Friday, January 20, 2017



Michael Beechert’s Guide to the Stars: Government Professor William Wohlforth

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:

William Wohlforth1.jpgWilliam C. Wohlforth is the Daniel Webster Professor in Government and an expert in the field of international relations. In particular, Wohlforth’s research focuses on what every Risk-playing kid’s dreams are made of — issues of grand strategy and realism, the latter of which is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as a “view of international politics that stresses its competitive and conflictual side.”

After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations from Beloit College in 1982, Wohlforth continued his study of politics at Yale, from which he earned a Ph.D. with distinction in 1989. He then went on to Princeton, where he taught until 1996, and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, where he was Assistant Professor from 1998-2000. Dartmouth nabbed him from the Hoyas at that point, and Wohlforth has been roaming the hallways and classrooms of Silsby ever since, including as Chair of the Government Department between 2006 and 2009.

In light of the myriad questions that recent political developments have raised about the future of the current international order, it is difficult to imagine a more relevant body of research within the field of political science than Wohlforth’s. Specifically, he has comprehensively examined the place of the United States in a changing world that contains, among other possible threats to American power, an assertive Russia and an ascendant China. Wohlforth’s scholarship, which is expansive (an h-index of 31 and over 5700 individual citations according to Google Scholar) is perhaps reason for optimism: Wohlforth has argued, most notably in his and Stephen Brooks’ 2008 book World Out of Balance: International Relations and the Challenge of American Primacy, that the United States should not necessarily be expected to lose its position as the most powerful nation in the world, even though conventional wisdom among international relations scholars says otherwise.

In fact, Wohlforth has himself advocated for “deep engagement” on the part of the United States in the realm of international affairs (in contrast to our newly-inaugurated President). This is a rejoinder to the view, held by many academics, that America should adopt a policy of so-called “retrenchment” and reduce its role on the global stage. Along with his fellow faculty member Brooks, Wohlforth spells out his argument in the recently-published book America Abroad: The United States’ Global Role in the 21st Century. Deep engagement, they explain, is not only the best way to ensure security; additionally, this type of foreign policy allows the United States to shape the globalized realms of economics and international institutions in ways that advance its own national interest. Retrenchment, on the other hand, is a short-sighted philosophy that both ignores non-security objectives and over-estimates the costs of maintaining a vigorously active role in international affairs.

As a Russia expert, Wohlforth has published a great deal about the Cold War, including the authorship of one book on the topic and editing duties for two others. There was a certain prescience present in his work in this area, as is proven by the conclusion to a 1995 article in which Wohlforth defends the viability of realist theory after the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you’ve turned on a television or opened a newspaper at some point in the past couple of years, this may well be an eerie read:

This leads to the frankly inductive warning for the West: keep a weather eye on Russia. Russia has often experienced rapid shifts in relative power with dire international consequences. In this century alone, Russia’s sudden decline after the 1905 war with Japan and its equally sudden rise in the years before 1914 were important preconditions for World War I; its apparent weakness conditioned the disastrous diplomacy of the 1930s; its sudden rise in apparent power as a result of World War II set the Cold War in motion; its perceived forward surge in the late 1950s and early 1960s set the stage for the dangerous crises of that era; and its apparent sudden decline in the late 1980s was the catalyst for the greatest upheaval in international relationships in half a century. Russia may be down now, but prudent policymakers should not count it out.

Of course, Wohlforth is kept busy in the classroom as well. He teaches at all three levels of the Government Department’s course structure — introductory, intermediate, and seminar. His Govt. 5 course, Introduction to International Politics, often provides the first exposure that freshmen have to the study of political science, and his seminar on Russian foreign policy is on the bucket list of many a Government major.

For a direct sense of Professor Wohlforth, listen to him speak about Shifting from a Unipolar to a Multipolar World? at Johns Hopkins:

Addendum: In the fall of 2012, I was one of the freshmen enrolled in Professor Wohlforth’s Introduction to International Politics course. The experience ended up being one of the reasons I decided to pursue study in the Government Department. Wohlforth is a powerful and thoughtful lecturer, and I remember his excellent ability to cultivate active class discussions. I can personally attest to the fact that he is devoted to Dartmouth as an institution, and he is, perhaps most importantly of all, an all-around good guy.


Posted on January 20, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink



Walking the Social Justice Walk

The Times piece about the relative wealth of families sending their children to American institutions of higher learning is eliciting a lot of interest (two days after publication it is still the Times’ most e-mailed story). As the College celebrates MLK week, what an embarrassment to see that we are not walking the walk, even as Hanover is overwhelmed by social justice talk. Look how we do in the Times ranking as against the other Ivies:

NYT Top 1 Percent Ranking.jpg

As I say endlessly, the administration’s real priority is money for the staff. All the other chatter about equity and education is just window dressing.

Addendum: The College’s Dartmouth News website is highlighting our presence on the Best College Art and History Museums In the Northeast story in the HuffPost, but to date has no reference at all to the above Times piece. FYI we have the best college art museum in New Hampshire.


Posted on January 20, 2017 1:39 AM. Permalink

Thursday, January 19, 2017



OPM — Other People’s Money

The endowment is only part of the story in understanding the College’s fiscal health. To fill out the picture, let’s look at the administration’s borrowing. Of course, debt has its place in financial management — why wait for money to come in when an important project can be built right now. But the temptation to use debt to cover budgetary holes that stem from over-staffing, the over-compensation of employees, and excessive spending, is strong, too. Look at the evolution of debt at the College over the past 26 years: the amount owing on bonds and mortgages today is almost an order of magnitude over what it was in 1990, a period of time during which inflation was 84%.

Dartmouth Debt Growth Comp.jpg

Of course, there comes a point when the party stops. The College lost its prestigious Triple A bond rating in 2009, a move which resulted in an increase in the interest rates payable on Dartmouth’s bonds.

But the administration’s taste for the easy-money party is far from over. This past April the College issued another $250 million of debt, in part to finance the house system.

Another way to look at the issue is to note that while the endowment has increased by approximately two billion dollars since 2000, during that time our debt has climbed by a billion dollars, too, eating up half of the endowment’s gains.

Needless to say, there is another way to finance new projects: cut waste from the budget. Any good business is always finding ways to increase productivity, even as it grows. The College should start doing so now.


Posted on January 19, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Wednesday, January 18, 2017



Rich Kids Confirmed

Last week I ran a well received post entitled Why Are We a Rich Kids School?, and today the Times has a story about a lengthy report (The Equality of Opportunity Project) on the economic backgrounds of the nation’s students. The College does not fare well. Of the country’s élite schools, we take more kids from the 1% than anyone:

NYT Top 1 Percent.jpg

For the Dartmouth-specific data in the study, click here.

Addendum: An alum writes in:

Was discussing over lunch with an ’ 82. The Dartmouth of our day had less ethnic and geographic diversity (and women were still not at parity). But there was more economic diversity. Lots of students (especially of French-Canadian descent) came from working class towns in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine.


