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What Were You Thinking, Håkan Tell?

Tell1.jpgI don’t believe for a minute that Classics Professor Håkan Tell was lying when he stood in front of the members of the faculty on November 12 and told them that most of Dartmouth’s peer schools had stopped offering AP credit to incoming freshmen. As chair of the Committee on Instruction and a published scholar, even if he were cut from the same cloth as fibbers like Jim Kim, Carol Folt and Jim Wright, Tell would never have knowingly made such transparently false statements. Professional spinners, like the aforementioned triumvirate, recognize the need to cover their tracks; in this case, information on AP crediting practices at Ivy and Little Ivy schools is easily available. It took me only an hour of browsing and a half dozen phone calls to run down the policies at other institutions.

In Tell’s letter to the faculty prior to its meeting, he was more limited in his assertions about peer schools, citing only Amherst, Williams and Brown in support of his proposition:

Tell Letter.jpg

As we have seen, Amherst and Williams do not, in fact, offer any academic credit toward a degree for AP work — though Brown does.

However, at the faculty meeting itself, Tell listed additional schools when he asserted that,

“As I mentioned before, we have data, new data, of what the Ivies are doing, and some of the other colleges with a real commitment to undergraduate education.” [Emphasis added]

He then added comments about schools not previously described: Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Cornell and Yale. These remarks were all incorrect, and also misleading to a faculty that was about to vote on an issue that will significantly affect many future undergrads, and that has put Dartmouth in the national spotlight yet again.

So what happened? Registrar Meredith Braz was certainly involved in pulling together this information. After all, her office administers the recording of credits, and she prepared a redacted sample transcript that was given to the faculty prior to the meeting. Did she give Professor Tell inaccurate information, perhaps prepared by an uninformed subordinate? Or did someone like Carol Folt just advise Tell to wing it based on her own knowledge about other schools, knowing that nobody challenges her in her various assertions — even though plenty of people know that she often does not tell the truth.

I’ve written to Professor Tell to ask him what did he know and when did he know it. And how.

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