The Danger of Stagnancy: Part I

Leonardo da Vinci wrote that “Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.” Recently, I gave some thought to coming up with a simple way to characterize the past four years of the Hanlon administration. The list of scandals stretches back to long before when even this year’s senior class first matriculated; while many might cite Andrew Lohse as the true source of the College’s woes in recent years, I posit that the true origin of Dartmouth’s problems stem from a woefully incompetent administration. Hanlon and his cronies have not only failed to recognize the true issues facing the College, but have actually made moves that actively inhibit its persisting excellence. Some moves are more significant than others, but over time, each action adds up and eventually amounts to a mountain of troubles a future administration will one day have to resolve.

Perhaps it makes sense to start small. Dartmouth is a school that has lived off tradition since its inception; indeed, it has thrived from it. However, in more modern times, the administration has taken an active stance opposing College rituals. One particularly visible example of this is the plodding, methodical attempt to stop students from touching the fire. After ramping up security measures in recent years, going so far as to even install a camera to catch students on video, this fall, the College erected a tall chain-link fence – one that would have made even our country’s president proud – in an ultimately futile attempt to end the tradition. It is also interesting to note how the 1999 bonfire collapse at Texas A&M is cited as reasoning for the changes—not only because nearly two decades having passed since the incident, but also due to the fact that it was a construction accident, not a flaming cascade of logs, which claimed twelve lives. But alas, The Review has already covered the deadly debacle that was the construction of the Hanover Inn.

The College also faced significant outcry with the recent announcement regarding the potential closing of the Hanover Country Club. In a story which broke in mid-August, many news sources, ranging from Joe Asch’s DartBlog to the Valley News, covered the controversial decision, which was seen by many as one borne out of a budget crisis—a hole for which only the College’s administration could be responsible. The bigger issue seen by many, however, was the intangible value of the golf course, a wide-open, green, and beautiful space which is used by countless undergraduates, and not just those on the golf team. The move would not only have been ill advised due to the financial and sentimental value of the land, but also due to the effect it might have on potential donors in the future. As donations to the College continue to drop (both overall contributions and senior gifts, a metric often used for gauging future contributions), both short and long-term fundraising are important things that Hanlon and his administration ought to be keeping in mind.

Unfortunately, however, the administration seems to give little thought to the overall opinions and viewpoints of its largest client base: undergraduate students. A recent poll by The Dartmouth detailed students’ views of the College, including their beliefs as to its core mission. The results are jarring, but certainly not surprising to any undergraduate (or, more likely, any alumnus). Students were overwhelmingly against the proposition of increasing the size of the College’s student body, especially given the current housing crisis (which The Review recently offered not-too-satirical commentary on). And yet, the “task force to explore pros and cons of a larger student body” will plod on. In his September 6 post “Too Big, Too Small, or Just Right?” Joe Asch mused that “you don’t build an addition onto a structure until you are sure that the foundation is solid.” Given the current state of affairs, to describe the College’s foundation as anything other than “precarious” would be a dubious claim at best. And when even The Dartmouth’s editorial board (one infamous for advocating the end of the Greek system) jumps on board to condemn the decision, it might make sense to rethink the move.

And yet, the administration’s out-of-touch-o-meter continues to climb. It really is the small things that make a difference, and often times it may seem that the administration cannot win; after no denouncement was made following the 2015 Black Lives Matter library protests, a denouncement following the pro-violence remarks by Mark Bray resulted in significant outcry from the faculty. Perhaps it is due to the increasing radicalization of the student body; while most enjoy the legendary tradition that is the Homecoming bonfire, a significant number of students also choose to protest the bonfire’s ‘white supremacy’ (even after reading all the posters on campus, I still fail to understand their concerns). But are these not the problems that Hanlon’s intersectional army of women’s and gender studies degree-wielding administrators are trained to handle? Apparently not, given the recent resignation of Provost Carolyn Dever. And even if the administration is in a truly difficult, schismatic position, what, if anything, have they done to mediate it?