Posted on January 18, 2017 8:00 PM. Permalink



Endowment: Great, Bad, Good

The evolution of a school’s endowment is a combination of three elements: investment returns achieved by the endowment office, financial giving by the alumni, and funds drawn out of the endowment by the administration for ongoing operations.

Look at how well the Freedman administration did versus the other Ivy schools in adding to the College’s financial resources. In the 1990-2000 period we were the top performer in the Ivies in terms of endowment growth:

Ivy Net Endowment Growth 1990-2000.jpg

However, as we have documented, when the reins were passed to the lamentable Jim Wright, the spending floodgates were opened, and we are still suffering today from his profligacy. As a result, during the 2000-2010 period Dartmouth went from first to worst:

Ivy Net Endowment Growth 2000-2010.jpg

And how have things unfurled since 2010? A little better than middling: we are in the top half of the Ancient Eight. Penn leads. We are behind Yale, and just ahead of Princeton. And the four of us handily beat the remaining schools:

Ivy Net Endowment Growth 2010-2016.jpg

Of course, the first glimmerings of fiscal discipline merit few applause. To use Reagan Budget Director David Stockman’s memorable phrase, the College remains a sinkhole of waste.


Posted on January 18, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Tuesday, January 17, 2017



Kyle at the White House

Kyle at White House.jpg

Second from right in the second row, I think.

Addendum: No tie and an unbuttoned shirt? At the White House?


Posted on January 17, 2017 8:52 PM. Permalink



The 18 Webster Avenue Boondoggle

The MDF faculty residence/clubhouse next to the President’s Mansion at 18 Webster Avenue is a typical small New England clapboard. It’s somewhat spare — where are the shutters? — the windows are pokey, and the walls are made of panelized sections (constructed off-site), but it is the kind of house that everyone in the Upper Valley recognizes:

13 Webster Avenue1.jpg

Its interior layout is nothing special either: a kitchen, dining room, and a large gathering room on the main floor, along with a two-car garage:

18 Webster Interior Plan.jpg

But once again, the College has found a way to spend a fortune for even a simple building:

18 Webster Cost.jpg

Recall that the above $640k figure is for constuction cost only. Add to that, according to an e-mail from the College’s recently departed Chief Facilities Officer Lisa Hogarty, soft costs in the amount of a quarter of a million dollars:

In addition to the construction costs we spent another $250k. About half of that went to site work and landscaping. The rest was for indoor and outdoor furniture, FO&M and IT expenses, project management and architect fees and lastly permitting. The house is 3000 sq .ft exclusive of the basement and two car garage.

That figure gets us to $890k and we haven’t yet added the value of land.

Does this look like a million-dollar Hanover house to you? Not on your life.


Posted on January 17, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Monday, January 16, 2017



Applications as a Measure of Popularity

The College’s 21-person Office of Communications might sing Phil’s praises, but out in the real world people vote with their feet, or rather, students weigh in on various colleges’ popularity with their applications. Look at the total number of applications received by each of the Ivies for the Classes of 2007 through 2020. We rank at the bottom in absolute terms, and everyone in the Ivies except Dartmouth has increased their number of applications since 2016:

Ivy League Total Applicants 2007-2020.jpg

Of course, you say, Dartmouth is the smallest of the Ivies (just as Cornell is the largest); it’s not fair to put us up against the bigger schools. And you are right. Therefore my data-minded ‘18 has crunched the data on a number-of-application-per-freshman-year-slot basis to see where we stand relative to the other Ivies. Yikes.

Look at how our applications/slot numbers plummeted from the Class of 2016 to the Class of 2018 (I have added a red arrow); they have stayed in third-from-the-bottom place since then, after having been in the thick of things for many years. Harvard, Princeton and Brown passed us during that time frame, and the situation has not improved since:

Ivy League Applications per Spot 2007-2020.jpg

Thank heavens for Penn and Cornell. They are keeping us out of the Ivy basement, at least for the time being.

Addendum: An alumnus-correspondent notes that he is now seeing many applicants interested in the Ivies who apply to only seven of the Ancient Eight. All of them except us. Do you think that the problem is Phil’s breath?

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

One would think that the Trustees would notice stuff like this. Of course, they are most reluctant to admit they made a horrible hiring decision in the first place.

John Sloan Dickey: How we miss you!

From the NY Times obit in 1991:

“Under Mr. Dickey, Dartmouth’s 12th president, the faculty and graduate schools were greatly strengthened, the student body was diversified with more minority students and a Great Issues course was required for all seniors to underscore the responsibility of free citizens in the nuclear age.”

And:

“Mr. Dickey’s dedication to Dartmouth was acknowledged by annual alumni contributions, which rose to more than $2 million, from $337,000, with up to 66 percent of the alumni contributing, the highest percentage in the nation for a major school.”


Posted on January 16, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Sunday, January 15, 2017



A Carpet of Clouds

I call it a sea of clouds when flying above it, but it’s a carpet when the whole of Western Europe is swept under it — as it was when I flew from Paris to Milan recently:

Sea of Clouds1.jpg

Add restricted daylight hours, because of Europe’s northern latitude, to the dreariness of not seeing the sun for days and even weeks on end, and you have a recipe for plenty of existential angst:

Sea of Clouds2.jpg

Addendum: I am always amazed that the High Dynamic Range function of my iPhone lets me point the viewfinder directly into the sun and take a well resolved picture.


Posted on January 15, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Saturday, January 14, 2017



Inside the Abominations

Perhaps I should be called for piling on, but the MDF clubhouses are ugly both inside and out. Look at the interior of the $2.0 million plastic structure next to the Alumni Gym. Sanborn House it ain’t:

Plastic House Interior1.jpg

And the $3.0 million convenience store cum clubhouse behind the Gold Coast is no better. The place has all the charm of a basement cafeteria in a municipal hospital:

Gold Coast Clubhouse.jpg

Students inform me that MDF events are sparsely attended. Who would have guessed that Greek houses would exert a greater pull on students than these architectural gems?

Addendum: As I like to say, each year the College does less with more. Can we expect the dynamic Phil Hanlon to turn things around?


Posted on January 14, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Friday, January 13, 2017



Wimp Department: No Snow Sculpture

Snow Sculpture 2017.jpg

In other news, Phil Hanlon announced that Dartmouth Row will soon be demolished to create space for an administrative office complex, and the Green will subsequently be paved over so that the inhabitants of the new buildings will be able to park close to their places of work.

Addendum: Only Dartblog will have this story. Nobody had any time to write it up for The D.

Addendum: An alumnus write in:

That snow-sculpture email was disappointing for two reasons. Obviously the lack of even an attempted major sculpture marks the end of a wonderful tradition. Equally disturbing was the wording of the announcement. I’ve read it three times and cannot identify an actual statement that there will be no snow sculpture this year. It’s implied by the list of difficulties, but they never actually come out and say it. It’s pusillanimous language to match our pusillanimous times.

