Diversity Schmiversity

Nov 25 2014

There are people at the College for whom diversity is life's chief goal. How tiring. If the extent of one's ambition is to have a faculty and a student body that "look like America," then the real goals of higher education would seem to have faded away. To quote that great humanitarian Jim Kim:

The way we deal with diversity on American campuses is so superficial that it is dangerous. The worst of it is that smart young people can see through the superficiality and conclude that diversity is not important or that the shallow, stylized way we deal with cultural competence is sufficient. It is not. In the end we have to understand each other's humanity.

Of course, true to form, Kim entirely recanted this position, once he understood what his new audience wanted to hear, but he makes a good point nonetheless: the real issue in choosing professors and students is intellectual and pedagogical quality, not skin color or gender. After taking about 70 classes at the College, I can happily say that the four courses that affected me the most were taught by two white female and two black male professors -- even though I am neither female nor black. Somehow, despite the prevailing ethos, I was able to learn from people of a different gender and race, and from the scholarly material that we and the other members of the class covered together. W. E. B. Du Bois, the first African-American to earn a doctorate at Harvard (in 1895) made this latter point in his book The Souls of Black Folk (1903), pp 67:

I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil.

Yet a video is now circulating at the College in which various students of color lament the departure of minority administrators and faculty members over the past year. One student goes so far as to state that, "I've never had a faculty that I could relate to." What sad nonsense. The implication is that this student cannot "relate" to a professor who is not of his race. Has he had nothing else in common with any of his professors? Has he learned only to see the world through the lens of race? Did he not share a religion, nationality, political sensibility, passion for the Red Sox, sense of humor, or a love of learning with even one member of the faculty? Listen to a sampling of Dartmouth students. Are they thinking intelligently about race based on their lived experience, or have they just learned to say what they are expected to say?

Of course, the alternative explanation for the departure of various professors and administrators of color is that they left Dartmouth because they were not competent: think of Russel Rickford, Tiffany Moseley, Aeriel Ashlee, and the wretched Charlotte Johnson. You could argue that they were only hired in the first place because of their race -- undoubtedly at the salary premium that people of color command in the academy.

The low point in the video comes from its sole white male, Zack Fowler '15 (a Sociology major, an AD brother, and Rugby Club member), who expresses himself thusly (at 10:45):

We pride ourselves on diversity, but in actuality look at the students that make up this campus: you know, we're predominantly white and predominantly from private schools. You know, we're kind of feeding the elitist culture in a sense, and I believe that a lot of the hiring of faculty reinforces the status quo in that sense. You know, you have these white kids from private schools coming in, so, you know, it's almost like an effort by the school, you know, this is just an assumption, but, you know, to bring in these white privileged professors who have studied at Yale and Harvard, and have Ph.D.'s from these kinds of institutions, and then come in and teach these kids who are, you know, privileged, and who are being funneled into this as well.

Yikes, what a soup of ignorant misinformation and unsupported prejudice. Dartmouth's student body contains only 49% white Americans in a nation where 62.4% of people are white, and 40% of students come from a broad range of private schools, including inner-city parochial schools. Moreover, would Zack prefer that we ignore graduates of the doctoral programs of the nation's most highly regarded institutions?

In the end, the College should focus on scholarly and teaching excellence in hiring faculty members and administrators, with the thought that the best teachers and scholars do the best job working with undergraduates. In support of that goal, let me propose some language for our official hiring policy to guide our administrators and faculty members in this effort:

Dartmouth does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability, military or veteran status in its programs, organizations, and conditions of employment and admission.

Ooops. That's already the College's current policy in all areas, except its actual practice. At the present time, we have faculty and administrative slots that are reserved for minorities, even if we cannot find competent people. We should recall the original meaning of affirmative action: taking energetic, positive steps to recruit members of minority communities, who will then be hired if they can compete and win in the pool of applicants for a position. No corners were to be cut in the hiring process.

Addendum: Dollars to donuts, a good many of the students in the above video did not spout the party line (this is the phrase we used in the 1970's for political correctness before that phrase achieved currency) until they learned of their oppression at the College in extracurricular classes taught by administrators.


Athletics: The Lost Decades

Nov 24 2014

Ivy Titles.jpgEven as the football team shows that a program can be turned around, and soccer shares an Ivy title and goes to the NCAA tournament (losing 3-0 yesterday in the second round), we do well to note the hole out of which the Athletics Department has been climbing. A victim of Jim Wright's depredations, Dartmouth Athletics out-performed for generations (we still boast more football championships than any other Ivy, even though the last one was in 1996). However, since the mid-1990's varsity sports have been on a downward slide; what was once an article of pride at the College declined to the point that we were an almost-always-also-ran. The above table shows how low the once-mighty Green has fallen. AD Harry Sheehy is doing a fine job re-building -- helped a great deal by Buddy Teevens' first-rate Floren Varsity Fieldhouse -- but recruiting and staffing are tough when a school earns a reputation as a loser. Things are looking up now, but let's review in detail just how bad they were in recent years.

The Athletics Department at Brown, the only school to do less well than Dartmouth over the past decade, has published a Strategic Plan for 2014-2019. Give it a look, if only to see what a real plan looks like (in contrast to Carol Folt's miserable effort regarding the academic side of the College): it contains dates, budgets, specific goals and milestones. The document also has several comparative graphs of interest.

The green line below is dispiriting. Since 2004 we have finished last on average in the Ivies in more sports than any other school except Brown:

Ivy Finshes.jpg

Despite what people may say, size has nothing to do with quality: dominant Princeton has the second lowest undergraduate enrollment in the Ivies (just ahead of us), and middling performers Penn and Cornell have over double the number of students at Princeton.

Yet our singular lack of success is not due to a failure to commit money to the Athletics Department. As in so many other areas of the College, we over-compensated a weak staff. According to Brown's most recent figures, the College's Athletics budget is the fourth highest in the Ivies, even though we do business in the lowest-cost locale:

Ivy Expenses.jpg

We have had the fourth or fifth highest budget in the Ivies for a good many years:

Ivy Expenses Historical.jpg

In the end, quality is independent of cost, as long as one is in shooting distance of the market wage. What counts is leadership, and fortunately, if only in the last few years, we have begun to see it again. The results are already beginning to become apparent.

Addendum: As I've pointed out in the past, the College's baseball program, managed by the engaging Bob Whalen, wins the Red Rolfe division almost every year. And the men's soccer squad, built by Jeff Cook, and now coached by his assistant Chad Riley, is enjoying its eighth NCAA appearance in the last decade. If the northern-most Ivy school can win at baseball and soccer, we can certainly be competitive in any sport.

Addendum: Columbia and Penn don't have hockey teams (their loss), but the difference in spending between their Athletics programs and that of the College is hardly explained by the cost of a hockey program.

Addendum: The College certainly had risen to the challenge of educating its student-athletes. From an Athletics Department press release dated November 3:

The NCAA has released its annual student-athlete graduation rate survey, and Dartmouth College once again has been shown to lead the nation in Graduation Success Rate (GSR). With a GSR of 99 percent for student-athletes who began college in 2007, Dartmouth led Division I institutions for a third straight year. Tying for the top spot this year were College of the Holy Cross and the University of Notre Dame.


Go Leafs Fans!

Nov 23 2014

Common decency can be a lovely thing. When the singer's mike cut out at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on Tuesday night during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, listen how the crowd rises to the occasion: