Independent Grad School Plan: Setting the Stage for Larger Reforms?

Dean of Graduate Studies Jon Kull '88 was a major driver of the independent school proposal.

Dean of Graduate Studies Jon Kull ’88 was a major driver of the independent school proposal.

Don’t get up in arms yet! The town hall meetings regarding the proposal to make an “Independent Graduate School” at Dartmouth really doesn’t seek to change much on campus. It simply seeks to create a unified home for the amalgamation of Graduate programs that aren’t associated with the College’s three main Graduate schools.

Notably, the program would leave the administration of Tuck, Thayer and Geisel untouched. The program would only effect the 770 students seeking graduate degrees in other fields, who are in limbo now since they aren’t part of the Holy Trinity of Graduate schools at the College. Their current programs are administrated by the undergraduate program that most closely aligns with their field of study. The rationale is simple: make it easier to manage these grad programs, which have grown considerably in the last 20 years as Dear Old Dartmouth seeks to slowly morph itself into a “Research College.”

This, at face value, is good. Removing bureaucratic barriers to graduate school administration seems like a novel, and welcomed concept. Within the context of discourse about College budgeting and resource allocation, it would seem prudent to give this subset of students their own line in the budget. The proposal was quick to note that it does not seek to increase the number of graduate students at the College, but it would certainly seem that it would be a logical first step down that path…

The potential invasion of more graduate students should trouble those of at the College. Dartmouth is known for its community. We have graduate students, but unlike schools like Columbia or Harvard where graduate students outnumber undergrads 2:1, Dartmouth still feels like it’s just a College.

One of the institutional goals of Hanlon’s presidency is the growth of research and innovation at the College. While un-learnèd Neanderthals have long mistaken us for a University, Hanlon has open expressed his desire to turn us into a true University in all but name. That has to come through Graduate programs. That is where the big research money is, that’s where the big minds in Science go to do meaningful work. That’s what the National University Rankings focus on.

Increasing the number of graduate students on campus, or allowing the graduate schools to truly separate from the College could prove fatal for the culture of undergrad dominance that makes Dartmouth so special. We excel at what we are: a small liberal arts Ivy in the hinterlands. We are all about community owing to our isolation and culture deeply steeped in tradition. We place so many students in amazing jobs not because we have a myriad of pre-professional courses and tons of useless graduate programs in overly specific and mundane academic fields. We have a broad base of liberal arts courses that prepare our students to use their intellect whatever they may do.

Dartmouth is what it is and isn’t what it isn’t. Trying to be what we aren’t is not the path forward. Change can be good, but change can also cripple a school already suffering under the yolk of an oppressive regime dead-set on insisting that the Old Traditions Fail.

Let us be vigilant about the future, but not overact about any imminent change as a result of the current proposal. It is simply a re-organization. However, I’m betting it won’t be the last thing Hanlon and the administration try to do with our graduate programs.

There are two more town hall meetings scheduled for the Fall term: November 4th and November 9th. The former is at DHMC and the latter is at the Life Sciences Center.