TTLG: It’s Time for those Who Love this College to Take a Stand

Dartmouth’s bloated administration has subjected students to an inhuman burden. It’s time for change.

by Matthew Magann | 6/13/21 2:00am

by Matthew Magann / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

I am the former Production Executive Editor of The Dartmouth. I served in that role from March 2020 through to my retirement this March. My tenure coincided with one of the darkest moments in this College’s history.

As one of three members of the senior leadership at this campus’ only independent daily newspaper, my job was frequently a trying one. I had no option to look the other way when tragedy struck or controversy broke out. Over weeks, and then months, the constant vigilance became draining, especially as the College’s administrative bureaucracy — which has an abysmal 10% approval rating among graduating seniors — ceaselessly rehashed the same bad policies. But I believed in my work, and through it all, I dealt firsthand with the major Dartmouth news stories of this past year.

After 39 full 24-hour days worth of newspaper Zoom conferences, I feel an obligation, based on what I know, to devote this column — my last as a Dartmouth student — to the state of the College as I have experienced it.

Dartmouth suffered directly from the pandemic, but that was hardly unique. COVID-19 dealt us all a bad hand. College students across the nation were cheated of their education: “Remote learning,” of course, is a pale imitation of true education, and “asynchronous courses” are more or less $6,700 YouTube videos. 

In one sense, Dartmouth should have had it easier than most schools. The neighboring region saw some of the lowest COVID-19 rates in America; in deaths per capita, New Hampshire ranks 43rd among the 50 states and Vermont ranks 49th, lower than any other state in the continental U.S. Dartmouth had another unique asset going into the pandemic: its professors. Dartmouth is home to a singularly dedicated body of professors and adjacent educational professionals who went out of their way — often while battling administrative roadblocks — to make Zoom class the best it could be.

But despite those advantages, something was wrong at Dartmouth. While students at other colleges weathered the hard times, Dartmouth witnessed a wave of freshman suicides. One freshman, Beau DuBray ’24, died by suicide at the end of fall term. Another, Connor Tiffany ’24, “died unexpectedly” in March; while no cause of death has been officially released, The Boston Globe recently reported that friends of Tiffany said he died of suicide. A few weeks ago, a third freshman, Elizabeth Reimer ’24, took her own life.

We will likely never know what it was that led some of the youngest members of our community to such a tragic death. That much is for their families, or perhaps for them alone. One factor, though, unites the three young men and women we have lost: they were freshmen at Dartmouth, whose only experience of the College was the degrading inhumanity so characteristic of Dartmouth’s pandemic era.

On Thursday morning, I went out for a late breakfast with a close friend of mine. I spoke of my frustration at how no one in the College’s administration seemed to understand how harmful their leadership was, and how things had gone so wrong. She had a different take. The issue wasn’t that people remained oblivious to problems. It was that everyone — except, it seems, the administration — knew about the problems and constantly pointed them out. But the administration never listened. 

Now three freshmen are dead by their own hands. No amount of bureaucracy, and no number of cloying emails, can bring them back. 

Dean of the College Kathryn Lively is one of the most public faces of the College’s COVID-19 response. The infamously unpopular dean — just 9% of graduating seniors report holding a favorable view of her, against 81% who view her unfavorably — provides a prime example of the administration’s warped view of leadership. Her strange obliviousness, coupled with an iron fist mentality, has made her into the half-reviled, half-laughed-at embodiment of the College’s COVID-19 policies. A representative example of her idea of leadership appears in the email she sent to the student body the morning after the insurrection at the Capitol: “Despite everything that is happening in the world, no matter what tragedies or disappointments you may have faced,” Lively wrote, “the academic term starts now.” 

Perhaps the most egregious administrative failure of the pandemic was Dartmouth’s fall term policy. Last fall, Dartmouth reopened campus; but instead of a reasonable, COVID-19 restricted campus like that of many peer schools, Dartmouth opened a facsimile of the Eastern Bloc.

The administration decided, with next to no student or community input, to enforce a harshly punitive system on the student body. If a student — who was generally a freshman — faced an administrative allegation of violating the ambiguous “Community Guidelines,” that student would be at risk of being forced off campus — “disappearing,” as Lively herself put it  — for three terms, without appeal. The judgment was made quickly, behind closed doors, by what amounted to a troika — sorry, a “whole team of student affairs professionals.” 

