The Apology of TDR

Mene Ukueberuwa reflects on the Review's redesign.

Mene Ukueberuwa reflects on the Review’s redesign.

Over the past two weeks, The Dartmouth has published two op-ed pieces that critiqued the quality of news on our campus. Columnists Matthew Goldstein and Michael Beechert challenged their own paper and The Dartmouth Review to do a better job driving the type of discourse that leaves students enriched. Their timing couldn’t have been better. As The Review starts a new chapter with our redesigned print layout, I’m glad to have the chance to discuss the merits of our substance as well. Goldstein’s and Beechert’s comments call for a bit of TDR apologetics, and of course some thoughts on the news business at Dartmouth in general.

The first of the two essays came from Mr. Goldstein on January 19. In “The Dearth of News,” Goldstein suggests that both The D and The Review are somewhat unserious, in terms of their tone and their lack of national and global coverage. As far as our tone, I don’t quite agree that The Review expresses an “angry reactionary disposition,” but I won’t begrudge the point because Goldstein’s not too far off the mark.

Our general take on the administration could be better described as “adversarial.” This isn’t because we’re antagonistic—we often give President Hanlon credit where it’s due, like in our recent take on his experiential learning plans (“Creative Learning Bearing Fruit,” January 17). Our steady suspicion of Parkhurst is because there’s a permanent tension between students’ and administrators’ interests.

Picture the dynamic between wageworkers and management at a big company. They share the same overall goal, but they’re opposed on almost every detail. At Dartmouth students want a rich social life, while our administrators want good publicity and are often willing to steamroll student life to get it. In this metaphor, The Review does its best to play the labor union. It’s our job to “stick it to the man” when our distant overseers make changes that dampen the student experience.

On top of our tone, Goldstein criticized our limited scope saying that national and global events demand more attention than the campus events we tend to cover. Obviously we agree that students should be attuned to politics and culture beyond the campus’s edge. But there’s no dearth of professional papers covering those topics much better than we could.  Campus papers like The Harvard Crimson set their writers loose to pontificate about, say, oil prices, and although the writing’s often great, it’s always a second-hand repackaging of professionals’ thoughts.

What’s more, I’d say Goldstein is underrating the value of campus coverage. He may be right to say many students will go on to become “global citizens,” but that shouldn’t diminish our commitment to being great citizens of Dartmouth while we’re here, gaining a grasp of the issues that shape our student life. One purpose of a college is to expose students to complex subjects in the classroom, but another is to be a microcosm in which we invest in our little community as if it’s the real deal, and take that practical experience into adult life. In his address to the Class of 2004, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt ’78 confessed to having been a middling student, but said that his year as president of Phi Delt shaped him up for his career. At The Review, we hope that our analysis of campus goings-on will help inspire students to step into the Dartmouth arena and get to know the College in a way that will ripple out into a lifetime of capable citizenship.

Mr. Beechert followed up on Goldstein’s thoughts with “Time for a Change” on January 27. His piece takes a milder tone than Goldstein, but he agrees that The Review’s conservative image holds it back. Beechert zeroed in on the Indian symbol as an unnecessary barrier between our paper and students’ values. It’s obvious that supporting the symbol puts us at odds with the prevailing opinion on campus, but we believe that the tension we create on that issue is an example of the kind of critical, intellectually honest approach that Beechert praised us for.  Most students presume that any depiction of minorities or their culture by outsiders automatically crosses an ethical line. But critics of the Indian symbol never point out anything inherently mocking or “appropriative” about it. The topic is certainly worth discussing at length, but we can only flesh out honest thinking on the subject if we shed the reflexive suspicion that there’s racism hiding behind every old tradition.

The same could be said about the “old boy” attitude that Beechert claims permeates our pages. He’s right to imply that older generations of Dartmouth students certainly had their excesses, but for all the progress we’ve made, we’ve lost some of their intellectual seriousness and jovial spirit. If The Review harkens back to the olden days, it’s because we acknowledge that some good bits of Dartmouth’s spirit have been shed over the decades along with the bad. We may never revive that spirit, but embracing it surely gets us part the way there.

The unifying theme connecting both columns was a lament of the fact that neither The D nor The Review seems to impact the world around it. There are definitely issues and even weeks during which we find ourselves repeating the same old themes, and wonder what purpose our writing might serve. But at the end of the day, The Review is not an activist outfit. We write to communicate our thoughts and values to the Dartmouth community. In some cases like the protest, our writing has had a clear influence on the administration’s actions and thinking. But in general, for news to be called news rather than naked activism, our mission should always be to illuminate and not to spur action. We’re looking forward to continuing that mission, and we wish The D well as they work to do the same.