Hager: Sophomore Bummer

Dartmouth must exempt the Class of 2022 from its summer residency requirement.

by Paul Hager | 4/27/20 2:00am

Sophomore summer has become the latest casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the entire term now to be conducted online. Yet despite this, the College has preserved a modified version of its requirement that sophomores spend the summer “in residence.” The new requirement forces sophomores to either take class remotely this summer or to be on campus next summer.

I support the College’s decision to make summer term remote. This choice, though difficult, was necessary to protect the Dartmouth community. However, the College’s insistence on required summer enrollment is inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of Dartmouth’s policies. With ’22s off campus for their sophomore summer, the College must waive its requirement.

Sophomore summer began in the 1970s as part of former College President John Kemeny’s plan for co-education. Kemeny h​oped​ that a summer term would allow students “greater flexibility and freedom in scheduling”— a purpose seemingly lost on College administrators today. And since the ’70s, sophomore summer has been a cherished Dartmouth tradition.​ Students spend years looking forward to long days among the pines and closer relationships with members of their class. The admissions office touts sophomore summer to prospective students​ in romantic terms: “During the summer between your sophomore and junior years, the Dartmouth campus is yours, and all your classmates will be there.”

For some ’22s, junior summer will be their opportunity to have this experience. For many, however, the dream of a summer term in Hanover will have to take a backseat to work experience. Nationally, junior summer is the m​ost popular time for college students​ to hold internships. With ​over 30 percent of Dartmouth alumni in finance, consulting or technology, ​junior summer internships are, for many, a crucial step to securing a job and a career. This is equally true for other career paths. And for those eyeing graduate school, research programs that take place in the summer can be similarly critical. These opportunities are the stepping stones to careers. For some students, these jobs may be necessary to support their families or even to stay in America. 

Current Dartmouth policy will force students to either enroll in inferior remote classes today, or lose employment opportunities tomorrow. Given this inconvenient reality, the College should not use registrarial requirements to force enrollment. Just as it waived the first-year residence requirement this spring, the College must clear the way for sophomores to pursue alternative options during the summer.  

The logic of the summer enrollment requirement is further undermined by remote learning. In determining the College’s regulations, the faculty ​voted​ that students must “be in residence during the summer term that follows the sophomore year because the Dartmouth curriculum is … designed as to take advantage of the presence of an entire class during that time.” Under the College’s modified policy, the purpose of the requirement — the entire class being present at once — will not be met, since many will elect to be on campus next summer. The College’s policy statement on the residence requirement states that a “complete waiver of the summer residence requirement, as distinct from a shift in summer, will be granted only in truly exceptional circumstances.” These are truly exceptional circumstances — the College must grant a blanket waiver.

Some may worry that this blanket waiver might overburden Dartmouth’s housing capacity in future terms. But there are ways to mitigate this. The College could, for example, limit sophomores to the option of replacing summer with winter term, when campus is least crowded. Rather than changing its rules on enrollment patterns, the College could also adjust requirements for graduation and for completing majors, just as it did when it waived the physical education requirement for seniors this year. Furthermore, most students could avoid “making up” a missed sophomore summer by using four-course terms to complete major and graduation requirements. This is not to say that problems don’t exist with these options — it’s that the College should not deny ’22s the right to explore different solutions.

The College’s preservation of the summer residency requirement puts sophomores in a difficult position, runs counter to Dartmouth’s mission and defies the text of the requirement itself. Waiving this requirement may not be straightforward — little is, in the time of coronavirus. But if the College insists on enforcing a rule that has lost all justification, it will only compound the tragedy of this pandemic for its students.   

Hager is a member of the Class of 2022.

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