Verbum Ultimum: Left on Read

Dartmouth’s administration has — in some cases for decades — repeatedly neglected the most pressing issues facing its students.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/8/21 4:30am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

This editorial is featured in the 2021 Homecoming special issue.

For decades, the Verbum Ultimum — a weekly column written by members of the Editorial Board — has been a hallmark of The Dartmouth. We write the Verbum each week because, though we love our school, we also see great room for improvement. Historically, in the face of an often intransigent administration, the column has helped to lift student opinions to their ears  and hold administrators accountable to their mission of making Dartmouth — our home — more inclusive, equitable and responsive to students.

However, even the briefest exploration of this paper’s recent archives reveals that many student appeals for meaningful change have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears, in some cases for decades. Even as Dartmouth’s endowment and administration swell to record size, many of the most pressing issues faced by previous generations of students — including housing, fundraising, admissions and mental health  — remain perennial challenges to this day. Thus, instead of writing a Verbum Ultimum on a new topic entirely, as is the norm, we offer up a look back at four editorials of Dartmouth past that the College seems to have largely ignored. These four pieces discuss issues that we deem especially integral to both the Dartmouth student body and broader community and that, until addressed, will undoubtedly continue to prevent meaningful and much-needed revolutions from occurring at this College.

Ever since co-education and the 1972 introduction of the D-Plan substantially expanded the on-campus student population, one of these perennial crises has been housing. For at least the last decade and a half, the College has effectively ignored the issue, completely failing to prioritize the construction of new dormitories — no new dorm has been built since the McLaughlin Cluster in 2006 — even while it has admitted larger classes than ever in recent years. This housing crisis came to a head this fall, when the administration took the absurd step of offering students $5,000 to give up their housing. Our Verbum from July 2, 2021, titled “‘It’s the Housing, Stupid,’” proposed the only real solution to this persistent issue: The College and the town of Hanover must “immediately prioritize the construction of more housing units.” In the months since the publication of this editorial, the administration has yet to announce the construction of new dormitories, and the residents of Hanover shut down initiatives that may have expanded housing supply at this summer’s Town Meeting. Until the College takes meaningful action, students will inevitably continue to suffer from overcrowding, poor living conditions and bizarre half-solutions like lotteries and lounge conversions.

Another problem the College has failed to address is its ethically dubious approach to alumni donations. In a Verbum earlier this year entitled “Dealing with Donors,” which pointed out the troubling pasts of many of the namesakes of campus buildings, the Editorial Board called on the College to “stop selling the names of its buildings to the highest bidder,” Instead, the Verbum argued, buildings should be named for Dartmouth alumni who have made significant contributions or impacts in their fields. Again, the College ignored students’ call to action, leaving the names of deeply problematic alumni plastered on buildings around campus —  including the name of financier Leon Black ’73, who famously bankrolled convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to the tune of 150 million dollars and has recently faced accusations of sexual harassment and abuse. As “Dealing with Donors” further notes, the name of the Irving Energy Institute — which takes after Arthur Irving, a billionaire petroleum tycoon —  stands in direct contradiction with the College’s announced commitment to sustainable energy. In light of this nonsensical nomenclature, we again urge the administration to revisit its practice of selling the privilege of being memorialized on campus to the highest, potentially morally corrupt, bidder and consider whether its handling of donations is truly in the spirit of Dartmouth as an institution.

Preferential admissions for legacy students is another practice that has troubled the College and the minds of students for years. A 2019 Verbum, succinctly titled “End Legacy Admissions,” put it bluntly, and we echo that Editorial Board’s call: “​​It’s time that Dartmouth abandon legacy preference in admissions, level the playing field and finally begin to value merit over money.” It was time then, and it still is. Legacy admissions preference receives a strikingly low amount of public support and reinforces financial and social disparities. The practice, which began at Dartmouth in 1922, was originally designed to reduce the number of Eastern European immigrants who were admitted to the College, and today serves to unduly provide already privileged and desirable applicants with yet another unnecessary and unfair advantage. While some have argued that ending legacy admissions may disincentivize alumni donations, data from universities who have done away with legacy preference does not support that argument. And yet, legacy status remains a factor in admissions decisions at Dartmouth. 

Finally, despite repeated calls for reform, the College’s approach to mental health remains woefully inadequate. Last year, three students — Beau DuBray ’24, Connor Tiffany ’24 and Lamees Kareem ’22 — died between November and April; the first two, we now know, died by suicide. Despite student pleas for meaningful action, the administration’s initial response was virtual silence. It took the death of Elizabeth Reimer ’24 by suicide in May to prompt meaningful action by the College, which soon after announced the hiring of a few new counselors and a partnership with the JED Foundation. While these measures are steps in the right direction, they were not, and still are not, enough. In a May Verbum, titled “A Cry for Help,” we argued that “Dartmouth must repair its dilapidated mental health infrastructure or risk further tragedies.” Larger, systemic changes such as providing better long-term care options, changing medical leave policies so as to stop forced removal following mental health crises, giving students mental health days following campus-wide and national tragedies, and increasing academic leniency are additional, urgently-needed reforms that would improve the mental health of the Dartmouth community. Yet, despite repeated cries for the College to do something — anything — to improve its mental health infrastructure, despite the deaths by suicide of three students in a single academic year and the subsequent backlash from the student body, despite years of op-eds and reporting in The Dartmouth that cite the necessity of such reform, the College has repeatedly opted for one-off Band-Aid solutions rather than pursuing fundamental, lasting change. This cannot continue — as we wrote in May, the College must “implement comprehensive change before even more harm is done.” 

These four issues — as well as a plethora of others — have affected and are affecting the ability of Dartmouth to be a welcoming and supportive home to its students. We do not want to sound like a broken record, but the College gives us no choice. Years of Dartmouth’s intransigence have not placated the student body. We are angry. We are tired of bringing up the same issues over and over again, only to have our voices silenced or ignored.

By now, students have exhausted every means available to us to urge Dartmouth to pay attention. Many of the issues we face today did not come out of nowhere; they are institutional failures that have been left to fester for decades. To the countless alumni reading this issue who have undoubtedly been impacted by these or other failures in some way: We encourage you — nay, beg you — to call upon your alma mater to enact the reforms it has long neglected. The College has time and again shown its reluctance to listen to the people who walk its sidewalks and attend its lectures — but it may listen to you.

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