Recent articles

Alexi Pappas3.jpgWhat is the liberal arts but a great breadth of learning and the ability to approach any challenge with rigor and creativity? Not too long ago we reported that lacrosse player Matt Heineman ‘05 was up for an Academy Award for his documentary film Cartel Land — and that he had never used a camera while in Hanover. Now Olympic track athlete Alexi Pappas ‘12 has made an indie film with her boyfriend Jeremy Teicher ‘10 — Tracktown — even though she is trained neither as a filmmaker nor as a screenwriter. (Memo to Phil: it’s not about “skills”; the liberal arts teaches thinking that is both deep and practical; or should I just call what we learn “intelligence”? Once you learn to reason with precision, the rest is just hard work.) With Eugene, Oregon and the legendary Tracktown training center as a backdrop, Alexi’s movie focuses on the challenges a young woman faces in competitive running at the highest level. Her character lives through the days leading up to the U.S. Olympic trials in the 5k, and as one reviewer noted, the film also includes “a youthful romance, some complicated family dynamics, and a whole lot of neuroticism…” Alexi describes the movie as follows, “Tracktown speaks to anyone who’s trying to do something challenging and uncertain, where you wake up every day nervous —in a good way”:

Addendum: Jeremy Teicher was named one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine in 2013.

Addendum: I’ve got to get into better shape.

The Board of Trustees has elected the College’s first-ever Trustee in the modern era who does not have a degree from the College, James S. Jackson:

Trustee James Jackson.jpg

Jackson also seems to qualify as a longtime FOP — Friend of Phil — from the University of Michigan. While he does have a serious background in higher education, it is hard to imagine that he will be an independent voice on the Board.

Addendum: The College’s Charter has never restricted Board membership to alumni. Needless to say, the original Trustees upon Dartmouth’s founding were not graduates of the College.

Dartmouth has a wealth of experienced professors who lead their respective research fields, while also working closely with students — inspiring them in the classroom and leading them in laboratory environments. And while at Dartblog we talk frequently about problems that need to be fixed at the College, there are still many bright spots. Our professors deserve more recognition for their achievements. As such, this is one of a series of posts that shines a spotlight on the best professors in Hanover:

Jeff Sharlet2.jpgJeff Sharlet is an Associate Professor of English as well as a bestselling author of six books and a contributing editor for Harper’s, Rolling Stone, and the Virginia Quarterly Review. He’s also a contributor to GQ, where he’s written a series of incisive pieces of literary journalism in the last few years.

Sharlet got his start at his alma mater, Hampshire College; then he wrote for the San Diego Reader; edited at Pakn Treger, an English-language magazine about Yiddish culture; and worked as a senior humanities writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Motivated by a deep interest in religion and culture, he started KillingTheBuddha.com, an online literary magazine, with Peter Manseau in 2000. That effort led to Sharlet’s first book with Manseau, Killing The Buddha: A Heretic’s Guide, which was the result of a yearlong road trip the pair took to examine the “underbelly of America’s religious culture.”

In 2003 Sharlet joined New York University’s Center for Religion and Media as a research scholar. While there, he created The Revealer, a review of religion and the media, with a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust. He came to Hanover in 2009.

Sharlet broke out in 2008 with his New York Times bestseller, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which Publisher’s Weekly called “a chilling expose.” The book explored the inner workings of a secret fundamentalist Christian lobbying group in Washington D.C. It called attention to the little-known but politically influential religious organization, with members that include sitting senators and a reach that stretches as far as Uganda. To learn more about the work, listen to Sharlet’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air or the following interview on The Daily Show:

Sharlet has joked that his greatest distinction is “Ann Coulter’s designation of him as one of the stupidest journalists in America.” He has won many awards for his journalism, including the Molly Irvins National Journalism Prize from the Texas Observer, the Thomas Jefferson Award presented by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and the Outspoken Award by OutRight Action International.

More recently, Sharlet won the 2015 National Magazine Award for Reporting after publication of his stunning GQ article, “Inside the Iron Closet: What It’s Like to Be Gay in Putin’s Russia.” The story documented government-backed, grass-roots violence against the LGBT community, as well as the activists and couples who bravely risk their lives for love. For other feature stories by Sharlet, check out The Invisible Man: The End of A Black Life That Mattered, also in GQ; and the cover story in the April 12 The New York Times Magazine, Donald Trump, American Preacher.

