Dartmouth Still in the Red

Dartmouth Trustee (and Unofficial Patron Saint of Dartlog) T.J. Rodgers ’70 recently asked FIRE to reevaluate Dartmouth’s poor free speech ranking, as it is listed on FIRE’s ancillary website, speechcodes.org. (Full disclosure/bragging rights: speechcodes.org is my baby from when I worked at FIRE, and I love her dearly.) Of course, Rodgers’ very presence on the Board is cause for optimism — as is the fact that Peter Robinson ’79 and Todd Zywicki ’88 may join him there soon (assuming our alums vote for ’em).

But, as FIRE President David French notes, a speech code is a speech code is a speech code, and Dartmouth has a lot of disavowing to do before it can earn a better rating. Rodgers himself does not disagree.

Don’t get me wrong: things are looking up. The administration seems to have learned, at least, to make the right noises. Gone are the days when the president — the president! — can openly question the value of free speech. Indeed, this very letter — in which President Wright said “it is hard to understand why some want still to insist that their ‘right’ to do what they want trumps the rights, feelings, and considerations of others,” and “we need to recognize that speech has consequences for which we must account” — has been removed from Dartmouth’s website.

A second example: the campaign statement by “College-approved” trustee candidate Greg Engles ’79. Engles’ denunciations of orthodoxy and free speech are welcome, but of course he mentions no specific abuses and proposes no specific remedies. It’s all vague and safe banalities that will seem uncontroversial to most (with the possible exception of my favorite liberal, Tim Waligore ’01). Indeed, they would be utterly unremarkable if they didn’t come from a Board-certified candidate.

For example, Engles says:

As a Trustee I would work hard to convince the faculty, the administration, the institution as a whole that it should be restored.

“Work hard”? “To convince”? Egad, man, you’re running for trustee! You don’t have to “convince” — you can lead, you can do! I’m certainly of the opinion that the College needs to use its soft power to foster an atmosphere of respect for free expression, but it’s going to take more than “pretty please” to turn Dartmouth around.

Engles’ tepid me-tooism is in stark contrast to the emphatic and principled positions adopted by Rodgers, Robinson, and Zywicki. They recognize that hostility to free expression has been a problem at Dartmouth, is a problem at Dartmouth, and will remain a problem at Dartmouth — unless, of course, we alums do something about it.

It has made a start, but Dartmouth is still far from the finish line.