November 25, 2006

Different Standards for Different Folks

So, although The D has officially finished publishing for the term, apparently alums who are pissed about the Josie Harper letter can get their letters published (here and here).

That strikes me as a little strange given the frequent complaint that it's hard enough to get letters that bear a certain viewpoint (namely minorities') printed or posted online during the regular publishing period.

In regards to those two letters, though, may I ask a naive question? Why do we care whether Dartmouth sucks at athletics or not? What actual advantage do we garner by being a football powerhouse or a basketball juggernaut? Do our students find it easier to get the jobs they want? Does it improve our admissions numbers (obviously not given that they're currently at an all-time high despite our athletic woes)? Alumni donations are at an all-time high as well, I believe, so it can't be that. Does institutional athletic prowess give any of us—besides the athletes themselves—a damn thing except a nebulous sense of Dartmouth pride?

Well, aren't nebulous, warm, fuzzy feelings exactly what opponents of a focus on diversity accusing the administration of trying to indoctrinate in us? They try to suggest that all this pluralism talk is is just a way to plump up white liberal egos or just a way to recreate an "I'm ok, you're ok" vibe from countercultural days. Diversity and pluralism are of course, significantly more than that, but that is the argument being thrown around. It's obviously a hypocritical, unreflective argument that stands on tradition far more than logic—the absolute worst kind of argument to make.


  1. Anonymous12:59 PM

    "Why do we care whether Dartmouth sucks at athletics or not?

    Simply put, athletics are the most visible connection for alumni to reconnect with the school. When the model U.N. or debate team travels to Penn, I don't exactly see a crowd of thousands out there. I don't see the academic index running across the ticker on Saturdays.

    Hell, if it doesn't mean that much, why are two of your last three posts devoted to athletics? Whether or not you agree with the why's - the fact remains athletics are important. Unlike most campus controversies, alumni actually will follow this one. Notice the outcry didn't happen after Wright's letter, but Harper's.

  2. And what I'm saying is that there isn't an actual tangible benefit to alumni reconnecting with the school through successful athletic teams. The second letter criticizes Harper for paying more attention to diversity than to winning; I'm saying that winning is beside the point—having a Harvard-Dartmouth game is sufficient if all we're providing is a way to reconnect with alums, not winning the Harvard-Dartmouth game.

    Furthermore, my argument is not that athletics doesn't mean much to Dartmouth. In fact, I'm arguing the opposite—that the success of our athletic teams is egregiously overvalued relative to its actual benefits to our school.

    Finally, I think it's downright pathetic that many alums can only think to reconnect with Dartmouth through athletics. That the three largest controversies at this school of the past five years—the swim team, the Furstenberg letter, and now this—all focus on sports is ridiculous, sad even.

    It's one thing for Indiana or UNC fans to get agitated over the firing of a coach; Dartmouth should be better than that. We should have more and higher things to care about at our school than our goddamn sports teams. School spirit to me would be giving a damn about the fact that Native Americans at our school feel isolated, marginalized, and disrespected by a very vocal portion of campus and unprotected by the rest, not about the box scores of our hockey team.

  3. Andrew, you're way off on this one. As anonymous states, athletics are the most visible connection to the school for alumni. People like rooting for winning teams. When the teams are losing, the students stop caring, and eventually the athletes stop caring. When the alumni see this, they lose interest as well because they think the school isn't taking care of its student body in the way it should. Because athletics are so visible in the eyes of alumni, they become barometer for how alumni perceive the administration to be running the school. Although this is not the ideal arrangement, it is the paradigm at every Division I school in the country; nothing's going to change it. Athletics will always go hand-in-hand with school spirit.

  4. Dan, I'm not at all saying athletics aren't the most visible connection to the school for alums. Here's what I'm saying:

    Winning itself is overvalued. That does not mean it has no value, but that we tend to believe it has more value than it does. Being baseline competitive is more important than being consistently successful. We are baseline competitive in most sports that alumni actually show up for. Our football team may have a dismal record, but it's not the Bad News Bears either.

    As long as we win a couple of Ivy League games a year, alums will continue to support the team in mostly the same numbers as they would if we won 4 or 5 (i.e. whether we're in 5/6th place or 3/4th place). The Ivy League season is short enough that the illusion of being in contention persists long enough to keep people's attention as long as we're close to the middle. If we go winless three years in a row, we're kinda fucked, but if we win a couple every year, we're good enough to keep asses in seats.

    If, by some miracle, we were world-beaters and undefeated every year, sure we'd have better attendance, but I am unconvinced that this would result in wildly more donations or anything actually tangible. People might wear their Dartmouth sweaters to work more often to assert their school pride or something, but actual benefits to the students? Minimal.

