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Show Us the Actual Data, Please

BS Meter.jpgOne of the most irritating aspects of Jim Kim’s manner is his use of the term “data.” He is always “driven by data,” “looking at all the data,” “scouring the globe for solutions,” “doing exhaustive studies,” etc., but we never, ever get to see the results of this research. The fact the President Kim intones these words and invokes his reputation is enough for most listeners — as he well knows.

The entire fiasco around the closing of the sophomore dock is a case in point. Reference was made to a safety review “performed by multiple administrative departments,” which sure sounds authoritative, right? But if so, why can’t we see the review and the actual information that drove this hugely unpopular decision?

The recent administrative volte face that will lead to the re-opening the docks following the construction of an elaborate handicap access ramp (at a cost of approximately $200,000) is similarly obscure. The only swim-safety-related change to the facility seems to be the addition of a third lifeguard. Again, no explanation has been provided. Were the two lifeguards previously employed at the dock so busy saving lives that a third one was needed? In fact, how many safety incidents in past years required the intervention of even one of our undergraduate lifeguards. Can someone ask them? Whenever I went for a swim, they were always well supplied with tanning lotion and course-related reading materials as they relaxed stress-free in the sun. What gives?

Fortunately for us, even if the Administration is not forthcoming with intelligible information, students and faculty are. In response to the closing of the docks, a Swim Dock Committee was formed to draft an extensive report on swimming safely in the Connecticut. The analysis listed as its authors Travis Blalock ‘12 (Student Chair); Aaron Limonthas ‘12 (Student Assembly Chair); Eric Tanner ‘11 President, and Brandon Aiono ‘11, Vice President, of the Dartmouth Student Assembly; and Professor of Economics Bruce Sacerdote ‘90. Sacerdote is one of the Econ departments leading researchers — with six publications cited more than 250 times by his fellow researchers. However, he is no bookish monk: he also has a well-deserved reputation as an engaging and committed teacher.

You can read the entire Swim Dock Report Committee here. The critical observations from the report were that numerous camps and other facilities in the Upper Valley allow swimming in the Connecticut, and that the provision of lifeguards is a virtual guarantee of student safety:

The evidence that lifeguards are an extremely effective safety measure is overwhelming. In 2004 the CDC report that claimed lifeguards reduced the chance of drowning in a water front areas, such as beach or lake, to as low as 1 in 18 million. Studies have also shown that between the years of 1988 and 1997 approximately 25 people died of drowning in an area that was being supervised by lifeguards at the time, and of these deaths approximately 95% occurred in oceans. A research study found that the average number of people who drown in natural bodies of water (excluding oceans) that are supervised by a lifeguard is between 0 and 1 a year.

If you weight this statistical information to take into account the fitness and abilities of Dartmouth students, one easily understands one of the report’s other observations: “there is no record of any Dartmouth undergraduates dying in the Connecticut River.”

That is data, President Kim. Can you show us yours — if you actually have any?

Storrs Pond Beach4.jpgAddendum: The endless foolishness of the College’s decision is best exemplified by the example of the Town of Hanover’s Storrs Pond Recreation Area. Lifeguards there watch swimmers during fixed hours, and when the appointed hours end, the lifeguards leave scores of parents and children scattered all over the beach. They all continue to swim in Storrs Pond’s brownish waters at their own risk (see sign). How amazing that liberal Hanover has more confidence in its parents and little children to swim unguarded than Dartmouth has in its fit, competent students.

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