“O Tempora, O Mores!”: Fifty Years at Dartmouth with Prof. Edward Bradley

Professor Bradley opened up about administrative bloat, and other trends he's witnessed during his tenure.

Professor Bradley opened up about administrative bloat, and other trends he’s witnessed during his tenure.

The average Dartmouth student spends four years at the College. While students in recent years have experienced many startling events, few are able to appreciate the broader changes that take place over decades. A select few faculty, administrators, and staff members have had the privilege to witness this evolution of the College. One member of this elite group is Professor of Classics Emeritus Edward Bradley. The Review sat down with Professor Bradley to discuss his tenure at Dartmouth.

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): When did you start teaching at Dartmouth?

Edward Bradley (EB): 1963.

TDR: What is the biggest change you have seen at the College?

EB: Coeducation – I have no hesitation in saying that.

TDR: How has the average student changed?

EB: I think that students in the 1960s and seventies were much better informed socially and politically and certainly had a livelier curiosity about the world outside of Dartmouth College. There isn’t as much interest in social engagement nowadays. People are very much focused on their own lives here, and I just don’t sense that there is much real interest for what is going on socially, politically, or militarily in the outside world. In class, whenever I bring some of these things up, students are polite and attentive, but there is no real reaction. And when I ask questions about things, about whether they’ve heard of this that or the other, I have to ask myself whether they read newspapers or listen to news or watch it on television.

TDR: How has your teaching changed over the course of your time at Dartmouth?

EB: Well, obviously I have a lot more assurance, and my age gives me the privilege of speaking to undergraduates in an avuncular manner – so I am free with advice to them about how to manage their lives, which I probably didn’t do when I was 27.

TDR: The Administration has been stressing this new experiential learning project that they are spending resources on. How has this new experiential learning initiative affected your classroom?

EB: I think the whole plan is very naïve. I believe that experiential learning – which used to be called life, by the way – here just means life organized in certain ways. For instance, one may go to Nicaragua and help build a school, an activity organized through Dartmouth College. But, as we live, we live experientially. As you grow older, you find different points of view, different friends, and so on. I believe that an important kind of experiential learning is aesthetic as well as physical. One doesn’t have to actually make cement for laying bricks to have experiential learning. When one studies a great work of art and enters into the world of that artist, that is a very important form of experiential learning, and I don’t think the President and his Provost, who by her background at least is a professor of English literature, and who might know this or might have known it, seem to think much about it anymore. So I think that a lot of what is being done and planned is surely well-intentioned but naïve, including the residential communities.

TDR: What are your thoughts on those?

EB: There is only one way, in my judgment, to create coherent and effective residential communities: individuals must live in the same space and dine in the same space. Dining is absolutely essential to creating community.

TDR: The Oxford model?

EB: Well you don’t have to go to Oxford – we have it right here, down the road at Yale. They could have just gone down the road and looked. Well, they may have – I recognize that it is expensive, but I just think if that is the case one tries to create community in different ways. Just don’t call them residential colleges because they are not.

TDR: Dartmouth has traditionally been more insular and had a more outdoorsy feel. Has that changed greatly?

EB: That was true when I came here. It has changed enormously since. There are three things that have led to the change, in order of ascending importance. The first is a network of interstate highways. When I came here it took several hours to get to and from Dartmouth – driving through little New Hampshire towns. The interstate highways now make Dartmouth a lot more accessible – and that’s enormous. Second, a faculty that is increasingly professionally organized for scholarly distinction over teaching. That means that Dartmouth has assembled a very strong faculty that has a strong reputation for its scholarship. When I first came here, Dartmouth had a fine teaching faculty. A lot of the older people here were wonderful teachers, but they didn’t change much in the understanding of their own discipline. The most important change, though, has been co-education. It creates a different classroom climate. You cannot know how different it is from what it was when there were only men.

TDR: You mentioned that the faculty has become much more professionally active. Has there been a loss of emphasis on teaching?

EB: Yes. When people are being considered for promotion to tenure, my own sense – not that I have my fingers on the College as I used to, if I ever did – is that scholarship is more important than teaching. I know of cases where people had been alright at it, but their teaching was such where you could say they were just indispensable to us. When Dartmouth instituted the four course load from the five-course load, it was a way of signaling to the faculty that, “You don’t need to teach as much. We want you to devote more time to your research.” Of course that’s going to involve a shift in priorities. I wrote a letter to the President at the time, Jim Freedman, saying that I thought it was not a good thing to do, in terms of what it said about the central mission of the Dartmouth faculty with regard to undergraduates.

TDR: You mentioned that you sent a letter to President Freedman. Have you been heavily involved in campus issues throughout your time here?

