August 2, 2012

The Sheer Lunacy of the Christian Right

Dear Readers. I had initially intended my first post in almost three years to be a reintroduction and update on what my life has been like over the past three years. That post however will have to wait because I want to use this update to speak about the sheer lunacy that is the modern day right wing. As many of you are aware, Chick fil-A COO Dan Cathy recently spoke of his opposition to same-sex marriage in a radio interview. In the aftermath of this comment, it was revealed that Chick fil-A had given a substantial amount of money to anti-gay causes. In response, many pledged to boycott Chick fil-A in order to ensure that their money didn’t end up supporting the causes that Mr. Cathy holds dear. This is of course a reasonable free market response. As a participant in the free market system, I have the right to choose not to be a patron at a business that uses its profits to support causes that run counter to my values. However, the Right quickly rallied behind Chick fil-A and as such, “Chick fil-A Appreciation Day” was born. Christians were encouraged (primarily by men like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee) to show their support for Jesus Christ by eating Chick fil-A.

I want you to go back to the last paragraph and read that last sentence. We were supposed to show our support for Jesus Christ by giving money to a corporation so it could give its profits to causes that serve only to demean our fellow man (or woman). Don’t believe me? This is from Mike Huckabee’s Facebook page, “"Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1.” We are supposed to embolden people who stand by “Godly values?” I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Christianity but I was always under the impression that Jesus Christ taught his followers to help the sick and poor. After all, it was Christ who gave sight to the blind and used divine intervention to drastically multiply the amount of fish and bread available in order to feed starving people. Jesus Christ probably would not consider your patronage at a fast food place to be any form of support. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’d wonder why you didn’t use the hour that you spent waiting in line to go down to a soup kitchen to help feed the homeless. He’d also wonder why you didn’t donate the money you spent on your chicken sandwich to a charity to help starving people in the world. Doing both of the aforementioned things would be a better showing of “Godly values” than going to Chick fil-A to support a bigoted COO.  After all, Christianity in its very design is against the accumulation of vast wealth and highly encouraging of philanthropy. Going to Chick fil-A to support God is like going to a strip club to support women’s rights, it’s so contradictory that it makes my head explode.

If you don’t believe what I am saying then I will defer to Jesus Christ himself and leave this quote for you, “That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matthew 16:23-24, KJV).” Just prior to this quote, this one also appears, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me (Matthew 16:21, KJV).” Jesus Christ clearly condemns excessive wealth and encourages us to give to the poor. For a Baptist minister, Mr. Huckabee has a poor grasp on “Godly values.”

 What Would Jesus Do? Probably not eat at Chick fil-A.

July 11, 2012

Crowdsourcing: Housing Continuity

Earlier this week, The D reported that Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson fancies stricter alcohol policies. In particular, Dean Johnson described new rules whereby hard liquor can only be served by licensed bartenders. Never mind that it is already illegal to serve, possess or consume alcohol underage, or that licensure in New Hampshire is fairly cheap and simple to obtain. A bartender's license will definitely stand between a bro' and the throngs of enthusiastic, open-handed underage undergraduates.

This administration's ham-fisted reaction to the hazing scandal continues to amaze us, not least because it refuses to address the root of the College's hazing and alcohol problems.

As a reliably left-of-center outlet, LGB takes little issue with aggressive regulation by administrations, be they housed in Washington or Parkhurst. But only the most draconian regulations could possibly curb to any significant degree the culture of drinking and hazing in Greek organizations. Is Ms. Johnson prepared to place S&S in every house on every Wednesday and weekend night?

Assuming -- or, in this case, maybe just hoping -- that the answer is no, the administration needs to think more creatively. One meaningful step the administration could take would be offering some alternative social space to the Greek houses.

Reintroducing housing continuity would do precisely that. By ensuring that students would always have a residential community to return to, students could build a sense of social cohesion that would rival the networks provided by Greek houses. The plaques that still hang in dorms across campus bear testament to the bygone days when members of residential communities banded together to win competitions from chess to soccer.

By reintroducing housing continuity, College officials could immediately provide a safer, cheaper and more comfortable alternative to the Greek houses. Think of it as a kind of public option for community housing. Alone, this would not solve all ills, but it would make considerably more of a dent that Ms. Johnson's misguided terminator approach.

