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The Law of Unintended Consequences

A College insider from a class in the late ‘80’s writes in with a review of the administration’s consistently wrong-headed policy towards the fraternities over the last three decades:

Silly me, when I first saw the headline that Hanlon was taking on “extreme behavior” at Dartmouth, I thought he was talking about the activists who occupied his office!

LUC.jpgIt all, of course, comes back to the decades of mismanagement by the administration and Trustees. In a nutshell, the story is this: since Freedman, the administration has waged war on the fraternities, and tried to abolish them. Wright doubled-down when he first came in via the Student Life Initiative, whose expressed intent was to re-engineer the Greek system. The real reason that the administration wanted to outlaw them is that they aren’t PC (for example, for many years the fraternities supported the Indian symbol and the traditional alma mater). The administration used the phony rubric of physical facilities, etc., to try to squeeze them financially, and get them to surrender to the College.

The result is that they basically turned the fraternities into outlaws, and cultivated hostility and distrust between the fraternities and decades of administrators. This approach basically drove the fraternities underground. While there certainly were excesses in my day, my impression is that the fraternities are much worse and more extreme today. I know with complete certainty that drinking is more excessive — to put the matter simply, when I was a student we played beer pong with one beer per player. Today the norm is five beers per player and often more. This will sound odd, but in my day the point of the game was to socialize and have fun while drinking beer. Today, it is to simply get drunk.

At the same time, the central planners destroyed the dorms as a viable competitor to the fraternities in a variety of ways, mainly by moving students around and destroying dorm continuity. So kids were living in different dorms every year with a different set of friends. When I was there, my dorm was a co-equal part of my community with my fraternity.

This was reinforced by Dartmouth’s unique schedule, where kids frequently spend quarters away from Hanover, either in foreign study programs or doing something else. So it is not infrequent to not see friends for several quarters, so you need a home away from home. The Greek system provides that.

Rather than hostility to the Greeks based on PC concerns — but dishonestly represented as something else — which bred corresponding distrust and outlawry, the College administration could have sought decades ago a more productive collaborative process with the Greeks that recognized that they play a uniquely valuable role in providing continuity at Dartmouth. They could have also cultivated the dorms as a competitor — as they were during the time I was in Hanover.

Instead of thinking about what students want and need and building up from there, the administration has for decades adopted a top-down central planning strategy of trying to coerce into existence the communities that the administration wants. So, for example, there used to be no freshman dorms. That was changed several years ago. Why? I think for social engineering purposes — the administration thought that the upperclassmen were bad influences on the freshman, and so were interfering with the Freedmanite goal of engineering the “new Dartmouth man/woman.” Instead, this policy simply destroyed dorm continuity over time and increased demand for the fraternities.

A remarkably failed experiment in social engineering. And now the College appears set to try to impose new central planning and social engineering to try to rectify the sins of prior generations.

The Trustees, of course, were a complete joke this whole time. Completely out of touch with any of this, they were unwilling to look through the smokescreen put up by the administrators that all was sweetness and light. A complete and utter failure of leadership across the board.

Addendum: An older alumnus is equally pessimistic:

President Hanlon seems to think his mission is to reform the mass culture of 17-21-year-olds. Lots of luck with that.

It makes one wonder whether the old single sex approach to higher education didn’t have a sound basis.

Hanlon wants to serve as the spiritual leader of a moral reform movement to change students’ social lives. Nothing about seeing that there is sufficient rigor to the educational experience that students aren’t left with endless free time for partying.

Having validated the complaints of the protestors, he is now stuck with this role. It starts to look like yet another failed presidency in the making.


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