A President Worthy of a Mansion

The home of a scholar or of another bureaucrat?Writing in The Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith quietly introduces the world to a novel type of fiscal litmus test. About halfway through his magnum opus, he observes with cheerful pithiness that “the health of any community can be discerned simply and truly by the quality of its homeowners.” Simply put: should society’s most impressive structures rest safely in the hands of the most worthy, then the nation’s integrity remains intact, and its future is secure. Should, however, its mansions and palaces be occupied by the mundane – by the legions of middlemen, bureaucrats, and apparatchiks of a new elite – then its days are numbered and its former greatness is doomed to the ash-heap of history.

While this historic warning may seem a tad heavy-handed, a careful look at the current state of the College’s affairs proves it not only relevant, but downright prophetic. It would appear that in the last few decades, a radical and far-reaching change has swept through the campus, altering the way Parkhurst approaches its goal of educational excellence. Once upon a time, Dartmouth seemed to emphasize the values of efficiency and affordability in contexts other than admission packet platitudes. Administrations used the interest from the school’s endowment and the generosity of its donors to develop a world-class curriculum, keep tuition costs low, and, above all else, fill the homes of Hanover with legions of accomplished professors and a paucity of bureaucrats.

Since then, however, times have certainly changed. Pushed and pulled by an increasingly antagonistic progressivism, the College has abandoned these good practices all but in name. In their place, a succession of administrations have followed trends in higher education to dangerous extremes, adding nonessential personnel, departments, and offices every time some maladjusted campus interest group feels maligned. As a result, Dartmouth currently has 98 distinct, non-academic offices that it funds each and every year as part of its operating budget, many of which are made feckless not only by their flawed premise but also by their redundancy with preexisting programs.

Few students must realize, for example, that between the enormous office of the Dean of the College, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, the Office for Student Accessibility, and the Office of Pluralism and Leadership (OPAL), there exist four separate departments or committees for Asian American advising and outreach. The same is true for black, Native American, LGTBQ, Hispanic, and “Women and Gender” campus groups, which are all concurrently served by a number of umbrella and group-specific initiatives. While it is, of course, important to recognize the contributions of these constituencies to campus life, there is no reason that their interests cannot be more adequately and efficiently served by a sensible reorganization of resources.

Then there is the issue of non-student interest liabilities. Each year, the college spends tuition dollars funding nearly a dozen non-essential offices and facilities. These include the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth, the Center for the Advancement of Learning, and the Office of President Emeritus James Wright (all of which possess websites that are even less instructive than their titles). There is little reason why these institutions cannot be severely reduced in size and scope, if not outright disbanded. Given Dartmouth’s stated focus on the education of undergraduates, one cannot help but wonder what we as an institution gain from funding these liabilities year after year.

Finally, let us not forget the management of day-to-day details. In recent years, College administrators have shown an unnerving proclivity to shirk their leadership responsibilities by deferring to “task forces” and “committees” to address the latest campus issues. The late President Kim (whose $1,084,885 salary was both a fiscal and PR fiasco in and of itself) was infamous for his belated knee-jerk reaction to last winter’s hazing scandal. When he finally did respond, it was not through the existing offices of GLOS or Student Life, but with the creation of yet more costly bureaucratic nonsense in the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability (COSSA). Despite its 12-person staff and high media profile, COSSA (which is Chaired by Dean Charlotte Johnson) has failed to meet once since May of last year. Instead, it sits on the sidelines, idling away tuition dollars that could be directed toward more worthwhile undergraduate pursuits.  

What is the cost of all of this waste and inefficiency? More than you might think. This spring, members of the Class of 2013 will graduate from the eighth most expensive college in the world having each paid $224,347.81 in tuition, room, and board (before financial aid) over the course of their four years here.  That contrasts remarkably with the college costs of the alumni community they will be joining. The tables below, which present the breakdown for four years at Dartmouth as a member of the Class of 1961 versus that of a member of the Class of 2013, are remarkably telling:

 

1958

Tuition:

$1,170.00

$9,320.37

Board:

$495.00

$3,943.23

Room:

$360.00

$2,867.80

Total:

$2,2025.00

$16,131.40

                                           (Nominal)                          (Adjusted)

 

1959

Tuition:

$1,400.00

$11,075.92

Board:

$465.00

$3,678.79

Room:

$360.00

$2,848.09

Total:

$2,225.00

$17,601.88

                                                 (Nominal)                   (Adjusted)

 

1960

Tuition:

$1,400.00

$10,888.83

Board:

$490.00

$3,811.09

Room:

$360.00

$2,799.99

Total:

$2,225.00

$17,499.91

                                         (Nominal)                        (Adjusted)

                     

1961

Tuition:

$1,550.00

$11,934.53

Board:

$490.00

$3,772.85

Room:

$360.00

$2,771.89

Total:

$2,400.00

$18,479.27

                                                (Nominal)                 (Adjusted)

Grand Total (Adjusted): $69,712.46


2010

Total:

$52,762.21

                                                                           (Adjusted)

2011

Total:

$53,502.52

                                                                          (Adjusted)

2012

Total:

$56,685.08

                                                                        (Adjusted)

2013

Total:

$61,398.00

                                                                        (Adjusted)

Grand Total (Adjusted): $224,347.81

**Please note that available data and slight fluctuations in individual student costs do not allow for a

     break-down of fees for the last four years

Slight discrepancies in the prices of books and other “miscellaneous fees” notwithstanding, the data above illustrates just how crippling the College’s addiction to excess and bureaucracy is. In the span of half a century, a degree from Dartmouth has witnessed a net price increase of well over $154,635, or more than 220 percent. Adjustments for changes in the value of the dollar show that at this rate of growth, the price of a 4-year degree has outpaced that of inflation by a factor of three. As a result of this enormous expansion, Dartmouth holds the ignominious distinction of being second only to Columbia as the priciest school in the Ivy League, even though it enjoys the second most affordable locale. Faced with these statistics, the obvious question of value comes to the fore: have the merits of the Dartmouth experience tripled in the 50-odd years in a way that justifies such price hikes? Given that the school continues to enjoy a fine reputation, attract some of the world’s most impressive applicants, and produce droves of successful graduates as it did before, we think the answer is a resounding “no.”

What then is the cause of this increase? Judging by the fact that the College has witnessed a 300 percent increase in nonessential hires since the 1980’s, we find the answer to be inescapably obvious: Dartmouth, warped by the progressive demands of an illiberal education, has mortgaged its mission to pay for its vices. Over the course of the last several presidential administrations, what once was the benchmark for affordable undergraduate excellence has begun a slow drift toward becoming a Bohemian jobs program, the Upper Valley equivalent of a social stimulus package for campus special interests. This deterioration of principle and fiscal prudence may just be the college’s most pressing issue, and reversing it ought to be President Hanlon’s top priority upon assuming office. If he wants to serve as a leader worthy of the mansion on Webster Street, he will have to preside as the president-scholar of old and not as the president-administrator we have grown all too accustomed to. Only then will we as a community pass the Smithian litmus test once again. 

 

— Nicholas P. Desatnick