Editorial: In Hanover, Mismanagement is the Norm

By Sterling C. Beard

Perhaps it’s built into the DNA of every college student to dislike their administration. Maybe it derives from some sort of generational gap, which, when aggravated, can cause mass protests of the kind seen during the 1960s. Maybe students have too much time on their hands and need a target at which to direct their pent-up aggression. Or maybe students just seem to want to be left alone to write their papers, hook-up, get drunk, or some combination of all three.

I’m reminded of the only genuine time students “stormed” Parkhurst that I’ve seen in my time on this campus. It was the fall of 2009, just after the first wave of midterms. We received word that a group of undergrads were going to confront President Kim about Dartmouth’s environmental friendliness, or rather, the lack thereof.

I caught the group of twenty-six protestors or so standing just outside Parkhurst. It turned out that it hadn’t been widely publicized. Their objective: to, uh, hand President Kim a letter in which they compared themselves to ‘Nam era protestors and, “[envisioned] a Sustainable [sic] Dartmouth.”  To that end, their demands—which were so softly worded as to be more like suggestions— included, “[doubling Dartmouth’s] energy efficiency efforts,” “[appointing] an Energy Research and Advisory Committee,” “[raising] the funds necessary for a transition to renewable energy resources,” and so forth.

President Kim was in a meeting, so a sit-in commenced in his office. When Kim finally emerged twenty minutes later or so, he handled them expertly. He assured them that he was concerned about it and wanted to hear their suggestions. Furthermore, he put it on them to come to him with suggestions and specific proposals.

It was a nice example of Kim’s more political side. That’s not to say that Kim shouldn’t have a political side. Indeed, it’s an asset when it comes to dealing with the occasional campus absurdity such as the “storming” of Parkhurst or the candlelight vigil that the Service Employees International Union held a few months later on the green to protest staff cuts. In many ways, it’s nice to have a Dartmouth President who can say “no” to something, unlike Jim Wright, who hired hundreds of unnecessary staffers and spent our College into a breathtakingly large budget pothole.

The problem is when Kim uses this same skill to ignore commonsense solutions to problems facing the College. Exhibit A is the absurdity of switching the College away from the beloved but flawed Blitzmail to Microsoft Online Services (see page six). The error wasn’t switching away from Blitz, whose time had long since passed, but switching to MOS instead of Google Apps for Education. The aggravating part comes when one learns that not only had Dartmouth’s taskforce on the matter originally recommended Google, but students also preferred it by a large margin. When Kim came into office, however, he and his staff used Microsoft products, which is fair enough. I doubt anyone would expect President Kim to send flat, unformatted e-mails to other College presidents or anyone else outside the College.

However, Kim also commissioned a reconsideration of TECT-T’s recommendations. When the Communication and Collaboration Tools study group recommended Gmail again, there was a minority recommendation that gave the administration a rationale to switch to MOS. As a result, the class of 2013 had to deal with all manner of technical problems during this past summer, most notably constant server timeouts. It’s bizarre that Kim, a man who supposedly makes decisions based on the data, ignored two consecutive recommendations to switch to Gmail.

While I’m no systems expert, I still find it strange that Google Apps for Education is good enough for majority of the Ivy League (Brown, Yale, Cornell and Harvard), yet not good enough for us. If the decision was truly based on cost, wouldn’t it have made more sense to switch everyone to Google Apps for Education?  After all, Google’s product is free and used by schools much larger than Dartmouth, like Notre Dame and Boise State.

Exhibit B is the SmartChoice dining plan, already the subject of almost universal student derision. As one Review staffer put it, “It’s saying something when the current system is so bad that it makes us wish for the old system, which was brutal.” The nominal reason for the switch was to aid people who were on financial aid with an all-you-can eat system. That was news to students on financial aid, who are now chafing against the meal plan’s higher costs. Students dislike the plan so much that some have taken to creating Excel spreadsheets to aid in determining which meal plan hurts them the least.

Yet when given a set of specific recommendations, the kind he charged those student protestors to bring him in the fall of ’09, the Review’s own Lone Pine Plan (see TDR 5/21/11), they were ignored.   

Even if the administration is correct and SmartChoice and Microsoft Online Services are good choices (and as I sit writing this I’ve been waiting for about five minutes for the latter to sign me out in a browser window), they’ve done an absolutely horrible job communicating why that’s so. As a result, Parkhurst comes off, again, like elitists sitting in the ivory tower and dictating to students how much of their money they will take, how they will send e-mail, and when and where they can eat. At the top of it all, President Kim is beginning to look like Dartmouth’s own Robert McNamara, a man obsessed with the numbers to the point where it seems he just can’t listen to his own people in the field.

It’s not as if there are many options students have. The best one can do is figure out some way to maximize their DBA, which is already a sunk cost (see page eight), and perhaps set up their Dartmouth account to automatically forward to their Gmail. Enjoy your Dartmouth education, because it’s costing you an arm and a leg for this noblesse oblige.