Dartmouth College Faculty Decries Actions

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, May 21, 2018

Hanover — Dartmouth College faculty who were upset with President Phil Hanlon’s clash with a visiting scholar have resurrected a century-old chapter of an advocacy group to fight for academic freedom.

Citing a trend of increased “targeted harassment of faculty and students” at Dartmouth and nationwide, the new co-presidents of the area chapter of the American Association of University Professors recommended expanding academic freedom by, in part, silencing administrators.

Annelise Orleck, a history professor, and Jonathan Zinman, an economics professor, disseminated copies of the proposed changes to the college policy during a meeting of the faculty of Arts and Sciences on Monday afternoon at Alumni Hall.

The new group, which includes 50 dues-paying members, also targeted the administration’s recent announcement of a decision to close the University Press of New England by the end of the year, a move the AAUP and other faculty have said did not include enough faculty input.

“Dartmouth had an AAUP chapter back in 1916 that we can all thank for the codification of both academic freedom here on campus and tenure,” Zinman told the group. “So why do we need to revive this august chapter of this august institution here on campus?”

Academic freedom became a hot topic on campus last summer, when visiting scholar Mark Bray, who was talking about a clash between white supremacists and anti-fascist activists, said, “a lot of people are under attack, and sometimes they need to be able to defend themselves.”

Hanlon drew a wave of criticism among the faculty after he publicly characterized Bray’s comments as an endorsement of violence that was “contrary to Dartmouth values.”

If the policy revisions, which currently are under review, are accepted, faculty would receive “full freedom” in research, publication and classroom discussions — while administrators would be advised to butt out of academic discourse.

Under the proposal, “the default position of the administration and trustees should be to remain silent on the views of individual faculty members particularly when those views are based on scholarly inquiry.”

After the meeting, Orleck called the Bray incident the “proximate spark” that helped to bring into focus long-standing concerns about the ability of faculty to advocate for themselves as individuals, and through their departments.

The group emphasized solidarity with adjunct professors; Orleck said that though the new group is not a union, it eventually could pave the way for a unionization effort for adjuncts, who are paid by the semester and face various challenges to accessing benefits.

“That will be up for discussion at some point, if they want to do that,” Orleck said.

Elizabeth Smith, dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences, said during the meeting that communication, both within the faculty and between faculty and administration, is improving.

“We’re all aware that there are concerns about high level communications ... I think there has been progress on that front,” Smith said. “We need to do more.”

Smith said the ability of faculty to advocate effectively for themselves was hampered by high turnover of key department leaders, and by a slow-moving structure that includes too many committees, and too many faculty serving on those committees.

The AAUP joined a group of faculty in questioning the decision to dissolve the press, which was announced last month after both Brandeis University and Dartmouth College decided they could no longer carry the fixed costs of what once was a 10-member consortium.

Interim Provost David Kotz fielded questions on the decision, which he said was made “with much sadness.”

In making the announcement, the college cited a lack of viability and sustainability as reasons behind the cost-cutting measure.

Kotz said that while the decision had not received a public debate, the opinions of faculty were solicited.

“I could not have a broad public discussion about it because ... out of respect for the 20 people who work at UPNE, it would have been awkward to have that conversation in public,” he said. “I approached these various groups in confidence.” He also stressed that faculty input is being sought by a work group that is looking at the best way to take the Dartmouth College Press into the future.

“Should we have a press ... and if so, what should that press look like?” Kotz said. “It may not be that traditional model of printing books.”

But religion professor A. Kevin Reinhart said that he’d like a “clear definition of what we mean by viability and sustainability,” and expressed concern about the parameters guiding the working group.

“Nothing that I’ve heard suggests that we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to do this thing,” he said. “It’s whether we’re going to do this thing.”

Reiko Ohnuma, a professor of religion whose husband works as an editor at UPNE, said she was “bitter and resentful” about the lack of input, both from faculty and UPNE staff.

“A lot of them feel genuinely hurt that their expertise and all the experience they’ve built up over decades has been determined to not be of very much interest,” she said.

Kotz said that the work group will be gathering feedback about the future of the press with a series of upcoming faculty meetings.

Doug Tifft, UPNE’s production coordinator, said he and some colleagues planned to attend the first one, scheduled for noon today in the Haldeman Center.

“We are also concerned that UPNE be seen in its entirety, not just that portion called Dartmouth College Press,” he said. “Many of us feel that we were serving a much larger community than Dartmouth alone and that our closure will have a negative impact on Brandeis University Press, Wesleyan University Press and the 15 UPNE book partners who utilized some part of our service.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.