“The Call to Lead”: A Great Leap Backwards

“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!

Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,

As home his footsteps he hath turn’d

From wandering on a foreign strand!”

In these lines from his poem Patriotism 01 Innominatus, Sir Walter Scott spoke of a man who had grown enamored with a foreign land and no longer loved his former home. Perhaps no one fits this description better than President Phil Hanlon. baker-895032_960_720

A member of the Class of 1977, Philip J. Hanlon was a brother at Alpha Delta, Dartmouth’s most infamous fraternity, when he was at The College. His escapades were so notorious that he earned himself the nickname “Juan Carlos.” After earning a Ph.D from Caltech and completing his postdoctoral work at MIT, Hanlon joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1986. As one would expect from a son of Dartmouth, he rose through the ranks, becoming a full professor in 1990, Vice Provost in 2004, and Provost in 2010. In 2013, when he was called upon to serve his Alma Mater as her 18thPresident, it was obvious that he had changed after his stint at the University of Michigan; he no longer believed in the Dartmouth that he had attended, evident in his apparent contempt for its unique culture and storied traditions. The current capital campaign is simply his latest attempt at changing the College and if he succeeds, the damage to Old Dartmouth might be permanent.

At three billion dollars, The Call to Lead may seem overly ambitious, yet Brown University’s capital campaign had a goal of $3.5 billionin spite of having an smaller endowment. Still, The Call to Lead is The College’s most ambitious campaign to-date. Dartmouth had so far avoided asking her friends and alumni for large sums of money because of a lack of necessity. Currently, only a little over 40% of the College’s alumni give back to Dartmouth, far lower than it was just a few generations ago. Back then, the College and her alumni had a relationship like no other; her former students acknowledged her assistance in making them what they were and, out of gratitude, gave back to her when she leaned on them for support. Since that has not been the case for decades, President Hanlon was forced to find a way to raise money, since he, for all his faults, wants Dartmouth to succeed. Unfortunately, The Call to Lead will almost certainly not improve The College, but will indubitably change the very nature of this small college for the worse.

Priority 1:

One of President Hanlon’s stated goals is to retain Dartmouth’s distinctive model of education. The administration states that they seek to preserve Dartmouth’s unique position “at the intersection of the very best liberal arts colleges and highest-quality research universities.” President Hanlon has apparently resigned himself to the fact that the College will always be a “research university,” a university that expects all its tenured and tenure-track faculty to continuously engage in research. While this can be spun as encouraging professors to continually improve, the sad truth is that requiring faculty to engage in research could easily lower the quality of undergraduate teaching. Requiring that professors do a tremendous amount of work simply to keep their job will almost force them to focus less than they otherwise would on their obligations to undergraduates. More importantly, The College has not been a university since the Supreme Court derecognized Dartmouth University in 1819, almost 200 years ago. Dartmouth was founded, earlier than America itself, as a liberal arts college and she must remain one, as a testament to the arts. By professing its desire to make the College a research university, the administration flaunts its disregard for the many still-loyal undergraduates, which could explain the decline in the alumni donation rate over the last few years.

Another way that President Hanlon wants to squander the money of generous donors is by revolutionizing the West End of campus, the part closest to the Connecticut River. The administration claims to want to convert the West End of Dartmouth into the technology center of the College. To do this, they plan to move the Computer Science department from it’s home in Sudikoff closer to the Engineering department at Thayer.  On the surface, this does not seem like a bad idea. It is unarguable that having technology-related departments in close proximity to each other would facilitate collaboration between them however  it is questionable if this is a project to which The College should devote half a billion dollars. In addition to the monetary concerns, one should be worried about the repercussions of clumping the applied sciences in one of the least traversed places on campus. This effective marginalization would result in Dartmouth bearing the burdens of funding a technical research institution, while reaping none of the benefits of a prominent technologically-driven science program.

Priority 3: Nurture Creativity Through a Vibrant Arts District

The development of a new Vibrant Arts District is another aspect of the Call to Lead, and the issue with this proposition lies in the opportunities it would provide. Attending events at the Hopkins Center would make it clear to anyone that Dartmouth’s arts district attracts a lot of interest from the surrounding communities. In a sense, this investment in the arts would reinvigorate the relationship between Dartmouth and the town of Hanover. However, what sort of creativity would be nurtured at the Hopkins Center? Just another objective push for art that seeks to challenge the mind and present different points of views, or to further reinforce the abstract, mind-numbing creations, such as fully white paintings? With $75 Million going to the Hopkins Center and $50 million to the Hood Museum expansion, one can truly wonder to where exactly this money is going. Currently, the Hopkins Center functions as an art gallery, a cafe, a mail room, and a theater. Hopefully this money goes to developing new artistic undertakings that reinforce the ingenuity of Dartmouth students rather than buying paper straws at the Courtyard Cafe.

Priority 4: Make Big, Strategic Bets on Discovery

While Dartmouth has no obligation to help the world resolve some of its foremost problems, it nonetheless increases the profile of the school to engage in “tackling some of the most urgent challenges facing [mankind] today.” Interestingly, most of the money is allotted to specific programs and centers at the school. For example, the Norris Cotton Cancer Center receives $100 million and the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society receives another $160 million. The investment in these centers for research is a noble effort, but conversely, the biggest eyebrow raiser is the investment in “academic clusters around global challenges” at a whopping $120 million. These “academic clusters” sound like substitutes for existing clubs and organizations around campus. There is no way that the administration will spend $120 million on existing clubs. Besides, what exactly are “global challenges?” Are they limited to preventing epidemics and curing diseases? Or do they extend to the imagined problems of preventing “Peak Oil” and stopping the resurgence of “fascism?” One can only wait and hope.