Sharlet’s teaching at Dartmouth, where there is no journalism major, includes advanced courses in the English department about literary journalism. During the coming 2016-2017 academic year, he will teach English 73, a senior seminar on the intersection of writing, photography, and other media; English 81 and 84 on creative nonfiction; and English 86, a senior creative writing workshop. The students in Sharlet’s creative nonfiction courses learn in part by contributing to 40 Towns, his online literary journal about the Upper Valley.

Addendum: We looked at Jeff’s book Sweet Heaven When I Die in a post on April 20, 2013.

How nice to see the College in the press for a real achievement:

Thayer Women Comp.jpg

There is no faking it in the hard sciences and technology. Congratulations to Thayer. While it is not yet Tuck, the school has ambition and the will to realize it.

Addendum: Thayer seems on the move. The most recent edition of Occom, the College’s philanthropy magazine, describes the engineering school’s goals as follows:

The Thayer School of Engineering is launching the most ambitious expansion in its 149-year history. The goals of this undertaking — with a fundraising target of at least $200 million — are aggressive: double the size of the faculty and the number of graduates, construct a state-of-the-art building that may also house the department of Computer Science, expand opportunities for research and entrepreneurship, and offer more classes for both engineering majors and non-majors.

Though the Admissions department’s amateurish website touts our off-campus programs (“study around the world”), the flacks who put out the page haven’t done enough research to know that in this area the College has something distinctive and special to offer high school seniors:

Global Dartmouth.jpg

On recent college tours, I was initially astounded to hear that students in other top institutions were offered hundreds of off-campus programs — until it dawned on me that these were no more than open-enrollment programs at many different schools. When I asked, for example, at Brandeis how many of these programs were staffed by the university’s own faculty, the answer was sobering: a total of two.

At the College, our own professors run 43 off-campus programs, which can provide extraordinary educational experiences if students approach them correctly. In fact, we should make participation in a Dartmouth off-campus program mandatory for all undergraduates. That policy makes sense for any number of reasons (pedagogical, housing management, financial, etc.). However, until the implementation of such a strategy, let’s at least tell prospies that the College has something unique to offer its students.

Addendum: The Review had a good overview of the College’s off-campus programs in its May 9 edition.

Is Phil Hanlon correct in arguing that colleges and the College are “the ultimate innovation places,” and does innovation explain the rising cost of tuition? Needless to say, Phil presented no proof at all to support this self-flattering assertion.

Let’s look at some numbers. In 2009 I wrote a column for The D entitled Waste and More Waste. The piece contained the summary of an analysis of the staffing levels in numerous College offices based on the number of names in the College’s personnel directory during Jim Wright’s presidency from 1999 and 2007. If the College were innovating, one would expect that most areas of the bureaucracy would see little growth, and other areas would have grown to an important extent. Not so. We found that virtually all areas of the bureaucracy had grown by at least 40% (some by much more), including the President’s office itself:

In 1997, the President’s Office numbered 6.5 full-time employees; Ten years later there were 10. During that time period, the Dean of the Faculty Office went from 14 to 28 full-time employees. The Dean of the College Office went from 16 to 26; the Provost’s Office went from 6.5 to 11.5; and the combined headcount of the First-Year Office, the Office of Student Life and the Office of Residential Life went from 26.5 to 47.

I don’t have data for faculty growth during the same time period, but in the 2004-2015 interval, the number of professors  in Arts and Sciences grew by only 15% — which leads one to conclude that the College’s “innovations” did not often involve faculty members.

Hanlon’s argument ignores the fact that on one occasion, after the 2008-2009 financial meltdown, the College did effect some meaningful cost reduction. In the 2009-2010 budget year, Jim Wright’s last budget, spending actually dropped from $735 million to $717 million (expenses in 2015 were $891 million), even though the number of faculty members remained stable:

Annual Expenses 1999-2015.jpg

Amazingly enough, during the same brief time period, the number of non-faculty staff declined from 3,417 in 2008 to 3,056 in the fall of 2010:

Non-faculty staff 2006-2014.jpg

Did the College stop “innovating” in this period? Ha! Were academic programs cut? No. The real story is that layoffs and incentivized retirements took place in order to reduce the size of the College’s expensive, unproductive bureaucracy.

However from 2010 onward the bureaucracy resumed its inexorable growth, soaring from 3,056 people in 2010 to 3,497 today. Those figures mask the fact that approximately 75 employees of the Hanover Inn left the College’s payroll for good in 2010, but they were more than replaced by staffers in other areas.

While staffing grew by about 500 people (taking into account the Inn’s reduction), the growth in the Arts and Sciences faculty was only 47 people, and total faculty growth for the entire institution was 62 professors (from 1,004 to 1,066). Put another way, during this time period we hired more than eight new staffers for each new member of the faculty. Such behavior hardly bespeaks “innovation”; it indicates bureaucratic bloat.

