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Alternatives to Dormzilla

As we have reported previously, President Hanlon has justified the planned construction of the now-cancelled 750-bed monster dorm complex in College Park not as a place to house additional students (even though the dorm would have increased the number of undergraduate beds by, uh, 22.3% — wink, wink), but rather as “swing space” that could have been used to house undergraduates while older dorms were being (finally, after all these years) renovated.

Let’s take Phil at his word just this once (he doesn’t deserve any more) and suggest some alternatives. If the administration desires to free up dorm space, there are a number of proven ways to do so without constructing a $100 million, landscape-scarring megadormitory or even multiple new dorms all over campus.

First, a little background: the last four administrations have done a poor job of managing the number of students present in Hanover. Remember that the housing crunch comes not from the total number of undergraduates, but from the number of undergrads on campus during any given term. That number has been rising during the peak fall and spring terms faster than the overall number of students; of course there is no shortage of rooms during the winter and summer terms (all figures come from the most excellent Dartmouth Factbook):

Students on Campus 2003-2017.jpg

Students on Campus Summer 2003-2017.jpg

If the administration could thoughtfully manage the number of students on campus during the fall and spring quarters, there goes your housing crunch — in fact, space for renovations would naturally open up. Here’s how to do that:

1. Dartmouth’s off-campus programs should be our pride and joy. No other school has as many and varied programs (42 or 43) offered by its own faculty as does the College. (Inexplicably, this distinguishing feature of the school is given short shrift by the Admissions department.) And even better, ask any student that you happen to see: LSA and FSP are often the best experience that undergraduates have in their four years.

So let’s make participating in a Dartmouth off-campus program mandatory for all students (today only about 57% of students do an off-campus program with the College or some other school). There are impeccable pedagogical reasons for such a rule, and when students are not in Hanover, they are not taking up dorm space.

2. As Phil did in Michigan when he ran out of space there after increasing the size of the student body for financial reasons, Dartmouth students could be offered a financial inducement to live off-campus in Hanover. Plenty already do so, and living independently is a good transition to the dreaded real world. Money could also be offered to students to come to the College for a second summer term.

3. Move rush to the winter term, thereby encouraging members of Greek houses to be here during the least favorite term. Rush took place during sophomore winter from 1991 until the early ’00s. That rule put real pressure on brothers and sisters to be in Hanover during the winter. In fact, when the Wright administration cluelessly moved rush to the fall, our housing shortage began.

4. Put students back into AD and SAE. The College was close, or so it said, to re-recognizing these houses. Do it. Their beds will come in handy, if space is at a premium.

5. In extremis, the administration could simply mandate that all students be off-campus for one fall term and one spring term during their time as undergraduates (with exceptions for athletes, etc.).

There you go, Phil. If you really just need swing space, the above will get it for you without the need to borrow $100,000,000+ (because you certainly won’t raise it through the somnolent capital campaign) to build a giant dorm complex or multiple new dorms around the campus. And the College will be a better place at which to study, too.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

The advent of the “Dormzilla” project presents an opportunity to “right size” the College and remediate a half century of bad decisions. Neither the expansion of the undergraduate body nor the creation of the A&S graduate departments have enhanced the quality of instruction nor the College’s reputation. To the contrary, both have substantially diminished over the last 50 years. The past expansions and creations resulted in the inept and bloated administration which is now devouring the College spiritually and financially.

The A&S graduate departments should be eliminated and the size of the undergraduate body reduced to 3,500. This would eliminate the need for “Dormzilla”, free up money for the proper renovation of all facilities, downsize or eliminate huge portions of the administration, restore alumni support and create the highest per student endowment of any school in the country.

Put more crudely: How about some actual thinking instead of just trotting along behind the elephant.

Addendum: And another:

Rule in early 80s was one was REQUIRED to attend one Summer and be off one Fall Term absent an athletic or extraordinary reason (say a Major class not offered any other time). At some point this became so relaxed that anyone can be on every Fall - as my own child will do! Also Freshman dorms - worth debating if a bad idea or not - means that this past Fall the College was overcapacity for those dorms, and had older undergrads enjoying 2 room singles or doubles designed to be triples. Rethinking entire approach is needed … and ask any upperclassman to confirm that the 500+ student “residential houses” are ineffective and offer little or no cohesion. To the contrary, they block friends assigned to different house groups from ever rooming together.

Finally, time to call out FSP as lacking. LSA opportunities remain strong, but non-language offerings are thin at best, and so overly sought that most students are shut out. Making study abroad or anywhere outside of Hanover a graduation requirement is an excellent idea, but will work only if people realize the FSP effort is antiquated and weak vs. our competitor schools.

Time for a dynamic leader who makes his/her presence known to the students, possibly outside of academia!

Addendum: And yet another:

Unfortunately, at this point your proposed Option 2 would not be very effective due to limited housing capacity for undergrads in town. There is a lot of housing stock in town in Hanover which is unavailable to current undergraduates. Landlords routinely refuse to rent to Dartmouth undergraduate students. It is my understanding that this is due to restrictions placed on them by their insurance companies, but that theory really needs to be confirmed. It is also my understanding that this practice is in violation of New Hampshire is anti-discrimination laws for housing which prohibit discrimination based on age, among other things.

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