Verbum Ultimum: Release the Numbers

Refusing to disclose the number of students sent home only creates more fear on campus.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/16/20 2:30am

As part of Dartmouth’s reopening plan, the College made clear that it would have little tolerance for violations of its COVID-19 “Community Expectations.” Dean of the College Kathryn Lively warned in August that students who engaged in behavior that violated the agreement would immediately “lose the privilege of campus enrollment” for the rest of the year. 

In principle, few students would find this protocol controversial — it serves an important role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency surrounding the policy’s implementation has proven much less palatable.

For the past five weeks, rumors have circulated about tens or even hundreds of students being sent home from campus. The College has refused to reveal the extent to which any of these claims are true, stating only that the rumors are “wildly exaggerated” and that it cannot release numbers for privacy reasons.

The College’s near-total lack of transparency on this issue has fostered a culture of fear among students living on campus. Rumors are flying, and whatever number of students have been sent home without appeal, it’s enough to make everyone uneasy. Students, parents, faculty, staff and community members are left in the dark. The rumors that the College claims to be false remain students’ only insight into how Dartmouth’s policies are being enforced in practice.

Rules-based, accountable enforcement of COVID-19 safety measures is uncontroversial. But, by doing so with no public transparency, Dartmouth has chosen to enforce its rules not with good faith, but with fear.

The College, in Wednesday’s “Community Conversations” livestream, said it will not disclose numbers in an attempt to protect the privacy of the students sent home. It claims to be prioritizing privacy over transparency,  despite the fact that numbers alone do not carry identifying information. All the while, rumors run rampant on and off campus, and students live in uncertainty. What does it take to get sent home? With so many students disappearing, who will be next? In such an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, to carry on with daily life is difficult enough — never mind pursuing a Dartmouth education.

This Editorial Board is not asking for the names of those individual students sent home, nor any information that would violate the privacy of the students involved. We merely ask for the College to be forthright in its implementation of punitive measures and to stop acting under a shroud of secrecy. 

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.