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Phil Loses a Possible Friend

The current issue of the Review contains another fine interview, this one with Professor Emeritus of Classics Edward Bradley. The piece ends with a vignette that Bradley offered sua sponte about his only interaction with Phil Hanlon:

When Hanlon first came here and organized faculty office hours, I went to either the first or second office hours he had. So I thought naively that I’d just go over there and he’d be available. Well he had about an hour allotted, and so I signed up for my time slot and waited. And eventually Hanlon came out of his office, and ushered me in.

Edward Bradley.jpgI had written to him before going about questions of sexual assault, and I wrote to him that I had been here for a long time and had some perspective on this and that I had some ideas that I wanted to discuss with him. So, I went into the office, introduced myself, and he said, “What do you have on your mind?”

And I said, “Well I wrote to you about sexual assault…” then he cut me off and lectured me for for ten minutes. He didn’t allow me one word, didn’t ask me why I’d come or what my thoughts were. At the end of ten minutes, he got up and he said, “By the way, what department are you in?” and I told him. And that was it.

Now if a student comes to me and says: “May I see you? I have something I’d like to talk with you about,” I wish to think I would respond, “Well, Johnny, what do you have in mind?” But it didn’t happen.

I think he is a person who is a financial manager, but he has really no thorough vision of what a liberal arts institution should be. I think he has some ideas, but they are really quite superficial. So Carolyn Dever is the one who is working these things out for him, and she is gunning for a Presidential position [at another university], so she’s speaking the jargon and such. Her official communications are highly jargonistic.

But, they are acting pretty much to the exclusion of a lot of the core curriculum of the institution, particularly the humanities. I don’t think they really understand what the humanities are about. I really don’t.

First off, the description of this failed meeting recalls almost to the letter an anecdote about a similar meeting that we reported on between Jim Kim and another emeritus professor — except that in the latter situation, Kim had asked to meet with the faculty member. In both meetings, our President, who was ostensibly supposed to do the listening, did all the talking, with unhappy results

But step back for a moment. One would think that Phil and Jim would have learned the first lesson of managerial psychology: Let ‘em talk. When people come to see a leader, they self-evidently have a head full of ideas and probably a head of steam up, too. Let ‘em talk. And in these cases, Phil and Jim were dealing with professors, people whose careers involve a lot of talking. Let ‘em talk.

The operative principle is that the complainant needs to vent and would appreciate being attentively listened to by a person of power. Once the initial exposé has been completed, managers must show in detail that they have fully understood the argument in question. They then can engage in some give and take in order to determine whether the argument that they have heard has any merit.

Phil could not have behaved more poorly. By gassing on, he learned nothing from Edward Bradley, a man of considerable intellectual heft, a person who might have taught him something. And he offended the man by monopolizing the conversation (as mentioned above, never do this with a professor).

What was Phil’s goal here? To wow someone with his mastery of the subject raised? To avoid seeming dense by skirting conversational give-and-take? Whatever his ambition, the result was an own goal, one that could have been easily avoided.

How can a person rise to be the President of Dartmouth College without possessing the most rudimentary skills of human interaction?

Addendum: Phil’s clueless query of Edward Bradley as to what department he was in recalls my own first interaction with our President in the fall of 2013. At the start of our conversation in his office, one that I had requested, Phil asked me if I was an alumnus. Given that our meeting had been scheduled weeks before, one would think he would have been briefed at least summarily by his staff as to my identity and the nature of my involvement with the College — especially given that I had been in the top 2% of donors to the capital campaign. Needless to say, Phil said that he knew nothing about Dartblog at the time. Very sloppy preparation, indeed.

Addendum: A student writes in:

I’m so saddened that Phil would treat Ed Bradley in that way. Honestly, I’m quite surprised as well. Phil is a weak and hapless leader, but I would never expect him to cut off and lecture a faculty member. He certainly didn’t defend himself or Dartmouth during the Freedom Budget incident. Bradley’s been here since before Phil was a student and was one of the best professors that I’ve had. (He still teaches 2-3 Latin courses a year.) He has a true understanding of the character of this institution and the liberal arts, as well. Someone like him, who never published the most papers, but remains beloved by students to this day, couldn’t survive in Phil and Carolyn’s Dartmouth University.


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