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The Administrative Pendulum

In their 2002 book, The Undiscipinables (available at Rauner), authors Sandra Gregg, Brian Reilly and James Tatum quote President Ernest Martin Hopkins regarding the origins of the senior fellowship program; Hopkins then goes on to talk about his overarching philosophy of education and its administration, too:

Hopkins Laws and Regulations.jpg

I think this is still another step towards untying somebody’s apron strings from around the waist of the Dartmouth undergraduate and turning him loose on his own sense of responsibility. We have had more laws and regulations and rules than were necessary to run a principality; and for 13 years now I have spent a large part of my time in knocking these down and getting rid of them… so far as my educational interest lies, my whole objective is to get the College recognized as a place where men are expected to stand on their own feet and, if they cannot do this, to take responsibility for falling down. … I prize this particular project because it is at least an eloquent gesture.

How bracing, in an era of safe spaces, special snowflakes and professional counseling for each and every student who feels challenged by social and work pressures, that a President can talk openly about responsibility, the educational benefits of failure, and the goal of having the College stand for specific values.

What if we could today have a President who unashamedly articulated the same themes? The world might sit up and take notice. Such language would be so distinctive that we wouldn’t need a slick slogan to point out that It’s Different at Dartmouth, as Jean Kemeny, wife of President John Kemeny (1970-1981) simply entitled her 1979 autobiography.

Furthermore, Hopkins offers us the model of a reforming President, one ready to hack away at the accumulated dross of the past with the goal of freeing up the College and its students so that they may achieve academic distinction. If Hopkins thinks that the Dartmouth of his day had “more laws and regulations and rules than were necessary to run a principality,” he would find today’s College filled with enough guidelines to administer a government agency. Is it too much to hope that Hopkins’ words inspire our next President (the current one seems incapable of inspiration).

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

your post today inspired me to comment on something that has been a source of regret for some time. from the time I was an undergraduate (the stone age, circa 1965), I felt in my gut that dartmouth’s greatness stemmed directly from its distinctiveness—its location, its traditions (and the emphasis on them), its concentration on undergraduate liberal arts education, and the collegiality between students and faculty.

but over the decades, it was clear that many who came to hanover wanted to “transform” this college, one out of step with the postmodern zeitgeist, to take something singular and make it like every other elite bastion of academia. the penny dropped when james o. freedman lamented the fact that too many prospective students who applied to both dartmouth and H-Y-Pr were choosing the others. my immediate reaction was twofold: any high-school senior who applied to both dartmouth and harvard was an extremely confused puppy; and secondly, do we really want to have cadres of 18-year-olds dictate who and what we are?

we are (or were) who we are. we never tried to be like any other, but rather were happy in our own skin, so to speak. that’s not exactly consistent with diversity and inclusion, but so be it. those two values are a recipe for entropy and homogenization, and inevitably end up driving the institution to the level of insane asylum we see in higher education today.

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