Nelson: A Critique of the Dartmouth New Deal
The Dartmouth New Deal contains many ideas that have the potential to improve campus, but its impracticality, biases and costs undermine its effectiveness.
Sunrise Dartmouth, a student advocacy group on campus, recently released the “Dartmouth New Deal,” a document outlining broad demands of the College. The terms are wide-ranging, including sustainability efforts, financial aid, community outreach, Indigenous student relations and much more. These recommendations contain many good ideas to improve the Dartmouth community significantly, but many of its provisions are vague, impractical or financially arduous. These issues undermine the New Deal’s efficacy, and it does not represent the best way to improve Dartmouth.
The Deal’s principal demand calls for divesting the College endowment from potential links to apartheid in Palestine, alleging that the College could be complicit in violence perpetrated against Palestinians. This is a hard claim to assess, as the College is very opaque about its investments and does not divulge specifics. Furthermore, the majority of the endowment is put into private equity, hedge funds and venture capital, where the final investment allocations are made by professional investors rather than the College. It is also likely that much of the money invested in stock is put into index or mutual funds. Given these funds’ diversified nature, divesting away from a specific company, if one were to be identified, could require a blanket withdrawal from the funds entirely.
When you factor in the broad definition of complicity in this scenario — the president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition used Amazon as an example, and the calls to end Birthright Israel trips suggest complicity extends beyond military applications — this demand could apply to many of the largest companies in the U.S. Where is the line drawn? What about treasury bonds, and the stocks of thousands of companies that contract with the Department of Defense, as the U.S. has given substantial military aid to Israel? What about American companies that still do business in Russia or China despite humanitarian concerns? What about companies that have business operations in Iran, a country that supplies weapons to Hamas? Not only is divestment costly and difficult, but doing so over a subjective sense of morality surrounding a question that has no right answer is wrong. The divestment demand attempts to use the endowment to take a side in a complex conflict in the Middle East.
In the same vein, the document calls for the College to sever ties with the military-industrial complex, including a campus ban on recruiting for military contractors and the removal of ROTC programs. Doing so would limit opportunities for Dartmouth students, especially considering the breadth of companies that contract with the Department of Defense. Some of the many names include Google, McKinsey and Microsoft, several of the largest employers of Dartmouth alumni. Additionally, an ROTC ban would limit opportunity for students interested in the military and would make it more unlikely that Dartmouth is represented in the armed forces, not to mention how it may alienate student veterans on campus.
Demand #21 recommends abolishing the Board of Trustees and replacing it “with faculty-student-staff councils driven by the needs of students instead of the College’s profit motive.” Whatever the merits of this idea may be, it essentially invalidates the entire New Deal, as the Board is highly unlikely to entertain a group calling for its own removal.
Another cause for concern in the New Deal are its proposals for across-the-board spending increases. One example is the proposal to fund a public transportation expansion in the Upper Valley. Dartmouth just expanded its public transport system in August, and further expansion doesn’t make sense given that Advance Transit only averages 2,000-3,000 passengers per day across all of its lines, the majority outside of Hanover. Another proposal calls for a 29% increase to the student minimum wage to $21/hour, on the heels of a 40% increase last March. Another increase could improve the lives of working students, especially those with financial aid, but would be costly and could lead to students to prefer working on campus instead of off campus, leading to a labor shortage for small businesses in the area. Of the 28 listed demands, the majority of them require funding, including building new housing, a new activism LLC, paying reparations to Indigenous community members, an accelerated carbon neutrality timeline, student stipends for groceries and activism projects and creating union jobs to address the climate crisis. Essentially, the document suggests significant new financial expenditures without any recommendations for budget cuts elsewhere or new sources of income.
Furthermore, several of the demands would actually decrease the College’s revenue, making the recommendations even less attainable. One clause recommends ending the policy of legacy admissions. Legacy admissions is an inherently unfair practice, and that complex debate is outside this article’s scope, but it creates a higher proportion of full-paying students, and some universities argue the policy may increase alumni donations, too. The document also suggests sweeping expansions of financial aid coverage, which can be viewed either as spending increases or as revenue reductions. Divestment and lowering housing costs on campus would also contribute to this trend. The expansion of the two-course term policy could also increase the draw on financial aid, especially if financial aid is to be guaranteed for more than 12 terms and on off-terms.
In short, the document calls for increased spending and reduced revenue to achieve goals that vary in value and practicality. While it may be easy to dismiss the financial argument as irrelevant to student interests, it is vital to understand that these costs inevitably trickle down to students. Dartmouth is already one of the most expensive colleges in the country, at over $87,000 per year with room and board. Reckless and exorbitant spending by College administrators is the primary reason why tuition has increased so dramatically over the past few decades. Further spending, including financial aid expansions, creates a cycle where tuition increases, financial aid increases in turn and an upward spiral begins. There are a plethora of ways to spend Darmouth’s limited resources, and the school needs to approach this question in a more responsible way.
No community is perfect, and every Dartmouth student should take an interest in working to improve our community. However, the New Deal is a flawed document, and its unrealistic demands and dismissive attitude towards fiscal responsibility take away from its feasibility. The document’s extremes detract from its potential to make lasting change for this community on topics such as fighting climate change, further recommitting to the College’s Indigenous roots and achieving a higher commitment to diversity. The New Deal does not represent realistic, progressive change and attempting to hold the College hostage with an ultimatum is not conducive to free dialogue. Change on this campus will not come through methods like these. Students should instead work through Dartmouth Student Government with a focus on realism, specificity, on reconciling different viewpoints and managing unintended consequences of proposed changes to make Dartmouth a better place for all.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.