon in January 2015 shows that MDF is surprisingly light on concrete action and policy steps. A more in-depth review reveals that even the most radical plans in MDF, such as the hard-alcohol ban and the housing system, are largely copied from other universities. As the flagship proposal of the current administration, this shows a lack of scope and ambition in what the College believes itself to be capable of. Despite its many laudable goals, MDF is a fundamentally reactionary and regulatory initiative on the part of the administration.

The initiative includes important and necessary policies, such as our addition to the Posse Veteran Program and participation in the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project. Such efforts, however, are neither the focus of MDF nor Dartmouth’s own programs. We should not commend ourselves for joining efforts that should already be expected of the College.

My goal is not to challenge the notion that Dartmouth should commit itself to a diverse and inclusive campus nor to imply that our school shouldn’t strive for academic excellence around the clock. Rather, I question why these very admirable aims are not the de facto standard that the administration upholds while is focusing its energy on expanding Dartmouth’s potential.

I’m also extremely skeptical as to what degree we are actually succeeding at the pledges to diversity, inclusion and academic rigor outlined in the MDF plan. The College continues to fail both in recruiting and retaining its faculty of color. Student angst around issues of diversity runs high, and many angry alumni are alarmed by the College’s drop in academic rankings and downward trend in number of applicants.

The MDF external review panel’s own report shows that the College has made little progress in combatting issues of high-risk drinking on our campus, though it also notes that it may be too early to judge MDF’s impact on drinking and sexual assault. This finding would be fine, were these not the two issues that MDF addresses with action in any meaningful way.

Vague commitments to diversity and inclusion stand where concrete policy proposals should be. Calls for increased academic rigor and raising standards around the College are not replacements for serious and innovative measures for improving academic achievement. It is common sense for an institution to want to curb delinquency and brutality like high-risk drinking and sexual violence. I might disagree with the ham-fisted and unoriginal approaches that the President’s office has taken in combatting these issues, but its interest in resolving them is obvious. What I can’t fathom is the idea that the administration would be so preoccupied with these measures that it loses sight of its mission of progressing Dartmouth.

If Hanlon truly wants to move Dartmouth forward, he must present a clear and compelling vision for what the College can be. The administration must outline concrete commitments of resources and support if it wishes to court and retain faculty of color. We must expand outreach and investment in student resources to bring more brilliant individuals from eclectic backgrounds to Hanover. Personally, I would love to see Dartmouth explore its underestimated potential in fields like the fine arts, engineering and interdisciplinary studies.

Some may argue that Dartmouth was so socially and academically backward before MDF that the administration had to focus its attention on addressing the issues that have given the College waves of bad press over the last decade. If we are going to be raising standards, however, we must raise them to a standard well above where MDF places them. A radical vision and assertive leadership are necessary to fix the problems that ail the College and propel Dartmouth toward the inclusive, rigorous and engaging campus it has the potential to be. But with our current administration, I’m underwhelmed by our prospects of achieving such a vision.