Verbum Ultimum: Welcome, President Beilock!
The Dartmouth Editorial Board urges incoming College President Sian Leah Beilock to both hear and substantively utilize student voices when implementing new changes.
This article is featured in the 2023 Commencement & Reunions special issue.
As The Dartmouth Editorial Board, we would like to welcome President Sian Leah Beilock and express our excitement for the 19th president — and the first female president — of the College. We are looking forward to seeing how your administration will lead the College, and we hope your fresh perspective will bring forth many positive changes.
In the first few years of President Hanlon’s tenure, his administration considerably changed residential housing, alcohol policies and other aspects of campus through the Call to Lead campaign. While many of these developments positively impacted the undergraduate experience, this Editorial Board recognizes that others did not. We ask that when making decisions, you consider student voices seriously. Listen to what students have to say, be willing to alter initiatives to better serve student needs and postpone instituting sweeping changes until you fully understand the Dartmouth community. Students want change, but it must be well-informed.
In the past, students have had a turbulent relationship with the administration, but we believe you have the potential to repair this connection. Many students unfortunately feel that the administration lacks accountability and operates within a bubble separate from the student body and its interests. For one, the housing community system — which Hanlon implemented in 2016 — remains deeply unpopular, but there have been few efforts by his administration to address these concerns. In The Dartmouth’s 2023 senior survey, which yielded 122 responses, 72% of the participants reported that they viewed the administration at least somewhat unfavorably. The Dartmouth’s surveys of outgoing senior classes from the past several years reveal that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration was oftentimes one of Dartmouth’s most negatively viewed institutions. Your presidency represents an opportunity for a fresh start. Repairing this relationship begins by including students proactively when making decisions that affect them, listening when they express dissatisfaction and most importantly, taking action after an appropriate amount of time and planning.
There is no singular policy or action that will mend the fractured relationship between the administration and the student body immediately, but one of the most pressing concerns of the student body centers around campus mental health. Both Dartmouth’s partnership with UWill and the recent JED Foundation report represent progress toward addressing the issue of student mental health, but there still remains necessary work to be done. We especially hope for improvements to the medical withdrawal policy, to which Provost Kotz recently announced impending changes due later this year. We look forward to the findings of the all-Dartmouth strategic plan currently under development by the JED steering committee. Your background as a cognitive scientist and commitment to prioritizing student mental health will provide you with a valuable perspective when the administration implements the plan’s results.
We also hope to see more channels to allow students to share ideas and feedback with the administration. For example, holding well-publicized office hours would continue one of President Hanlon’s successful initiatives. Regular, accessible avenues of communication such as office hours help endear Dartmouth faculty to their students, and a similar strategy can go a long way toward building a rapport with the student body. Most importantly, we hope that student input substantively impacts your decision-making. Conversations with students are not just a box to be checked, but instead must be an integral guide as to the best course of action. When considering policies that impact students, your administration should proactively reach out to affected student groups in order to incorporate their perspectives.
A fantastic way to engage with students would be by surveying the student body or consulting representatives of organizations such as the Dartmouth Student Government, the Dartmouth Student Mental Health Union, the Greek Leadership Council or the Organizational Adjudication Committee, to name a few. As you’ve mentioned previously, having access to diverse opinions when making decisions leads to the best possible outcomes, and involving students is a critical part of this. After hearing and listening, there must be acting.
We also hope that this philosophy of listening to the needs of students extends to student workers. We would like to see the administration support unionization efforts on campus. President Hanlon’s administration made multiple union-busting attempts, such as with the new graduate student union. We urge your administration to listen to students on this matter, particularly student workers. This Editorial Board will not hesitate to call out future union busting attempts. The College should also consider the benefits of unions, which provide a key forum for communication between management and employees. Unions ensure fair compensation for workers and bring attention to misguided policies in need of revision. It is our belief that unions benefit everyone, not just workers. We hope the new administration will shift to embracing unions as a way to build a stronger, more resilient Dartmouth that ensures everyone in our community can thrive. With the currently ongoing library workers’ unionization vote, this issue is of the utmost importance.
Finally, we hope the incoming administration addresses two issues paramount to the Dartmouth community: inflation and the Upper Valley housing shortage. In recent years, these concerns have meant that students, faculty and staff struggle to live in the Upper Valley. Given Dartmouth’s prominent position in the local economy, we would like to see tangible initiatives that help the faculty and staff who keep this place running, such as ensuring that all Dartmouth staff members are paid a living wage. We understand the precarious relationship between Hanover and the College, and we hope the College recognizes that it needs the town as much as the town needs us. Altogether, these are just some of the key issues facing the Dartmouth community that we hope you will address.
It is with open arms that this Editorial Board welcomes our new president. We cannot wait to see the beginning of your tenure, and we wish you luck with the move from New York City to the Upper Valley. As Daniel Webster famously said, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it” — we hope you will love it as well.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.