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Faculty Meeting: Portrait of Dartmouth College as an Institution in Decline

Thumbnail image for Faculty Meeting Protestors May 22, 2017.jpgIt was hard not feel depressed after the two-hour long faculty meeting yesterday. Weak leadership can wear down even the most optimistic entrepreneur.

The meeting was attended by an unaccustomed group: about 50-60 students (at right) protesting in support of Bruce Duthu, who, they seemed convinced, was done in by people who could only see the man’s race — and not his inexperience and pernicious ideology. They spared the assembled faculty and observers the usual chanting, but they made up for it with finger snaps and catty, unbidden interjections throughout the meeting. Dean of the Faculty Mike Mastanduno kept his cool in an admirable fashion, ignoring the interruptions and waiting out the shallow heckling. Good for him. He ended his term as Dean gracefully.

As for the rest of the meeting, beyond the initial declarations of heartfelt support for Bruce Duthu and the counterpoint from faculty members who tried to get people to comprehend that Duthu’s support for a boycott of Israeli universities was a morally poisonous stance, the meeting was a litany of examples of how little the College has invested in its educational mission over the past two decades.

Too start off, Phil Hanlon took pains — after trumpeting “Dartmouth’s rising academic reputation” and the “amazing admissions outcomes” — to emphasize that Bruce Duthu has wide support among the faculty. Although he never harkened back to the 60’s and used the term “outside agitator,” that bogeyman was his clear implication. Duthu, at least in Phil’s mind, was the victim of the press and other outsiders; somehow the fact escaped his notice that the issue blew up only when Economics Professors Alan Gustman circulated his powerful letter of protest.

Religion Professor Susan Ackerman ‘80 (the same class as Duthu), pronounced to strong applause that, “This is the Dean of the Faculty, not the Dean of the Alumni.” She clearly was on-message: only those awful outsiders opposed Duthu, not the faculty.

Professor followed on professor with excoriations of “small groups of bloggers” (I wonder who?), the usual recitation of received death threats and rape threats (though none are ever reported, of course, to the authorities), “pressure and bullying coming from the outside,” and the mention of “a few wackos out there.”

Professor Sergei Kan, whose appointment bestrides the fields of Anthropology, Native American Studies, Jewish Studies and Russian Studies, attempted a retort, stating that Duthu’s support of BDS positions was “a big issue on campus” among many students and faculty, in addition to alumni, but he was a lonely voice against a chorus that wanted to blame only “outsiders.”

Dean Mastanduno closed the discussion about the Dean of the Faculty by concluding that l’affaire Duthu had “not been a good moment for Dartmouth.” It seems now that the ball will the thrown back to the same search committee that chose Duthu.

However later in the meeting, a suggestion from the floor led to a motion urging Duthu to reconsider his refusal of the Deanship. Because the motion had come without the requisite two weeks notice, it had to pass with a 75% super-majority, which it did in spades. The vote in favor was unanimous, but by my rough count at least a third or more of the faculty members in attendance did not vote. There was no tally of abstentions.

Mastanduno went on to talk about the capital campaign. The effort is focusing on 160 core proposals, which he said have met with an “unenthusiastic” response from the faculty chairs. (Methinks that anyone who has 160 priorities has no real priorities at all). The target for the capital campaign will be announced in September (the figure of $2.5-3.0 billion has been bouncing around for many months), but the formal launch will be in April/May of 2018, shortly before Phil’s five-year anniversary in Hanover. Mastanduno stated that the administration’s goal now was to generate enthusiasm for the campaign both on campus (“internally) and among alumni and other donors (“externally”) — an excitement that he did not feel existed on the campus “yet.” Good luck.

The rest of the meeting described challenges facing the College due to long-deferred actions that were now urgent. Mastanduno mentioned “severe space constraints” due to the fact, among others, that the Gilman/Dana renovation had been put off. In his witty way, he said that “a looming crisis has become a crisis.”

As a prelude to Government Professor Stephen Brooks remarks, Mastanduno mentioned the need to have the College be competitive in compensation “at every rank” — a state of affairs that was not the case today.

Brooks took over, and in his direct style noted how the College had been falling behind its peers compensation-wise in the U.S. News Top 20:

Faculty Salaries 2000-2016.jpg

However, he was happy to report that an addition to the raise pool of $1.4 million each year for the next four years was in the works, supplementary raises that had the potential to restore the Dartmouth faculty to parity with peer U.S. News Top 20 schools (no mention of the Ivy League).

Brooks then moved on to faculty research stipends: currently $5,000/year for professors in endowed chairs, and $3,000 for other faculty members. Amazingly these amounts have not changed since 1995 — a period of time that saw an inflation rate of 62.69%. Fortunately, he said, Provost Dever was on the case, and an increase in faculty research allowances was an item in the capital campaign. He stated that the impact of increased budgets would be “immense.”

He concluded by announcing that efforts would soon be made to streamline procurement, support faculty telecom costs with a $50 allowance, improve faculty parking and expand computing support.

All in all, it was hard to escape the omnipresent sense that the College is cash-strapped, and that the capital campaign is needed to finance new investments and other improvements. The tone of the meeting made one painfully aware of two decades of poor leadership: even though on an endowment/student basis, we are twice as wealthy as Brown, Columbia, Penn and Cornell, we don’t have enough buildings, many are in urgent need of renovation, and the faculty is underpaid and does not have competitive funding for research. Oh, joy.

Let’s burst into song: Where does all the money go? Long time passing. Gone to administrators every million. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn.

Addendum: In addition to the communication to the campus that Phil disseminated yesterday morning, he added a few lines to the e-mail that he sent to alumni:

However, as some of you may know, Bruce’s appointment has been met with significant opposition, particularly from external audiences… [Emphasis added]

An alumnus comments:

Hanlon’s statement that the opposition to Duthu came from “external audiences” is disingenuous. The most significant and public opposition to Duthu’s appointment came from Prof. Gustman, a senior, highly respected member of the faculty. Though we don’t know how many faculty agreed with Gustman’s stance, it’s likely that Gustman would not have spoken out so frankly if he did not feel that he had the support of many members of the faculty.

When Hanlon uses the term “external,” I think he is referring to you and Dartblog. He forgot that you are an alumnus and that there are thousands of alumni who agree with you on issues like this one. I guess Hanlon thinks alumni are an “external audience,” right up until it’s time for him to ask them to donate money to the College.

As does another:

Hanlon only gets worse. Blaming the Duthu fiasco on “external audiences” is a thinly veiled way of making Jewish alumni, students and faculty the villains in the eyes of the Duthu’s supporters. Instead of taking responsibility for his own incompetence, he’s blaming the Jews.

Whoever is doing his writing should be fired — maybe Duthu wrote the letter for him. Do Hanlon and Dever not understand that code words and phrases like “Israeli state, state of Israel, external audiences” all have incredibly negative connotations?

Instead of reinstituting quotas maybe Hanlon is attempting to keep Jewish enrollment down by appointing people like Duthu and inciting ill will towards the Jewish Community.

Hanlon hates bad publicity but his incompetence will keep it coming. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ADL had a comment about Hanlon’s letter.

Thanks for defending the true ideals of Dartmouth.

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