Addendum: It seems that students have rallied and a private group will build a snow sculpture after all.


Posted on January 13, 2017 6:00 PM. Permalink



Indicting the Hookup Culture

(We are re-printing a few highlights that students have commented on favorably)

Green Heart.jpgThe events of May 2, 2013 between Parker Gilbert and the young woman who pressed charges against him for rape need to be looked at in a broader context. The gymnastics that occurred between them seemingly did not mark firsts for either one, a point that can sadly be made about many students. What the defense called “clumsy, awkward, drunk college sex” is a feature of weekly life at the College for far too many students — the end result of which is, at best, hurt feelings, and at worst, angry “he slurred/she slurred” accusations.

Consent is a strange concept for two people who hardly know each other, whose inhibitions and modesty have been erased by liquor. One or both are vulnerable to abuse, and certainly clear communication between respectful people is well nigh impossible. The hook-up culture will lead to many more May 2’s; things cannot be otherwise. No need to wait. Just look around you, and talk to students whose emotional wounds are not buried at all.

While students will initially protest that they have thrown off the shackles of Victorian morality, and sociologists opine that the hook-up culture is a rational response on the part of both males and females to educational pressures and career ambitions that leave them short of time, it doesn’t take long to hear from students that the age-old longings for love and enduring caring still mark them to the core.

Red Rose1.jpgThe question is whether students in their late-adolescent confusion — and in a world deeply marked by Internet pornography that makes most freshman more knowledgeable about sexual permutations than many of their parents — can learn to hold out for something better than the unsatisfying rutting that takes place today without emotion, let alone love.

The D had a column on Tuesday that, among other things, derided students for what is called on campus “slut shaming.” Maybe we ought to reconsider that point. Perhaps sluts should be shamed as breaking a moral code that treats making love as something precious. And so should “playas” — the kind of guy who thinks that he is admired for bedding as many girls as possible. Both not only do harm to themselves, but they put unneeded pressure on other students to sexually commit themselves far too early in “relationships.”

While we’re at it, let’s also ask students to ask themselves why is it that they need copious amounts of alcohol in order to loosen up and enjoy a party. Are they proud that they have so few personal resources, so little self-confidence, that they can’t go to a fraternity without having knocked back shot after shot of cheap vodka? Examine your lives. Is this how the supposed best and brightest are meant to live with each other? Are the arts of intelligent conversation and romance so dead that Dartmouth students can’t interact without alcoholic lubrication?

Will some group at Dartmouth have the conviction and boldness to break with the herd, and decide that romance is worth the effort — and the risk? A frat? A sorority? A club? There is renown to be had in carving a new way, even if it is the old way. And no little pride in doing an unalloyed good thing. Any takers?

Addendum: I’ve touched on these themes in the past in posts entitled Girls Just Wanna Have Some and Will No One Defend Romance?

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

The clubs at Dartmouth, or any college campus, that spring immediately to my mind as adhering to old-fashioned chastity and chivalry are the following Christian groups: Agape, Cru, Navigators, Christian Union, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, comprising at least a few hundred students. There may be other students of Christian and other faith backgrounds who are committed to romance and honor, but these are the ones that I am familiar with. I might also point you to an interesting recent article (with particular attention to point 1) which notes the early Christian church’s distinctiveness in this area:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-we-need-to-learn-from-early-church


Posted on January 13, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Thursday, January 12, 2017



Ameer: A Friendly Face Doesn’t Cut It

Thumbnail image for IngeLise Ameer1.jpgAs we all mourn the departure of Inge-Lise Ameer, I thought I would take the opportunity to share a couple of brief anecdotes relating to my own interactions with the former Vice-Provost of Student Affairs.

I first met Inge-Lise in the spring of 2013, when I was a freshman and she was a “senior associate dean” of the College. As one of two students helping to organize First-Year Family Weekend, I had the privilege of introducing Dean Ameer (who was speaking in lieu of the mysteriously indisposed Charlotte Johnson) at the weekend’s welcome event for a group of assembled parents. Before stepping up to the podium, Dean Ameer and I had the chance to chat for a few minutes in private. She was warm, engaging, and demonstrated genuine interest in both my experience as a freshman and in the success of the event. It seemed obvious that she cared, and I saw this attitude as an encouraging sign.

A little over a year later, I found myself in the same position during Sophomore Family Weekend, which took place in the summer of 2014. Once again, Inge-Lise — who had, in the meantime, received a promotion to Interim Dean of the College — was to deliver the welcome address. She remembered me from the year before, and we had another pleasant conversation. I came away, for the second time, with the impression that she was simply a very nice human being.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2015, in the wake of the infamous library protest. I cracked open the morning issue of The D and came across this article, where the following section on now-Vice Provost for Student Affairs Ameer and her performance at the post-protest venting session at Cutter-Shabazz stood out:

Vice provost for student affairs Inge-Lise Ameer was in attendance at the meeting, and she apologized to students who engaged in the protest for the negative responses and media coverage that they have received.


“There’s a whole conservative world out there that’s not being very nice,” Ameer said.

Ameer pointed to the College’s press release that acknowledges that no complaints of violence have been filed with the College at this time and describes the protest as a “peaceful meeting” turned “political protest.”

Concerned about both the obvious bias in her statement and her blatant distortion of the events in the library, I sent Vice-Provost Ameer an email asking her to explain her words. I received the following reply:

Dear Michael:


Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I was joking and am sorry you were disappointed. I meant the world can sometimes be a hard and difficult place. The meeting was very intense with your peers expressing lots of fear and frustration about their experiences on campus. I wish you could have been there. I would be happy to meet in person to discuss. Please let me know if you would like to talk.

Best,

Dean Ameer

Because it was clear from the video of the event that Ameer was not, in fact, joking, I did want to talk, so I responded to suggest possible times for an appointment. I never heard back.

The moral of the story here is that nice folks don’t necessarily make for good administrators. Perhaps the most important part of working at the managerial level in an educational institution is ensuring that the various interests and perspectives of the different people who comprise that institution are represented fairly. There can be no room for a political agenda — no thumb pressed on one side of the scale — in a setting that should be a truth-seeking one. Inge-Lise Ameer, despite what we can assume to be good intentions, was therefore incapable of even adequately carrying out her duties as a College employee. Let’s hope that she finds another line of work.

Addendum: A ‘15 writes in:

If one thing is consistent about Ameer, it is that she was never around to answer for her actions or engage with Students. When AD was de-recognized, she had given the students her word that the seniors living in the house (weeks into their Senior Spring term) would not have to move out for their final few weeks on campus. Only days later, she threatened suspension if they did not leave immediately. When those students requested to meet her, she told them she was out of town on vacation. Only problem was she was spotted that night at Molly’s — I guess the only way to get out of a lie to the students you are supposed to represent is to continue to lie.

