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Housing Policy: Yet More Harmful Egalitarianism

Moving.jpgYou can still meet people in eastern Germany who are nostalgic for the old days: “Sure there were bad sides to the DDR,” they will say, “but at least we were all equal.” This attitude is more common than you think — the antithesis of Jeremy Bentham’s “greatest good for the greatest number” philosophy. I guess that it speaks to people whose worst fear is that they be left behind.

Egalitarianism has found expression at Dartmouth in areas other than the absurd parking policy that we recently discussed here and here. The allocation of dormitory rooms to students is a manifestation of this counterproductive mindset, too.

When you talk to alums from before the mid-1980’s, ask them where they lived in Hanover. Some will answer with the name of their frat, but most will tell you about the single dorm that was their home for four years. They’ll recount stories of dorm parties (when a call to Moe’s — as Stinson’s used to be called — brought the rapid delivery of a keg), and dorm intramural teams (I played soccer, softball, hockey, and touch football for my dorm), and dorm identities (jock, druggie, crunchy, etc.).

I lived in North Fayer for all of my terms on campus; the reason that I was able to do so was the system of dorm priority. The dorm that you lived in for your freshman year was forevermore your home dorm, and you had an absolute priority on an open room there when you returned to Hanover from your D Plan peripatetics. The only folks who had priority over you were upperclassmen who themselves had lived in the same dorm in their own freshman year.

So what’s not to like about this system: socially cohesive dorms, the mixing of all four classes in one diverse residential setting, great group activities — and for many of us, a serviceable alternative to the fraternities?

The answer: well, some people were assigned to less favored dorms for their freshman year. Though most people were in up-campus dorms like the Fayers, Mass Row or the Gold Coast, there were a goodly number of students in the River Cluster and the Choates — the latter both examples, then as now, of the oppressiveness of cinderblock vs. brick.

What solution did the egalitarians propose to rectify this inequality? They put into place the current lamentable state of affairs where a random housing lottery bounces students around Hanover each time that they return to campus. I have met students who have lived in five or six different dormitories over their four years. In fact, today few students considers Dartmouth’s dorms to be much more than flophouses: transient hotels where you park your stuff for a term or two before moving on. Dorm life is virtually non-existent; after all, who are the dorm elders who relive the experiences and traditions of past years, or make them even better?

But at least students are all equal, you say? Well, is that good? Sure, under this system everyone gets a shot at the best dorms each time they return to Hanover; but, regrettably, the “best” dorms today seem to me to be less good than the worst dorms in my time.

This is another idea for reform that could easily be implemented by the new adminstration and that would make Dartmouth a better place. In fact, the College could save money because students themselves would naturally generate a sense of community in their dorms without needing the expensive (those lavish benefits!), space-wasting, and much derided “community directors” to teach them to have fun. President Kim, bring back livable dorms. Bring back dorm priorities.

Addendum: This idea makes such good sense that even the authors of the Student Life Initiative got it right. See pages 9-11. And I have written about it in the D.

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