Magann: Resign, President Hanlon

Kathryn Lively’s resignation is cause for optimism — but the job remains unfinished.

by Matthew Magann | 7/21/21 12:00am

On my graduation day, June 13, I published what I believed would be my last article in this newspaper. It was a bittersweet moment, saying goodbye to a place at which I had worked for years, first as a writer, then as editor of the opinion section, and finally as Executive Editor. 

In that article, I criticized the inhumanity that many of us at Dartmouth felt lay ingrained in the College’s policies over the past year. The response was overwhelming. Students, professors and alumni reached out to say that they identified with what I had experienced over the past year. It was more feedback — certainly more positive feedback — than I had ever received on an article.

Yesterday, the public face of that inhuman response, Dean of the College Kathryn Lively, resigned from her position after just two years in office. Soon after the announcement, one parent posted on Facebook that “the student body is virtually dancing in the streets.” Given Lively’s abysmal 9% favorability rating among members of the Class of 2021, that comment certainly does a good job capturing student sentiment. 

Under Lively’s mismanagement, Dartmouth descended into crisis. Basic human interaction was criminalized this fall. Students — primarily freshmen — were summarily sentenced and “disappeared” for alleged violations of unspecified COVID-19 rules. Three separate freshmen — Beau DuBray, Connor Tiffany, and Elizabeth Reimer — took their own lives. Additional students attempted suicide, according to this newspaper’s reporting, yet the administration still made no real, meaningful steps to address mental health. Few comments better sum up Lively’s leadership style than her campus-wide email the morning after the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6: “Despite everything that is happening in the world, no matter what tragedies or disappointments you may have faced,” the dean wrote, “the academic term starts now.”

Lively did much that was bad, and as the public, often gaffe-prone face of the administration, she made an easy target for criticism. Her departure is, to be sure, a positive development. But Dartmouth’s problems neither began nor ended with one incompetent dean. 

Lively was merely the public face of an entire administration. And that administration, which bears ultimate responsibility for the past year, is led by College President Phil Hanlon.

I do not know Hanlon personally. From all I have heard, he displays none of the tone-deaf callousness that Lively did. He is, it seems, a good, decent man, with the College’s best interests at heart. But none of that excuses the fact that he presided over the horrors of the past year. 

Even before the pandemic, Hanlon’s policies were distinctly lackluster. The housing system — which earned an approval rating of just 28% among the Class of 2021 — is little more than an ineffective money sink. While Hanlon’s administration has wasted space building a metal facsimile of an aircraft hangar (“House Center A”), campus housing remains in crisis: this June, the College spent a stunning $1 million on $5,000 lottery prizes for those willing to give up their on campus housing. Hanlon’s other key initiatives — the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative, Moving Dartmouth Forward, Inclusive Excellence — either lack substance or are too ineffective to seriously address the problems this College faces. No wonder a mere 11% of the Class of 2021 view Hanlon favorably, against 75% who hold an unfavorable view. Those figures are, within the survey’s margin of error, identical to Lively’s.

Kathryn Lively was an especially egregious example of administrative failure. But it was Hanlon’s administration that appointed Lively, and Hanlon’s administration that, for reasons unknown, kept up its commitment to non-transparency and concealed the news of Lively’s June 30 resignation for over two weeks. Unless the administration changes, the root of Dartmouth's problem remains. 

Hanlon has certainly raised money for the College — his “Call to Lead” campaign has brought in nearly $2.9 billion — and for that, we should be grateful. But money is useless if not put to good use. To do so requires leadership. And leadership is one thing that Hanlon and his administration have consistently failed to demonstrate.

It is time for President Phil Hanlon to step down. The College has a great task of rebuilding ahead of it, and it cannot undertake that task in confidence under Hanlon’s leadership. I believe that Hanlon has the College’s interests at heart, and I do not make this request from a place of resentment. Instead, to paraphrase Churchill, we might approach this request with magnanimity, and follow its fulfillment with good will. But nonetheless, it is incumbent on those of us who love this College to make that request.

Hanlon has led this College, sometimes for good, often for bad — but his time is through. It is time for a new generation of leadership to guide this great College on the Hill onward from the crises of the past year.

I ask our President, in his last act, to step aside and open the door for Dartmouth’s renewal. That, above all else, will be the true test of his devotion to this College.

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