Addendum: A reader writes in:

Enjoyed your post today — your contributions to Dartblog have been overall excellent! You are more charitable toward Dean Ameer than your older colleague, maybe a function of age and idealism, I don’t know :-)


You make the comment that the Dartmouth setting should be “truth-seeking.” But that’s exactly why people like Ameer proliferate in today’s American college: it no longer is primarily concerned with truth! How apropos that the OED 2016 Word of the Year is “post-truth”: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” God help us all.

Addendum: A regular reader writes in:

With respect, I suggest that Ms. Ameer does not merit inclusion in the roster of “nice folks.” From your anecdotes, she could be superficially pleasant when leftist politics were not at issue. I liked the “mourning”!


Posted on January 12, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Wednesday, January 11, 2017



Why Are We a Rich Kids’ School?

DCF 44 Percent.jpgIn light of the financial aid figures adduced by Michael Beechert last week (here and here), we are certainly competitive with the other Ivies as regards the amount of financial aid that we can offer admitted students (actually, given the size of the endowment, we should be more generous that most of the other Ivy schools, but then there are armies of administrators to feed).

However the question that arises is why, when the admissions dust settles each year, we end up with more full-boat kids in the student body than any other school in the Ancient Eight? As the Dartmouth College Fund ad at right from a recent Alumni Magazine points out (though that is obviously not its intention), 56% of Dartmouth students come from families wealthy enough to pony up about $300,000 — that’s after-tax dollars — so that one son or daughter can come to Hanover for four years (the sky’s the limit on multi-kid families). I’m not ashamed to be in the same bracket, but are we proud that well over half of our students come from families deep into the 1% — the highest proportion of rich kids in the Ivy League:

Ivy Financial Aid 2014A.jpg

Just to be clear, I have no problem with wealth. For the most part, its possession reflects honest achievement on the part of the people who earned it, but when a disproportionate number of students come from cossetted backgrounds (my sense is that the College is loaded with suburban kids who are the offspring of professionals), campus life lacks the perspective that poor and middle income kids bring to the mix, let alone city and rural students.

Why do we have a student body with this kind of profile? The College’s flood of early decision admits certainly plays a role — ED kids are well advised and come from a higher income demographic — though this year a greater number of early decision admits appear to be from less wealthy backgrounds according to the College’s press release:

More than half of the admitted students—52 percent—have applied for financial aid, up from 48 percent last year, and at least 11 percent are eligible for federal Pell Grants.

The number of legacies has increased in the last few years, and the number of first-generation-to-college kids has declined, factors which tamp down the number of students requesting aid. That said, both of those trends appear to be turning around.

It’s not clear what’s happening with the College’s extravagant solicitousness towards the children of major donors (the College employs a special liaison in Admissions-Advancement to “work with” wealthy families, whose donations are desperately needed to …), but needless to say, such students often have both big money and little acquaintanceship with the real world.

All in all, as I wrote the other day, the College should revamp its admissions efforts. As but one measure, on-the-ground interviewing by admissions officers (supported by alumni) would help root out the professionally polished applications of rich kids in favor of students, poor or rich, who will bring experience, leadership skills and intellectual curiosity to Hanover.

Addendum: An alumnus who works closely with students writes in:

I just read your latest piece on Dartmouth as the “rich kids’ school.” You are absolutely right. Your article goes the heart of what is wrong with Dartmouth today. I have been around the Dartmouth scene a long time, and the problem has never been so pronounced. The college’s addiction to money now supersedes everything else. A rural kid like myself from a second-rate high school would never be in the mix. The college is a much less interesting and dynamic place because of it.


Posted on January 11, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Tuesday, January 10, 2017



One Third Adjuncts?

A professor writes in:

Here is the problem: we have a growing number of adjuncts teaching courses at Dartmouth. However, they do not undergo the rigorous examination of their teaching quality that tenure-track faculty undergo. We receive student evaluations, of course, but we do not have a process for adjuncts of sitting in on classes, observing the teaching, discussing the teaching with the instructor, etc. What’s the result? Do we not care about the quality of adjuncts, some of whom teach for decades?

The point is not insignificant in that Dean of the Faculty Mike Mastanduno and Registrar Meredith Braz have both confirmed to me that approximately 34% of the College’s classes are taught by non-tenure-track/non-tenured professors.

This state of affairs has come about as the College has lessened teaching loads on tenure-line faculty members over the years (everyone used to teach five courses each year; today faculty in the Humanities and Social Sciences teach four courses, and professors in the Sciences teach three). Of course, there are competitive reasons for reduced teaching, but the College has not compensated for the changes by adding additional, expensive full faculty members to its ranks (it’s better to hire hundreds of staffers, right?). The administration, as at so many other schools, chose to go with part-timers and other teachers who had been unable to secure tenure track positions — thereby debasing the coin of the realm.

The contrast is notable. As examples, for English 5 (now Writing 5), I was taught by now-full-professor Don Pease (and I survived); and my Italian 1 prof was Nancy Vickers, who went on to become the President of Bryn Mawr. Can today’s students claim teachers of the same pedigree?

That said, the College is holding the line as compared to most institutions in higher education, according to a report published in November by the Delta Cost Project — The Shifting Academic Workforce: Where Are the Contingent Faculty:

Between 2003 and 2013, the study finds, the share of faculty members who were off the tenure track increased from:

- 45 to 62 percent at public bachelor’s degree-granting institutions.
- 52 to 60 percent at private bachelor’s-granting colleges.
- 44 to 50 percent at public research universities.
- 80 to 83 percent at community colleges.

However, given Dartmouth’s wealth, if Phil could get his priorities straight, expanding the faculty in order that classes be smaller and tenure-track faculty have more contact with students, we might help claw back our declining ranking as regards undergraduate teaching.

Addendum: One further comment from a past post:

As in all things, the issue here is balance. Any institution needs a certain percentage of adjunct professors — people to whom it does not make a long term commitment. For example, these flexible relationships allow the administration to shift resources from departments less favored by students over time to more popular ones. And often adjunct faculty are the highly qualified spouses of tenured professors, for whom there is no available tenured position. Their teaching and research can be first-rate.


Posted on January 10, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Monday, January 9, 2017



The Future of Football

Buddy Teevens, a typically high-performing member of the Class of 1979 (the best class ever?) has been appearing on NFL game broadcasts in a 30-second spot that describes his varied efforts to reduce injuries by eliminating tackling in practices — as numerous readers have written in to note. See the commercial here:

Buddy NFL Ad Comp.jpg

Word from the inside is that recruiting for the football team is proceeding swimmingly, as Buddy takes the national lead in playing smart ball. I expect that fundraising is going well, too.

Memo to Phil: If you do memorably innovative things on the ground, applications and dollars will flow in quite effortlessly.


Posted on January 9, 2017 6:00 PM. Permalink



Town-Gown Fieldhouse Spat

We’ve written in the past about the College’s planned fieldhouse — a utilitarian, 70,000 ft² structure that is going to cost an inexplicable fortune:

Fieldhouse1.jpg

Fieldhouse2.jpg

That said, the building is more than necessary. As in so many areas, the administration has fallen behind the competitive curve: Leverone is jammed up at all hours. The structure, which was built in 1965, was adequate for the men’s teams that existed back in the day; with the advent of women’s varsity teams, it has long since been unable to handle demand.

