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Phil, It’s Time to Make a Decision

Dartmouth Traditional Seal.jpgIt is time for Phil to weigh in on the Tengatenga situation and make an executive decision. We’ve all looked at the Bishop’s public record on homosexuality and that of his diocese in Malawi; we’ve examined his statements to the Dartmouth community and his membership in and relations with liberal Anglican organizations; we’ve reviewed the NAACP’s evolving letter of concern and the comments of various faculty members of the left and the right; and we’ve studied the explanation of the head of the Tucker Search Committee. In addition, this space has weighed in with its own thoughts (though, like le Général de Gaulle, we are neither of the right nor the left, we are above).

So what is Phil to do? First of all, we need to be clear on the standard to be applied here. The head of the Tucker Foundation, the College’s eleemosynary and spiritual organization, should be even more than the College’s “moral spokesperson” — as some observers have written. We should be looking for an individual of flawless character, someone who will function as the conscience of the College. That person’s authority derives not only from his or her learning and eloquence, but also from a past record of superior, even courageous, moral conduct. Does James Tengatenga meet those tests?

Phil Hanlon, as the College’s executive leader, should now make a decision on Tengatenga’s appointment based on all of the evidence that has been put forward. He, more than anyone, has a broad perspective on Dartmouth’s best interests, and, not only that, he has an incentive to look hard at the problem — the success of his presidency depends on him making the right choice in just this kind of situation.

Phil should keep two additional considerations in mind: the controversy is in-house for the moment, but it shows no sign of dying down. In the short term, it could become a national story, and in the long term, the conflict will cast an unseemly taint on any time that Bishop Tengatenga spends in Hanover. Secondly, the more time Phil waits to make a decision either way, the greater the number of people he will anger with the ultimate resolution of the problem.

A clear-eyed, decisive leader would see little choice here and make a decision without hesitation. What will Phil do?

Addendum: While Phil Hanlon has ultimate authority over the Tucker Foundation, he need not exercise it publicly. He or another senior College administrator could privately ask Bishop Tengatenga to withdraw his candidacy; the head of search committee, Professor Irene Kacandes, could announce that the committee has chosen not to continue to extend an offer to the Bishop; or College Spokesman Justin Anderson could simply pronounce that the search has been re-opened, marking the dénouement of the entire episode.


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