A quick perusal of the College website (data here) shows more than 3,300 beds available in non-Greek housing, equivalent to 79 percent of Dartmouth's entire undergraduate population. Considering the D-Plan, and that only 85 percent of students live on-campus (including Greek houses) anyway, surely this number is sufficient to support continuity-based housing reform.

And yet the idea gains no traction. We at LGB want to know why, so we return to our crowdsourcing strategy. Submit comments, connect with us on Facebook or send an e-mail. Tell us your arguments against housing continuity. What are we, and the numerous students and alumni with whom we have spoken, missing?

June 22, 2012

U.Va. Board May Reinstate Sullivan

Last week, we discussed the ongoing drama in Charlottesville, Va., following the ouster of the University's president Teresa Sullivan. Today, CBS reports that the Board of Visitors will meet next week to consider reinstating Ms. Sullivan, and the board-appointed interim president announced that he will stand aside until that meeting concludes.

We at Little Green Blog anticipated that faculty pressure would force the board to reconsider its decision to fire the president. If the Visitors defer to the faculty on this issue, we also expect they listen to faculty demands for the board's rector, Helen Dragas, to resign.

Addendum (26 June): The Visitors meet today to decide on reinstatement. Given intense student and faculty pressure on them to reinstate, the board may not have much of a choice. The board would only intensify the dissenters' passions were they to reject the faculty senate's requests after getting hopes up that might reverse course If, on the other hand, the board returns Mrs. Sullivan to her office, the rector will almost certainly have to tenure her own resignation.

June 18, 2012

The Virginians, They Smell Blood

Image courtesy of the Lee Foundation
When Helen Dragas, rector of the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia, hurled the blade that decapitated the University's administration, she did so with the rightful impunity earned by her rank and office. In the week following the announcement that the Visitors were forcing Teresa Sullivan to step down as the U.Va. president, Ms. Dragas unapologetically ingeminated the contention that Ms. Sullivan simply would not move quickly enough to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

During most of the past week, protests erupted amongst faculty and staff. Members of the administration were, however, largely silent, offering implicit endorsements of the board's authority if not its decision writ large.

On Sunday, the University's chief academic officer, Provost John Simon, broke that uneasy silence. In an address to the faculty senate, Mr. Simon voiced displeasure at the Board's decision, even suggesting he may leave the University if the Visitors botch the process further. "The Board actions over the next few days," Mr. Simon intoned,  "will inform me as to whether the University of Virginia remains the type of institution I am willing to dedicate my efforts to help lead."

Mr. Simon's paired his pronouncement with a personal expression of obligation to his sons, to provide them  "personal examples of courage during a crisis."

Mr. Simon's sentiments are undoubtedly heartfelt, but they also come at the same time as two important wrinkles to the tale unfolding in Charlottesville. One of the most prolific givers to the University, Hunter Smith, has requested that Mr. Dragas and her colleagues step down from the Board. And word this morning suggests that some Visitors requested Ms. Sullivan to remain at the University despite her having agreeing to resign last week.

Viewed in context, Mr. Simon's remarks suggest that U.Va.'s leadership smells blood. The board, seemingly impervious to the fusillade of attacks from faculty, students and media alike, has begun to show the extent of its injuries, and they are deep indeed.

The board will need to staunch the bleeding, but doing so presents a spate of unpalatable options. Quelling the siege by faculty and students would almost certainly require reinstating Ms. Sullivan; but doing so undermines the Visitors' authority and sours any potential for future cooperation between Ms. Sullivan and the board charged with overseeing her. Standing pat would reinforce the absolute authority of the Visitors to manage the University and its employees, but threatens to tear the campus asunder and instigate a mass exodus of top faculty and administrators.

Ms. Dragas hatched a daring plan -- normatively correct or otherwise -- to oust the University's president. Such is her prerogative. Unfortunately for her, Ms. Dragas seems to have underestimated the passions she would face in doing so. The faculty senate met with the Visitors this morning and demanded Ms. Dragas and her conspirators resign, adding to the chorus of donors and state officials that has drowned out Ms. Dragas's few defenders.

