The Duthu Disaster

Bruce Duthu (Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth College)

Bruce Duthu (Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth College)

It has been a year of major administrative shakeups, with the restoration of the Dean of the College’s authority, a new dean of the Geisel School of Medicine, and the unceremonious ousting of laughably vitriolic Vice Provost for Student Affairs Inge-Lise Ameer being among the many changes. While administrative incompetence is par for the course at the College on the Hill, one personnel decision strikes us as a particularly poor choice in these tumultuous times. In a characteristically ill-composed missive to campus, President Hanlon pompously announced N. Bruce Duthu as the new Dean of the Faculty while aggressively puffing up his academic record and meager administrative experience.

Duthu, the Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies and Frank J. Guarini Associate Dean of the Faculty for International Studies and Interdisciplinary Programs, seems to check all the boxes for President Hanlon and Provost Dever. And therein lies the problem. He holds an endowed chair and serves as an associate dean, so he is ostensibly a worthy scholar and leader. Moreover, given the administration’s endless harping on diversity and inclusion, selecting a Native American dean must be a plus. But beyond nominally fulfilling the prerequisites, Duthu is grossly unqualified and temperamentally unfit for the deanship he is about to assume. With little real administrative experience, Duthu should not have even been in contention for the position. Let us examine what went wrong.

The search to replace outgoing Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Professor of Government, began on a curious note. President Hanlon announced a national search for the position, a peculiar choice for a role that requires being particularly attuned to the parochial interests of the faculty. (In doing so, President Hanlon enlisted the costly services of an executive search firm.) Furthermore, the Dean of the Faculty must understand the College’s unique position at the intersection of undergraduate education and cutting-edge research. Indeed, with both President Hanlon and Provost Dever being external hires from the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University, respectively, the need for an internal hire is particularly acute.

While he dithered with a national search, President Hanlon emphasized that the purpose of casting a wide net was “to find the most qualified leader to fill the position.” Yet he also mentioned, “Of the nine [dean searches I conducted], only two of the deans I hired were white males; four of them were people of color. So, that sort of tells you what I am looking for in the search.” For some reason, likely the administration’s ongoing tensions with an undercompensated and underappreciated faculty, President Hanlon seems to have reversed course, realizing the need for an internal hire. However, he seems to have let demographic factors trump fitness for the role as well.

Examining the differences between the records of Mastanduno and Duthu at the times of their respective appointments is instructive. When Mastanduno was appointed in 2010, he already had seven years of experience as Associate Dean for the Social Sciences. Presumably, Mastanduno displayed a degree of competence, or otherwise he would not have been promoted. In contrast, Duthu will have had only one year of experience as an Associate Dean, a time too short to gain real experience. Worse yet, at the time of President Hanlon’s announcement, Duthu had only been on the job for ten months, a time period insufficient to establish his competence or lack thereof. Moreover, by the time of his appointment, Mastanduno had already established himself as an eminent scholar in one of the College’s top departments. The author and editor of numerous well-cited books and articles, Mastanduno had the potential to command the respect of the faculty. Duthu, while probably a fine scholar with two books and a smattering of law review articles, does not have the same distinguished record. And there is one last key difference; Mastanduno, of course, is a white male, and Duthu is a Native American.

It is hard to believe that Duthu’s minority status was not the deciding factor in his appointment, even before considering his authorship of a BDS petition. As a thought exercise, compare Duthu’s record to that of a potential alternative who happens to be a white male. Andrew A. Samwick, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving ‘72a, P’10 Professor of Economics, has been Director of the Rockefeller Center since 2004. Before assuming significant administrative duties, his record of scholarship was so distinguished that he managed to make full professor in seven years instead of the usual 11 or 12. He has published in top economics journals, including the American Economic Review and the Journal of Political Economy, while also serving for a year as Chief Economist of the Council of Economic Advisors.

While Duthu’s lack of qualifications is troubling enough, what is truly unconscionable is Duthu’s involvement in BDS. For those unaware, the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targets the State of Israel for its alleged human rights abuses. Beyond singling out the only free and liberal state in the Middle East, BDS establishes a clear double standard in a region ruled by oppressive Islamist ideology. With respect to the academy, BDS supports the wholesale shunning of Israeli institutions and an active refusal to deal with Israeli academics.

