Dartmouth students demand end to coddling, focus on learning
By Evan Lips | May 19, 2016, 20:39 EST
HANOVER, N.H. – Alleging that Dartmouth College administrators have increasingly “assumed the role of paternalistic babysitters,” students at the Ivy League institution have launched an online petition that aims to refocus the school on education and the free exchange of ideas.
The “Take Back Dartmouth” petition, penned by five student-government leaders, garnered more than 1,300 signatures in just three days.
The students took to crunching staff numbers and financials and provided documentation in their petition that shows non-faculty staff numbers at Dartmouth grew to 3,342 in 2004 from 2,408 in 1999. Even after layoffs in ensuing years, the growth continued to 3,497 last year, the students say.
“It seems unlikely that the current administration has plans to change course,” they say in the petition. Among other problems it enumerates are a 39 percent rise in tuition over seven years, a threat to the institution’s focus on education, the “decrepit condition” of some dormitories, underpaid faculty and an end to need-blind admissions for non-U.S. students.
But the central message of the plea revolves around the role of administrators, who the student leaders say have become more focused on undergraduates’ behavior and comforting the psyches of social-justice activists than on the education of all who attend the school.
“Instead of making a sincere and concerted attempt to resolve the issues mentioned above, the Dartmouth administration has spent its time policing student life,” the petition says. “Buoyed by the idea that the college should support exclusionary ‘safe spaces’ that act as a barrier against uncomfortable ideas, administrators have assumed the role of paternalistic babysitters.”
The 2015-2016 academic year saw students supporting the black lives matter movement storm the school’s library in November for a “Blackout” demonstration. Inge-Lise Ameer, vice provost for student affairs, apologized to the activists for the negative responses and media coverage it generated.
“There’s a whole conservative world out there that’s not being very nice,” Ameer said, according to the campus newspaper, The Dartmouth. The petitioners fault such statements as unwanted interference.
“By effectively taking sides in sensitive debates and privileging the perspectives of certain students over others, administrators have crossed the line between maintaining a learning environment that is open to all and forcing their own personal views onto the entire campus,” the petition says. “In doing so, they have undermined the value of civility, harmed the free exchange of ideas, and performed a disservice to those students who see their time in college as preparation for success in the real world.”
“We believe that the administration should treat students like the legal adults they are and cease chipping away at free speech, free thought, and free association,” the students say. “We envision a college where students are granted the liberty to lead their lives as they please and enjoy a true freedom to speak their minds.”
Even apolitical, time-honored traditions weren’t spared by social-justice activists over the past academic year. Student activists tried to convince administrators to change the theme of the school’s annual winter carnival from “The Cat in the Hat Comes to Winter Carnival” to “Snow Justice – Snow Peace,” as a demonstration that would “exemplify and reflect current sentiments occurring on campuses nationwide.”
In early April, a Dartmouth sorority canceled a popular Kentucky Derby-themed party targeted by protesters in the previous year as racist.
Most recently, activists last week tore down a campus display erected during National Police Week that was intended to honor the lives of officers slain in the line of duty.
— mikala a. williams (@talladultchild) May 13, 2016
The students also demand action by the school to reduce the number of nonessential staff and reverse the spiral of tuition increases, which at Dartmouth have pushed the annual undergraduate costs to almost $70,000. Cutting its bloated bureaucracy could enable the school to lower the cost of attendance, the petitioners say, adding that taking such steps would make the school a pioneer.
Dartmouth officials have yet to issue a response to the petitioners.