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“I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.” — Harry S. Truman
The D ran a profile on votre humble serviteur the other day that was capably written by Mitch Davis ‘11, aided by Kate Farley ‘10. It contained the oft-leveled charges: “outspoken,” “controversial,” ‘fervent,” “needlessly combative,” along with temperate commentary from Association of Alumni President John Mathias: “an unrelenting critic of Dartmouth, almost pathologically.”
My response: in the present cultural context, guilty as charged (except for the “pathologically” remark, of course). But let’s get a little deeper into it.
My Dartblog posts and D columns about the College are usually divided into two sections: 1) an elucidation of data, most often gleaned from the College itself, that lay out the basis of my concerns; and 2) my conclusions and recommendations for action, often directly critical of College policies and administrators, whom I have the temerity to criticize by name.
The first part seems acceptable to people, though the College’s designated responders usually offer up blanket condemantions of my stats without ever offering other, supposedly correct, figures themselves. But the second part really rubs folks the wrong way. Why?
For one, we live in an environment of false gentility: don’t offend anyone by criticizing their performance personally. Go along to get along. Truth is less important than bonhomie. After all, “there are always two sides to every story.” And besides confrontation is not nice. Secondly, in an academic setting, the goal of a professor’s analysis is often to lay out in the most nuanced of terms all facets of a problem — so much so that people often get lost in the weeds of detail and don’t draw conclusions.
But I am not an academic and we are not discussing subjects that require excruciating analysis. Rather, I approach problems as an executive manager: Is an employee doing a good job? Are students getting value for their money? Is the College acting honestly and fairly, and in search of excellence? And so on.
The goal of any effective manager — in both the business and academic worlds — is to acquire sufficient information to make decisions — and then take action, a quality that has been consistently lacking in Hanover for the past decade. In doing so, a leader necessarily makes some people unhappy: one program gets funded and another doesn’t; an administrator is fired or a department cut; a competing idea sees the light of day. The alternative is stagnation - treating everyone equally well (or badly) by making no changes at all. Sound familiar? Well, we have had too much of that kind of spinelessness around here for too long.
President Kim aspires to change the way that Dartmouth is run. Good! But what he has not yet told you about leadership is that it is not the easy path. Change is disruptive; real leaders make enemies and attract (pathological?) name callers. But not to worry: shallow, angry attacks should be worn as badges of honor, proof of a job well done. They are too often a necessary precursor to achieving measurable gains.
So let’s leave the endless soft-headed praising of the College to the folks who don’t have the nerve to tell the truth as they see it. The rest of us can stridently work to make Dartmouth a much better place.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…