Can anyone point to significant “innovation” between 2010 and 2015. Did Jim Kim, Carol Folt or Phil Hanlon pioneer new academic or research programs during this time period? Kim’s Science of Health Care Delivery program added about 35 people to the payroll (some of them faculty), and we have more of Phil’s postdocs in town now, but where did the remainder of the 500 or so new faces go? Answer: they went a little bit everywhere: the bureaucracy grew fatter and fatter once the endowment started growing again (it dropped by 23% in 2008).

As any competent manager will tell you, the very nature of a bureaucracy is to grow, unless restrained by vigilant leaders. Bureaucrats always want to manage more people (the better to justify salary increases), and dismissing non-productive employees is against the ethos of these sprawling offices. In fact, each time a mistake is made in hiring, extra hiring takes place beyond it to compensate for the low productivity of the mistaken hire. And so it goes.

In industry, the pressure of competition obliges companies to run as leanly as possible; at the College, a surging endowment and the ability to raise tuition at rates far above inflation have ensured that there is no need to exercise any budget discipline at all — except after the market crash in 2008. Of course, private sector companies are not immune to such temptations: America’s car companies were so rich in the 1960’s and 1970’s that the size of their head offices and administrative functions soared. The same thing occurred at market-dominating IBM in the same period. Only after punishing competition hurt these behemoths did they put their houses in order.

The data clearly show that Phil’s “innovation” explanation for the College’s cost growth (and therefore tuition growth) is laughable. Dartmouth’s faculty growth and overall academic program have been stuck in the mud for two decades now; but spending continues to climb as the administration hires ever more non-faculty staffers. Phil, it’s time to roll back such institution-destroying behavior.

At the Thought Project talk on May 3, President Phil Hanlon ‘77 responded to a question about the increasingly high cost of a college education. Here is a transcript of his response:

Thought Project Logo.jpgQuestion 3: Can you speak to what you called the affordability crisis?


Phil Hanlon: Right…well….great question. Let me talk a little about cost and affordability and then I’ll come to your last point about how it relates to the things I was just talking about.

So, you are absolutely right, you know, if you look at the cost of higher education across the U.S., not Dartmouth specifically, across the U.S., it’s, the sticker price has gone up, you know, 2-3% above any reasonable rate of inflation forty years in a row or something like that. And so now the sticker price for the top privates or even the non-resident cost for the top publics exceeds $60,000/yr, which is more than the median household income in the country. So, so we have a problem. This is unsustainable. Probably near the breaking point.

So, you might say, ok, well, what’s caused that? And, you know, one quick comeback always is, well, you know, its really need-based financial aid, and, it’s actually the net price, the actual sticker price minus what people pay on average or people get on average for financial aid is growing more slowly, hasn’t grown 2-3% above inflation. But quite reasonable studies, that I believe show that the need-based financial aid piece is about a percent, a little less than a percent.

So, in other words, even if you factor in inflation and the amount going to need-based aid. you’re still growing at 1-2% growth that is unexplained. So, why is that? In my mind, it’s actually not that complicated. It’s all about the ways that higher ed has handled innovation. So, I, universities they’re kind of the ultimate innovation places. They are always teaching new things, teaching in news ways. If they do research, all these things require new kinds of facilities, you know, staff with different expertise, so, so the innovation is just part of our lifeblood.

However, we have been, like, we have had this luxury, and we have fallen into the bad habit of innovating by addition rather than substitution. So, if we want to do some cool new thing, what we do is, what we have done, is to say, OK, let’s just add it to the sticker price, rather than say just let’s stop doing something so we can do the cool new thing. Okay?

So that’s I think what has led to this, you know, this situation where, so to me its really, the solution going forward, you know, its hard to go backwards four years and do this, is to say, OK, we need to make sure that a least something like a percent and a half of our budget is reallocation to cool new things, to innovation, so that’s something we started since I came in, and that we’ve done at Michigan there when I was as Provost.

So, every year each major, you know, like Arts and Science, housing or facilities and operations, or Thayer, they each have to say each year, here’s one and half percent of my spend I am going to stop doing, and here’s how I’m going to put it into doing cool new things. So, so I think, you know, going forward, I believe that that’s something higher ed really needs to do. It’s interesting that even though that view has gotten a lot of attention, and I have been quoted about this in the Wall Street Journal a couple of times, and major, sort of, higher ed business journals.