The fall policy was inhuman and condescending, and students and parents protested loudly against it. As students suddenly disappeared from their dorms, an atmosphere of fear spread across the heavily-policed campus. For freshmen already facing the stress of adjusting to a new school, the constant surveillance and essential criminalization of social activity made for a toxic environment. The administration, to this day, has yet to offer any real admission of wrongdoing.

During the last week of fall term, Beau DuBray died by suicide in mid-Mass. 

Beau’s death, and Connor’s, and Elizabeth’s, did not need to happen. It would be an unfounded overreach to place any of those tragedies squarely at the College’s doorstep. There is much we do not know. But Dartmouth’s administrators did — unquestionably — pursue policies that actively disregarded the humanity and mental wellbeing of its students. No one knows what drove these three students to take their own lives. But from my time as Executive Editor, I know one thing: the administration’s callous disregard for student wellbeing did not help.

In Dartmouth's government department, where I pursued one of my two majors, I studied how bureaucracies, unless carefully restrained, often develop their own interests and hurt the very things they were built to support. Outside the walls of Silsby, an ever-growing cast of unelected, highly-paid administrators put that theory into action. The people that the administration was ostensibly designed to support — the students, faculty and staff — all suffered as the bureaucracy ballooned. 

The administration is no longer accountable to any of those constituents. Freed from checks and balances, it has chosen to aggrandize its own power at the College’s expense. 

It has been a year now since I last lived in Hanover. With campus in the state it was, I had little desire to return to that stage of my life, or even what was left of it. Instead, I moved north, to a town called Stannard in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. We don’t have a single paved road, and the elevation is 10 times higher than the population. The winter lasts long and the cold sinks deep, usually 10 degrees below whatever it is in Hanover, sometimes lower. It’s been peaceful up here. But the College, bittersweet though it now is in my mind, is my alma mater. And I believe, even after this past year, that Dartmouth still has much good left in it.

My professors at Dartmouth were universally exceptional. They are easily this College’s greatest asset, and are the very core of Dartmouth’s educational mission. If one thing maintains my faith in this school, it is their great effort and achievement, both in furthering human knowledge and in educating students.

Many aspects of this community remain strong, even as the administration metastasizes across campus. I am and will remain a proud member of the Dartmouth Outing Club, an organization which became my home at Dartmouth. Whether leading trips through the Grand Canyon with Cabin and Trail, mountaineering in the Presidential Range or hanging out at the Rock on a Friday night, the DOC is an organization of which I am proud. I leave Dartmouth with a deep ambivalence toward the College as a whole — but as for the DOC, I remain a proud chubber, and will stand by TOR ’til the day I die.

Dartmouth is, at its heart, a good College. It has been dealt grievous harm in recent years by a rogue bureaucratic apparatus. But the core of this College contains much good, and I believe that, despite its current state, the real Dartmouth remains unbowed.

Redeeming Dartmouth will ultimately require a change in leadership. Few here place any faith in the current administrators to save the College from a mess of their own creation. The College will never truly recover under College President Phil Hanlon’s tenure, nor while the erratic Lively retains her deanship. The College president himself has just an 11% favorability rating among seniors, comparable to the even lower favorability ratings of Lively and the administration at large. The senior administrators have repeatedly and consistently failed to prove themselves worthy of their titles, and only new leadership can bring real change. 

In the meantime, however, the recent appointment of David Kotz ’86 as interim provost is a step in the right direction. Kotz is a good man, and an active Cabin and Trail alumnus who cares deeply about this community. With Kotz in office, perhaps the administration will finally subject itself to some accountability.

Dartmouth exists for its professors and students, not for its administrators. That administration, initially created to serve the College, has now begun to actively harm both this institution and those who love it. For my last words in this newspaper, to which I have dedicated so much these past four years, I submit the following: To all those present today who love this College, it’s time we take our College back.

Matthew Magann is the former Production Executive Editor of The Dartmouth and a member of the Class of 2021.