Ward Churchill, Academic Homogeneity and Dartmouth

John Bruce ’69 writes on his blog that the Ward Churchill scandal stems in part from the increasing homogeneity of the university system, especially in the area of hiring practices.

It seems to me that the homogeneity we now see is something undesirable. In all the Ward Churchill discussion we’ve been seeing, no matter what the perspective, nobody seems to be saying that Churchill is unique to the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an extreme version of the faculty dog-in-the-manger at every institution, which is why there’s national interest in the case.

But it’s not just in the nature of their faculty that colleges can no longer be distinguished, he says.

I’ve also seen the observation that administrators and staff once tended to be alumni of the particular school who stayed in a career path at that school; now administrators have careers where they move with some frequency among different schools, again adding to homogeneity.

In addition, it’s generally recognized that individual universities are rated across essentially a single, homogeneous continuum: there’s a top-5, Berkeley, Chicago, Michigan, Yale, Harvard (or however you want to count them), then a top-20, then a top-50, and so forth.

Dartmouth’s ongoing alumni rebellion–which elected T. J. Rodgers ’70 to the Board of Trustees last year and included two unofficial Trustee candidates on this year’s ballot–reflects disenchantment with this homogeneity, Bruce continues.

One case I’m familiar with, the move among Dartmouth alumni to nominate and elect new members of that institution’s Board of Trustees via a petition process, comes in large part from the sense that administrators have attempted to homogenize Dartmouth into the characterless national university pool, when they feel the college’s uniqueness should be preserved.

This aversion to being like other schools is very real at Dartmouth, and it’s why President Wright plays lip service to the idea of Dartmouth as a college and not as a university every time he appears before the alumni. The alumni don’t buy it, though. And it’s no wonder: in his first speech after being named president, Wright said that “Dartmouth is a research university in all but name.”

Both current Trustee candidates see Dartmouth as becoming too much like the rest of academia. Peter Robinson ’79 says that “the administration should forswear any attempt to turn Dartmouth into a second-rate Harvard or Yale, instead rededicating the College to its central mission: providing the best undergraduate education in the country.” Fellow candidate Todd Zywicki ’88 thinks Dartmouth has strayed from its “mission of undergraduate education” in an “intimate learning environment.” He says the College has abandoned this “core mission” and that he will “build Dartmouth’s future on its unique character and distinctive strengths, rather than simply trying to become more like any other university.”

It’s not just Dartmouth alumni who have a rather visceral reaction to this homogeneity, either. Buzzflood’s efforts to compare the College with “HYP” (Harvard, Yale and Princeton Universities to those who feel Dartmouth isn’t as good) were met on campus, more often than not, with dirision and scorn.