Take Back Dartmouth
Take Back Dartmouth
Why this petition matters
It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!
We, the undersigned, feel that it is our duty to address certain issues that threaten the current and future well-being of Dartmouth College. We love Dartmouth as much as you do, and this is why we are deeply troubled to witness what we feel are negative developments in the College’s financial practices and treatment of student life. Because the Dartmouth administration has been unresponsive to and even dismissive of these concerns when we have expressed them behind closed doors, we have drafted this petition to publicly call attention to the problems outlined below and precipitate much-needed change in Hanover.
First, we believe that the lack of fiscal discipline that has come to characterize the College’s decision-making process has harmed Dartmouth students as well as the broader Dartmouth community. Specifically, the unchecked growth of extraneous services and unnecessary support offices, along with the mass hiring of non-faculty staff members, is holding back Dartmouth from reaching its full potential. According to the Dartmouth Office of Institutional Research, non-faculty staff numbered 2,408 in the year 1999 (1). By 2004, this figure had risen to 3,342 – an increase of almost 1,000 staffers in just five years. Notwithstanding layoffs necessitated by the recession, the College has not taken steps to reverse its prolonged hiring binge. In 2015, Dartmouth employed a total of 3,497 non-faculty staff, and it seems unlikely that the current administration has plans to change course (2).
While the numbers themselves are sufficiently alarming, the absence of any stated justification for this increase in hiring makes it particularly difficult to see how the expansion of its staff makes the College better equipped to fulfill its institutional mission. The true strength of Dartmouth lies in its world-class faculty and in the interactions between students and professors that result from a vigorous focus on undergraduate education. Adding layers of bureaucracy, as the College has, can hardly be seen as enhancing this focus when no convincing academic rationale for doing so is provided. Moreover, these additional legions of staffers actively weigh down Dartmouth from a fiscal perspective. Since every new employee receives a salary and benefits, the College must constantly find ways to accumulate new funds that could either be avoided entirely or put to better use elsewhere.
As such, Dartmouth continues to increase its cost of attendance. In March, the Board of Trustees approved a tuition increase of 3.9% (3), even though the increase in the overall US Consumer Price Index from January 2015 to January 2016 measured 1.4% (4). Sadly, this decision is only part of a disturbing long-term trend of budgetary overindulgence. The total cost of attendance at Dartmouth has risen 39.0% between the 2009-10 and the 2016-17 school years (5,6). The increase in the overall Consumer Price Index for the same time period will be approximately 10.3% (7). Meanwhile, dormitories such as the Choates and River clusters remain in decrepit condition (8), faculty members receive lower pay than their counterparts at peer institutions (9), and – in a particularly catastrophic display of the College’s corrupted institutional priorities – need-blind admissions for international students were ended this past fall (10). Such a state of affairs demonstrates Dartmouth’s neglect of its students, its apparent disregard for its standing in the world, and an ignorance of what truly contributes to a healthy and productive educational environment.
Shall our State Legislatures be allowed to take that which is not their own, to turn it from its original use, and apply it to such ends and purposes as they in their discretion shall see fit!
Instead of making a sincere and concerted attempt to resolve the issues mentioned above, the Dartmouth administration has spent its time policing student life. Buoyed by the idea that the College should support exclusionary “safe spaces” that act as a barrier against uncomfortable ideas (11), administrators have assumed the role of paternalistic babysitters. By effectively taking sides in sensitive debates and privileging the perspectives of certain students over others (12,13), administrators have crossed the line between maintaining a learning environment that is open to all and forcing their own personal views onto the entire campus. In doing so, they have undermined the value of civility, harmed the free exchange of ideas, and performed a disservice to those students who see their time in college as preparation for success in the real world. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which aims to protect free speech on college campuses, accordingly lowered Dartmouth’s speech code rating from green to yellow in the past year (14). The Greek system, which has historically provided students with a social arena relatively free from the control of administrators, has been subjected to increasingly strict administrative control as well (15-17). We believe that the administration should treat students like the legal adults they are and cease chipping away at free speech, free thought, and free association. The energies of President Hanlon and Board of Trustees, as discussed above, are needed elsewhere.