We at Little Green Blog struggle to imagine how she reasonably resists the call. By all accounts, her plot teeters on the precipice of failure, her board's unified front is fissuring, and the din of her opponents grows louder by the day. This riveting chapter will likely be the last one Ms. Dragas contributes to the history of the University of Virginia.

Addendum: One source reports that Ms. Dragas is digging in her heels and hiring a public relations firm to help her survive the storm. The move will likely only increase faculty displeasure as it positions Ms. Dragas not as a steward of the University but as an aggressor to it.

June 17, 2012

Consequences of an Active Board

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post
The Board of Visitors (i.e., the trustees) of the University of Virginia asked President Teresa Sullivan to resign about a week ago. The board hatched the plan over several months, led by the rector Helen Dragas, but apparently did not inform the University's president until June 8. The furor following pushed the faculty to declare no confidence in the board, produced widespread student protest and has hatched some intriguing conspiracy theories.

Every story about the dismissal -- including the latest investigative piece by the Washington Post --  reinforces the truth that we know almost nothing about why the board terminated Ms. Sullivan's presidency only two years after it started.

The kerfuffle unraveling in Charlottesville does, however, show the consequences of an active board of trustees. The rector of the Visitors, and a few of her colleagues, laid plans for dismissing Ms. Sullivan months ago. Intriguingly, the Visitors did not see fit to consult the faculty, or to discuss the degree of their displeasure with Ms. Sullivan until asking for her resignation.

With only the opaque statements of the board in hand, we at Little Green Blog cannot offer any editorial position on Ms. Sullivan or those who crusaded  against her. We find it a dangerous combination, though, for a board to be so reactionary without corresponding levels of transparency. If the board found itself at ideological loggerheads with Ms. Sullivan and her staff, it should have elucidated the nature of the conflict instead of hiding behind closed doors.

Dartmouth alumni should not ignore the story as it unfolds, for it shows plainly the importance of trustees' fiduciary responsibilities. Alumni of the University of Virginia do not enjoy the same privilege as the sons and daughters of Dartmouth to elect a portion of the Board. Placing members on the Board who value transparency, and who will consider alumni, student and faculty concerns before taking such drastic action is paramount.

The Board of Visitors at U.Va. took an active role in the institution's governance, instead of serving as a rubber stamp for Ms. Sullivan's policies. Dartmouth's trustees should show such mettle in dealing with the College's next interim president and her successor. But the College's board should couple that engagement with more deference for the views of those most most vested in the College's fate.

June 12, 2012

Dartmouth's Endowment, Past & Present

Two weeks ago, a Dartmouth administrator was quoted in The D defending the College against criticisms launched by the group styling itself the Friends of Eleazar Wheelock. Responding to claims that mismanagement has led Dartmouth's endowment to underperform compared to peer institutions, the College's spokesman Justin Anderson suggested that the endowment has, in fact,
Overall, Dartmouth’s endowment has performed in the top-quartile for the 10-year period ending June 30, 2011 within three applicable universes of higher education and/or non-profit institutions.

Figure 1: Dartmouth Growth in Comparison (Enlarge)

Joe Asch '77 over at Dartblog rightly questions this assertion. But given Mr. Asch's tendency to question -- and often criticize -- any claim by College officials, we at Little Green Blog wanted to examine Mr. Anderson's words for ourselves.

What we discovered suggests that Mr. Asch has stumbled across a molehill, but not quite a mountain. Mr. Anderson intentionally misleads by asserting that the Dartmouth endowment has not performed worse since 2000 than it did in the decade previous; but taken in sum, the endowment has not performed too poorly.

On it's face, Mr. Anderson's claim may be true -- it is hard to judge, because he does not supply the "universes" of other institutions to which he is comparing the Dartmouth endowment. And, as as they do far too frequently, The D's reporter failed to investigate further. We find utterly clear, however, the preposterousness of comparing the College to a bunch of universities and other nonprofits, regardless of size or function.

June 10, 2012

Congratulations to the Senior Class

We welcome the Class of 2012 into the family of College alumni, and congratulate them on their outstanding achievements. We look forward to continued fellowship with you, and wish that only the best of luck betide you as you wade into the world beyond the Hanover plain. Stay strong, keep the faith, and remain engaged and active participants in Dartmouth solidarity.