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Reality and Good PR/Bad PR

A reader writes in with a query:

Aren’t you contradicting yourself when you excoriate Folt’s insistence on PR above all, and then run down Hanlon’s attempt at being honest about the problems that Dartmouth has?

A good question to be sure. My concern in both cases is about the relationship of PR to on-the-ground reality. Carol Folt, it seems to me, acted as if positive PR were her main aim; students’ experience at the College was less important than outward appearances.

I fleshed out this idea in a post entitled Carol Folt: All is PR, but the best illustration of Folt’s attitude is the inadvertent admission by the College’s website designer that he had made no substantive changes to the College’s site, but he put up a new design nonetheless because the Folt administration wanted to be able to trumpet progress. Here is the IP’s depiction of events:


In contrast, here is how the website designer himself described in an interview what had occurred:


Jim Kim played the same game. For example, he rushed the renovation of the Hanover Inn so that it would be ready for Commencement. Crews worked around the clock, and the College jousted aggressively with the Town of Hanover in order to finish the project — all so that Kim could boast about the project to the many visitors who descend on Hanover in June. He felt that he needed a marquee achievement, and he was willing to waste tens of millions of dollars to get it. As for the deeper, longterm interests of Dartmouth College, well, Kim was not very concerned by that question.

Where does that leave Phil Hanlon? As we have documented over and over again, Phil has been endlessly energetic in trumpeting the College’s efforts to combat sexual assault. No story in the national media about higher education’s fight against assault is complete without a mention of Dartmouth — and preferably a picture of the College and a quote from Phil about how sexual violence is hijacking Dartmouth’s potential.

What purposes are achieved by this ostentatious self-flagellation? Does Dartmouth have a greater problem in this area than other schools? Certainly we have never had an incident similar to the one that occurred at Yale, where fraternity brothers loudly chanted that a woman’s protestations and lack of consent could happily be ignored. The College’s PR arm has never put out any statistics comparing Dartmouth to her sister schools, nor have the other Ivy schools (whose leaders seem quite happy to let Phil walk point week after week).

We must distinguish between Phil’s anti-assault programs, committees, support offices and student training efforts on the one hand, and his loud public efforts to tell the world what his administration is doing on the other. Just what institutional goal is served by forevermore associating the College with rape in the public mind?

Fight the good fight, Phil, but are you being accurate in having the world believe that student life is more dangerous at Dartmouth than at other schools? Are you making students safer in Hanover by doing so? And are you improving the College’s standing in the world by your cringing protestations of guilt? As far as I see things, no, no, and no.

Addendum: An alert reader writes in:

Proof of Dartmouth’s PR disaster: At a “Junior Mother’s lunch” at my son’s high school this week, a FLORIDA STATE alum asked me about Dartmouth’s “rape problem”!!!


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