EB: I used to be. I sent a letter to the Valley News about senior administrative salaries which I think… these people are overpaid. This is not a profit making entity! For gosh sakes! They get payout, golden parachutes, performance bonuses, signing bonuses, and what have they done better than someone who is out raking the leaves and keeping the place clean?! Do you know? The guy who plows the snow, shouldn’t he get a performance bonus? So I’m old-fashioned about that. I think that people should be respectably paid, but when I’m told that so-and-so could have made that kind of money on Wall Street my response is: these academics chose not to go to Wall Street. Yes, if they want to, they should go! But they chose not to. They didn’t join academia to become tycoons.

I also write internal letters. I wrote a letter to Carolyn Dever about the elimination of the title of “Dean of Admissions.” My letter was ironic – I said that evidently the term “the Dean of Admission” was too pedestrian and that it was now necessary for them to call the Dean of Admissions the “The Vice Provost of Enrollment Management.” I said in my letter that this was a wonderful change, and as I know all future Dartmouth students will agree, the Administration might want to get rid of the term “Dean of the College” and instead substitute the title “Vice Provost of Academic Supervision and Emotional Management.”

TDR: Do you think that changes at the top have had a significant impact on the day-to-day business of the College? For, example, how have they affected your teaching?

EB: No, it hasn’t affected my teaching. Hanlon and co. keep their hands off the academics, thank God! What is evidently taking place though – from what I’ve heard at least – there has been an enormous burgeoning in the administrative ranks, here and nationally. The Chronicle of Higher Education had an article in the fall in which it indicated that college administrations have increased by forty percent. So what has happened – and everyone knows this – is that college administrations have become corporate structures. They are now modeled on the administrative structures of corporations. That means that there is a growing disconnection between the administration of the institution, which consists of a lot of managers – the use of that term is very significant – and the faculty, whereas the two were much more closely interlocked. You know, administration means people who minister to, and when I first came here, the Dean of the College was a professor of English. So they didn’t hire people who went to dean school, as it was. And I recognize that Rebecca Biron, the current Dean of the College, teaches a course in Spanish, but the real Dean of the College is Inge-Lise Ameer, who is Vice Provost for Student Affairs. She is the one who sends out messages about incompletes. At the Vice Provost level? So what in God’s name does the Dean of the College do? So there is that growing divide, and in addition, people who are in the know increasingly say the Administration is increasingly isolating Michael Mastanduno, who is the Dean of the Faculty. All of this means that the faculty is going to be easier to manage – more like factory workers or employees who just teach their classes and then go home. It used to be that there were raucous faculty debates about affirmative action, or topics like the war in Vietnam – the faculty was very much involved in the governance of Dartmouth College. The faculty has abdicated that role, and the Administration is only too happy to have the faculty not involved.

TDR: So the schwerpunkt of the College is shifting largely towards the management?

EB: Well I think that has already taken place. We have a number of highly paid managers. And you look at the titles:  “The Vice Provost for Innovation?” Would you kindly explain – I mean, these are Orwellian titles. You have the woman who is the Vice  Provost, Denise Anthony, who organized “Big Idea” meetings. It’s like something out of a high-school. “C’mon kids, lets get together and talk about big ideas!”

TDR: Do you have any advice for current students who might be interested in gleaning some wisdom from your over fifty years at this institution?

EB: What I say to my own students is that their task here is not to draw up the balance sheet of their lives, but instead to begin composing the poem – that they really should spend their time here thoughtfully to organize the nature of their identity. Who they are, who they want to be, and so on. They should take courses that invite them to explore that aspect of their being. Of course they are going to take courses in mathematics, chemistry, and so forth, I recognize that attention must be given towards equipping oneself to living in the current world. But life in the current world is not just business. There is a book called Excellent Sheep, and it is about the loneliness felt by the people who come out of these elite institutions and go to Goldman Sachs or consulting, and then they find themselves making a lot of money and wondering who they are. And for what? Towards what end? That is my advice: you never want to lose sight of the fact that you’re here to create an ethically coherent self.

TDR: Do you have any final thought or comments you’d like to add?

EB: I will just add this: When Hanlon first came here and organized faculty office hours, I went to either the first or second office hours he had. So I thought naively that I’d just go over there and he’d be available. Well he had about an hour allotted, and so I signed up for my time slot and waited. And eventually Hanlon came out of his office, and ushered me in. I had written to him before going about questions of sexual assault, and I wrote to him that I had been here for a long time and had some perspective on this and that I had some ideas that I wanted to discuss with him. So, I went into the office, introduced myself, and he said, “What do you have on your mind?” And I said, “Well I wrote to you about sexual assault…” then he cut me off and lectured me for for ten minutes. He didn’t allow me one word, didn’t ask me why I’d come or what my thoughts were.  At the end of ten minutes, he got up and he said, “By the way, what department are you in?” and I told him. And that was it.
Now if a student comes to me and says: “May I see you? I have something I’d like to talk with you about,” I wish to think I would respond, “Well, Johnny, what do you have in mind?” But it didn’t happen. I think he is a person who is a financial manager, but he has really no thorough vision of what a liberal arts institution should be. I think he has some ideas, but they are really quite superficial. So Carolyn Dever is the one who is working these things out for him, and she is gunning for a Presidential position [at another university], so she’s speaking the jargon and such. Her official communications are highly jargonistic. But, they are acting pretty much to the exclusion of a lot of the core curriculum of the institution, particularly the humanities. I don’t think they really understand what the humanities are about. I really don’t.