However the College did not reckon with the NIMBY selfishness of the new structure’s residential neighbors, and the intellectual sloppiness of the Town of Hanover’s Planning Board. Several weeks ago the Board voted 4-1 against allowing the construction of the building in the College’s institutional zone next to the Boss Tennis Center:

New Fieldhouse.jpg

The Planning Board’s members seemed to be swayed by the neighbors’ complaint that the building would impact the character of their neighborhood, their property values, and cast a shadow on several homes at some times of day, even though the College’s plan met, as the Board’s members forthrightly admitted, all of the requirements of the Town’s zoning ordinance.

Several aphorisms come to mind: “The difference between a developer and an environmentalist is that the environmentalist has already built a home”; and more classically, Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

Thoreau doing good.jpg

The issue here is one of property rights. The landowners who own homes next to the College’s institutional district have no right to assume that the pretty “sunken field” across the street from them will remain green and untouched for eternity. Dartmouth had already built Thompson Arena, the Boss Tennis Center and the Scully-Fahey stadium in that area, and the Town’s zoning ordinance does not stand in the way of an additional facility. While Hanover’s overall planning ordinance does take into account the Town’s aesthetics (maximum building heights; no commercial buildings in residential neighborhoods, etc.), the Planning Board itself does not sit in arbitrary and unlimited judgement on the look and impact of individual new buildings. It is duty bound to uphold the law. That the Board now arrogates to itself such a subjective and unfettered power should put fear in the hearts of citizens. It is not an overstatement to ask just what other tyrannies await us?

I faced the same type of capriciousness in constricting my childcare center in neighboring Lebanon. Under the misguided notion that the building codes were the law of the land, we designed and prepared a budget for a project that did not include sprinklers (saving about 4% of our construction budget).

Now before you, dear reader, presume to be an expert in fire safety (as the Lebanon Planning Board did), you should be cognizant of several facts: for a small building (9,400ft²) such as ours, the building code does not require sprinklers. Nor does the national fire chief’s generally-more-conservative commentary on the code (the fire chiefs explicitly note that sprinklers are not required for a ground-floor-level childcare facility with adequate egress). Why? For one reason, there has never been a fire-related fatality in a licenced childcare center. We went so far as to do a survey of New Hampshire childcare centers that did have sprinklers — because they are in large structures. All 70 centers told us that their sprinklers had not been activated even once in the last decade.

That information did not restrain the members of Lebanon’s Planning Board from imposing such a requirement on us (at a final cost of $75,000) — even though their responsibility did not extend to building code enforcement (we were before them to review our site plan), let alone requirements clearly exceeding the code. Spare us from well-meaning citizens boards uninfluenced by research, facts and a respect for the law.

The College has now made the decision to take the Town to court on the matter. Good for Phil and his team. Entrepreneurs and builders all over the Upper Valley are applauding the College. With the help of a competent judge, the administration should obtain a decision reining in Hanover’s Planning Board, and the Grafton County Court’s ruling will restrict as a matter of precedent New Hampshire citizens’ boards that range far beyond their grant of power. In doing so, the College will do a service to the State and to democracy.

Addendum: At a time when the nation’s legal and constitutional restraints are considered by many people to be under some pressure, the Valley News quoted one of the project’s residential neighbors, a doctor at DHMC who holds both an MD and a Ph.D.:

Julie Kim, who would have been one of the closest abutters, said board members had taken an “aspirational” step outside the letter of town ordinances, and looked beyond to what the character of the town should be. “That was the right decision,” she said. “This is outside the box, really, in terms of rules and regulations. That’s huge.”

God save us from citizens’ boards that make decisions “outside the box, really, in terms of rules and regulations” — and from people whose understanding of basic civics is so limited. When did we forget that government staffers are there to uphold the law as it was voted on by the legislature, and not to make up new laws as they see fit on a case-by-case basis?


Posted on January 9, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Sunday, January 8, 2017



Football and Academics

There’s a good story to be written about the emphasis that Buddy Teevens ‘79, his assistant coaches, and his players place on academics. For now, here’s a taste:

We are back on campus and wasting no time getting back in the weight room! #TheWoods pic.twitter.com/zAFYeYWY5p

— Dartmouth Football (@DartFootball) January 5, 2017


Today’s quiz: Which Ivy League school’s football players have a higher graduation rate than the student body as a whole — and by a long ways?


Posted on January 8, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink



You Must Remember This

Doisneau Kiss.jpgSo do Italians kiss better than the French? Robert Doisneau’s image of Parisian lovers outside of City Hall lacks the tenderness, at least to my mind, on behalf of both the woman and the man that animates every aspect of Francesco Hayez’ oil painting entitled The Kiss (1859) below. Which painting is about desire, and in which one are the characters giving of themselves heart and soul?

Hayez (1791-1882) doesn’t seem to make it into the canon as taught at the College, but his paintings are much loved in Milan — especially the portraits of patrician local families, which are displayed in abundance at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Pinacoteca di Brera. I had gone to Brera to enjoy Caravaggio’s late-in-life Supper at Emmaus (different from an earlier one in London), and after spending time with that painting and works by Caravaggisti in a previous room, I happened once more (I never remember to look for it) upon Hayez’ work. Needless to say, there is always a shy group of people around it — folks too awkward to admit being moved by its unabashed-on-both-sides romance. I was not so limited:

Hayez The Kiss.jpg

A kiss isn’t just a kiss.

Addendum: Thanks to Herman Hupfeld for penning the headline to this post.


Posted on January 8, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Saturday, January 7, 2017



The Boys of Winter

Dartmouth athletes work out on the practice field behind the Hanover Food Co-op. Temperature: 22°

Boys of Winter.jpg


Posted on January 7, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink



College Accused of Abusing Voles

Actually I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. From the Union Leader:

Vole Complaint Comp.jpg


Posted on January 7, 2017 3:59 AM. Permalink

Friday, January 6, 2017



Goodbye Inge-Lise

Inge-Lise Ameer.jpgWhen Inge-lise Ameer was named Vice Provost for Student Affairs, this space had a post entitled The Dean of the College Disaster. And now that she is leaving the College — with no professional forwarding address provided — the Dartmouth News buried the announcement of her departure in the second half of a scintillating press release entitled College Reorganizes Student Affairs Leadership Structure:

Dever thanked Inge-Lise Ameer, the vice provost for student affairs, who is leaving the College, for her six-and-a-half years of valued service and commitment to Dartmouth. The vice provost’s position will not be filled.

“Inge has been a key member of the student affairs team, serving in numerous roles since the day she arrived at Dartmouth, always finding a way to make a positive difference in the lives of students. Her ideas and her concern for students will be missed,” Dever said.