Priority 5:

Probably the worst of the numerous terrible ideas President Hanlon has proposed is his plan to build a nationally recognized graduate school. The College’s undergraduate focus is the only reason many prospective students choose to brave four years in the wilderness of New Hampshire. The administration must be aware of this because the College didn’t have a standalone graduate school until three years ago. Since all funds are fungible, money allocated to the graduate school could otherwise have been used to justly compensate the underpaid faculty, or maybe instead to improve the undergraduate experience in any of the dozens of ways the College could.

The similarities between The Call to Lead and James O. Freedman’s “Will to Excel” campaign are uncanny. The Will to Excel campaign wanted to rebuild Dartmouth in the image of Yale and Harvard. For reasons that are beyond us, President Hanlon wants to emulate Freedman, seeming to believe that it is preferable for the College to play second-fiddle to its supposed-betters. The fact that Dartmouth differs culturally from other Ivies in a superior way is one that is utterly ignored by Hanlon.

If President Hanlon truly wants to make Dartmouth more appealing to prospective students, he needs to emphasize its rich history and noble traditions, not impose some unrealistic metric designed to emulate universities. Apparently, the College’s administration doesn’t realize that drastically changing the College projects weakness, and appears as though focusing on undergraduates is a deleterious endeavor. Further, it is a tacit admission that universities like Harvard and Princeton are better than Dartmouth, which is frankly offensive. At least when Freedman was President we knew that he wanted to reshape Dartmouth in the image of the other Ivy League institutions. We cannot say the same is true for President Hanlon.

Priority 6:

The Call to Lead, as expected, aims to immortalize Hanlon’s housing system, the residential model designed to shove a sense of community down students’ throats. To state that the housing system, comprising of six residential houses into which students are randomly assigned, is a disaster, is an understatement. The administration plans to funnel tens of millions of dollars into the failed system. When the housing system was first instituted, the administration hoped that arbitrarily assigning undergraduates into houses would give them a sense of community, a feeling that used to come from a Greek system they wanted to weaken. Unfortunately for Hanlon, the only thing the housing system accomplished was fueling a sense of resentment towards the administration since all it did was restrict where and with whom upperclassmen could room.

In a transparent attempt to make the housing system more appealing, the College endows each house with more money than it actually needs, prompting them to squander funding on free garbage  and events that few people attend.

Priority 7: Develop Leaders Through Experiential Learning

The thing about leaders is that not everyone can be one; if everyone was a leader then no one would be. Yet regardless, the administration insists that, “Dartmouth is now poised to capitalize on its tradition of educating tomorrow’s leaders by creating a four-year comprehensive leadership program for every student.” While The College’s  graduates encompass a small percentage of the world’s population, Hanlon’s fit-all model for developing leaders is beyond naive. How exactly will the administration cater to individual needs? Naturally, through bureaucracy, andof the $90 million allocated towards Priority 7, 60.5 percent goes to “Athletic Competitiveness and Leadership Development.” Why is Hanlon trying to pork barrel athletic competitiveness with leadership development? Meanwhile, the Center for Professional Development gets a meager $2.5 million. Even the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge receives $18.2 million, which begs the question of whether Priority 7 is just a way for Hanlon to spend money on things that do not fit any of the other priorities. The “Comprehensive 4-year undergraduate leadership program” categorical grant-like program receives a hefty $25 million, but the question still remains of how exactly the school will foster leadership skills in every student. It may very well turn out to be that leaders are born, not made, especially not by Orwellian feel-good programs.

Priority 8: Expand the Availability of Financial Aid

Perhaps one of the ways Wheelock’s legacy is carried on is through the generous financial aid Dartmouth provides. One of the more ambitious aspects of the program is to offer need-blind assistance to international students. What the administration will never mention is that this was already the case prior to 2015, when President Hanlon, in his infinite wisdom, eliminated it. On the Dartmouth News website, it boldly claims that “Extending need-blind admissions to international citizens will make Dartmouth one of only six U.S. institutions of higher education that admits foreign applicants without considering their ability to pay.” While this will make the college more exclusive, it will only reap a good harvest if the aid goes to students that deserve it. This is more of an issue with the admissions process of the college, which is equivocal. However, with the Class of 2022 being the smallest in recent years, the college may very well manage the distribution. On the other hand, with Hanlon still trying to force expanded housing down Dartmouth’s throat, it would not be surprising if the school began to admit larger classes than usual, defeating the purpose expanded aid. Nonetheless, the unfortunate reality is that the administration is asking for money to reinstate a program it gutted just a few years ago, simultaneously demonstrating both ineptitude and arrogance.

Ernie Parizeau ’79 once remarked, “Dartmouth creates a world-class product, discounts the price 54 percent, gives an additional discount for certain buyers… then begs for money.” This is a working business model for now, but will not be once Hanlon’s changes are implemented. If The Call to Lead is successful, it will lower the quality of education one receives at the College and the expansion will force an increase in tuition; if there’s one thing we know about Phil Hanlon, it is that his administration is inefficient. The ambitious goal of The Call to Lead is proof that President Hanlon does not know how to manage money.  Eventually, if current trends continue, Dartmouth’s business model will fail. One can only hope that President Hanlon matures out of what appears to be an iconoclastic phase before the College we all know and love goes belly-up.