    Secondly, in regards to your "barometer" theory, I agree for the most part, but I think you're overstating the degree to which people assume administrative incompetence because of athletic ineptitude. Certainly, at some of the Big Ten or SEC schools, pressure might be placed on the administration if the school suddenly starts tanking in their glamour sports. Take Notre Dame for instance. People really felt (I know because I live in Indiana and ND football is talked about a lot) that the administration really screwed the pooch by hiring that coach that lied on his resume. There was definitely some dissension. And now that Weis appears to be guiding the Irish to a BCS game (we'll see about tonight), the dissension has faded. People still want a national championship, but they're not going to demand the president's job if ND doesn't bring home a championship in the next 5 years.

    The barometer you're talking about is a barometer of irritation, not of outright indignation for most people. It can rise to indignation if there are events like Harper's or Furstenberg's letters, but those depend on the actual "proof" that the administration is actively harming athletics, not the feeling that they're not doing quite enough.

    Bottom line, yeah, athletics is the most visible connection between alums and their school. But that does not indicate a direct and exclusive relationship between their feeling about a school's athletics and their feeling about the school in general. Most Dartmouth grads think more about their time at Dartmouth than the football team's won-loss record when they're filling out their donation form. Some of those memories may be athletics-related, but it is unlikely that they are all related to athletics.

  5. Anonymous11:54 PM

    I think you're half right, Andrew. All most alums want are competitive teams. We'd just prefer the administration stop shooting itself in the foot and giving Dartmouth a bad name in the national press.

    If there's news coming out of the athletics department, we want it to be one of our teams making the NCAA tournament. Not some misguided political policy.

    Harper's letter is that much worse because she is just the A.D. - she shouldn't be worrying about crap like this. I give Wright more of a free pass because at least dealing with this kind of thing is ultimately his job. Plus, at least Wright was talking about things at Dartmouth, even if I think they were too minor to warrent such a response. But even you have to recognize the absurdity of Harper apologizing for another school's mascot.

    Harper should just gladhand the alums and run a clean ship, and that's it. There is no reason for her to become the Myles Brand of the Ivy League.

  6. Anonymous3:33 PM

    1. Regardless of the intrinsic value of winning, it has a lot more to do with the athletic directors' job than "diversity."

    2. If winning athletics teams are the most important thing to Dartmouth alumni, then I'm embarrassed to be an alum. I'm all for well-rounded people, and I'm a believer in the ability of athletics to develop leadership, teamwork, character, etc., but I don't happen to care whether our hired meatheads beat Harvard's hired meatheads on the football field every fall. I'm more interested in how many Rhodes scholars we turn out, how many of our so-called student athletes are legitimate students, why the College hires more PC enforcers every year but threatens to close a library and cut a sports team in a cry of poverty.

    3. (relatedly) While athletics ~ school spirit may be the paradigm at other D-I schools, the Ivy League differs from the other schools in that it asserts that it doesn't offer athletic scholarships and that all of its athletes are legitimate students (both of which are patently false). At other schools, students can choose between being serious students and being hired meat for the athletic program. Thus Baylor University can have Marshall Scholars like Jamie Gianoutsos in its classrooms and murderers like Carlton Dotson on its basketball team without any apparent contradiction. The Ivy League pretends to be different, an d it should either drop the pretense or be more faithful to it.

  7. Anonymous10:41 PM

    tell me, "anonymous," would the label "our hired meatheads" apply to such football players as jeff immelt, CEO of general electric, or hank paulson of goldman sachs and now secy. of the treasury?

    I hereby nominate you for this month's john kerry botched joke award. but you'll have to beat out charlie rangel.

  8. Randy Moss10:53 AM

    Immelt and Paulson played on the football team back in the days before the College lowered its admission standards and subordinated academics to the goal of beating Harvard. Back in those days there was something known as a "tryout," and the football team was picked from a pool of students that could cut it academically. Since then, the role of the admissions office has been played by John Lyons and Buddy Teevens for football players, and it makes more sense nowadays to refer to them as "hired meatheads."

    Thus, no, the term would not apply to either Immelt or Paulson. As much as I'm crying into my keyboard at the prospect of being mentioned in the company of Kerry and Rangel, I forgive you for it

  9. Anonymous12:59 PM

    are you kidding about getting minority viewpoints published in the D? they published at least two editorials about the crew formal/other incidences from a minority viewpoint (rachel casseus and some '08 girl) and that's not including the letters from dan nelson, and dean seigal that were also published. the other side was never really represented. what's truly sad is that the review co-opted the issue in their typically insensitive fashion, overshadowing valid rebuttals to overblown Native American criticism. Anyone who takes issue with the NAD ad in the D or Josie Harper is now a Review-backing hatemonger. Thanks TDR.