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Why Is The D AWOL?

Ostrich.jpgA few weeks ago, The D ran an editorial pleading for students to submit op-ed columns to the paper. The piece noted “an astoundingly low number of guest columnist submissions and letters to the editor” each term. Since then, I haven’t noted much of a change: for example, on November 1 and then again on November 8, readers were treated to hard-hitting columns about the need to critically view the College’s traditions. Yawn. And yawn again.

More recently, the paper published student submissions on larger issues, such as the world’s looming water shortage, the importance of the iPad, disquisitions on the various schools of economics, the Supreme Court and Obamacare, and hydraulic fracturing. Given that the authors pretended to no specialized knowledge and have no direct experience with these issues, the pieces were only dry syntheses of other people’s views. The columns had little or nothing to do with Dartmouth College; in short, they had all the passion and relevance of an average term paper.

However, the problem with The D is not a lack of diversity of opinions, or the limited genetic make-up of its writers, which the editorial worried about, too; rather, the paper needs to focus seriously on Dartmouth’s problems in ways that are meaningful to students. Regrettably, the editors don’t feel a need to dig down into the details of Dartmouth’s weaknesses and hold the administration accountable. Reporting on College issues seems limited to paraphrasing press releases, asking soft follow-up questions of various administrators, reporting their answers, and then leaving things at that. Little or no research into hard data about the College or information from other Ivy schools ever seems to be cited. Dartmouth is all the weaker for this lack of seriousness.

This space has been far more rigorous in performing investigative journalism than have The D’s editors — and for some reason the student editors have not picked up on Dartblog’s independently verifiable findings about the College. To wit:

● Between 1999 and 2009 non-faculty staff levels grew from 2,408 to 3,417, an increase of close to 42%, even as the total number of students stayed close to flat.

● Staff members at the College are paid at a level almost double that of workers in comparable jobs in the Upper Valley. They are paid far above the “living wage,” as computed by Poverty in America Living Wage Calculator. In fact, a married pair of cook helpers at DDS — the lowest paid position there, one that does not require a high school diploma — would have a family income greater than 72.5% of all American families.

● Dartmouth’s overall fringe benefits are the highest in the Ivy League. In the 2011 fiscal year, for every dollar of salary that the College paid out, it also paid 39.6 cents of fringe benefits. For example, pension payments are far higher than those offered by Harvard.

● The performance of the College’s endowment was the best in the Ivy League in the 1990’s; it was the very worst in the Ivies in the first decade of the 21st Century.

● The College’s total indebtedness exploded between 2001 and 2010, going from $288 million to $945 million. Other than Cornell, the College has the worst ratio of endowment to debt of any Ivy. For every dollar of endowment that we hold, we owe 32 cents.

● During the disastrous tenure of former Executive Vice-President for Finance and Administration Adam Keller, the College lost $32 million dollars on ill-advised hedge fund investments of its working capital, and $43 million dollars in interest rate swaps. In addition, Keller — who was self-evidently unqualified for his position — vetoed his staff’s suggestion of the prudent use of “put options” at the height of the boom, a decision that cost the College $400 million dollars in potential gains. Despite his incompetence, when Keller was finally relieved of his responsibilities, he was given a severance payment of at least $855,636.

● The College’s luxurious new Boston offices, for the use of Jim Kim and the endowment’s staffers, is a waste of resources. And the premises’ high cost was hidden away in the accounts as a cost of operating the endowment, not the College.

● The number of oversubscribed and closed courses in the College’s undergraduate curriculum is a black mark on the College. In some departments, the majority of courses turn away students.

Why is The D shy about fighting for the interests of students by pointing out these weaknesses in the College’s administration and educational program? That’s a complicated question that I don’t fully understand. Of course, the administration does a continuous full-court press on the editors — as they also do on the folks at the Review — effectively neutering both of them. Lots of shared lunches at the Canoe Club are the carrot; and withdrawn access to College information is the stick in the case of misbehavior.

Beyond that, there seems to be a misplaced sense of loyalty to Dartmouth among the editors, as if pointing out weakness will somehow harm the institution. Perhaps too many sensitivity courses make the D’s editors want to avoid offense. Or maybe the editors are what The Times’ David Brooks refers to as Organization Kids, students who are filled with talent, but without the character necessary to challenge authority.

In any event, whatever the reason for The D’s passivity, let’s hope that the new directorate will show more fire. The College quite desperately needs independent, rigorous journalism from the campus paper of record.

Note: The D, as matter of policy, refuses to run multiple columns on a single subject, thereby guaranteeing an absence of continuity in the paper, a superficial treatment of issues, and no real expression of discontent. This rule needs to be changed.

Addendum: There is hope for us yet, even if only slight. Monday’s D reported on early decision applications, and lo and behold, rather than just writing about the College’s record level of applications, the editors put the numbers in context. Congrats!

D Early App.png

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