Moving Dartmouth Forward: The Reaction

All in all, Hanlon's plans are a mixed bag

All in all, Hanlon’s plans are a mixed bag

President Phil Hanlon, at long last, released his Moving Dartmouth Forward package of reforms. Hanlon is attempting to address sexual assault, high-risk drinking, and exclusivity—behaviors that he feels are “hijacking” the mission and essence of Dartmouth. His proposals include the creation of six residential communities, a focus on academics, increased faculty diversity, a hard liquor ban, and new requirements for Greek organizations. Some of these proposals, such as a greater amount of residential continuity and community, are advisable and undoubtedly needed. However, many other proposals, such as the hard liquor ban, will have deleterious effects that do not advance Hanlon’s stated goal of addressing student life problems.

While there are numerous flaws in Hanlon’s plan, he should be lauded for making changes that have the potential to effect positive change on campus. Just last week, The Review published an issue that expressed concern with the declining academic standards of the College and the administration’s seemingly singular focus on social issues. It is reassuring that the core academic mission of Dartmouth has not been forgotten, and that Hanlon is moving on social ills with that mission in mind. A renewed focus on rigor and a greater attentiveness to the educational experience that made Dartmouth great is refreshing, but it remains to be seen exactly what will policies will be implemented. However, it is clear that Hanlon seeks to preserve the character of a school renowned for its best-in-class undergraduate education and to build upon that strength through initiatives such experiential learning.

Hanlon’s blueprint for creating residential communities is equally well advised. Rather than supplant the existing social system, this proposal seeks to supplement it with the alternatives that some on campus have called for. As Hanlon himself stated, the new residential system is not an effort to replace Greek houses, but rather an effort to provide new opportunities for both affiliated and unaffiliated students. Moreover, the proposed system harkens back to a time when students were able to seek community in their dorms and not just Greek and other student organizations. Anyone walking through the older residence halls on campus will see the scoreboards for various athletic and other competitions. These community-building intramurals were a strong tradition until the 1980s, and the new residential system has the potential to revitalize the same sense of camaraderie. Furthermore, the creation of closer-knit residential communities has the potential to add another layer interaction between students and faculty as well, as professors will live in residence in each community and host events for residents. Faculty-student interactions have always been a selling point of Dartmouth, and providing more avenues for richer and deeper interactions will undoubtedly enrich the undergraduate experience.

Unfortunately, not all of Hanlon’s proposals are as sensible as residential communities or vigorous academic initiatives; many are questionable in their effectiveness and feasibility. Most notably, Hanlon’s signature reform, the hard alcohol ban, runs into more than a few problems. While the Steering Committee’s report cites other colleges, such as Bates, Colby, and Bowdoin, that have banned hard alcohol, there is no conclusive evidence that such a ban will be effective in reducing high-risk drinking. Prohibition of any substance has not worked historically. Students smoke marijuana with impunity despite the fact that the drug is illegal and its consumption is a criminal offense. And despite previously aggressive efforts by Hanover Police to police underage drinking, those under twenty-one continue to consume copious amounts of alcohol. If the threat of arrest by Hanover Police was unable to deter students, College policy will be equally ineffectual unless the penalties are so severe and enforcement so invasive as to be unreasonable.

Furthermore, the hard alcohol ban is fundamentally unfair to individuals over the legal drinking age. It is one thing to ban liquor at College-sponsored events or events hosted by College-sponsored organizations, but it is wholly another to ban a twenty-two-year-old senior from sharing a mixed drink in a private room with another friend of age. There is also an inherent hypocrisy in the ban—the College itself profits from the sale of hard alcohol, both directly from the sale of drinks at the Pine restaurant, and indirectly from the liquor store in the College-owned Centerra shopping center.

The hard alcohol ban is not the only fault in Hanlon’s plan for Moving Dartmouth Forward. The residential community proposal, although a much needed step in the right direction, is noticeably lacking in specifics. To address the inequity of housing quality among clusters, the administration will have to rebuild the dilapidated buildings of, for example, the Choates and the River. Such an effort will require more funding and personnel. With tuition and operating expenses excessively high already, Hanlon must find a way to implement the system without further ballooning the bloated Residential Life staff.

In addition, the imposition of new regulations and requirements on Greek organizations is problematic, especially because the administration has made no concessions (such as the unbanning of kegs.) The additional requirements for hosting events will be expensive, and, depending on the level of College funding, could end the ability of houses to host more than one or two events per term. Between the increased event costs and mandated levels of financial aid, membership dues could rise substantially and houses could be less willing to subsidize the social scene for the rest of campus. Houses may even be forced to end the practice of opening events up to all of campus, a highlight of our Greek system. Hanlon’s proposal to require both a male and female faculty adviser for each house is also unwise. Not only will it be challenging to find faculty members willing to give up even more of their free time, but the value of these advisers is uncertain. Furthermore, this new requirement is incredibly condescending, as the clear implication is that Hanlon believes that students need adult supervision.

All in all, Hanlon’s plan is a mixed bag. Some proposals, such as the academic initiatives and the residential communities, have the potential to be a strong step in the right direction. However, other proposals—especially the hard liquor ban—seem to be engineered for maximum press impact rather than improving student life. In the end, it was unfortunate that the Steering Committee’s process was obfuscated by secrecy and non-disclosure agreements. If the student body had been more involved, perhaps a more effective set of proposals could have been reached.

Samuel L. Hatcher also contributed to this article.