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No Back and Forth For Phil

In my post on October 24th, Faculty Derides Enrollment Increase, I transcribed the critiques of Phil Hanlon’s plans to expand the student body expressed by Art History Professor Mary Coffey and Government Professor Stephen Brooks at last Monday’s faculty meeting. Both professors made solid arguments. Coffey focused on the College’s strategic need to continue emphasizing undergraduate education, and Brooks pointed to the Hanlon administration’s heretofore inability to fix problems, which bodes ill for taking on a multi-faceted initiative like infrastructure-stretching enrollment growth.

Coffey’s and Brooks’ comments were addressed directly to Phil Hanlon, who had opened the faculty meeting with his Presidential Report. However, in my post I failed to note Phil’s responses, or lack thereof, to the professors’ words.

A little background on faculty meetings: they exist so that issues related to the College and the faculty’s shared governance of the institution may be debated viva voce. By putting people in the same room, an intellectual exchange is possible; the administration can respond to faculty concerns immediately.

Here is how Phil responded to Mary Coffey:

So you’ve exactly made the argument for why we need to involve the task force to look at all the, you know, what are all the things we need to consider if we are going to go this way… That’s exactly their job.

And to Stephen Brooks:

Just as a factual error. Cost is not even anywhere in the charge of this task force. So, just a factual matter… Anything else?… OK… Next item…

I can tell you that the faculty is now more abuzz regarding Phil’s inability to engage with either professor than with the contents of their remarks (which seem to have wide support). At the recent Presidential summit, our President was able to talk in detail about expanding the College; he seems set on the idea. Yet he could not engage in any kind of give and take in response to Coffey and Brooks. In such situations generally, he seems befuddled, and one is left to question his thoughtfulness and ability to think on his feet.

In a similar vein, my wife and I had a meeting with Phil a few months after his arrival in Hanover. He began by asking if I was an alumnus (our President often seems to do little preparation for meetings), and then he followed up with his usual question of three things that the College does well and three weaknesses (he posed the identical question to me at a four-person lunch that I had with him about six months later).

Later in the discussion, I laid out how an analysis of Dartmouth’s and Brown’s respective financial accounts indicated that we were overspending in relative terms by well over $200 million per year. I showed him a chart indicating that our per-student and total outlays were even more egregious compared to schools like Tufts, Brandeis and Boston College.

His response? “Joe, I’m going to raise a lot of money for this school.” And that was it. No explanation of our priorities. No attempt to describe structural differences in spending. No evidence of thought and analysis. Nothing at all.

Well into the fifth year of Phil Hanlon’s presidency, I have to ask just what the man has going for him. I wrote a review of Phil’s abilities on June 8, Four Years: We’ve Had Our Phil, but in it I did not include any comment on Phil’s basic intelligence. At this point in time, the question must be raised: Does the emperor have no clothes?

Addendum: Even though Phil said very little at the faculty meeting, he said enough to contradict himself. In his first “response” to Mary Coffey he said the task force would look at “all the things we need to consider,” but then in his response to Stephen Brooks he noted that the task force wouldn’t look at costs (whatever that means — does it merely mean that it will not attach specific dollar figures to any items it identifies will be needed?). Exactly what is the task force’s charge? That’s not clear. It seems like the group is being asked, “What would it take to do this?” and not the key question, “Is this a good idea?”

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