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A Slamdunk Report Re: College Growth

Back in the day at Bain, we’d occasionally laugh that our job as management consultants consisted of “Proving the Obvious to Idiots.” More often than not, the strategy that was needed to set a division of a conglomerate on the right path was obvious to us in the first week of work, just as it was evident to the smart, junior executives at the client itself, people to whom senior management never listened.

So it went with the Task Force report on growing the College. What was obvious to students, faculty, staff and alumni — but not to Clueless Phil and the Trustees (in concert soon at a venue near you) — was also evident to the talented thinkers on the Task Force who studied the question in detail. Their report is a model of serious research, clear thinking, and tight writing:

Task Force on Scale Comp.jpg

At the College, the rule has often been that the person naming the members of a committee also simultaneously determines its conclusions. Not this time around. That’s for sure. In fact, the report really can be read as a cogent description of the State of the College. Let me give you a quick summary: BATS — Bursting At The Seams.

One has to ask just what infrastructure at the College today is not either insufficient in size, in need of complete renovation, or requiring updating, or all three: the report cites classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, academic gathering areas, dormitories, dining facilities, parking lots, libraries, the academic Testing Center, the Hopkins Center and its performance spaces and workshops, and the buildings housing student support services (is there anything left?).

The report further notes that to keep up with the needs for classroom space alone, if the student body were to expand by 25%, a number of classrooms equivalent to those in the Life Science Center and Moore and Kemeny Halls would need to be built. Not to mention that about 1,000 additional beds would be required in the dormitory inventory.

Most telling was the observation that other schools (Yale, Rice, Princeton, Stanford, etc.), when planning an increase in their undergraduate student body, first conducted a thoroughgoing renovation of their infrastructure over the course of two capital campaigns — a period of a decade or more. Today Brown, Harvard and Brandeis are seemingly engaged in such a lengthy and costly program of renewal, too, prior to examining the feasibility of expansion.

The report’s findings are so glaringly obvious that one has to ask what foolishness (what fool?) led to the contemplation of expansion in the first place. Anyone at all close to the day-to-day life of the campus can easily see that the College has deferred too much maintenance and renovation to allow anything more than a catch-up investment program at this time. May that effort begin as soon as the administration gets its financial house in order.

Addendum: According to the report, all of Dartmouth’s academic departments pushed back vigorously against Phil’s expansion proposal. No deference there. The faculty should learn from this exercise of power.

Addendum: The report is salted with interesting data: for example, there is virtually no correlation between student body size and diversity — whether that of first generation or underrepresented minority students.

Addendum: A source indicates that the report that has been publicly disseminated is the same as the one distributed to the Trustees.

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