Beilock’s leadership divides students; ‘no confidence’ narrowly passes

From left, Dartmouth students Brendan Brophy, Rachel Kahng and Sean Wallace pack up their “Brave Space” on Baker Lawn in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Students set up and break down the space, which includes tarps for visitors to sit and a lending library, every day in order to comply with campus policies. Dartmouth undergraduate students passed a vote of “no confidence” in President Sian Beilock, 1,425 to 1,323, on Wednesday. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From left, Dartmouth students Brendan Brophy, Rachel Kahng and Sean Wallace pack up their “Brave Space” on Baker Lawn in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Students set up and break down the space, which includes tarps for visitors to sit and a lending library, every day in order to comply with campus policies. Dartmouth undergraduate students passed a vote of “no confidence” in President Sian Beilock, 1,425 to 1,323, on Wednesday. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-15-2024 3:05 PM

Modified: 05-15-2024 8:21 PM


HANOVER – By a slim margin, Dartmouth undergraduate students have voted “no confidence” in President Sian Leah Beilock’s leadership in the wake of a controversial crackdown on pro-Palestinian protesters earlier this month, Dartmouth Student Government announced on Wednesday.

The advisory-only measure passed 1,425-1,323 — a 52% majority — which represented about 60% of the 4,681 undergraduates who were eligible to vote.

Voting for no confidence meant that less than a year into her tenure, “you do not think President Beilock should remain in office,” according to the student government, which is made up of 24 elected senators.

Beilock’s stewardship has been under intense scrutiny since her administration made the decision to call police to a pro-Palestinian demonstration on May 1 on the Green. After protesters pitched a handful of tents, about 20 cops in riot gear from a New Hampshire “special operations unit” marched on the encampment. Over the next few hours, police arrested 89 people, including 65 students and five Dartmouth employees.

The chargers were later dropped against two student journalists from the college’s newspaper who were arrested while covering the event.

Dartmouth’s board of trustees is the “ultimate decider of College leadership,” reads the announcement of the referendum. The results of the vote are “for the public to judge,” the voting portal read.

On Wednesday evening, the college issued a brief statement about the vote: “The president and her team are committed to ensuring that all voices are heard on campus, which is fundamental to Dartmouth’s academic mission and core values.”

Sitting in the lobby of Baker-Berry Library, junior Ella Grim said Wednesday she hopes the balloting “will push the student government to hold their own vote,” which would hold more weight. “And hopefully it will also push the faculty to do the same.”

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Grim spoke from “the second brave space,” a mobile set-up that’s typically present on the lawn in front of the library but had been moved inside due to rain. Programming like faculty “teach-in” events around Palestinian activism that were planned for the dismantled encampment have taken place at the new gathering spot — at which, in accordance with college policy, there are no tents, amplified sound or overnight occupation.

Grim hasn’t seen Beilock, or any senior members of the administration, at the gathering spot.

“I thought a lot more people would vote against” the motion of no confidence, said senior Abigail Bordelon. Still, “the chances that they fire Beilock are pretty low,” she said. “Dartmouth is big on pride and not admitting they’re wrong. I’m hopeful that this shows a fair amount of the student body feels like they’re not listened to.”

“Ignoring us and sending riot police isn’t engaging in dialogue,” Bordelon added.

Voting by secret ballot began last Thursday, and remained open until Wednesday at noon.

Last week, the student senators passed a no confidence motion. But student body president Jessica Chiriboga vetoed the measure, noting in a statement that several members of the governing body “expressed their interest in deliberating further as there was no discussion ... on the topic prior to the vote,” while procedurce is typically “to thoroughly deliberate before a vote is taken.”

The results of the week-long voting indicate strong support for the president, said sophomore Oren Poleshuck-Kinel.

“The people advocating for a no confidence vote were very vocal and made their voices heard,” he said.

While those who are strongly opposed to Beilock’s leadership were more likely to vote in the election, “I think if people didn’t vote that means they didn’t feel strongly enough about Beilock’s actions that she should be removed from office,” he added.

Poleshuck-Kinel has been a vocal champion of Beilock, writing in a recent op-ed published in The Dartmouth that “the community response to the arrests demonstrates the true silencing of students with diverse perspectives — exemplified by a lack of student pro-Israel letters to the editor in The Dartmouth, an apparent sign that students are afraid to speak out.”

Speaking about the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, “no one can justify that violence,” he said.

At the May 1 demonstration on the Green, Poleshuck-Kinel said heard professor “chanting hateful slogans.”

“I mean I can personally say that I feel safer because of President Beilock’s leadership,” he said.

Former Dartmouth presidents have weathered no-confidence votes.

In 1986, a vote brought against then-president David T. McLaughlin by the faculty didn’t pass, but resulted in a report admonishing him for his handling of a series of shanties on the Green during anti-apartheid protests in 1985, which saw the demolition of the structures by student counter-protesters with axes.

He also was under fire for his decision to allow the establishment of an Army ROTC training center on campus, despite overwhelming denunciation from faculty.

In the current campus dispute, Sergei Kan, an anthropology professor, has been helping to lead the charge on garnering faculty support for Beilock. In the days after the arrests, he helped to collect signatures for an open letter in The Dartmouth commending the administration “for their thoughtful and strong leadership in these complex times and for their resolve to keep Dartmouth a safe space for all.”

“The position that the president advocates is that the college Green belongs to everyone,” Kan said in an interview. “It doesn’t belong to one faction.” Jewish students “told me that if there were these encampments and tents, they wouldn’t set foot on the Green,” he said. “They would be afraid, and they would boycott the Green.”

Sophomore Maya Beauvineau and the other arrested Dartmouth students have been banned from the Green as part of their bail conditions. On Wednesday, Beauvineau was studying on the Baker-Berry lawn and awaiting the results of the referendum.

“I ideally would love to go back on the Green,” Beauvineau said. “Every time that I pass it, it’s a reminder of that night.”

She was among some of the students raising awareness of the vote.

“In general, student activism is bringing to light greater problems on campus” Beauvineau said, including lack of transparency and democratic opportunities.

“This no-confidence vote, if anything, is representative of students trying to make their voices heard,” she said.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.