During her tenure, Ameer helped launch the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” initiative in the student affairs departments. In addition, she initiated and guided significant advances in student services, including the planning and opening of the Ross Advising Suite in the library, resulting in a 30 percent increase in student utilization of the services offered by the undergraduate deans.

Ameer also advanced campus services and access for students and other community members with disabilities, worked with faculty to create and implement the Advising 360 pilot program for first- and second-year students, and ensured the continuation and expansion of the First Year Student Enrichment Program for first-generation students.

Provost Carolyn Dever should never have placed Ameer in such a position in the first place. Dever’s nose for talent is as blocked up as Phil’s is. Competence and confidence have nothing to do with it, dearie; both our President and Provost look only for doctrinaire, politically correct, fellow travelers — and the College is the worse for it.

Ameer’s Doctor of Education thesis topic should have been enough to warn Phil and Carolyn to steer clear (Day-to-day race relations at Harvard College: The student perspective), but given their party-line politics, the tract probably enticed them:

Distinguishing this study from previous research on racial climate is its emphasis on exploring students’ experiences and interpretations of their day-to-day positive and negative cross-race interactions. Based on semi-structured interviews with seven African American, seven Latino, seven Asian American and seven white undergraduates, it examines students’ interpretations of these interactions, the differences in racial groups’ descriptions and reports of their experiences, and the strategies students employ to develop successful cross-race relationships. Data analysis incorporates two processes: drafting analytical memos (Strauss, 1987) and transcribing and coding the interviews and memos (Patton, 1990).


The study’s findings indicate that students experience a strained civility in their cross-race interactions in extra-curricular activities, in housing, and in the curriculum. Students arrive with different orientations: white students arrive excited about being part of the most racially diverse community they have ever belonged to. Students of color, on the other hand, are primarily focused on exploring their own racial identities with other students of color. As a result, students of color face nervous and awkward moments with white students who have little skills or strategies for living daily in a racially diverse community. Comparatively, white students experience students of color as not being interested in them. These factors contribute to tense daily cross-race interactions and result in students across race turning to racial stereotypes for explanations of these interactions.
[Emphasis added]

However, even though Ameer was hired, her performance subsequent to the BLM library invasion fourteen months ago should have resulted in her dismissal at that time:

Below is a transcription of the first part of Dean Ameer’s comments:

Inge-Lise Ameer: I’m very sorry about all of this. I know it doesn’t help, but we’ve received a lot of terrible calls today, too, and we’ve told them that they were all, you know, ridiculous, and that the protest was a wonderful, beautiful thing.

Geovanni Cuevas ‘14: Can you elaborate on that?

Inge-Lise Ameer: You know, people, there’s a whole conservative world out there that’s not very nice.

Geovanni Cuevas ‘14: They’re fucking racists. Don’t say they’re not very nice. They’re fucking racists. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to blow up like that.

Inge-Lise Ameer: I’m not going to say that. But it was hard. We’re on Yik Yak all the time and we’re constantly contacting them: Please take this down. Please do this. Stop doing this.

We fought bored@baker. It’s finally down. It took five years to get that stupid thing down.

And all I can keep saying, as I’ve been saying with students all of the last few days, if you’re feeling unsafe, and you’re not feeling that you’re getting responded to, then you contact me directly. And will deal with it, because that is not right, and I don’t want you feeling this way, I don’t want any of you feeling this way.

And I think that the reaction to the protest in the library has been, I think that it just displays our society very clearly right now.

Enough said.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

True to the spirit of “Mad Men,” the College managed to bury the fact that Ameer has finally been shown the proverbial door. While a simple press release stating “we have heard you and are making changes” might have served to signal that President Hanlon was finally focused on the “in the trenches” changes needed to restore Dartmouth as an champion of undergraduates, I guess we should at least applaud the long overdue result if not the obfuscated process!

Addendum: As does another:

I’m stunned by the information you gave on Ameer’s doctoral work. You can interview 28 people in a “semi-structured” way and become a Ph.d.? I’m in. That sounds fun, quick, and easy! Maybe, you’d all like to join me. The notion of drawing conclusions about how an entire group feels for the sake of policy creation from such a statistically small sample is laughable. How did she pick these people? Did she ask them questions that resulted in the answers she wanted, or the “semi-structured” answers she wanted? And by the way, Dever needs to go too.

Addendum: And yet another.

Hoo-ray! … nice way to start the new year. Maybe now, finally, the administration is beginning to get back on a better track. Did, me wonders, a reduction in “gift giving” have something to do with Ameer’s departure?

Addendum: And another:

Thanks for your reporting on the outgoing Vice-Provost and the Dean’s Office. While it is a step forward that Hanlon finally realized his mistake in splitting the Dean’s office in two, the real test will be if they get rid of the Dean of Student Affairs Liz Agosto and the other dead wood in Parkhurst. We can only hope that Dean Biron will work on improving the undergraduate experience rather than building a bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, Hanlon still is unable to provide strong leadership and vision for Dartmouth. Happy New Year and Kind regards.

Addendum: And another:

Thanks for your January 6th post. The You Tube video of Ameer addressing the snowflakes sickened me yet again. “I know its scary [for you] to file a report”… “Our new Provost is very much in support of all this” [ref. to Demonstrations]… WHAT????

Your post references a comment from Provost Dever that Ameer gave “6 1/2 years of valued service and commitment to Dartmouth.” At what cost per annum in dollar terms and total lack of ‘grown up guidance’ from a Dartmouth Senior Administration official? This “leader” should have been shown the door within 24 hours of this video being posted. Do you think that this type of non-leadership has had an impact on current Dartmouth Fundraising?….well, let me think on that…let me really ponder that for a while…I’ll get back to you on that!


Posted on January 6, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Thursday, January 5, 2017



Financial Aid: How Do We Do? (2/2)

Yesterday, I presented the design of our experiment intended to compare financial aid across the Ivy League for three different hypothetical applicants. Today, we reveal the results.

The y-axis on the graphs below represents the net of total anticipated grant aid (institutional and federal) subtracted from the cost of attendance for each university; in other words, it is the amount that would have to be paid by a student via some combination of loans, family contributions, and student savings/job income. Some schools artificially deflated the out-of-pocket family contribution by assuming a heavy loan burden and/or significant student financial contribution through on-campus work (Cornell was particularly egregious on this point). However, since we’re primarily interested in the total amount that has to be paid out by families — regardless of where that money comes from — this sort of creative number-fudging has been ignored.

