Dartmouth’s Road to Reform: No Hard Alcohol Among New Policies

Friday, January 30, 2015
Hanover — Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon on Thursday announced a wide range of policy reforms intended to curb high-risk behavior and improve academics and residential life on campus, including a ban on hard alcohol and a mandatory four-year education program on sexual violence.

The extensive list of new policies calls for a residential college system similar to those at Yale and Harvard, and in the academic realm envisions cutbacks in grade inflation and more early-morning classes. Under the changes Hanlon announced Thursday, all Dartmouth undergraduates, including those of legal drinking age, may no longer consume or possess hard alcohol on campus, and spirits are also banned from events for or including undergraduates.

Hanlon said in an interview Tuesday that he would encourage graduate students, faculty and other community members to abstain from hard liquor as well, though they weren’t strictly obligated to follow the ban.

Data on hospital transports at the college indicated that hard alcohol was responsible for a significant portion of alcohol-related incidents, according to Hanlon, who expects the liquor restrictions to bring those numbers down. Liquor bans are already in place at Bates, Bowdoin and Colby colleges in Maine, but a Dartmouth spokesperson said the college would be the first in the Ivy League to impose one.

This week’s policy announcement stems from a nine-month study conducted by the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” committee, an advisory group commissioned by Hanlon last April that includes professors, undergraduates, administrators and alumni.

The committee formed amid protests about sexual assault on campus, concerns about diversity and allegations of heavy drinking at Dartmouth parties, which are dominated by the fraternity system.

The college has seen widespread media attention over high-risk behavior, including hazing, and is one of 95 schools under federal investigation for potential violations of the Clery Act, which covers schools’ reporting of crime statistics.

Hanlon said he was adopting “eleven and a half” of the committee’s 13 suggestions.

He said he wouldn’t embrace the committee’s recommendation for “a major change to the D-Plan,” the college’s 10-week term system, nor was he ready to provide concrete targets for socioeconomic diversity and financial aid, though he said he planned to do so.

The college already had made public some of the changes outlined Thursday, such as its plans to bring Upper Valley women’s crisis center WISE to campus, expand its residential communities and hire independent sexual assault investigators.

And the college’s fraternity and sorority councils have already implemented some requirements that Hanlon announced today, such as the elimination of “pledge term,” the probationary period for new members alleged to involve binge drinking and hazing, and the inclusion of both male and female faculty advisors for single-sex Greek houses.

Since April, the Moving Dartmouth Forward study has weathered persistent speculation and numerous counterproposals from interest groups on campus, including student and alumni leaders in the Greek system.

This past fall, the committee made national news after it conducted an online poll whose alumni respondents overwhelmingly favored abolishing the campus’ fraternities and sororities. On Homecoming weekend, student daily newspaper The Dartmouth ran a front-page editorial titled “ Abolish the Greek System.”

And in November, the college’s faculty took a largely symbolic — though overwhelming — vote in favor of ending Greek life on campus.

For now, Hanlon, a member of Dartmouth’s Alpha Delta fraternity in the 1970s, has rejected the idea. Other colleges that banned fraternities and sororities haven’t shown significant reductions in high-risk behavior, he said.

“Ultimately, I do not believe that simply eliminating this one aspect of campus life would be a comprehensive, or even effective solution to the more pervasive challenges we face,” he said in his speech to an audience of nearly 500 at the Hopkins Center’s Moore Theater. “It would not address the charge I placed before our community of purging extreme behaviors wherever they occur on campus.”

As Hanlon spoke on Thursday, a small group of undergraduates reacted to each of his new policies by raising handmade signs that read “Yay,” “Boo,” “?” and “Abolish the Greek System.”

When Dartmouth’s president announced he wouldn’t eliminate fraternities and sororities, he earned a “boo” sign from Taylor Payer, a student who wants them gone.

Payer, a senior, said she was concerned that anti-Greek advocates had less input in the process than Greek leaders.

“Bringing signs to the speech was a respectful way of participating in the discussion that we weren’t invited to but so deeply impacts our lives as Dartmouth students,” Payer said in an email later that day.

