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Meet Sylvia Spears, the New Woon

Almost one month ago, Dartblog broke the news of two new hires at Dartmouth College: Rovana Popoff as Dean of Upperclass Students and Sylvia Spears as the new head of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, one of Dartmouth’s two major diversity arms, which in conjunction bring their particular conceptions of diversity to bear on all of Dartmouth—from the ‘programming’ of student life to close scrutiny of every new employee, right down to the chefs at the Hanover Inn.

At the time Dartblog reported the news, some employees had been informed of Ms. Spears’ impending arrival in a memorandum. Ms. Popoff’s was news even to many in Parkhurst. Subsequently, the administration permitted the student newspaper The Dartmouth to report on Ms. Popoff’s hire, but only several uncritical grafs explaining how Dartmouth’s new dean had “stood out among other candidates.”

There has been no public recognition whatever of Ms. Spears, yet Dartblog has received no information that indicates the hire has gone sour. Indeed, the new Diversity Dean’s pickup was actually revealed to employees in Parkhurst and Collis. But from the PR side of things? Radio silence.

* * *

spears.gifSylvia Spears is presently on staff at the University of Rhode Island’s College of Human Science and Services, in the Department of Human Development & Family Studies. She teaches “movement and voices,” according to a biography at the website of the University’s Multicultural Center. Ms. Spears graduated the University of Rhode Island in 1978 with a major in communications. After spending “roughly ten years working in administration and management in New Jersy [sic],” her biography reports, she returned to Rhode Island under the tribal name Wild Dancer as an Assistant Tribal Administrator for her Narragansett tribe. Ms. Spears earned her Ph. D from URI in 2004; her dissertation was titled “Freedom ‘s Children: Fifth Graders ’ Perceptions of the Effects of peace Education in the Form of Kingian Nonviolence.”

Ms. Spears has also served as affirmative action officer in several instances, is an experienced “cultural competence” trainer, and, the University reports, “is a certified facilitator for the Franklin-Covey Leadership Studies,” a time management program designed by the well-known publisher of paper dayplanners.

Ms. Spears’ hire is ruffling feathers inside Parkhurst for several reasons. The first is the plain connection between her hire and last year’s unpleasantness, prompted by campus American Indians feeling unsupported by the administration and loudly communicating that view to the press and the ether around Dartmouth Hall. The message? Complaints bring about new employees.

Also expressed is consternation that Dartmouth has once more failed to cultivate talent from within. The feeling is that to have promoted internally would be both more economical and would result in a Diversity Dean with more direct Dartmouth experience. At a time when the number of Vice Presidents and Deans seems to be spiraling out of control, the feeling goes, Dartmouth has added $80,000 or more to its payroll when it could have added far less on the margin by simply promoting. The economics look dimmer still when the grace-and-favor home is added in. Previous OPAL leader Tommy Woon lived in a half-million-dollar Hanover home granted him by the College for his service, and the prevailing expectation is that Ms. Spears will occupy the same home.

Finally, there remains the controversy over Dartmouth’s vasty diversity apparatus itself. The short existence of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership was marked by a slew of strange things, such as €œbias protocols, € a College forum on €œsexual stereotypes and fetishes about Asians and Asian Americans, € and most recently a special night of €œfree speech, € in which participants were allowed to speak their minds on certain permitted topics.

OPAL has also been an avenue by which Dartmouth College’s administration could exert pressure on students when their speech and expression broached the ever-moving line of ‘offensiveness.’ For example, students who joined a Facebook group supporting the now-exonerated Duke Lacrosse team report receiving personal e-mails from Mr. Woon explaining the error of their opinions.

* * *

Unresolved is the question of why Parkhurst has delayed so long in introducing Sylvia Spears to the community. Dartblog reported on Rovanna Popoff’s new deanship early on, and the student newspaper quickly followed up with an article—even though the Parkhurst bureaucrats hadn’t received their memos. In the case of Ms. Spears, the notifications have gone out, and yet any public mention has, it seems, been squelched. Dartmouth may be embarrassed to have played into the hand of petition Trustee candidate Stephen F. Smith, who has vigorously criticized the administration for allowing a swelling bureaucracy to grow arterial lines when it ought to be hiring more professors. Or Dartmouth may be listening to its current employees, who are raising questions about the advisability of the new hire. Or it may be holding the announcement in abeyance until the next instance of racial or cultural strife, to be released as a quick remedy.

Either way, it is certain that public criticism will once again be looked down upon as divisive and uncouth.


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