What are the morals of this story? Well, number one — all institutions (except Brown) appear to be more or less equally affordable for people from low-income backgrounds. Columbia is a little pricier and Cornell (strangely) claims to be a bit cheaper, but at this level, the playing field seems relatively even:

Ivy Financial Aid Tennessee1.jpg

In the middle-class scenario, Harvard and Princeton begin to separate themselves from the rest to the tune of approximately $5,000 to $10,000 a year (not taking into account Brown). Multiply that over four years and you have a new car. Dartmouth and Yale can make 2,000 or so compelling arguments against Columbia and Penn and twice that many against Cornell. Meanwhile, Christina Paxson at Brown is looking around her office for a folder large enough to hold all of the checks that have been arriving in the mail before she runs to the bank:

Ivy Financial Aid Minnesota1.jpg

Our more affluent student sees a particularly large division between Harvard and Princeton on one hand and everybody else on the other. Columbia and Penn, which are the next least-expensive, are almost $20,000 a year more than Princeton in this case. Dartmouth will cost around $7,000 more than Columbia and Penn, putting it slightly behind Yale and next to Cornell. (President Paxson is still at the bank):

Ivy Financial Aid NY1.jpg

So while Dartmouth doesn’t bring up the rear thanks to Phil’s partner in crime in Providence, the College does little to separate itself from the non-Harvard/Princeton contingent despite our large endowment relative to everyone except HYP. (Yale, curiously, lags behind). Amidst weak applicant numbers and concerted efforts at yield management, wouldn’t Dartmouth be wise to take advantage of its favorable financial position as compared to say, Columbia, to set itself apart when sending out aid offers? I can think of no more effective way to make the College more appealing to prospective students. Money, unlike poorly produced admissions videos, is something that people can understand and respect. Give students concrete and sensible reasons (as measured in dollars) to choose Dartmouth over its peers, and they will.

Or we can just continue to brag about how our new energy institute, which is named after an oil tycoon, is going to solve the world’s sustainability problems. Maybe that’ll work instead?

Part 1, Part 2


Posted on January 5, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Wednesday, January 4, 2017



Menchildren?

Menchildren.jpg


Posted on January 4, 2017 6:00 PM. Permalink



Financial Aid: How Do We Do? (1/2)

As the cost of higher education skyrockets across the United States, universities’ ability to provide financial aid to prospective students is often a deciding factor in where students choose to go for their undergraduate degrees. Schools competing for the best applicants therefore find it advantageous to be generous.

Dartmouth, as one of the richer schools in the country, should in theory be able to position itself ahead of the pack here. The College is the fourth-richest school in the Ivy League as measured by endowment per student, and although we lag behind Princeton, Harvard, and Yale by some distance, we are far wealthier than Columbia, Penn, Brown, and Cornell:

Dartmouth Endowment Per Student 2014.jpg

In order to get a general idea of how financial aid packages shape up across the Ivy League, I created dummy accounts for three imaginary students on the College Board website, which hosts financial aid calculators for five of the Ancient Eight. (Obnoxiously, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton host their calculators on their own websites).

Each student represented, roughly speaking, a different slice of the broader applicant pool as divided up by economic background: Student 1 was from a working-class family in rural Tennessee; Student 2 was from a middle-class family in the Twin Cities; and Student 3 was from a white-collar family in suburban New York. All had parents who were married and two siblings not yet in college. Because the calculators require detailed financial information, I came up with portfolios for each family:

Student 1, Tennessee
Income: 40K
Checking/savings/cash: 1K
Non-retirement investments: 30K
Home value: 150K
Home purchase price: 100K
Outstanding debt on home: 50K

Student 2, Minnesota
Income: 75K
Checking/savings/cash: 5K
Non-retirement investments: 75K
Home value: 300K
Home purchase price: 200K
Outstanding debt on home: 100K

Student 3, New York
Income: 150K
Checking/savings/cash: 10K
Non-retirement investments: 200K
Home value: 500K
Home purchase price: 280K
Outstanding debt on home: 140K

A few notes: The estimates for home purchase prices were based on the average sale price of a house in each area in the year 2000, and the outstanding debt figure assumes a 20% down payment and a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage at 8% that was refinanced down to a lower rate at some point in the mid-2000s. Additionally, I gave each student an income of $2000 for the previous year (from a summer job, for example) and savings of $1000.

The calculators also take tax deductions, investment income, and other factors into account; I entered zero for all fields not covered by the above information in order to make things easier for myself. The estimates given by the calculators will therefore not be entirely representative of what each family would actually have to pay, as these things will come into play for most people in real life. However, the important thing is that the same exact information was entered into each school’s calculator so that we can form a fair comparison between all eight Ivy League schools.

Tomorrow, we’ll reveal the results. In the meantime, feel free to amuse yourselves by guessing where Dartmouth stands for each scenario. Do we bring up the rear, or will McNutt have a surprise in store for us all?

Part 1, Part 2


Posted on January 4, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Tuesday, January 3, 2017



Trigger and Other Warnings

A reposting of a piece from last term:

You bitch about the present, you blame it on the past

I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little ass

Get Over It — The Eagles (Hell Freezes Over, 1994), Don Henley, Glenn Frey

Look, there have always been warnings — trigger and other kinds. Even a conservative commentator like George Will alerted his readers to the harshness of his upcoming words in a column in Newsweek in 1990 (America’s Slide Into The Sewer):

I regret the offensiveness of what follows. However, it is high time adult readers sample the words that millions of young Americans are hearing.

He was comparing the aggressively misogynistic and sexual-violence-threatening words of an early rap group, 2 Live Crew, with the testimony of the supposed rapists (since acquitted) of the Central Park jogger (the sister of a Dartmouth student).

Will issued his warning because his quotations contravened the established expectations of the people who read his column. My own children would similarly warn me if they played a currently popular song like No Heart by 21 Savage & Metro Boomin (click on the link for some truly chilling lyrics) or if they used the family TV to watch a run-of-the-mill (for them) teenage slasher movie.

In that light, the recent University Chicago admonition against trigger warnings and the various other manifestations of the modern sensitivity lacked nuance. There is a place for warnings at a modern university, but that place should be limited to instances where the harshness of an item being studied is grossly out of synch with the legitimate expectations of students.

For 18-22-year-olds who are sufficiently old to vote and go to war, and who believe they have a God-given right to drink to excess and have random sex, most of the current nonsense about trigger warnings and safe spaces has no place at an élite college. It’s time to tell the small minority of supposed sufferers that they need to toughen up. Now.

Trigger Warning Warning.jpgThe great majority of students comprehend that college is about growing and dealing with challenges both external and internal. You work to learn new ways of thinking, and you try hard to build self-confidence while drifting in a sea of doubt. Some professors teach this strength via ordeal (undergraduates who have had a class with Meir Kohn know what I mean), and varsity athletes understand that Dartmouth coaches won’t keep their jobs if they don’t win: athletes don’t receive trigger warnings; they get very clear, almost confrontational, communication about their strengths and weaknesses.

Overall an Ivy League education is demanding on so many levels. That’s the point. Students are not at Dartmouth to boohoo because an image or an allusion disturbs their delicate psyches — unless it goes beyond a hard-to-define-in-words standard of what is truly troubling.

Absurd stories abound. This past summer term a student complained that she had not been warned about upcoming material concerning the Holocaust that was presented in the History course History and Culture of the Jews II (Modern Period). Come again? Our special snowflake has no grounds to stand on here. What was she expecting would be studied in the course?

