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Dartmouth’s year filled with administrative missteps, reversals and difficult times

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    Ian Scott, a Dartmouth College freshman from Miramar, Fla., center, returns to the back of the line after reading names of the class of 2021 during a rehearsal for Sunday’s commencement on the stage at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., Thursday, June 10, 2021. "It's a great way to see off friends that I've made," said Scott, who befriended seniors online when pandemic restrictions were at their height last fall. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/12/2021 1:08:44 AM
Modified: 6/13/2021 6:01:52 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College is marking its commencement Sunday after a year in which college leaders have fumbled at key points while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic — reversing themselves on two major decisions and also acknowledging that they needed to expand mental health services in the wake of four student deaths.

Students, faculty and alumni say they think the college ought to further increase its support for students’ mental health and to improve communication. For some, it seems as though now — as the pandemic ebbs, the provost departs and the college welcomes a new senior vice president and diversity officer — is a good time for the college to reevaluate its priorities.

“I believe it’s time for regime change at Dartmouth,” said Diana Whitney, a member of Dartmouth’s Class of 1995 and a founding member of the Dartmouth Community against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence.

While the college has announced a series of initiatives aimed at addressing issues related to culture and climate, Whitney said, she’d like to see “some reparations right now” to change what she described as a “culture of harm.”

“This is a real moment of reckoning,” she said. “Maybe it can be a turning point, I don’t know.”

This week, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth dismissed all charges of honor code violations it had leveled at students alleged to have cheated on closed-book online tests by accessing web-based course materials at the same time.

That reversal came on the heels of the college’s May announcement that it would expand mental health services, following the unexpected deaths this school year of three first-year students, at least two of whom died by suicide. A fourth student also died this year of medical causes.

The college also reversed itself in January when it reinstated five varsity teams — men’s lightweight crew, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving — that it had eliminated last summer due to budget issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It became clear the teams’ elimination was in violation of Title IX, the federal law designed to prohibit sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funds.

“Something the college needs to work on is how it can be responsive to student needs,” said Jonathan Briffault, former vice president of Dartmouth’s student assembly who is poised to graduate Sunday with a degree in government and history.

Briffault said he found the college’s negative response to the student assembly’s request last month for a day off from classes to allow students to grieve following the most recent suicide to be “deeply disappointing.”

Robert Goldbloom, a former Dartmouth swimmer and a member of the Class of 1981, said he thinks the blame for the college’s botched attempt to eliminate five varsity sports teams is shared by then-athletic director Harry Sheehy, but in larger part by Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon and the college’s board of trustees.

While Sheehy came up with the plan, which turned out to be in violation of Title IX rules, Goldbloom said Hanlon asked Sheehy to make some cuts and he and the board approved the proposal.

“Why did they not kick the tires, if you will?” Goldbloom said.

He said he was discouraged that it took the threat of a lawsuit to get the school to reverse the decision.

“The trustees weren’t looking at it until the college was (potentially) being sued,” he said. “Why was that necessary?”

Leadership changes

Like Whitney, Goldbloom said he thinks it’s time for Hanlon to move on.

The 1977 Dartmouth graduate has been president since 2013 after serving as the provost at the University of Michigan.

“I think he should be gone not just because of this decision,” Goldbloom said. “I don’t know as much about the other things,” referring to students’ mental health issues and the Geisel cheating scandal. “On the surface, they look bad to me.”

Hanlon — who received more than $1.5 million in total compensation from Dartmouth in 2019, according to college tax filings — has no plans to step down, Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said.

Stan Colla, who graduated in 1972 and is a former vice president of development and alumni affairs at Dartmouth, said that when it’s time for a leadership change at Dartmouth, the school should look for a woman.

“Whatever has prevented Dartmouth from hiring a woman as a president in the past, that needs to be put aside,” said the 77-year-old Colla, who like Whitney is a member of the Dartmouth Community against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence.

Beyond that, such a leader would need the board to support her and back her agenda, which Colla said he hoped “will include trying to steer Dartmouth to a more equitable, inclusive environment.”

Such an agenda will require having more female leaders throughout the college “so that the whole jargon of our culture; the whole ethos of the place begins to feel the change in leadership style,” he said.

Dartmouth has one key vacancy to fill already with the pending departure of Provost Joseph Helble, who has been a public face for the college in the pandemic but is leaving to become president of Lehigh University, his alma mater.

