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Steve Jobs: The Parable of the Stones

I continue to hear concerns about Dartblog’s negativity. How to respond? The answer, I think, comes in digestible form from an anecdote that Steve Jobs used to recount:

In my own companies, we relentlessly focus on improving the day-to-day experience of our customers. Occasionally we have a good idea that marks a significant step forward — a new product or a smart way of selling what we have — but most of the time we try hard to solve the problems that become apparent to us through observation and listening to the people who use the goods and services that we provide. We like people who complain. They teach us a great deal. (Praise is nice, too, but much less valuable.)

The College has lost sight of that priority since at least the start of the Jim Wright era in the mid-1990’s (recall that Wright really ran the Freedman administration in its final years due to Jim Freedman’s illness). Think of the many weaknesses large and small in Hanover that we still talk about to this day: the unrealized potential of sophomore summer; the diffuseness of most undergraduates’ education; the loss of dorm identities and the poor condition of many dorms; the disfunctionality of the new six-week Xmas break; and, well, a great many of the things that Dartblog regularly details: the excessive cost and bloat throughout the support staff and the poor quality work done by so many of its members.

An administration that cared about making Dartmouth great would listen to all of the College’s critics and do what is needed to improve the educational experience of students and faculty (I recently noted problem areas like “the second highest tuition in the Ivies; no money to provide need-blind admissions for international students; insufficient funds for kosher dining”).

Can you think of anything large or small like this that has been done in the last couple of decades? Any pleasing bit of progress? Not me. The College has 23 people working on PR — the puffery that tries to convince people that all is well. How about firing just one of them in order to fund kosher dining?

This space will continue to work to bring to the attention of the administration those ways that Dartmouth can be a better school. One day there will be a team in Parkhurst that will listen to and learn from all of the College’s sincere critics.

Addendum: Steve’s parable is particularly appropriate to writing. Christopher Hitchens and Ronald Reagan could produce clean first drafts; for the rest of us, writing is just the first step in a long, attention-demanding editing process.

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