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Hanlon’s GrossDartmouth Initiative (2/2)

When it first became clear that the Hanlon administration was determined to increase the size of the undergraduate student body (and build new dorms around the Bema), I wrote a post on June 7 detailing the arguments against the planned expansion:

What is Phil’s (and Mike’s [erstwhile Dean of the Faculty Mastanduno]) goal in adding a few hundred students to each class? It’s not hard to discern: they want to make more cluster hires: groups of outside researchers focused on solving the world’s big problems in order to up the College’s prestige (undergraduate students be damned). Of course, the problem is — and this is always a problem for an administration that chooses not to cut an ounce of bureaucratic fat (and that has a dead-in-the-water capital campaign) — how to pay for these new folks?

For Phil the answer is easy: extra students means extra tuition income. That’s the strategy he adopted at Michigan in the face of the fallout from 2008-2009 financial crisis. He told me so himself when I met with him a few months after he had arrived in Hanover. I commented that in the press he had been depicted as a determined cost-cutter; “No, no,” he said, “I balanced the budget by increasing the size of the student body.”

Oh, great. More students in Hanover — but no additional athletes — means a great deal more tuition income (remember that over half of our students pay full boat) at little extra cost, especially if you shoehorn students into bigger classes and you don’t increase the size of other facilities like the HOP or the gym or the dorms. (Remember how those 51 Fahey doubles became triples, and how additional people will be jammed into the re-built Morton Hall. Expect a lot more of the same.) That’s more money for researchers and research, even though students receive a diluted experience.

How disingenuous that the administration’s recent press release includes the following assertion:

The task force’s charge includes the requirement that any potential growth plan must at least break even financially.

In reality, the whole point of the extra students is to take in more money. If 56% of the College’s current students pay full fare (including financial-aid-needy athletes), one can expect that 60%-70% the planned additional students will pay full tuition, room and board. That’s an extra $8-20 million each year in income — depending on whether the administration increases the number of students in Hanover by 10% or 25%.

Will that money go to upgrading decrepit dorms, raising the salaries of underpaid faculty, or renovating academic buildings that have long needed refurbishment? You have doubts, too, right?

But, back to a debate about size. How is little Tuck doing? It has a high ranking among business schools and a uniquely loyal alumni group. The Yale Law School, my other alma mater, is one of the smallest of the major law schools, yet it is perennially the highest ranked. In fact, three of the four top-ranked law schools are the smallest ones (Yale, Stanford and Chicago). What does that tell you? Maybe small size is everything?

The only other Ivy that comes close to Dartmouth in alumni loyalty is Princeton — note that the Tigers happen to be the smallest school in the Ivies after the College.

In the final analysis, what we are seeing here is further evidence that Phil Hanlon has little imagination or vision. He cannot see beyond copying at Dartmouth exactly what other prestigious research universities already do. Flattery maybe high praise, but belated imitation is no more than following boringly after what your competitors have achieved long before you. Dartmouth should be Dartmouth; it can’t be Michigan (and it should not want to be).

The administration should concentrate on making Dartmouth better before it thinks of making the College bigger. But maybe that’s too difficult for Phil: doing so would take more work than just opening the floodgates.

Addendum: A dedicated reader writes in:

Increase the student body by as much as 25%? What a terrible idea - Phil Hanlon seems intent on dismantling everything that makes the College unique. And there are few things I dislike more than cloaking what are essentially money-grubbing schemes in anodyne phrases like “better the world” and “amplify our impact on the world.” Ugh.

Addendum: A ‘12 writes in:

Similarly dismayed upon reading last week’s post on the idea of increasing class sizes. I too want to take issue with the following sentence:

“The small size makes it more challenging for the College to enroll a new class that represents interests in a variety of academic disciplines outside the classroom and from diverse backgrounds.”

I thought the committee was on a fact-finding mission and didn’t have conclusions yet? This sentence sure sounds like a pre-baked rationale for increasing class size. Will the task force explore the “opportunities and challenges” of a smaller class size? Maybe facts will point to that being a better way to make the world a better place (what’s our telos after all?). By the way, what are “academic interests” that are “outside the classroom”? Whatever they are, is gathering a variety of them the goal outcome of enrolling a new class? What about in-classroom academic interests?

My questions lead the witness but they bear asking. The people who run the College should be held to account for their words. Words matter. Using ill-constructed arguments (with grammatically-challenged sentences) to mask the meaning of words is a problem. The false rationale presented by the administration for this action (even before it will be inevitably pursued) is unbecoming of Dartmouth, and it wouldn’t pass muster in a Writing 5 class. Shame on the administration. I call on the College’s professors to use their considerable political power to push back on the administration’s “reforms” that harm the College and its students.

Thank you for all you do, Joe, to shine a spotlight on the administration’s sophistry, incompetence, and even laziness in doing whatever it is they’re doing to the College.

Addendum: A ‘20 writes in:

I am a ‘20 and currently still on a “housing waitlist.” I’m sorry, but Phil Hanlon trying to increase Dartmouth’s student body is like the captain of the Titanic planning his next voyage. The administration should first prove it can house its current student body before it further increases its burden. Ideological objections aside, we are talking about an operational nightmare for an inept operator.

Addendum: As does an ‘18:

Been enjoying your coverage (or perhaps cringing at, but only the subject matter) of the student body increase proposals. I’d note that the anonymous ‘20 you quote might want to remember that the R.M.S. Titanic’s captain, a man named Edward Smith who had quite an impressive beard, had the courage and good grace to go down with the ship. I wonder if Hanlon would do so.

Aside from that, I take no pleasure in witnessing Hanlon’s escapades in this. I suppose he is at least trying to do something, but it’s quickly making me wish he’d go back to doing nothing. I don’t understand how we can wish to add students when we lack the resources for the ones we already have. Dining halls are cramped, the library doesn’t have enough seats for exam times, it’s not infrequent to have to wait days for books since they’re already out, the gym is often quite full, and housing, of course, is on shorter rations than a Soviet bread line. (I was booted from my initial housing already and thrown into an entirely different cluster far away from the main campus.) If it’s true that the Bema would play host to new dorms, I think we should mourn that, too: it’s a beautiful spot of seclusion and nature within our campus and its destruction would be a tragedy.

I, for one, never would have come to a larger Dartmouth. I came because I wanted a smaller college experience, passing up family traditions at Harvard on one side and Brown on the other in favor of a more rural, smaller, and tight-knit community. But it seems that Big Research University, Inc., is coming to Hanover no matter what we do. I wonder if the energy exists within the alumni and the studentry to resist this at all, particularly after so many other awful policy initiatives. And would it matter if we tried?

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