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Incompetent Professors at Dartmouth?

I am pleased to report that I attended the Trustee luncheon this weekend, along with perhaps 70 of my peers. I found myself seated next to Al Mulley ‘70, who was nominated this weekend to lead the search committee for the next President of Dartmouth College, and across the table from Russ Carson ‘65, along with six other students. At the beginning of the event, students were invited by Chairman Ed Haldeman ‘70 to ask difficult and even hostile questions of the Trustees at our tables. As we discussed issues including oversubscription, the selection process of President Wright’s replacement, and the housing crunch, students repeatedly expressed frustration with inadequate responses from the Board.

My favorite moment of the luncheon was when Mr. Carson asked the students at the table if any of us ever had a truly incompetent professor at Dartmouth. He clearly expected to hear “no” and to make the point that to maintain a high level of quality, they aren’t always able to supply the quantity desired by students. Indeed, Carson seemed taken aback when the students noted that in fact we have all experienced such a professor during our time at the College. Instead of expressing regret over this situation and a commitment from the Board to continue searching for dedicated and talented professors, he blamed the students. He suggested that if we utilized the Student Assembly provided course guide, we would never take classes with incompetent professors. While certainly these reviews provide valuable information to students, it is Dartmouth that should take responsibility for ensuring high standards amongst its faculty members. Another target of the trustees at my table was the tenure system. They indicated that Dartmouth is hesitent to hire new professors in departments that were not popular five or ten years ago because in six years, professors are eligible to become tenured faculty. Dartmouth could then have too many professors for an unpopular department. This argument doesn’t really wash, because government and economics (the two most cited departments for oversubscription) are huge departments that feed into a wide variety of career fields.

While they seemed interested in our experiences with sophomore summer (perhaps because they never experienced the D-Plan as students), they were generally noncommital about their goals for the College. Neither trustee at my table was willing to commit to a list of attributes that the future President of the College must possess except for leadership skills and an academic background, qualities that I doubt anyone would dispute as desirable in the leader of an educational institution. Despite the unsatisfactory answers, it was a huge step forward for the Trustees to meet with so many students. I can only hope that in the future they will not disuade additional students from attending through an unnecessary application process. If their concern is oversubscription for the lunch (that does seem to be a pervasive problem, doesn’t it?), first come first served would work better than prescreening.

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