Hanlon responds to concerns raised about PBS department

by Cassandra Thomas | 5/10/19 2:15am

moore

Moore Hall houses the psychological and brain sciences department.

by Peter Charalambous / The Dartmouth

Yesterday, College President Phil Hanlon responded to a letter from the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault calling on the College to put the psychological and brain sciences department into receivership and begin a new investigation of the department. 

In a letter sent on May 3, SPCSA condemned the “faculty and leaders in the department who continuously failed to intervene, enabling harm to persist, still hold powerful positions within the PBS department.” They advocated that the department be put into receivership ­— a form of academic guardianship whereby an outside administrator is designated to run a department — and that the department be re-investigated. In his email response, Hanlon called attention to the recent creation of the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative and actions taken by the College once the allegations were made as evidence that the College has taken steps to mitigate sexual misconduct. He wrote that in April 2017, PBS chair David Bucci and director of graduate students Thalia Wheatley immediately contacted the Title IX office when the allegations were brought to their attention. He encouraged the activist groups to “appreciate the work of many concerned administrators, faculty and staff in the PBS department, led by chair Dave Bucci, who are actively pursuing significant measures to ensure that students have a safe environment in which to learn, research and grow.”

The demand for PBS receivership was a response to two new anonymous plaintiffs joining a $70 million class action lawsuit against Dartmouth alleging that the College neglected to take action against sexual misconduct perpetrated by three professors in the PBS department. On May 3, the Dartmouth Community against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence, a cross-generational group of Dartmouth community members, sent an email to the administration criticizing what they perceived as insufficient action and advocated for receivership. Shortly after, SPCSA sent an email to the administration adding on to DCGHSV’s demands, writing that “the entire PBS department must be re-investigated for complicity in years of sexual violence and abuses of power.”

 SPCSA and DCGHSV have been pressuring the administration to take serious action since the lawsuit was announced on Nov. 15, 2018. However, the emergence of the new litigants on May 1 has “catalyzed” DCGHSV to double down on their demands, according to Diana Whitney ’95, a leader of DCGHSV.  

The letter DCGHSV sent to top Dartmouth officials was also sent to national news outlets and politicians such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88 (D-NY) and Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ).

Whitney described putting the PBS department into receivership as an “accountability act.” At various points in Dartmouth’s history, departments such as studio art, French and Spanish have been sent into receivership, according to Whitney. 

DCGHSV ’s letter also called for leaders in the PBS department to step down. DCGHSV pointed out that “while department chairs and deans may claim not to have known about years of harm done to at least nine students, we insist that it was their job to know.” Specifically, Whitney said she would like to see the removal of Bucci, who sat as the endowed chair of the PBS department throughout allegations of sexual misconduct by professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen.

“He is still there; nothing has changed,” Whitney said. “[It’s] business as usual.”

Whitney expressed disappointment on behalf of SPCSA and DCGHSV regarding the discrepancy between the administration’s outward support of progressive sexual misconduct policy and the “reality” that many survivors of sexual violence have been failed by the College.

“We really wanted them to see the discrepancy between the optics [of] what they’re saying, [what] they’re doing and the reality of literally nothing having been done about the failings in the PBS department,” Whitney said.