The Machinations of The D

The D:  Covering important news since 1799

The D: Covering important news since 1799

The campus conversation surrounding the ongoing Moving Dartmouth Forward steering committee reached a new level of fury over Homecoming weekend, when The Dartmouth published a front-page editorial that resolutely endorsed the abolishment of the Greek system at the College. Although many previous iterations of Verbum Ultimum, The Dartmouth’s weekly editorial feature, have urged increased scrutiny of the Greek system’s excesses and suggested reforms, the bold headline and un-nuanced logic of this particular entry were seen by many as a departure from the paper’s traditional habit of operating within the range of popular and reasonable student views. For a well-formed and unique take on the editorial’s meaning and impact, The Dartmouth Review reached out to Joe Geller ’16, a weekly columnist at The Dartmouth who resigned his position in protest of the editorial board’s handling of the issue.

Throughout our conversation, Geller recalled his surprise upon seeing the “Abolish the Greek System” headline of the Homecoming Friday issue, saying that editors maintain secrecy between themselves and the columnists. Though he had gotten used to what he characterized as a steady flow of anti-Greek opinion writing, he “had absolutely no idea that [“Abolish the Greek System”] was coming out on the front page,” and discovered that an editor he contacted had been similarly surprised, suggesting that the piece may have been handled by a small subgroup within the editorial board. Though the idea of editorial separation is intended to distance staffers from the editors’ positions, Geller was displeased by the idea of having his name associated with the controversial piece as well as with the issue itself, which he felt had been mismanaged. “Opinions never go on the front page. They presented themselves as non-biased by asking for outside contributions for the issue, but in putting the Verbum on the front they really overshadowed that and made it seem as if they were speaking on behalf of the whole paper,” he said, making clear his feeling that the group of editors that planned the issue had abused the power of their platform.

When asked if he felt the editorial was motivated by strategy or by an honest belief that Dartmouth’s Greek system is irredeemable, Geller expressed no doubt that the authors of the piece feel strongly about the opinions they espoused. “They absolutely feel that way; I’ve been around long enough to pick up on the anti-Greek views that some of these editors hold,” he recalled, having developed a picture of the senior staffers’ perspective during three terms as a columnist. At the same time, Geller agreed that the editorial was crafted with the “long game” in mind, as in for the specific purpose of persuading the Steering Committee along with the student body. “They want the administration to read their editorial and say, ‘This is The D, this is the opinion of the students,’ as they move forward with their reforms,” he proposed, supporting the idea that the editorial may have been designed to help shield the Moving Dartmouth Forward initiatives from the criticism of being unresponsive to students’ wishes.

Though they certainly predicted and hoped that the headline would seize the attention of the campus, the senior staffers were taken aback by the consternation that arose almost immediately on Friday morning, both around the campus and within the ranks of The Dartmouth’s staff. “I don’t think they expected that response at all,” he said, vividly describing the aftermath of the issue’s release, during which he and a fellow writer and close friend tendered their resignations. According to Geller, the Editor-in-Chief contacted the staff over the weekend to forestall additional blowback, stressing the idea that the piece was meant principally to drive conversation and that the paper would continue to serve as a forum for opinions from all sides. However, he remained unconvinced that the reputation of anti-Greek bias could be lifted by subsequent opinion pieces, pointing out that “not so many people will really read the columns in any given issues, they know that they had the attention of students and alumni over Homecoming weekend and chose to use it in this way.” In addition to his resignation, Geller asked that his name be removed from a previous piece for which he had been quoted in order to fully sever his relationship with the paper’s organization.

Though his decision to resign was based principally on dissatisfaction with the handling of the editorial rather than its content, Geller mentioned feeling a personal sting at the zeal of the piece’s anti-Greek message, being an affiliated man himself. His fraternity, Beta Alpha Omega, was cited along with multiple Greek houses in the editorial’s bill of grievances for a controversial incident in the 1990s about which the facts have been in continuous dispute. Originally Beta Theta Pi, the house returned to campus in 2008 in its current form after having been derecognized in 1996 based on multiple alleged violations of the College’s Code of Ethics. Geller saw The Dartmouth’s selective mention of one controversial incident outside of the large context of his house’s story as indicative of bias. “They cherry-pick examples from the ‘90s to make their point, but we think we are so different from that house. Our advisors handpicked the first class to ensure we got quality guys. We educate our new members about why we were derecognized,” he said expressing his frustration with the attempt to discredit his house, and all fraternities, based on a narrow and outdated set of examples. To their credit, The Dartmouth published a correction of their original description of the incident mentioning that the details had never been confirmed. “Regardless of those events, fraternities change,” Geller continued, “and cultures can change without outside intervention.” He also cited the fact that the Editor-in-Chief and many other senior editors are affiliated themselves as an indicator that there are a breadth of redeeming qualities within Greek life, and the ability of conscientious members to improve their houses over time.

When asked finally if he maintained hope that the groundswell of opposition might eventually lead The Dartmouth’s editors to reverse or soften their position, Geller was doubtful. “They might take a new angle to the controversy or publish some corrections, but they’re not going to change their minds,” he predicted, basing his thoughts on both the editorial inclination during his time as a columnist and his personal experiences with the editors. Geller’s testimony shines clarifying light on the ongoing fallout from the landmark editorial, and if correct, his predictions point markedly toward a new campus landscape, in which students’ trust that their views are being publicly and earnestly advocated will have been eroded.