Right now there is no forcing function for this. So, if you were to take a pure supply and demand perspective of Dartmouth’s cost, you’d say, you know what, we turn away 90% of the people who want our business, so we should just increase the price a whole lot. We are not at equilibrium right now, so, and I would never suggest we should do that, but the point is, there is no, sort of, forcing function to say that other universities should adopt the kind of discipline I was just talking about.

I believe the real peril here is political. You know it has become a big political issue, and if we don’t fix this, if we don’t dramatically slow down the increases in sticker price so that’s its within inflation plus the percent we are doing in need-based aid, then we are going to be, then the next Affordable Care Act is going to be the Affordable Education Act, and we are not going to like that very well.

So, let me talk about the bigger question about the picture I just painted, about the places that lead are going to be the ones emphasizing skills and what I, there are a lot of universities who are at the lower end of the quality spectrum, who are really focused on knowledge and information so, and, you know I don’t want to pick anyone out, but go to, sort of the, within the Cal State system, or something like that. They are largely providing lecture-based transfer of knowledge. I think those places are in for a really rough ride in the future, because there will be technology that can essentially do that for free.

So the product they are offering is all of a sudden available without charge. So I think that we may see, sort of, a sharp and disruptive bifurcation in higher ed where there will be some top places, and Dartmouth will be amongst them, which begin to focus much more on the skill side, and prepare people to be very successful, ready to lead, and then those who are much more knowledge-based and a lot of their instruction will be delivered online, the cost will drop way down for that kind of degree. Maybe to zero, but, you know, I think you may well see, you know, I mean, who ever said it had to be four years that you went to college? Where did four years come from, right?

So, I think you may see systems where people do online study for two years and then they actually interact with faculty directly for two years or less or something. I think new models are going to emerge, and I think it’s going to be it’s going to be a pretty dramatic disruptive change ahead for some fairly large sector of higher ed.

So Phil thinks growth in tuition and the overall cost of college is because “universities, they’re kind of the ultimate innovation places,” does he? We’ll look at that question tomorrow.

Addendum: An alumna and Dartmouth parent writes in:

It’s interesting that Phil pointed a finger at the Cal State system. It is a good cheap system with its own flaws but places like Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are nothing to sneeze at. Cal Poly is large but almost 100% undergraduate. They have a decent endowment for a state school and the price is right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Phil felt threatened by them. We lose admitted students to those fine institutions year after year. Maybe I should have encouraged my daughter to accept Cal Poly’s offer of admission instead of Dartmouth.

The D reported in its Commencement issue that the College is saying diplomas would not be given out on the podium to members of the Class of ‘16 because of, get this, the risk of rain. What a load of hogwash:

Commencement Diploma PR Comp.jpg

This space reported on June 3 the administration’s determination not to hand out diplomas to the graduates, having been informed of it very early in the morning on June 2 — which means that the administration made the decision no later than June 1. Are we to believe that administrators decided this question twelve days before Commencement because of “the risk of inclement weather”? Gimme a break.

In the PR world there is always a little linguistic legerdemain, a slight shading of language and tone to make one’s side appear in a better light, but Diana Lawrence’s bald-faced dishonesty is way beyond the pale. Weather had nothing to do with it, dearie, and one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that. Perhaps the PR folks are rebelling with an obvious fib against an administration that is not forthright enough to take responsibility for its own actions.

Wherever the case, the College is looking bad here, again.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Great coverage on the diploma scandal. My prediction is that in a year or two students will be required to go to their assigned residential community to pick up their diploma. This way Hanlon will have created something tangible that these “communities” can do, and he won’t be breaking any “tradition” since diplomas will have not been give out at the main ceremony “for years.” It will be just like at Harvard, where diplomas are given out at the residential houses.

In a graduating class of 1,073 seniors, 297 students filled out the Senior Survey, and they weren’t a happy lot (click to expand the image). Phil Hanlon and the whole administration took a beating:

Senior Survey 2016.jpg

The D is also reporting that only 28% of seniors have contributed to the Senior Class Gift, the worst performance in many a moon.

The day was gray but spirits were sunny:

Commencement 2016.jpg

Last month, we asked how many top honors the College would award for the Class of 2016. What was once a singular achievement for two or maybe three of the very best and brightest students has become a running joke as grade inflation multiplies the number of 4.00 and 3.99 GPAs.

