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Kim at the General Faculty Meeting

On Tuesday President Kim addressed the fall meeting of the Faculty in Alumni Hall regarding the fate of higher education, the liberal arts, and Dartmouth’s financial situation. His closing comments and commitments to fighting student alcohol abuse and sexual assault with an evidence-based approach were well-received; we’ll see where it all leads in practice.

As expected, Kim went out of his way to praise a liberal arts education and to solidify his commitment to the humanities. A departmental chair quipped to me afterwards that he felt that Kim had demonstrated his disdain for the humanities early on in his presidency. The professor was unsure if what has happened since is a change of heart or mere political backpedaling. Of course, Kim’s remarks at Convocation and beyond have not suggested a personal re-evaluation of the humanities; rather, he would have us believe that he’s been a cheerleader for them all along.

Twenty minutes into his address, Kim invited the five new faculty hires of this year to stand and be recognized; they were from the African and African American Studies program, and the departments of English, Philosophy, Spanish & Portuguese, and Studio Art. He invited the room to applaud. A critical eye would recognize that these are not only departments with little course oversubscription compared to certain other departments (i.e. Economics and Government), but also that the recognition of these specific hires is part of Kim’s effort to earn credibility for his commitments to the humanities.

Kim later dove into a contentious budgetary discussion in his goal to “lower cost and improve service.” He framed the College’s initiative to trim its bloated health benefits spending by $9 million in terms of the 100+ administrative jobs that it saved.

For many students and faculty, Kim’s public efforts simply reinforce their view of Kim as a politician: he is less concerned with substance, more concerned with image, diplomacy, and conciliation. Unless we see Kim dig in his heels and fight an entrenched College constituency on something serious, we will not know his “true colors”… or maybe a lack of resolve is what we will know him for.

It is a difficult Catch-22 for Kim, one left unresolved until he stands with students in a necessary but uncomfortable decision; sensible alcohol reform could be his golden ticket.

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