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Dartmouth In the (Not Good) News

Now that the Dartmouth in the News newsfeed is limiting itself to positive stories about the College, the responsibility has fallen upon this space to fill you in on the other things that people are saying about the shining College on the hill.

Reuters seems to have taken an interest in the letter distributed by the whistleblowing Friends of Eleazer Wheelock. The news service now has an extended piece on Ivy insider investment practices. Here’s the lead:

At Dartmouth College and Brown University, the old school tie might come with a silver lining.

Dartmouth and Brown - two of the eight Ivy League colleges and universities - lead the group in terms of investing their endowments with firms that have business ties to members of their boards of trustees, a review by Reuters of the Ivies’ investment practices found.

In contrast, the endowments of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Yale University did not disclose any investments with firms that have ties to their trustees.

On the subject of alcohol, David Galland of Casey Research wrote mockingly about hearing a radio interview in which a Dartmouth administrator described the College’s alcohol reduction efforts. The people who so lovingly manage the Dartmouth “brand” should be concerned about this kind of reporting. It is one thing to be praised, another to be criticized, but yet quite another to be laughed at for evident incompetence.

On the Other Side of the Ledger

Earlier this week I had to make a run to the big city around these parts, a grueling drive of 45 minutes (I hate to drive). Killing time, I flipped on a local radio station that happened to be running a special feature on the scourge of binge drinking on college campuses.

The reporter moderating the program, who was surprisingly good, was talking with a panel of people involved with colleges in various roles (sports coaches, deans and so forth), with one in particular, an administrator from Dartmouth College, serving as the “go to” expert on the topic. Her claim to fame on this particular topic emanates from the fact that she runs something called BASICS, an intervention program for students caught engaging in the binge drinking that has been the hallmark of college life since, well, forever.

Of course, BASICS is an acronym, a prerequisite for any program instituted by governments and academia. In this case, some bright light managed to cobble it together from the words, Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students.

In the words of the program administrator from Dartmouth, in response to a question from the radio moderator, the BASICS program has been “very effective” at changing the behavior of students caught in the act of binge drinking on campus. So effective, in fact, that the program is now being adopted by other institutions of higher learning around the country.

In support of that contention, the Dartmouth web site contains a page dedicated to the successful program, which I quote from here:

Dartmouth began requiring BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) last September for students cited for an alcohol-related offense. Additional students joined the program because they wanted to learn how to cut down on drinking and reduce its negative effects. Data from intervention work with about 100 students who violated the College alcohol policy last fall - many of them needing medical assistance - show that their alcohol consumption has been cut almost in half within 90 days.

Wow, cut their alcohol consumption in half within 90 days! Though not on the same scale as the SpaceX mission, it’s an impressive feat indeed, given that we are talking about separating college students from their beers.

Well, not quite.

You see, the moderator of the radio program actually did their job - versus just lob softball questions the way most do these days - and actually probed for details on the “successful” intervention program. The dialogue went something like this:

BASICS administrator (BA): “The BASICS program has been a huge success, dramatically cutting alcohol consumption among those students who go through the program.”


Moderator (M): “Fantastic. How do you measure the reduction in alcohol consumption?”

BA: “Well, we, uh, send out surveys to the students.”

M: “You mean, you get the results from self-reporting by the students?”

BA: “Ah, yes. We ask them to self-report on their alcohol consumption for the 90-day period after going through the program.”

M: “Self-reporting by the students? That’s it?” (chuckles)

BA: “Yes. (nervous laugh) When it comes to studying behavior modification programs, finding ways to measure results is always challenging, so we just send out surveys and ask the students to answer honestly.”

And so it is that, after said administrator stated on the radio, in no uncertain terms, that the BASICS program has been an unmitigated success - quoting hard numbers in support - we learn, from just the slightest scratching of the surface, that the much-heralded results are complete fiction.

To state the obvious (at least to anyone other than a college program administrator), if you were a student who had been caught drunk and naked in the university fountain (or in a similarly compromising position) and forced to sit through some lectures on the evils of strong drink before returning to party central (aka your dorm), would you really honestly answer a follow-up survey asking you about your booze intake? Hell no, you’d be unhesitant in confirming that you had seen the light and now drank little, if at all - ergo the “50% in 90 days” reduction in intake.

Viewed from the opposite perspective, do you think any student receiving that survey - at least any student wishing to maintain their standing at the school - would answer, when asked about their current levels of consumption, along the lines of, “I have been hammered every other day for the last month! Last night, me and a buddy drank a case of beer, then had a pissing contest off the top of the dorm roof - and I won!”

Then there is the matter of the sample size, a completely meaningless 100 students. And based on this, other universities are actually adopting this program?

The point is that there is an army of rent-seekers - in government, in academia, in the scientific community, in non-governmental organizations - who use just this sort of junk science and artifice to build or secure careers for themselves.

And make no mistake, this is not a small problem - but a massive waste of precious capital that could be better deployed… not just in terms of the direct costs associated with supporting the bureaucrats in their fictitious endeavors, but the far larger costs to the private sector from having to jump through an endless number of hoops to comply with whatever mandates these meddlesome morons manage to push through into the already swollen body of regulation.

Returning to Dartmouth, but only as a microcosm of the bigger picture, we can see that the BASICS program administrator is moving quickly to secure her rent, in this case by unleashing Soviet-style surveillance techniques in the form of “UGAs” in the dorm. Again, I quote:

Also new for spring term is a pilot project in which undergraduate advisors (UGAs) in Russell Sage residence hall seek out and report underage drinking. Previously, UGAs addressed such behavior after it was reported to them. For the first several weeks of the term, UGAs issued warnings. From the end of April, Russell Sage residents violating the alcohol policy will be required to complete BASICS.

There really is only one proven antidote to the communicable viruses transmitted by the rent-seekers, and that is critical thought. Learn to question everything, and don’t forget to teach your children and grandchildren to do so as well, especially when it comes to big claims by bureaucrats.

As for Dartmouth’s anti-binge-drinking program, here’s an alternative - and I think more accurate - acronym they might want to consider. Blasted Again, So Inebriated, Can’t Stand.

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