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“Phil Thinks We Are All Idiots”

Phil Hanlon12.jpgPhil Hanlon has at least been successful in communicating one institutional message: a disdain for the College’s present faculty. Professors far and wide have come to believe that our President holds the attitude expressed in the above headline (funnily enough, everyone seems to use the same words), and needless to say, such a thought does not contribute to academic productivity.

Phil started off his time in Hanover with a strategy that Carolyn Dever copied; unlike Jim Wright and Jim Freedman, neither Phil nor Carolyn made the rounds of departmental meetings in order to show the flag, listen to the hopes and concerns of faculty, and display knowledge about the scholarship and teaching of various professors. Beyond being courteous, such an activity is a way to amass political capital and establish the contacts that help a leader head off discontent. Imagine a corporate CEO taking charge of a large company and not visiting the various divisions that make up a conglomerate. You can’t? Neither can I.

If such behavior is not natural to Phil — and that could be so, given his legendary awkwardness and discomforture in larger social settings — perhaps he could have held a series of one-on-one meals with the College’s top scholars. As I’ve suggested before, Phil could have invited one star faculty member at a time and proposed that the professor in question invite several colleagues to join them. In this way, members of a cohesive social group could speak comfortably with him about their concerns.

The only effort Phil made was to have a number of dinners with a dozen or so professors, most of whom did not know each other. You don’t need to be a sociologist — or even a math professor — to understand that such a setting does not lead to much more than polite chitchat.

But then Phil is always outward looking. He is most concerned about prestige, about how Dartmouth is perceived in the outside world, rather than by the details of undergraduate education. As such, his pet initiative is cluster hires: bringing in groups of scholars, for whom Dartmouth’s culture of teaching and scholarship is quite foreign, in order that they create hermetic little groups to solve Big Problems. This idea is so good that dozens of other schools are doing the same thing, which, self-evidently, bodes ill for the success of Phil’s effort. But more importantly, in doing so Phil could fracture a faculty that is still committed to teaching, the College’s remaining strength (though a declining one). After all, when the President communicates that he wants to bring in outsiders, whom he sees as the future of the school, the folks who are here can’t help but understand his contempt for them.

The final proof for professors of Phil’s disdain is his lack of any effort to pull average faculty salaries up to the level of our peer institutions. A presentation by Government professor Stephen Brooks at a spring faculty meeting calculated that a $5.4 million increase in the overall salary budget would do the trick: a pittance in the College’s total expenses of $891.4 million in fiscal 2016 — and one that rankles, given the growth in total spending over the last five years, as I noted in May:

Look at the College’s year-on-year total spending increases over the last five years: 2015: + $38.3 million; 2014: +$17.8 million; 2013: +$59.5 million; 2012: +$37.5 million; 2011: +$21.2 million. In 2010 the College’s expenses totaled $717.1 million; in 2015 they were $891.4 million. Of that overall increase of $174.3 million over a five-year period, it is astounding that $5.4 million could not have been found to keep faculty compensation level with competing schools.

If Phil can’t find such a small sum in a sea of cash (and a sea of wasteful spending on members of the non-faculty staff, all of whom seem to have de facto tenure because Dartmouth does not fire people except for the most egregious offenses — not working very much is not one of those), the only explanation is that he just doesn’t care enough about the faculty to make them happy.

The situation has gotten so out of hand that several well meaning faculty members approached Dartblog last year to ask that we do our now-popular Guide to the Stars. Professors assume Phil reads Dartblog — a thin assumption given how detached he is from the daily life of the campus — and they wanted some way for him to understand the exemplary achievements of many of the College’s professors. Good luck.

The end result of this swirling discontent can be found in an answer given in Phil’s recent Campus Study:

Rankin Faculty Dissatisfaction.jpg

If I were on the faculty, I’d be looking around, too. Our professors are underpaid, underappreciated, and many of the best ones could soon be underway. Over to you, Phil, or better still, over to the Trustees, who must at least by now understand that they have made a bad mistake yet again in their choice of our President.

Addendum: Hanlon’s own thin scholarly record — a book and a half-dozen articles all co-authored with several other mathematicians — and his inarticulateness have not escaped the notice of members of the faculty. If Phil were humble, and he does have much to be humble about, he might get away with passing judgment on other scholars, but a lurking arrogance and sense of superiority (maybe he thinks that Michigan has it over Dartmouth) has set teeth on edge. Who is this guy, Dartmouth professors say, to look down on us?

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