Stonewalled: Parkhurst and the Press

Getting an interview with Parkhurst is like talking to a brick wall.

Getting an interview with Parkhurst is like talking to a brick wall.

Keen-eyed observers (as well as not-so-keen-eyed ones) will note that the last issue of The Review, entitled (ironically in hindsight) “Life Goes On,” lacks any mention of the Alpha Delta derecognition.  This was due to the fact that at the time of publication, the decision had not been passed down, but also largely due to the fact that such a rushed decision was unexpected. It is unfortunate that the Administration chooses, these days, to bypass input and make decisions on student life by decree.  This is exacerbated by the fact that Parkhurst has chosen to be secretive and hide behind a fog of opacity.  This is an account of our many unsuccessful attempts to pierce that haze.

In that last issue, I worked on a piece on how the Greek system undergoes processes of judicial affairs.  My co-author Jack Mourouzis and I searched the Office of Judicial Affairs’ website for details on how proceedings were and would be held — how charges would be brought up; how the judicial body would reach a verdict in terms of evidentiary standards; and what punishments would be available, focusing in particular on past derecognitions (Beta, Phi Delt, and Zete).  Our quest turned up dubious results; the website offered vague adumbrations of the whole ordeal, failing even to provide a definition of the oft-bandied terms “suspension” and “probation” that come up whenever disciplinary action is in the air.  Attempts to straighten these labyrinthine convolutions met a snarl as Office of Judicial Affairs Director Leigh Remy, Assistant Director Alexandra Waltemeyer, and Sentencing Officer Katharine Strong simply chose not to reply to our repeated email requests for an interview.  A call to the Judicial Affairs office led to a response from Diana Lawrence, Director of Media Relations of the Office of Public Affairs pointing us to the very online resources that had proved unfruitful in the first place.

Diana Lawrence proved previously to be a foil for Jack, as attempts to contact Provost Carolyn Dever about the Religion 65 “Clickergate” scandal and Executive Vice President Rick Mills about construction projects led to redirections to Lawrence, who gave vague platitudinous press-release-style answers to the former and none to the latter.  She also provided the news to my colleague Ashwath Srikanth that Provost Dever and Vice Provost Denise Anthony would refuse to comment on the dismissal of Hood Director Michael Taylor, though in fairness this reticence was shared towards other news outlets.

Similarly, a piece on alcohol policy that Joshua Kotran and I wrote at the close of Winter term was outraced by events.  Our piece’s main thrust was that the College’s hard alcohol policy was still in flux.  A multitude of sources, including Phi Delt house advisor George Faux ’84 and a February 26 Dartmouth Now indicated that the ban, announced by President Hanlon in late January, was still being fleshed out by the inchoate Hard Alcohol Committee; this was used by Safety and Security Chief Harry Kinne as a reason to turn down our interview request.  One can imagine our surprise less than a week later when Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer announced the consequences for possessing or providing hard alcohol, indicating that the Administration cobbled together harsh new regulations without even the pretense of receiving student feedback.

Another member of The Review’s staff had similar difficulty in arranging an interview about hard alcohol: “I wanted an interview with Samuel Waltemeyer, Assistant Director of GLOS. Following the recommended procedure from the GLOS website, I attempted to reach out to him through Ruth Kett, who I believe is basically the GLOS administrative assistant. She initially told me that Mr. Waltemeyer was travelling and that she would forward my interview request on to him. When I hadn’t heard anything from either of them for a couple of days, I blitzed her again to which she responded and told me to reach out to college spokesman Justin Anderson for comment. Mr. Anderson did not respond to multiple emails requesting an interview. Additionally, Editor-in-Chief Mene Ukueberuwa had suggested that I reach out to Mr. Waltemeyer’s wife, who is also involved with GLOS and who he had worked with in the past through SigEp. I emailed her and also received no reply.”

This behavior is not new, nor is it limited to the Office of Judicial Affairs.  In the fall of 2014, there was a controversy over a student who wished to concealed carry a firearm to ward off an aggressive stalker.  Safety and Security denied this request.  The Review wished to write an article on the subject; the author of the proposed piece, Sandor Farkas, recalls, “When I attempted to write an article on the College policies regarding firearms, no one would speak to me. I tried contacting Safety and Security — just to get an official policy — but they declined to comment. When I contacted Public Affairs, they took a long time to get back, pushing my article back a few issues, and eventually denied me any type of interview whatsoever. After some back-and-forth, they seemed more favorable to at least giving me an official policy, but by that time it was the end of the term. While individual administrators have been kind and receptive, I have always struggled with finding someone willing to say even the most banal things on record.”  On the subject, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Nicholas Desatnick wrote, “Our intent was to assemble a variety of sources so that we could adequately “explore the policies and opinions regarding the use of personal defense items by both [Safety & Security] and students” on Dartmouth’s campus. … Over the course of the last four weeks, our eleven separate emails to six different employees yielded only variations on the same response: ‘Thanks for the opportunity, but we are going to decline.’ Without an official statement, our attempt to clarify College policy on this issue and explore its motives and logic was for naught.”

The level of success (or lack thereof) in getting meaningful interview requests extends to the top levels, both of our newspaper and of Parkhurst.  Editor-in-Chief Mene Ukueberuwa attempted to contact President Phil Hanlon to discuss his pet project, “experiential learning.”  While he did manage to secure an interview, it was over the phone with pre-screened questions; President Hanlon chose to use this opportunity to essentially lecture for twenty minutes on experiential learning.  While this effort proved somewhat productive, it was disappointing that President Hanlon chose to duck an opportunity for the dialogue that he had advocated in his earlier rhetoric.

An inauspicious harbinger of diktats to come, these refusals to speak clearly to an outlet of the studentry mark an unfortunate tendency of the Administration to obfuscate its goal of making capricious changes in policy regulating the actions of adults. Adults who presumably possess the eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, and passions that administrators do, have the ability to rationally debate the effects of a hard alcohol ban or the ramifications of Moving Dartmouth Forward.  The latter’s effects may be more hard-felt than anticipated. And particularly in the light of the well-publicized decline and fall of Alpha Delta; the Steering Committee’s proposals contain more than the recommendation for cracking down on hard alcohol.  They also contain a set of ideas that propose to make aggressive encroachments on the Greek system, about which we were unable to inquire.  Some were relatively benign (moving rush to sophomore winter), while others are less so: the Steering Committee suggests that the College “not fund construction or renovation of any residential structure that is not integral to the House system” (I assume this refers more to Greek houses than the rotted hulk of the Choates or the remote isle of the River); that all derecognitions be permanent (presumably preventing resurrections along the lines of Beta’s, Phi Delt’s, or Zete’s); that the College prohibit “rushing, pledging, perpetrating, or initiating activities with unrecognized fraternities or sororities”; that, insidiously, the College report derecognized houses to the Town of Hanover and “acquire their facilities and repurpose them for the College’s residential, social, and academic purposes.”

While the Steering Committee’s proposals are not necessarily to be taken as holy writ by the Administration, this proves to be of little comfort in the light of the fact that Parkhurst is moving so aggressively against the Greek system. The derecognition of AD took place over what appears to have been a voluntary action on the part of some (not all) members in a decision that appears to have little in the way of due process, or, as recent news would have it, hope for an appeal to Dean Ameer.  One can hope that the Administration will choose to become more transparent and make the right decisions for students (after all, they will have to live under these new rules) with their input.  As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”  Despite the lengthening spring days, however, there appears to be no sign of Louis Brandeis’s disinfecting sunlight breaching the windows of dusty old Parkhurst.