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D Blocks Dartmouth U. Letter

I received the below note on Friday:

Dear Joe,

As you may be aware, the Dartmouth published an op-ed on Monday, in which the writer voiced support for renaming the College as Dartmouth “University.” I wrote a response that the D’s editors have refused to print, on the grounds that it is nearly twice the length of the 250-word limit. I am wondering if you would graciously consider posting this on Dartblog? This letter drew from a lengthy response I sent to the Dartmouth Strategic Planning folks about their reports on the College’s future.

I appreciate your time and attention; I wish you a good weekend.

Brian C. Chao ‘09

Brian’s Letter to the Editor of The D:

I write in response to Kamiar Coffey’s op-ed published on Monday, May 6 (“A Fitting Title”). The logic used by the Dartmouth Strategic Planning reports and supported by Coffey is that changing the name of the institution to Dartmouth “University” would create a better brand for international publicity and recruitment.

This step equates branding with reputation, which, while perhaps closely related in other fields, is simply not the case in higher education. A name change would not solve the basic problem of lack of name recognition and presence. Just because the institution goes from Dartmouth “College” to Dartmouth “University” does not mean that we will establish, as the strategic planning reports state, a “more salient and prominent global presence”?

One need only look at the colleges in the United States that have changed their names this way in recent years and see where they have gotten in terms of reputation, presence, and recognition - nowhere.

Alternatively, one may look at such examples as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Imperial College London, and King’s College London to see that a name and a reputation can be and are different. The former can be changed easily; the latter must be earned through means harder than swapping names.

If Dartmouth wants to bolster its standing in the world (and I wholeheartedly support this end goal), there are a number of other things it could do (not all of which I actually support), to wit: decidedly shifting emphasis from undergraduate teaching to graduate research, putting particular emphasis on the sciences (thus playing to the world university ranking systems’ prejudices), fielding more non-American alumni who are prominent in their respective home countries, and attracting more faculty who are household names not only within academia, but also in society writ large. These changes, not a simplistic change of name, would be more effective and long-lasting than turning ourselves into Dartmouth “University.”

The real problem, I feel, is how we go about furthering, emphasizing, and proselytizing what it is that makes Dartmouth Dartmouth. Outside the United States, the concept of a liberal arts college, with its personal attention and intimacy and close student-faculty interaction, is foreign. However, my personal experiences in East Asia reveal a growing disgust with the “force-feeding” (填鴨式) educational style of rote memorization in those cultures. More and more parents are intrigued by the possibility that their children might go to school and actually be asked to think critically and creatively. This is the lifelong, intangible value-added of a liberal arts curriculum and this is what Dartmouth College says it does as well as, if not better than, anyone else.

Let’s find new, more powerful ways of saying so.

It is rather striking that no rejoinders have yet appeared in The D to Kamiar Coffey’s column supporting the proposed name change. I was going to write in to the paper myself and suggest that the Trustees act with greater boldness and change the College’s name to Dartmouth Super University or even DartmouthIsBetterThanHarvard University so that our marketing message comes across more clearly — but I fear that The D would not take my ideas seriously.

Addendum: The Times had a story on Sunday regarding the influx of Asian students to New York City private schools, as they seek a broader, more creative education.

Addendum: Meanwhile, in Great Britain, a number of institutions of higher learning are revamping their undergraduate programs:

But anyone who wanted to study both the arts and the sciences, or to take courses across a range of disciplines, had to leave the country, until now. This past autumn, King’s College London and University College London both admitted their first cohort of undergraduates to new programs in the liberal arts. The University of Exeter is set to begin offering a similar program next autumn. So are the University of Birmingham and the University of Kent in Canterbury, whose courses will each take four years to complete, making them even more like a U.S. undergraduate degree.

But not just any liberal arts:

Dr. Rosen [of King’s College London] said his colleagues’ familiarity with the American system “gives us the opportunity to correct some of the flaws that are endemic in the U.S.”

The liberal arts in the United States, he said, “got drunk on their own eccentricity.”

“When I was at Bowdoin it seemed like the departments competed to offer the most narrow, irrelevant courses,” he said. “This gives us a chance to dial it back to fundamentals.”


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