Welcome to Dartmouth's most influential daily
Each day, Dartblog and its team of alumni and students bring you news and commentary from Hanover and the world at large. Read our iPhone edition here.
This is an archived post. Please click here to see the latest entries.
Lifesaving or Facesaving?
Let’s wrap up the swim dock imbroglio by looking at its origins and its outcomes. When the budget cutting began in earnest, acting Dean of the College Sylvia Spears faced a problem: the athletics area of her budget was off-limits on orders from President Kim, so if she was going to meet V.P. for Finance Stephen Kadish’s cost reduction targets, a little trimming here or there was not going to do the job. Whole activities would have to go.
Regrettably for the College, longtime staffers in the Dean of the College area — people with real knowledge of student life — were out of favor, and in fact, many were later laid off. The remaining tight little group of insiders (people like Dean Spears herself, April Thompson, and Kate Burke, whose combined administrative experience was less than minimal) took what was probably a facetious suggestion from the Director of the Outdoor Programs Office, Dan Nelson, and acted on it. So much for the swim dock.
As is the habit in so many areas of the College, one can envisage Spears and her cronies sitting around a conference table trying to come up with ways to justify the cost-saving move. “Why don’t we just say it was a safety decision?…” and so on. Back and fill, back and fill. It’s a way of life in Parkhurst.
When the entirely predictable blowback ensued, everyone went into CYA mode, starting with Jim Kim. “Safety, safety,” he opined, and a large riverfront project was whipped up to justify that position. Note that no actual safety data about river swimming was ever adduced by our supposedly data-hungry President; there is none to put forward.
As anyone who has been down to the new dock can attest, it is virtually identical to the old one, save for a $200,000 handicap access ramp (undoubtedly for wheel-chair-bound swimmers who want to enjoy the Connecticut River’s dangerously turbulent, turbid, log-filled waters. Ha. Ha.). What a waste of money, especially when academic resources are being cut right and left.
The other day I visited the dock to chat with the three lifeguards who now work there (up from the two who had successfully guarded the lives of Dartmouth students for the past 40 years). No student swimmers were present at the time.
The senior lifeguard, Athletics Department staffer Andy Forbes, a gentleman in his 60’s, showed me the flow meter, which he said would warn lifeguards if the river began moving too swiftly. In that event, the swim dock would be closed. “What is the maximum allowable speed?” I inquired. “Two feet per minute,” was his response. I wondered about that figure, and then watched for about ten seconds as a passing leaf floated two feet downstream right in front of me. “That can’t be right,” I commented. “The river has to be flowing at several times that speed right now. “That’s an international norm,” Mr. Forbes replied, “It’s widely recognized.”
Let’s do the math together: two feet per minute is 120 feet per hour. There are 5,280 feet in a mile, so 120 feet per hour is less than a fortieth of a mile per hour. Average walking speed on land is 3 mph. Mr. Forbes must be, shall we say, misinformed.
He went on to tell me that the river was only 11 feet deep in front of the new dock, as opposed to 15 feet in front of the old one. At 11 feet, a lifeguard can see students’ feet when they dive in (don’t quibble about the fact that diving is not allowed; everyone does it). If a College lifeguard loses sight of a diver, Forbes explained, that could signal a “recovery event.” I asked him how many “recovery events” had occurred to his knowledge over the previous few years. He did not know. Ugh. I bet zero.
To sum things up: The College just spent time, effort, and a prodigious amount of money to hide the fact that a stupid decision was made. From the blow-up onward President Kim was an integral part of the process. How sad that he could not have been a force for the adult supervision of his inexperienced underlings, rather than the enabler-in-chief for bureaucrats who could not admit that they had made a silly mistake.
One could look at this situation and laugh. But it is not funny, not when you consider that the paradigm is repeated on a regular basis all over the College: bad decisions; fevered cover-ups; sloppy implementation.
Note: Students continue to swim in large numbers from the Safety Dock and the Ledyard Canoe Club dock, as they (and I) have done without incident for many, many years. And they routinely swim well out into the river and across to the Vermont bank.
August 14, 2013
Breaking: Of Crips and Bloods and Memories of Ghetto Parties
History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, or sometimes it just repeats itself. From the New York Times on November 30, 1998: At Dartmouth College, white students at a ”ghetto party” dressed…
June 25, 2013
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson’s War on Students Part (2/2)
Part 1, Part 2 Today’s post again recounts the events that befell the Freshman. However, the content of the Hanover Police department report reproduced in this space yesterday is supplemented by information from my own…
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…