Hugh Hewitt on the Trustee Election

Conservative talk show host and blogger Hugh Hewitt has come out in favor of alumni Trustee candidates Peter Robinson ’79 and Todd Zywicki ’88.

A genuine story in higher education is the campaign by Peter Robinson and one other “outsider” to join Dartmouth’s governing board. The first outsider candidate won last year, and if two more win this year, a new model for taking control of higher education back from the PC elites and clubby trustees will emerge. Alums are fed up with nonsense policies and absurdist frauds like Ward Churchill, and if Dartmouth can patiently work its way to a representative board of governors, then other colleges and universities can do so as well through the coordinated actions of alums using the internet to gather themselves into cohesive groups.

He also posts the text of Robinson’s email to alumni:

Peter Robinson ’79

Dear Fellow Dartmouth Alumna or Alumnus,

I’m running for one of the two seats on the Dartmouth College Board of Trustees that will be filled in the election this spring. If elected, I’ll devote myself to three issues: excellence in undergraduate education, freedom of speech on campus, and a restoration of the Dartmouth athletic program. Dartmouth, I believe, must build on its own immense and distinctive strengths—not become a second-rate Harvard or Yale.

On the College’s website, I state my position on all three issues. In this email, I’d like to provide a more thorough discussion of the most important of the three, the need to rededicate Dartmouth to excellence in undergraduate education.

President Wright has spoken of Dartmouth as “a research university in all but name.” I believe that this view of the College is profoundly mistaken—and that the effort to put it into effect has undermined the institution we all love. Consider a few aspects of life at Dartmouth today:

Trouble in the Classroom

Dartmouth undergraduates should find the faculty accessible, classes of a reasonable size, and even the most popular courses readily available. Yet look at the following:

· Dartmouth now has 13 percent more students for each member of its faculty than does Harvard, 50 percent more than does Yale, and 80 percent more than does Princeton.

· The number of classes of 20 or fewer students at Dartmouth is now 23 percent lower than at Harvard, 25 percent lower than at Yale, and 22 percent lower than at Princeton.

· Many courses are chronically oversubscribed. “[A] nauseating number of students,” one undergraduate wrote in The Dartmouth this month, “end up on the waitlist of many social science courses….Seven out of eleven non-senior government courses offered next spring will be at or above their cap, and economics is worse off….” “Many students,” another undergraduate wrote this month, “count on being shut out of at least one if not two courses in their own major every term.”

The Changing Character of the Faculty

Consider the finest professors of recent decades. I myself think, for example, of professor of history Charles Wood, professor of government Vincent Starzinger, professor of religion Charles Stinson, and professor of English Jeffrey Hart. Each was an accomplished author of books and essays, yet each gloried in the classroom, making it clear through the sheer excellence of his instruction that he viewed teaching as the worthiest of callings.

The faculty today? It’s difficult to escape the feeling that many of the finest professors now see their real work not as teaching but as research. For that matter, many courses now are taught not by professors but by non-tenure track instructors. Dartmouth makes such extensive use of adjunct professors, post-doctoral fellows, and other instructors, indeed, that the proportion of the faculty made up of non-tenure track employees now stands at more than one-third.

The Growth of the Bureaucracy

Undergraduates may find themselves forced to accept instruction from non-tenure track faculty or turned away from oversubscribed courses, but the bureaucracy in Hanover is thriving.

The Student Life Initiative, created six years ago, largely, to quote President Wright, to end the Greek system “as we know it,” has spawned its own officialdom, an administrative superstructure that has absorbed millions of dollars. And when Dartmouth faced a budget crisis in 2003, what did the administration propose? To cut the swimming and diving programs and to close the Sanborn House library—but to create a new Dean of Pluralism.

Whereas not long ago the number of deans at Dartmouth could have been counted on one hand, today the number of deans has grown to more than 30.

What I Would Do

While maintaining the excellence of its graduate schools, I believe, Dartmouth must strive to provide incomparably the finest undergraduate education in the nation. As a trustee I’d work to ensure that the College reduced its bureaucratic overhead, provided enough courses in the most popular subjects, granted the very highest standing to the very finest teachers, and concentrated resources where they belong—in the classroom.

I’d also work to ensure that the College listened to its alumni.

Alumni and the Governance of the College

When President Wright announced the Student Life Initiative in 1999, according to The Dartmouth, “Wright said both he and the Trustees are prepared to weather the…alumni opposition they expect will result from this decision….” Think about that. Dartmouth alumni are probably the most loyal of any in the country. Yet how does the administration look upon us? As if we were bad weather.

Two years ago, when the administration proposed to eliminate the varsity swimming and diving teams, it ultimately reversed itself, reinstating the teams. Why? Because of the alumni, who protested the move—and then proved generous enough to keep the swimming and diving program alive. Recently the administration has taken a sudden interest in the entire athletic program. Why? Once again, because of the alumni.

Watching a decade-long slump—from 1995 to 2005 the Dartmouth athletic program slid from second to sixth place in the Ivy League, and fell, in ten out of 30 sports, to second-to-last or last place—the alumni grew exasperated. Then, when they learned of the Furstenberg affair—in a 2000 letter that became public last November, Dartmouth Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg congratulated the president of Swarthmore on abolishing the Swarthmore football program, asserting that “[F]ootball…is antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as ours”—the alumni grew incensed. The result? The administration has at last taken steps to improve the athletic program, the most hopeful of which was hiring Buddy Teevens ’79 to return to Hanover as head football coach.

The swim team scandal, the Furstenberg affair—more must still be done to restore Dartmouth athletics, but in both instances the involvement of the alumni produced a result that was good for the College.

The administration often suggests that we alumni must not presume to know what is best for Dartmouth. Since many of us graduated, we are told, the world has changed dramatically.

It has indeed.

· In nations around the globe, we have witnessed the change from central, authoritarian control to democracy.

· In business, we have witnessed the change from pyramid-shaped enterprises to enterprises with organization charts that are nearly flat.

· In communications, we have witnessed the change from a tight control of information by elites, intent upon enhancing their power, to the free and utterly effortless exchange of ideas that new information technologies have made possible.

In government at all levels, we have witnessed the change from an arrogant belief in social engineering to a renewed appreciation of the enduring values of our civilization, including freedom of speech and respect for the views of each individual.

What do these changes suggest? That, just as people everywhere have begun to help direct the institutions that matter to them, we alumni should become more involved in the governance of the College, not less.

Trustee T. J. Rodgers ’70, elected as a petition candidate last year, has already shown how a determined member of the Board can begin to open up Dartmouth governance. I’d help T. J. Rodgers continue that vital effort in every way I could.

My Pledge

As a trustee, I’d represent my fellow alumni by supporting Dartmouth without reserve—and by working to build on the College’s strengths, not attempting to remake it.

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, the son of a man who had never attended college, and my four years at Dartmouth transformed me. They opened my mind, introduced me to classmates who to this day remain among my closest friends, and enabled me to study with professors whose scholarship and excellence in the classroom I have never seen equaled. I’d welcome the opportunity to give something back to the College—and, if my views reflect your own, I’d be honored to have your vote.

Peter Robinson ’79

The petition candidates have, if nothing else, managed to generate a lot of publicity.