For his part, Briffault, former vice president of Dartmouth’s student assembly, declined to comment on leadership change, but said he hopes that communication can be improved.

“The hard part is that I think students try to communicate,” Briffault said. They “talk to all the people who we’re supposed to talk to. I don’t know where it is that this communication is faltering.”

During a webcast “community conversation” on Wednesday, Hanlon himself acknowledged that Dartmouth has struggled with four issues this year.

In addition to efforts necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, the college also had to address students’ mental health and wellness needs; alter its teaching and research approaches to avoid transmission of the virus; and address financial losses resulting from the other issues.

“It has been a year of challenge like no other that I’ve experienced,” he said.

Though it may not have been apparent to students, amid the pandemic Hanlon, college trustees and other senior leaders came together more often, Laurel Richie, the outgoing chairwoman of Dartmouth’s board of trustees, said during the webcast with Hanlon.

“I think we’ve learned that upping our cadence a little bit might be a good thing to continue in the future,” Richie said.

Another Dartmouth alumna, Elizabeth Cahill Lempres, will become chairwoman of the trustees next week. She is a former management consultant at McKinsey & Co.

Symbol of change

Both Colla and Whitney said they’d also like to see the college remove the name of Leon Black, who ran a major private-equity firm and is a former Dartmouth trustee, from Dartmouth’s visual arts center due to his earlier financial ties with the late Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender.

Black and his wife, Debra, contributed $48 million toward what is known as the Black Family Visual Arts Center.

Colla suggested that Black himself, who now faces a lawsuit from a woman accusing him of defamation and sexual violence, step up to remove the Black name from the Dartmouth building.

(A spokesman for Black has said they had a consensual relationship and that the lawsuit was “wholesale fiction,” the Wall Street Journal reported.)

“He needs to step forward and say, ‘You know, I don’t want Dartmouth to be dragged down,’ ” Colla said.

John Campbell, a Dartmouth sociology professor, echoed calls to remove the Black name from the visual arts center, saying that’s what the school would do if it “wanted to make a big statement.”

The college has no plans to change the name of the visual arts center, said Lawrence, the Dartmouth spokeswoman.

Campbell said making such a move might help the college to recruit and retain female scholars, as well as those from other underrepresented groups.

Diversity

Last summer, Black faculty members submitted a letter to college administrators calling the college “racially hostile” and urging them to do more to address equity on campus in part by recruiting more faculty of color.

Campbell said his department had some success in recruiting faculty members of color, but that efforts were stymied somewhat by the region’s largely white population, its rural nature and the lack of graduate programs in certain disciplines such as the social sciences.

“It’s tough,” he said.

Graduating senior Jaden Oliveras, a sociology major who plans to work for Fidelity Investments, said he took note when he was in class with faculty from underrepresented groups.

“Every time I do, I really am grateful for it,” he said.

Dartmouth last month said an alumni couple had given the college $20 million to boost efforts to draw more underrepresented groups to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, part of a $60 million effort to support diversity and equity in STEM fields at the college.

Carol Muller, a member of Dartmouth’s Class of 1977 who later worked as an associate dean at Thayer and co-founded the Dartmouth Women in Science Project, said one of the biggest advances the school has made in the past year has been to hire Shontay Delalue. Delalue is slated to begin her new role as Dartmouth’s inaugural senior vice president and senior diversity officer on July 1.

She comes to Dartmouth from Brown University where she holds a similar role.

But Muller, a member of an external committee charged with reporting on the progress of Dartmouth’s Campus Climate and Culture Initiative, said she has a “slight concern” that administrators might see Delalue’s arrival as an opportunity to hand off responsibility for all issues related to diversity and inclusion.

“You really can’t delegate the role that you need to play,” Muller said.

Returning to normal?

Moving forward, in addition to expanding mental health support, the college plans to focus on bringing the college community together next year with more casual events on the Dartmouth Green such as skating, Hanlon said in his remarks Wednesday.

The college also plans to encourage students to have lunch with their professors and is considering an oral history project to allow people to reflect on their pandemic experiences.

“I think that it’s important for us to hear from each other about the experiences we’ve had and for us to articulate them so that we can begin to process what I think is going to be viewed over the next centuries as being an incredible moment in the history of the world and this nation,” he said.

Hanlon also said he’s most excited to return to normal classes, student performances, sports and outdoor programs.

“All the things that have always made Dartmouth so special will be back in the fall,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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