And I was present in an introductory engineering class at Thayer in 2015 when the professor warned that an upcoming film clip would feature several uses of “the F-bomb” — that awful, awful word that starts and ends with the same letters as “firetruck.” To a class of Dartmouth sophomores? Are you kidding me? Or better yet: WTF?

But let’s go further. Who can have existed in the real world far from our fairyland campus and not have already been affronted by images of sexuality, violence and terror in our no-holds-barred culture of movies, music, TV, the internet, and magazines. High school students live with such material on a regular basis. How is it that when they come to Hanover some students expect an idyll wherein nothing remotely untoward might agitate their timid souls?

A trigger warning was originally meant as a prophylactic alert for the very limited number of students who carry the emotional baggage of a serious past trauma, the goal being to protect people from the opening of old wounds. Sure we can be sensitive, but at the same time, how many supposed trauma-inducing events are there out there? My wife has a thing about fire from a household blaze when she was a girl, but we still roast marshmallows, and she would not think of asking that she be warned about any upcoming references to flames. The list of events that might have scared/scarred people is endless. Shall we have a go: sexual assault, physical assault, fire, murder, Nazis, natural disasters (a whole list in and of itself), disease and death, racism, anger, and on and on.

Of course, what began as solicitousness to a very small number of psychologically traumatized students has morphed into a concern for anything that might make people cringe, even slightly. That’s silly. Dealing with unpleasantness is part of growing up, and more importantly, it is often part of understanding. Should students ask to see only an expurgated version of Seven Years A Slave in a course about the history of race in America because the violent scenes of lashing and rape are hard to watch? Of course, they are hard to watch. That’s the point of the movie.

Such matters are approached more maturely in other cultures. Prior to a trip to the Normandy invasion beaches, ninth-grade students at my children’s school in France watched the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan in class. To visit the beaches in the peaceful present without a visceral (literally and metaphorically) sense of the heroism and carnage that took place there 72 summers ago is to not really understand them at all. I asked my daughter’s history teacher if any students or parents had complained about the gore and violence in Spielberg’s film. “No,” he replied nonchalantly, “All the kids had seen the movie at home anyways.”

So let’s re-think trigger warnings. We need to tell students that it can be an ugly, violent world out there, and part of the goal of a Dartmouth education is to face up to that fact and prepare for it. Professors will warn you of material that lies well outside the realm of mature expectations, but students who are not ready to come to grips with reality as it is commonly understood should perhaps take a gap year, and only come to Hanover when they are grown up enough to begin their studies.

Addendum: This past summer in his History 94 course Jews and Arabs in Israel-Palestine: Past and Present, visiting professor Hillel Cohen of the Hebrew University included the following blanket trigger warning in his syllabus:

Trigger Warning1.jpg

Do I detect the slightest note of sarcasm, even derision, in this paragraph. In any event, a blanket trigger warning is about as far as a professor should go in the absence of material that is far outside of a course’s expected subject matter.

Addendum: 150 faculty members at the University of Chicago have issued a letter supporting the idea that trigger warnings and safe spaces as legitimate subjects for campus discussion. The subject is a lively one. Look at this overview in the Brown Daily Herald: National trigger warning discussion comes to campus. And this critical column by Gordon Crovitz in the WSJ: A Safe Space for Unsafe Spaces.


Posted on January 3, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Monday, January 2, 2017



A Cheap Convenience Store

Even a sunny winter’s day cannot redeem the cheap ugliness of one of the Moving Dartmouth forward clubhouses — this one next the College’s elegant, though down-in-the-mouth Gold Coast dorms. For three million dollars, you’d think that the administration could come up with something that looked better than a roadside convenience store:

Convenience Store1.jpg

Architecture as metaphor, anyone?


Posted on January 2, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink



The Best College Values

Kiplinger Magazine has come out with a ranking of The Best College Values. Click on the link for a description of the editors’ methodology. At #5 among the Ivies, the College does not do too badly:

Kiplinger Best College Values 2017 Comp.jpg

Kiplinger has quoted an “all-in” cost (including books, travel, etc.) in its calculation of the cost of attendance. Funny numbers. How is it possible that beyond tuition, room and board and fees, one can spend only $960/year at Cornell (the lowest in the Ivies), but a year in Hanover will run a student $1,665 (the highest).

Here are the figures for the tuition, room and board, and fees cost for the Ivies for the 2016-2017 academic year: Columbia $68,405; Dartmouth: $66,174; Penn: $66,000; Cornell: $64,853; Yale: $64,650; Brown: $64,556; Harvard: $63,025; and Princeton: $60,090.

The College could do much better in this kind of ranking if we could get our costs under control.

Addendum: And to think that Dartmouth had long had the reputation as “a poor man’s college”; “it was possible for a young man to get an education there at less expense than at almost any other college in the country.”


Posted on January 2, 2017 3:59 AM. Permalink

Sunday, January 1, 2017



Happy New Year 2017

Dartmouth Undying

Who can forget her sharp and misty mornings,
The clanging bells, the crunch of feet on snow,
Her sparkling noons, the crowding into Commons,
The long white afternoons, the twilight glow?
See! By the light of many thousand sunsets,
Dartmouth Undying, like a vision starts.
Dartmouth, the gleaming, dreaming walls of Dartmouth,
Miraculously builded in our hearts.

—Franklin McDuffee ‘21

Dartmouth Undying.jpg

The campus is so still at 6:08am.


Posted on January 1, 2017 4:00 AM. Permalink

Saturday, December 31, 2016



Fantin-Latour Chrysanthemums

Henri Fantin-Latour.jpgMaking a point about art by reproducing on your screen a photo of a painting taken with my iPhone 7 is, well, several steps removed from reality — but the joyousness of Henri Fantin-Latour’s Chrysanthèmes Annuels (1889) compels me to try. Fantin’s still life paintings, of which there are about 500, leap out at me in museums; their vivid faithfulness to nature is only the beginning of the pleasures that they impart. At times you have to ask yourself if the flowers, even if slightly wilted, could ever have been so beautiful — or if the reproduction is more lovely than the reality ever was.

Fantin uses a heavy transparent glaze over thickly applied paint in a seemingly original way; light glints and dances through and off of it. You find yourself smiling as you gaze upon the pictures, and you are not alone:

Fantin Latour2.jpg

The Fantin-Latour retrospective at the Musée de Luxembourg runs until February 12. The exhibition includes still lifes (formal, Dutch-inspired ones and his later, more natural depictions); self-portraits (Fantin did many); domestic and group portraits; and fantasy images (the weakest works in the show to my mind). The group portraits, depicting leading cultral figures of the day, have an unforced quality to them that bears a comparison:

Fantin Group Portrait.jpg

Addendum: Museums either have given up trying to stop photography or they have finally understood that flashless picture-taking does no harm to anyone. A good development.


Posted on December 31, 2016 4:00 AM. Permalink