  • An ’02

    Dartblog commented on this interview: http://www.dartblog.com/data/2016/03/012525.php

  • fribble

    Best interview by a Dartmouth affiliated…50 year professor I’ve ever seen.
    Professor Bradley would be the president of Dartmouth College if the trustees had any guts or brains.

    • piper60

      That’s asking rather a lot, don’t yu think.A class od authoritarians whose goal is authority without responsibilitydoesn;t encourage either guts or brains in their stooges!

  • tewkewl

    Professor Bradley is simply magnificent and has encapsulated all the reasons why the alumni community is upset about the “big government/big management” changes that have occurred at our beloved institution. Dartmouth is about TEACHING. It is about rigorous academics, well rounded students, accessibility, and community. I still remember having my professors invite me over for dinner! Hanlon and his ilk are attempting to turn Dartmouth into Dartvard. And we will have none of it!

    • piper60

      They want Dartmouth to be like everybody else!(only more expensive). Your average American College is a fraternity of Administrators, dedicated to their comfort and prosperity at least as much as Skull & Bones ever was!The recreation of the arbitrary &capricious tin-pot authoritarianiamof the 19th centuryis the long term goal. with the suppression of student directed organizationsand activities necessary steps along the way, and petting the political faculty covens and schwarms a needed step!

  • frankgado

    My good friend and neighbor is exactly right in each of his reflections. If only Dartmouth were unique in its vitiated practice, but it is not. The afflictions he notes are general throughout academe.

    The process of deterioration has been a long one. In reading his comments, I was reminded of Professor Herb West’s farewell lecture in Dartmouth Hall more than a half century ago, a stupendous performance that drew a crowd of students so large that the room, though stuffed well beyond the fire regulation limits, could not contain it. In that Farewell Address (available in Rauner), he mentioned me, one of his former students, in connection with my report to him of the creeping pathology I was finding at the start of my teaching career (at Union College). Unbelievably, what alarmed the two of us then has worsened beyond the boundaries of imaginable farce. In fact, West had tried his hand at a farce, “Here’s to Togetherness” (which Baker-Berry keeps in storage), but current Dartmouth has become a more pernicious extension of his Sparkplug U.

    A decade ago, I became engaged in alumni politics, hoping to do what little was possible to make the alumni aware of the course on which Webster’s “small college” had embarked that would fundamentally change its character as a liberal arts college and turn it into a university. In 1891, as the product of more than two decades of effort by 19th-century alumni, a bargain had been struck with the board of trustees to give to alumni the power to elect half the non- ex officio trustees directly (and the other half indirectly. But when I was on the executive committee of the Alumni Association, the board moved to break the contract that had governed selection of the board since 1891: in the future the board would appoint an unassailable majority of the board. I was the legal liaison in the suit we filed to protect alumni rights. We won in the courts, but a campaign of distortion and mendacity by the administration administration convinced the alumni to vote for their own emasculation.

    My principal motive had been to bring some light to a discussion of what university operation would bring, The ills Bradley’s comments describe stem from that transformation. Just this past term,the college faculty ceded control of the school’s graduate programs; it will prove yet another step in the depreciation of undergraduate teaching. Another instructive recent story in the press is the retrogression in the ambitions of the Medical School in order to trim, but not eliminate, its annual flow of red ink. The administration continues to claim that undergraduate education continues to be its highest priority and advertises new initiatives to preserve that myth, but these measures are both naive and superficial, like “new and improved” on the labels of other commercial products, the contents will be neither new or improved in any meaningful way..

    • piper60

      “initiative”is another of those bureaucratic terms-like “transformation” and “comprehensive” which serve to warn that some buggus Wiggus has had far too much time on his handsand the results may require the torches and pitchforks be taken out of storage!

    • piper60

      “That is how we spoke when we were wooing her-now that she is in the harem, we talk much differently!..Winston Churchill.

  • piper60

    Why does Nicaragua volunteering rate credit. It stopped being an aggressive anti-American communist wannabe Cuba just before the people starved to death, having eaten the last living chicken!They don’t even teach kids to chant “over here! over there! a yankee’a going to die!So how is slave labor for the land of the Cucarachas a noble contribution to the downfall of western civilization?!