Yesterday we found out: Dartmouth crowned eight valedictorians — a new record — along with seven salutatorians. No doubt all are fabulous students and people, with impeccable resumes, and my goal is not to diminish their accomplishment. But it’s hard to look at recent history and not think that something’s wrong:

Valedictorians and Salutatorians 2016.jpg

Students have not improved to this extent in less than a decade; SAT scores are flat:

SAT 2003-2015 Math.jpg

SAT 2003-2015.jpg

Rather, the increase in honors is the inevitable result of the slow but steady upward creep of grades. After all, the only difference between the valedictorians and salutatorians is a single A- (it’s always fun to find which prof gave it). Likely another large group of ‘16’s received only two A-’s or one B+ for a 3.98 GPA. While this average remains a terrific feat, the likelihood of tripping up once has gone down, as medians grades inch ever higher.

In 2013 I wrote: “How long before Dartmouth has eight valedictorians? Ten? Fifteen? I’d like to see the College’s PR team try to ignore that.” And yet they have. As recently as 2010, the Dartmouth Now press release heralded four valedictorians as a stunning achievement. We now have twice as many, and the College purposely avoids any mention of a new record.

To avoid further embarrassment, administrators must be mulling the idea of changing the manner in which the valedictorian and salutatorian honors are awarded. The College has always used a straight GPA-based system, but many schools (including Princeton and Columbia) have a committee that takes other factors into account.

Addendum: Lest we think fraternity life doesn’t produce good students, nine of the fifteen honorees were in Greek houses, including six of the eight valedictorians.

The social and hard sciences also brought home a win this year. The most popular majors or double majors among the honorees were Economics (seven), Math (five), Computer Science (two), and Neuroscience (two). This result is somewhat anomalous: grades awarded in the humanities are significantly higher than in the other two divisions.

As a result perhaps, Wall Street’s reigns continues: seven of the fifteen are headed into financial services or consulting after graduation.

Addendum: One of the finest members of Dartblog’s Baker Tower Irregulars writes in:

Inspired by Brian’s latest post, I made a visualization of the geographies of all the valedictorians and salutatorians for the past six years. It is interesting how the West Coast produces such a disproportionately small number of honorees:

Valedictorians and Salutatorians Geography.jpg

I wonder if the Admissions department is aware of the relatively poor showing by students from the West (click on the image to see it in a larger format).

Euro Cup Security Message.jpg

Baseball pitcher Duncan Robinson ‘16 was drafted in the 9th round by the Chicago Cubs. He’ll join Kyle Hendricks ‘12 in the Chicago organization, so it’s nice to know that at least for a while there’s some corner of Wrigley Field that is forever Dartmouth:

Duncan Robinson.jpg

Duncan’s College bio page lists him at 6’6”, 220lbs, a little shorter than 6’8” Randy (the “Big Unit”) Johnson, but none too shabby.

Addendum: Between 2000-2016 a total of 23 players from the College were drafted by MLB teams.

Addendum: Right-handed pitcher Michael Danielak ‘16 was picked in the 28th round by the Pirates.

I occasionally correspond with high school and independent college counselors (many people do both jobs now) about how Dartmouth is viewed out in the real world. Here’s a quick report from a leading counselor:

The perceptions of Dartmouth in my world are challenging, Joe. If I can get kids to visit, Dartmouth has a shot.

The bigger challenge is to get my kids to apply in the first place. Every time a scandal breaks, the parent community — and its sound-of-speed echo chamber — wipes out a whole bevy of potential recruits who might have visited and been excited.

No matter what institution I work for, or in just the independent parent community in cities all over the country, there is constant college admissions chatter. When an incident occurs, parents e-mail, text and contact each other almost instantaneously. It’s remarkable how fast it is. If an article in Rolling Stone comes out, within hours it’s been digested and analyzed within an inch of its life.

I try to sell the campus in terms of the Dartmouth network; the Rassias method; faculty inviting kids to dinner; the brilliance of peer recommendations as a critical part of the application, etc. But, in the end, it’s a tough sell. And until there’s a real change in leadership with a courageous visionary (who’s willing to make the changes necessary to inoculate the campus from its cyclical bad publicity), Dartmouth’s admissions outlook is going to continue to struggle.

Addendum: As we have reported, total applications at all of the Ivies, except for the College and Columbia, rose by 4.0%-7.4% for the Class of 2020. In Hanover and on Morningside Heights applications rose only by a fraction of a percent.

On April 22 we noted how the College’s U.S. News page (tied at #12 with a bullet — not) was lackluster, presenting as it did but a single wintry image of the College. Hardly inviting compared to the other Ivies, all of whom showed not only attractive pictures, but three or four inset photos of other features of their schools as well. The College had none. Happily, and prettily, the problem has been rectified:

U.S. News Revised Comp.jpg

Now, if only the administration would listen and cut the administrative bloat, too.

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