We therefore envision a College that has stripped away unnecessary deans, administrators, and support offices. We envision a College where students are granted the liberty to lead their lives as they please and enjoy a true freedom to speak their minds. We envision a College that has recommitted itself to its roots in rigorous and stimulating undergraduate education. Achieving all of this will not be easy, as Dartmouth must engage in some painful soul-searching so that it can begin eliminating staff and administrative positions not central to the academic mission of the College. Doing so will require both time and moral courage, but the College will benefit from this examination of priorities by rediscovering its institutional spirit.
This, Sir, is my case! It is the case not merely of that humble institution, it is the case of every college in our Land! It is more!
This sort of decisive action would constitute a much-needed change in direction for all prestigious institutions of higher education; the ranks of staff at schools ranging from Harvard to Brown to Williams have expanded tremendously over the past three decades (18). By making a public commitment to reversing the trend of rampant and unnecessary bloat in our universities, Dartmouth would mark itself as a pioneer. If the higher education bubble must be popped, it would be in the College’s interest to be the school that wields the skewer.
If it were to take an even braver step and pass the savings that would result from staff reductions to its students, Dartmouth would perform a great public service. A significant reduction in tuition, combined with an appropriate investment in student-oriented infrastructure and academic programming, would prove to the world that the College exists to serve the talented young men and women who journey to Hanover every fall. Peer institutions would likely follow suit in order to remain competitive. High school seniors and their families would no longer be forced to swallow an increasingly-unbearable pill in order to pursue a world-class education, and they would have Dartmouth to thank. The College, moreover, would benefit as well by having the luxury of selecting entering classes from a broader and more talented applicant pool. Prospective applicants currently discouraged by Dartmouth’s astronomical sticker price would no longer be led to believe that a Dartmouth education is something reserved for the elite. At an institution where over half of the incoming class comes from families that are able to spend almost $70,000 a year to send one child to college (19), increased socioeconomic diversity can only be a positive. If the College genuinely wishes to enhance diversity on campus, as appears to be the case (20-23), administrators would be wise to put their money where their mouth is.
Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak, it is in your hands!... But if you do so, you must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights of science which for more than a century have thrown their radiance over our land!
We therefore urge the Board of Trustees, along with President Hanlon and the rest of the Dartmouth administration, to depart from the realm of student life and instead expend every possible effort to eliminate unnecessary costs so that the school can refocus on the elements that once made Dartmouth a truly unique College: a passionate intellectual community mixed with an environment in which students acquire the experience necessary to thrive in the real world. We hope that by soliciting input from students and faculty about how and where these changes can be made, Dartmouth will take steps to best utilize its tremendous resources and establish itself as the fiscally-prudent maverick that higher education so desperately needs.
We request that all readers sign this petition and spread it to other members of the Dartmouth community. Moreover, we encourage all students, faculty members, and alumni to take matters into their own hands in order to fight for the future of the College. Phone calls, letters, and emails demanding discipline and the adoption of proper priorities in Hanover are necessary if Dartmouth’s leadership is to be made aware of its errors and set on a righted course. Inaction and silence, however, amounts to acceptance of the unacceptable. Dartmouth deserves better. It deserves, above all, our care.
Sir, I know not how others may feel, but for myself, when I see my Alma Mater surrounded, like Caesar in the Senate House, by those who are reiterating stab upon stab, I would not for this right hand have her say to me, 'Et tu quoque, mi fili!'
Most Sincerely Yours,
Danny Reitsch ’16 – Senior Class President
Michael Beechert ’16 – Senior Class Treasurer
Robert Scales ’16 – Moderator of the Palaeopitus Society
Dari Seo ’16 – Vice President of Student Assembly
Elisabeth Schricker ’17 – Junior Class President
4) http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpid1603.pdf (see table 24)
236.916 (CPI 1/2016) – 233.707 (CPI 1/2015) / 233.707 = 0.0137
$69,474 (Total Upperclassman COA 2016-7) – $49,974 (TUCOA 2009-10) / $49,974 = 0.390
7) http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpid1603.pdf (see table 24)
238.132 (CPI 3/2016) – 215.969 (CPI 9/2009) / 215.969 = 0.1026
All italics from Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, Dartmouth College v. Woodward. https://www.dartmouth.edu/~dwebster/speeches/dartmouth-peroration.html
Image from communications.dartmouth.edu