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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Cooch: How Beilock Can Respond to Faculty Censure and Student No Confidence Votes

Beilock still has time to salvage her tenure at Dartmouth if she commits to protections for students and their right to protest.

More than 30% of Dartmouth’s undergraduate students have voted “no confidence” in College President Sian Leah Beilock, and now Dartmouth faculty voted yesterday to formally censure her. These events reflect campus concerns about the administration’s biased and punitive response toward pro-Palestinian campus advocacy since October 2023. The students’ vote and faculty censure should serve as an urgent call for alumni engagement.

There are two paths forward. In one, Beilock offers her regrets for any hurt caused by the arrests of 87 peaceful protesters. The news cycle moves on. No real changes are made, and a precedent of institutional violence against student dissent is established. No students gain any real security, and many feel deeply betrayed and vulnerable. Campus activism becomes a fringe endeavor, accessible to only those passionate or well-resourced enough to risk their academic futures for what they believe is right. 

In the second, the College enacts real, concrete protections for students and their rights. Dartmouth builds on the positive momentum of the Dialogue Project and shows that free speech and student empowerment can thrive across campus — not just in carefully moderated panels. Students progress from lectures and discussions to gain the skills to actively change the world and challenge the status quo. However, this path is unlikely to occur without combined student and alumni pressure.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently sent an open letter to university presidents recommending clear policies and guardrails to protect students and their right to protest. Please read it. I strongly urge my fellow alumni to hold their alma mater accountable and ensure that Dartmouth codifies these protections. They are as follows:

  1. “Schools must not single out particular viewpoints for censorship, discipline or disproportionate punishment.
  2. Schools must protect students from discriminatory harassment and violence.
  3. Schools can announce and enforce reasonable content-neutral protest policies but they must leave ample room for students to express themselves.
  4. Schools must recognize that armed police on campus can endanger students and are a measure of last resort.
  5. Schools must resist the pressures placed on them by politicians seeking to exploit campus tensions.”

While all these points are critical, the first one is especially worth highlighting. Opposing viewpoints, when not directed at individuals, should be equally permitted on campus — however offensive they may be to some members of the community. On one side of the coin, this includes permitting expressions of Palestinian freedom such as “Intifada” and “From the River to the Sea.” And on the other, for example, people should be able to express vocal support for Israel’s actions in Gaza. For the sake of student safety, the College must make it clear that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, just as criticism of Hamas is not Islamophobic. Otherwise, these terms will continue to be weaponized against students and distract from protecting students from being directly targeted with intimidating or offensive terms.

To move forward, Beilock must offer a full apology and amnesty to all students and faculty alike who have been singled out for persecution. This includes Roan Wade ’25 and Kevin Engel ’27 — who were among the first of any U.S. college students to be arrested for their protest of the conflict in Gaza — as well as the 89 people arrested on May 1. 

The guardrails outlined above are about protecting student safety. Beilock must demonstrate the courage to defend Dartmouth’s students and values against external forces. New Hampshire Gov. Sununu — himself a Trustee ex-officio — called Dartmouth’s May 1 protests “pure antisemitism.” Across the nation, the strident clamor of pundits and politicians smearing encampments as hate speech has been at a fever pitch. 

This rhetoric is an invitation to external violence against college students. When it goes unchallenged, it feeds grotesque acts of hate. This was illustrated in November when three U.S. undergraduates of Palestinian descent were shot in nearby Burlington, Vt. At a time when students of Muslim or Arab background likely felt especially isolated, it is unfortunate this tragedy received no public response from Beilock. Dartmouth’s students deserve a President who forcefully defends students against harmful mischaracterizations and condemns threats to their safety. 

Importantly, if Beilock succeeds in protecting student speech, the alumni community must support her. No one envies the college presidents called before congressional hearings who blatantly manipulate campus events for partisan ammunition. Leaders who stand up to this inquisition will need not just a vote of confidence, but full-voiced support. 

Finally, Beilock should not block students from advocating for divestment or calling for Dartmouth to formally support a ceasefire resolution. There is a strong precedent for students and alumni pressure catalyzing divestment, including from apartheid-era South Africa in the 1980s and fossil fuels in 2021

Dartmouth’s repressive actions cannot be taken out of the context of the assault on Gaza. For the past six months, American institutions have been using fear, coercion and manipulation to persuade Americans that an entire people is deserving of annihilation — and that we should foot the financial and moral bill. It is an audacious deceit, and Dartmouth has been complicit. The dehumanization of Palestinians has been intrinsically linked to the intimidation and censorship of American students for supporting them. 

However, no matter your political beliefs or cultural affiliations, alumni should be in support of codifying campus protections. We can and must elevate the voice of Dartmouth’s student body and aid in holding the administration accountable. 

As alumni, what can we do? Call the offices of the President, Provost, and Alumni Relations to share your position. Write your representatives on the alumni council. A petition by Dartmouth Alumni for Palestine is circulating with more than 1,000 signatures. Multiple alumni affiliation groups have issued statements pledging to withhold all programmatic and financial support to Dartmouth until protester amnesty is granted, disciplinary charges are reversed and good-faith engagement is given to their concerns. 

Again: more than 30% of Dartmouth’s students have expressed no confidence in Beilock, and faculty have voted for her censure. While these votes reflect an alarming breach of trust, perhaps it is not too late for her to course correct. But in order to have any confidence in her leadership moving forward, we must see a concrete new commitment to empower student voices, rather than a continued doubling down on their repression.

Peter Cooch is a member of the Class of 2007. Guest columns represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.