The movement strikes against the core values of the academy: academic freedom and open inquiry. Duthu was not content to merely sign a BDS petition, a choice that could (under duress) be waved away as a momentary lapse in judgement. He found it within himself to co-author a second petition. Since his appointment, Duthu has not disavowed his support for BDS, and the administration has been careful to avoid any mention of his involvement in the movement. In any case, he cannot be trusted to encourage the debate, dialogue, and disconfirmation that the academy so prizes. While Duthu makes a farce of these values, one should be concerned about whether controversial but worthwhile speakers will be disinvited from campus.

With Duthu’s appointment to the Dean of the Faculty position, Dartmouth is now reaping what President Hanlon and Provost Dever have sown with the mind-numbing emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Rather than select the most qualified person, the administration has managed to appoint a dangerously unacceptable affirmative action candidate. The prominence of the Dean of the Faculty has diminished with the recent emphasis on student life, elevation of the Provost, and establishment of the graduate school. Nevertheless, with a pressing need to reinvigorate academic life at the College, the position is more important than ever. We need a proven leader with real vision and credibility, not someone who just checks the right boxes.             

  • Grace

    You have curiously excluded as considerations many of Professor Duthu’s qualifications, some of which are as follows: Professor Duthu’s long and storied career as a Dartmouth professor and administrator within the Native American Studies Department and Native Americans at Dartmouth program, his famously good temperament, his many published papers and books, and his other many longstanding leadership roles within the Dartmouth community. One might reasonably argue that a longstanding history of ubiquitously positive interactions with students alone might be reason enough to consider an administrator from another department within the school as Vice Provost of *student affairs*.

    • Kristina

      I agree with Grace. Prof. Duthu is exactly what Dartmouth needs in this time. His combination of experience as a successful civil rights attorney, scholar, educator and administrator offer a refreshing and necessary change in viewpoint and experience that will strengthen and expand Dartmouth. Pointing out the race/ethnicity of others who were considered for the position as a central point of this article is itself a racist strategy and illustrates a lack of understanding of the complexities of racism and inequality in our society. Dartmouth’s renewed commitment to diversity across all levels of campus seeks to address ways to expand scholarship and community building in all areas. Duthu is a great person to be a leader in this effort.

      Regarding Prof. Duthu’s fit for the position; he went through the same vetting process as all other candidates and was chosen as the best person for the position. The same is true for all other positions he’s held at Dartmouth and other academic institutions and all faculty positions. To compare accomplishments across disciplines is akin to comparing apples to automobiles as each discipline has its own criteria to meet. I suspect if you examine the scholarship of all Dartmouth faculty you’ll discover great variety in work and yet all have met the criteria established for their position by their discipline and are supported by the college and Board of Trustees.

      Putting these two things aside, the only real complaint to Duthu is that Chen and a few others don’t agree with his membership in a political organization or they just don’t like him. Neither of these is justification for him not to serve as Dean of Faculty or for the intense disrespectful and dismissive opposition to his appointment. Those espousing hateful remarks clearly are individuals who want Dartmouth to remain in the 20th rather than 21st century.

      • Parent ’16

        “….a necessary change in viewpoint…”

        Actually, he doesn’t. Dartmouth College has a long and storied history of anti-semitic behavior and Duthu fits nicely into their historic mindset. Those touting his accomplishments here are conveniently overlooking the fact that many of us are profoundly insulted by the idea that someone who embraces marginalization of any group of academics based on their race, religion, ethnicity or National origin would be elevated to a position whose responsibilities include funding of departments and tenure decisions. I am happy to let Duthu criticize Israel as much as he wants as a private citizen. But for someone to be willing to embrace boycotts of people who may or may not agree with their governments’ policies simply because they are citizens of that country is just the same as Trump”s banning Muslim citizens because they are citizens of a certain country. It takes a certain kind of hypocrite to not realize that these are equally egregious. It also takes a person with profoundly poor judgement to support a boycott of this nature. Bruce Duthu has therefore already shown to the world that he has profoundly poor judgement. What faculty member would want to be bound by any decision he chooses to make?

  • Parent ’16

    Professor Alan Gustman deserves the highest of praise for courageously speaking the “truth to power” about Duthu. My own child, a recent Dartmouth graduate, was horrified by Duthu”s appointment, given his position supporting BDS.

    We both thank this author for his comphrehensive article, Professor Gustman, and the many other alumnae, parents, and students who wrote to express their antipathy for Professor Duthu and his record of support for academic boycotts against Israeli universities and scholars.