Susy Struble, a 1993 alumna and member of Dartmouth Change, a group that supports the elimination of Greek houses, questioned the college’s choice not to bring in outside experts.

“There’s a reason that the college refused to do an independent commission,” she said, calling the announced reforms, many of which she doubted were enforceable, “window dressing.”

Past and current fraternity members claimed on Thursday that their own proposal, drawn up by presidents of Dartmouth’s Greek houses and titled “ Moving Dartmouth Forward: The Greek Proposal ,” had influenced Hanlon’s decision-making. Banning hard alcohol and partnering with WISE are among the measures that proposals from Hanlon and Greek leaders had in common.

“We’re actually really pleased with the impact it seems to have had on his recommendations,” said John Turner, a 2004 graduate who’s president of Gamma Delta Chi fraternity’s alumni corporation.

All the same, Hanlon — a math professor by training who returned to his alma mater in 2013 after 27 years at University of Michigan — said he might change his mind if student organizations, including fraternities, fail to measure up to the new expectations.

“Moving forward, it will be simple,” he said in his speech. “Organizations that choose not to fulfill these higher standards will not be a part of our community.”

In a policy statement that accompanied his prepared remarks, Hanlon took an even sterner tone, writing, “If, in the next three to five years, the Greek system does not engage in meaningful and lasting reform, and we are unsuccessful in sharply curbing harmful behaviors, we will need to revisit the system’s continuation on our 

But senior Taylor Cathcart, president of Phi Delta Alpha fraternity, said this would prove to be a “moot point.”

“I would say that we are not worried about that, given the tremendous progress we have made over the past six months,” he said.

Hanlon also said his committee had considered mandating that all single-sex Greek organizations become co-ed, but had discarded the idea for many of the same reasons. Instead, the college’s new residential communities will provide students with a social environment that’s inclusive and isn’t “owned by a single gender,” he said Tuesday.

In the same interview, Hanlon said he expected the new residential system to be the “most transformative” of his changes.

Hanlon declined to say how the college planned to implement many aspects of the policies — Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer, along with many other officials and faculty members, would be responsible for most of the finer details, he said.

Some of those policies included new requirements that student social events have third-party security and bartenders, and that student resident advisers make “rounds” through the residence halls on nights when students are likely to be drinking.

Graham Churchill, a junior at Dartmouth, said he largely supported the reforms, but questioned whether the college could enforce the ban on liquor, which the policy document defines as a beverage above 30 proof, or 15 percent alcohol.

“While (Hanlon’s speech) is a good start, straight up banning hard alcohol is going to drive it deeper underground,” he said.

One solution floated in the past by the Moving Dartmouth Forward committee’s chairwoman , English professor Barbara Will, has been to institute an “open-door” policy where student parties are monitored by resident advisors who intervene only when undergraduates are dangerously intoxicated or consuming hard liquor.

Churchill said the college needed an open-door policy to enforce the ban, adding that without one, “you’re going to incentivize the fraternity community to hide what they’re doing.”

Hanlon’s policy statement also said the college would develop a “comprehensive and mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention and education program for students” by the end of the summer and pilot it during the fall semester.

As soon as this coming fall, the college will create an “consent manual” describing sexual violence scenarios and potential sanctions, along with a smartphone app that students may use to call for help.

Hanlon’s social reforms will also intersect with his new academic 

Professors no longer are to cancel their classes before the college’s “big weekends,” where festivities often spill into weekdays. Courses will meet earlier on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in order to discourage hard partying on Monday and Wednesday nights, 
Hanlon said.

On Wednesday, Hanlon met with the college’s trustees, who unanimously approved the new measures, according to Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Helman, a 1980 alumnus.

An independent oversight committee, led by former Tufts University president Larry Bacow, will evaluate Dartmouth’s progress in the areas targeted Thursday. Hanlon said its other members are a student affairs official from Stanford, an alcohol expert from Maryland and two recent Dartmouth graduates, one a former Greek 

“The committee will hold us accountable by reporting to me and to the board of trustees on the question of whether we are doing what we said we would do,” he said.

An earlier version of this article appeared on www.vnews.com Thursday morning. Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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