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Moving Dartmouth Forward: The D-Plan

The above headline was the title of the administration’s open forum, but the true topic of the day was Phil’s desire to balance out enrollments in each term, so that continuous dorm living would again be possible. You can watch if you wish, but do so only if you want to see unfocused, rambling remarks from an audience that had been left unclear about the goal of the proceedings:

A great many comments were made about the virtues/disadvantages of the quarter system and the summer term, and so on, but those topics are not up for discussion as Phil looks at reshaping College life. However, a number of points should be made about the main topic of balancing enrollments.

Longtime readers know that continuous dorm living has been a theme at this site for years: I first wrote about the subject in The D in 2004 (here is the article; regrettably the piece does not come up on The D’s klunky website). Phil’s goal here is an admirable one. However, not only should dorm continuity be restored, but a return to mixed-class dorms over all four years — and the abolition of freshmen-only dorms — should be a priority, too. The move away from mixed dorms took place in the mid-1990’s, despite the fact that 65% of students opposed the change for many reasons.

To their credit, many speakers at the forum noted that the gutting of community life in the dorms (both by ending mixed dorms and dorm continuity) has led to the increased importance of the Greek system — as lovely an example of unintended consequences as there is to be found in the land (one that was utterly predictable at the time). As we noted yesterday, the Greek system has never had a higher percentage of students in it than today (fraternity enrollment is up 23.3% in the last decade, and sorority enrollment is up 37.4%), despite endless efforts by successive administrations to develop “social alternatives.”

Regrettably, two vital ideas for balancing term enrollments were not evoked in the discussion on Monday:

● For many years after the implementation of the D-Plan, fraternity rush took place in the winter term. As a result of this schedule, many brothers stayed on campus at a time when they might not have been present. Re-scheduling rush for the winter would go a long way towards balancing enrollments.
● As we have suggested in the past, a requirement for graduation should be participation in a Dartmouth-faculty-led off-campus program. By making an LSA/FSP mandatory, we would provide our students with outstanding, small-group education in the classroom; we’d give them experiential learning outside the classroom; and we could get them out of Hanover during the terms when we would prefer that they not be in town. Student participation in the College’s off-campus programs has been declining in recent years as undergraduates take courses overseas with cheaper schools (Portland State, I’m thinking of you). With added participation from the faculty, we could re-build this traditional Dartmouth strength.

How to implement these changes? Here’s a thought. Offer the frats the option of having kegs and taps back in the houses (there are good reasons for allowing this anyways) in exchange for accepting winter rush; and tell the faculty that if they ramp up their foreign program participation, they’ll get priority parking in the center of campus (there are excellent reasons for this, too).

Addendum: For at least a decade or two after the implementation of the D-Plan in 1972, on-campus enrollments remained between 3200-3400 each term, and there was no housing crunch. And remember, this was before the construction of the East Wheelock Cluster, the Maynard Street dorms and the Fahey dorm on Tuck Mall.

Then things started to go south. Why? Someone should analyze the changes. Perhaps the faculty could help the College’s army of administrators with their social science skills. The Office of Institutional Research has detailed enrollment records going back many years. As the number of students on campus climbed from the previously manageable level to today’s 4,000+ figure (virtually everyone), a campus historian will be able to note inflection points as policy changes drove attendance to where it is today.

Addendum: The D and the Valley News reported on the meeting.

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