Valdes: Keep Kresge

Kresge's closure highlights Dartmouth’s neglect of the physical sciences.

by Lucas Valdes | 2/25/21 2:00am

It’s no secret that the physical sciences are one of the cornerstones of a Dartmouth liberal arts education. Historically, investment, faculty recruitment and generous undergraduate research grants have solidified the College’s position as a uniquely engaging place to receive undergraduate training in the sciences. The maintenance of the Kresge Physical Sciences Library was one of those important investments.

The College cited a 12% drop in print circulation over the last few years in its decision to close Kresge. Such a modest drop in print circulation is an inadequate reason for closure, and regardless, print circulation is a poor proxy for Kresge’s value. Kresge’s true value lies in its position as a confluence of expertise, resources and community. Young science students go to Kresge because they need to use resources stored there, and they find a community of people working on similar problems alongside librarians capable of connecting them with the right resources. This source of camaraderie and support is invaluable in the face of the often grueling challenges of the physical sciences. 

I know that was my experience during my time as an undergraduate in the chemistry department. I spent a lot of time in Kresge — not only using it as a study space, but as a path from lecture to my research lab, a place to see friends from my major, a place to obtain reference texts and a place to find textbooks and solution manuals I couldn’t find elsewhere. Having all of these things in one place was important to me. It provided a much-needed home on a campus seemingly dominated by economics majors, and a place where I could find a centralized repository of resources, help with my science problems and a community that understood my struggles. Decentralizing these resources and decoupling them from the community, as the College now intends to do, threatens to isolate science students and weaken science at Dartmouth.

This decision to cut a valuable resource in exchange for modest savings is made even more alarming by the fact that the physical sciences facilities at Dartmouth have seen little investment since Burke Laboratory was completed in the early 1990s at the cost of $26.5 million. While the College should be applauded for finishing the much-needed $93 million Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center in 2011 and continuing to support the Dana Biomedical Library, that should not distract us from its neglect of the physical sciences. Compare Dartmouth to smaller colleges like Williams College and Amherst College, which have recently spent $204 million and $214 million, respectively, on their integrated science facilities, and Princeton University’s 2010 completion of the $278 million Frick Chemistry Lab and 2002 completion of the Lewis-Sigler Genomics Institute, and it becomes clear that Dartmouth isn’t as interested in investing in the core sciences. A look at the College’s recent $200 million investment in a computer science facility and $160 million Irving Institute for Energy and Society, $80 million of which came from the petro-billionaire Irving family, and it becomes clear what Dartmouth wants to invest in: projects that draw big-ticket donations and high-earning alums flush with cash for the endowment.

This isn’t to say that we need a $100 million renovation for the physical science facilities, but it is to highlight the gross negligence of the administration’s decision to close Kresge. At a time when peer institutions are investing in science across the board, the College chooses to selectively invest in the pockets of science that are most financially profitable while divesting from the basic sciences on which the College’s liberal arts education relies. What makes the loss of Kresge so hurtful is the College’s willful decision to dismantle a pillar of the scientific community in order to chase minor cost savings while they dump money on tangential endeavors.

As a chemistry student, I can’t speak for the Paddock Library, but I have no doubt that music students have feelings for it that are quite similar to the feelings I have for Kresge. I am urging all students and alumni to pressure the administration to walk back on the elimination of these important community spaces. However, in light of this decision and the recent reinstatement of certain high-rent sports teams, I am pessimistic about the prospects of saving spaces that are important to the half of the Dartmouth community that doesn’t have a fat checkbook to wave in the administration’s face.

Valdes is a member of the Class of 2020.

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