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The Dartmouth
April 13, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Azar: The Art of Saying Nothing

If President Beilock and Dean Brown don’t have anything of substance to say about the recent Supreme Court rulings, they shouldn’t say anything at all.

On June 29, two campus-wide emails were sent out by College President Sian Leah Beilock and Dean of the College Scott Brown, in turn. Finally, I would know what the leadership of the College thought about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. However, I was disappointed by the emails. I read and reread them, only to find out they’d said nothing substantive — only irresolute words, noncommittal phrases and the oddly-timed assurance that, lest we forget, “[we] are not alone.”

Many of my peers, regardless of their stance on affirmative action, said the same thing: at best, these emails were unnecessary; at worst, they patronized the student body. 

Maybe I am wrong. In President Beilock’s email, we are reminded that Dartmouth endorses “diversity, including racial diversity,” as “vital to [its] mission.” An admirable sentiment, no doubt, but why the reassurance? The email goes on to explain that “as an institution with an imperfect history” pertaining to diversity, “it is important that we not only state our values but that they inspire our actions.” What actions are these? Perhaps they are the ones nebulously alluded to at the end of the email — the ones Provost David Kotz is discussing with peer institutions to “comply with the ruling and adapt their holistic admissions process to this new legal landscape.” 

What new information have we learned from this email? That Dartmouth still values racial diversity and will comply with a Supreme Court ruling. The former is self-evident and never came into question; the latter is something the College is already legally obligated to do. Coming right up to the precipice of giving an opinion or disclosing something new, the email backs off. 

There seem to be two options for the College. Either it should take a side, or refrain from sending campus-wide emails about, ostensibly, political events. Indeed, on June 29, partisan emotions were still raw from the decision. Without concrete actions the College was taking, the College’s emails were yet pertaining to a distinctly political, visceral event. Its prevarication eased none of these political tensions and even reflected some of them back on the College. Whatever side the College would take, let it be unabashedly and persuasively argued. At least we would know where it stands.

Admittedly, President Beilock’s email deserves praise among the others sent out by the Ivy League. She acknowledged, albeit tepidly, the importance of respectful conversation, “especially when our opinions differ.” But for a President who has already commendably coined herself as a stalwart defender of free speech, this email rings of fear.

The other email — from Dean Brown — says even less. Before providing a list of counseling services, we are reminded that “opinions differ,” that our “well-being is of utmost importance,” and that “each of [us] belongs here.” Finally, “[we] are not alone.” I would hope not. 

Dean Brown is not wrong. Students should be reminded that they belong and of the counseling services available to them. However, inserted directly into this divisive political context, this reminder presumes too much about its student body (nothing flattering) and risks politicizing mental health — something we simply can’t afford to do. 

The College puts itself in this absurd position. On one hand, it feels compelled, like its sister institutions in academia or corporate America, to comment on anything and everything of political significance — politically significant, that is, as it pertains to the institution’s majority opinion. On the other hand, the administration is too scared to offend anyone and, as a result, only speaks in equivocating legalese. The result is predictable: both sides of the issue see in the College indecisiveness and pandering.

Perhaps the College’s hands are tied. Maybe administrators had no choice but to comment on this ruling. After all, it directly affects its admission procedures. Criticism might be unfair if these emails were not indicative of a larger problem at Dartmouth and in academia. Ask any older student and they will tell you — there is a long history of out-of-touch, oddly-timed campus-wide emails here, addressing political matters or not.

President Beilock and Dean Brown — in their official capacity — have thrown (or let fall) their hats into the discursive arena. If they have nothing to say, they should go retrieve them. 

Alex Azar ’25 is co-President of the College Conservatives. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.