Dartmouth Students Already Grading Hanlon
Dan Baldwin of Pro Event staples a skirt to the stage in Hanover, N.H. Thursday, September 19, 2013 where new Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon will be inaugurated Friday.
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From left, Dartmouth students Shanae Irving of Brooklyn, N.Y., Yomalis Rosario of New York City, and Saidah Bishop of Twinsburg, Ohio relax Thursday, September 19, 2013 on a set of bleachers that make up a portion of the 4,000 seats that will be available at the inauguration of Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon Friday.
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Hanover — Dartmouth’s new president Phil Hanlon has been on campus for just a few month, but students already are paying attention.
They’ve been reading emails from him, joining him for dinner, developing opinions and forming expectations.
Students on Thursday appeared to be warming up to him nicely, impressed that he’s finding time to teach a freshman calculus course.
They are hopeful that he will address the prevalence of sexual assault on campus and that he’ll find a way to form a more inclusive community, where racism, sexual assault and homophobia aren’t as common a complaint.
And some students are hopeful that he’ll reform the greek system, while others don’t think “reform” is necessary.
Hanlon will be inaugurated as the Dartmouth’s 18th president at 3 p.m. today on the Dartmouth green. His new position has a lot of people talking, including a panel discussion that took place on the eve of his inauguration that examined the future of a liberal arts eduction.
While Hanlon has not yet formally outlined his vision for the college, students have many opinions in how they would like him to tackle the social climate on campus.
Hanlon, an alumnus, returns to Dartmouth on the heels of a tumultuous spring term. A day of classes was canceled in April after a group of students publicly protested what they perceive to be a campus culture that tolerates racism, sexual assault and homophobia.
And in May, a group of Dartmouth students filed a federal complaint under the Clery Act, which requires colleges to disclose information about campus crimes. In July, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began a compliance review of Dartmouth for sexual harassment grievance procedures and potential violations of Title IX.
Holli Weed, a senior from Cool, Calif., would like Hanlon and his administration to take a firm stance on the sexual assault issue.
“I would love an administration that sets the expectation that rape will not be tolerated at Dartmouth College,” Weed said. “I want to hear them say it over and over and over again.”
Karolina Krelinova, a senior from the Czech Republic, said she would like to see a required freshman class that brings together individuals with different backgrounds so that students are challenged to understand the “struggle of somebody else.”
In a letter to students earlier this week, Hanlon wrote, “We have a responsibility to rise to the challenge of maintaining a campus that is unfailingly open, inclusive, safe and welcoming to all. ...This is essential if we are to ensure that the Dartmouth experience, at its very heart, represents not simply a campus, but a community.”
Krelinova, who was one of the students who helped file the Clery Act complaint, said she could definitely support that statement, and said Hanlon is headed in a direction that she approves. But said she does not want Hanlon to simply talk about inclusiveness, she wants to see him act on it.
But she said it’s a good sign that Hanlon wants to teach and that he stresses listening and doesn’t seem to shy away from the community.
“If he continues to be as approachable as he seems, I think that’s a good thing,” Krelinova said. “Being willing to speak up about unpopular opinions and unpopular problems at Dartmouth and being willing to act upon them is the one thing I would really hope he will actually do. What he’s said so far are really nice poster boards.”
Krelinova said she would also like to see Hanlon make major changes to greek life on campus. Fraternities dominate the social scene on campus, she said, and the college community is “extremely divided” between the people who are in greek houses and those who are not. There needs to be a significant increase in social opportunity between the two worlds, Krelinova said, adding that Hanlon, who was a member of Alpha Delta when he was a student in the 1970s, needs to address the greek system more radically than it has been dealt with in the past.
But Weed, who is in a sorority, disagreed with the need for reform. Weed said there is a “radical difference” among the different greek houses. Some of them are very focused on improving the campus culture, while others are not. She suggested that Hanlon first get to know each house and what each group of students value. There are plenty of houses that don’t engage in hazing and hold their members accountable, Weed said, and there are other houses that don’t meet those requirements.
“Instead of reaching in and changing everything and trying to scoop out the bad parts,” Weed said, “it’s likely easier to go in and start communicating and find out what’s preventing these organizations from acting in a way that’s responsible and that’s helpful to all members. The whole drastic reform thing doesn’t tend to go over very well.
Others, like Preston Wells, a junior from Hugo, Okla., said he’s been very impressed with Hanlon’s interaction with students. During the summer, Hanlon reached out to Native Americans at Dartmouth and asked to have dinner with them. During his time at Dartmouth, Wells said he’s never had a president ask him to come to a dinner.
“He comes into a space and he wants to hear what you’re going through,” Wells said. “We asked him some questions, too, but it seemed that he was really interested in hearing what our lives were like at Dartmouth.”
Future of Liberal Arts
As part of Hanlon’s inauguration ceremonies, he requested a reflective discussion about the future of liberal arts education. So Thursday afternoon, Spaulding Auditorium was about half full with alumni and community members — very few of them students — to listen to a panel discussion about what lies ahead for the liberal arts.
A panel of six people, including current professors and a Dartmouth trustee, spoke of how the liberal arts is a core part of Dartmouth’s mission, but also how the importance and relevancy of a liberal arts education is debated worldwide.
“The national debate is not going very well for the liberal arts,” said moderator Michael Mastanduno, who is dean of the faculty of arts and sciences. “A liberal arts education is on the defensive. It’s prohibitively costly. It’s impractical for all that money. It trains you for nothing. It’s like having a fleet of five BMWs. It’s really nice to have, but how much of it are you really going to use?”
Stephon Alexander, an associate professor of physics and astronomy, said he values a liberal arts education because it allows professors to learn from their students and it allows students to help professors develop their research.
For instance, Alexander said he once left a group of graduate students with a class of freshmen as they worked on calculus. When Alexander came back, he found that the graduate students were telling the freshmen about their research projects, and the freshmen were asking questions that the graduate students hadn’t thought about.
“I think this captures the spirit of the liberal arts,” Alexander said, later adding, “Modern research and the ability to take the research to the next level requires a serious engagement with our students.”
Joseph Helble, dean of the Thayer School of Engineering, said the liberal arts has a place in engineering because when engineers are posed with a problem, they are asked to step back and ask what is the broader issue at hand. But he also made a pitch for more integration of engineering into a liberal arts education. Today’s students will need to have a great proficiency with technology, and engineering can help with that.
“We recognize that the liberal arts are broadening and enriching,” Helble said. “I think we need to think about how some exposure to engineering could help broaden the understanding of what a liberal arts education is.”
When the forum was opened for questions, Mastanduno read a question that pointed how a liberal arts education, once designed to train the elite, later became more accessible to the broader public. But now that education is becoming more expensive, will it return to training only the elite?
Leslie Butler, an associate professor of history, said she hopes that’s not the case.
“It’s this story of increasing democratic access too, and now is it sort of closing? I think that’s a real fear that people have,” Butler said. “The cost is the story here. It would be absolutely counter to what every academic reformer from 1860 on wants.”
At the end of the discussion, Hanlon took the stage and said he agrees that the world in which higher education is working is in another profound period of change, much like during the Gilded Age.
“There is a national debate on this topic,” Hanlon said, “but I would say there is no debate in my mind. I think the liberal arts are more important today than they have ever been.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.