March 27, 2007

The Mega-versity Meme

Tim Dreisbach, who recently huffed and puffed and vowed he'd never read this blog again (and all because I called an anonymous commenter a "dumbass"!?), writes to The D to spread just one more instance of the "Mega-versity Meme."

Essentially, the meme is this:

1) Praise Dartmouth's history/heritage
2) Wag finger at Jim Wright for threatening that heritage
3) More specifically, condemn a (never fully delineated) trend toward 'bigness' at Dartmouth
4) Point out Jim Wright's connection to said (nebulous) 'bigness' trend (normally through quoting that infamous 'Dartmouth is a university in all but name' line of his)
5) Call for action to save Dartmouth from 'bigness'
6) Repeat

I understand the complaints about cumbersome bureaucracies; for the most part, I agree with them. As I was telling one person today, the reason why Dartmouth sometimes looks pretty awkward in its efforts to support/promote diversity is that offices like Public Relations are probably not very well connected to other offices that might know a little bit more about diversity at Dartmouth, like IDE or OPAL.

But an exceedingly vague fear of 'bigness' isn't going to solve the problems we do have. I don't know whether those who worry about 'bigness' worry about it in specific areas or generally. I do know that most complaints are about having too many deans, but which deans are they hoping to... what's the word... downsize?

Here is a flow chart of the organization of the administration of the faculty of the arts and sciences. There are a lot of deans, assistant deans, etc. on here. Or how about the John Sloane Dickey Center? I'm not sure if they have deans, but they sure do have staff. Or perhaps our staff related to the Hood—does a 'small' college need such a big museum? Does ruddering away from 'bigness' mean we should be cutting out some of these people? I may very well be wrong, but my Smurf-sense tells me that most of those who are worried about 'bigness' aren't targeting these deans.

I think we have to be honest here—when people talk about cutting back the number of deans, they're talking about cutting back things like OPAL or IDE, or basically any staff that deal specifically with a minority group. Maybe these 'smallness' proponents wish we could condense the Dean of Faculty's staff; maybe they think the class deans' support system could be streamlined. But at the end of the day, the deans they really think are extraneous are the "diversity deans."

Remaining vague and harping on the dangers of 'bigness' allows these people to avoid a real debate about the necessity and merits of these offices entirely—hopefully, the 'smallness' rhetoric will catch on with an alumni body which is, for the most part, likely to be sympathetic to most casually libertarian rhetoric (rich people generally are) and those who use this rhetoric can move into a position where they get to decide whether or not OPAL, IDE, and many other offices are useful or not.

Please note that I'm not saying that the 'smallness' proponents are 100%, white-knuckled out to get OPAL; I kind of think they have their minds made up about its necessity/merits, but I think for the most part what the petition trustees and their backers want is the power to decide and to determine things like when speech is free enough at Dartmouth, when the administration is 'small' enough, etc. It's not, I think, that the Lone Whiners want specific goals that they are hoping to get elected to accomplish; it's that they feel they are owed, simply by virtue of having a strong minority opinion, an equal or greater share of the decision-making power at Dartmouth than the President—Wright or whoever comes next—has. Voting with the pocketbook is apparently no longer good enough—these guys think they should have power.

I find this extraordinarily arrogant. I have very definite, very strong opinions about what Dartmouth should be and should be doing, but I've never felt that entitled me to mount a relatively coordinated effort to consolidate power, and I'm pretty sure I never will have such inclinations. I certainly would never feel that having strong, minority opinions would empower me to create a (risible) secret society to sow seeds of anti-administration discord around campus. It's immature, really. I expect more out of Dartmouth men.

12 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:35 AM

    It's not, I think, that the Lone Whiners want specific goals that they are hoping to get elected to accomplish; it's that they feel they are owed, simply by virtue of having a strong minority opinion, an equal or greater share of the decision-making power at Dartmouth than the President—Wright or whoever comes next—has. Voting with the pocketbook is apparently no longer good enough—these guys think they should have power.

    What's the basis for this? As I see it, the opponents of "diversity deans" are trying to convince a majority to agree with them, just like every minority opinion does in anything resembling a democracy. And, following the tactics of minority opinion groups, they're trying to tie their unpopular minority opinion (diversity deans are useless) to a larger, more nebulous, but more popular opinion (wasteful bureaucracy is bad/the College shouldn't forsake its undergrads).

    Of course, Dreisbach et al. are hiding the ball in some sense, because--as you point out--they're not fervently pro-efficiency so much as they're opposed to the diversity deans, but this isn't any more dishonest than any other rhetoric I've seen from any other issue group, and I certainly don't see where the "arrogance" or "entitlement" comes from. Most people who voice their opinions publicly with the intent of persuading others add that their opinion is right and just, etc.

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  2. Anonymous11:20 AM

    It's arrogant to suggest that the president should be replaced because your personal sense of the right size for the institution is offended.

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  3. Aschhhh11:48 AM

    Asch's theme in his Yale Police v. Safety & Security editorial is annoying.

    Doesn't he realize that Yale can be "tolerant" toward alcohol because it doesn't have its own security service? The Yale Police are a unit of the city government and were established as a branch of the New Haven Police. The city (not Yale) gives them the power to arrest and makes them subject to the Constitution. If Yale has any influence over the Yale Police, it's influence that has been finagled over the years, not influence that comes from creating and empowering the Yale Police.

    If the Hanover Police had an officer whose full-time assignment is the Dartmouth campus, then he would be comparable to the Yale Police.

    There is no campus security organization in the nation that is less relevant as a comparison to S&S than the Yale Police.

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  4. As I see it, the opponents of "diversity deans" are trying to convince a majority to agree with them, just like every minority opinion does in anything resembling a democracy.

    I see where you're coming from. Compared to national political parties, "hiding the ball" is a pretty venial sin. Starting secret societies to undermine a sitting administration—saved by its complete ineffectiveness from being an "undemocratic" action. Outright lying, changing your tune to fit the music of the moment (or the audience), using suspiciously generated mailing lists, pulling the race card when someone asks you about where your campaign money comes from—it all pales in comparison to what the RNC and DNC do as a matter of course. So what's the big deal, right?

    Call me crazy, but I like to think Dartmouth alums and students shouldn't make "hiding the ball" a major part of their rhetoric. I like to think we can do our best to convince other people of our opinions about the values and mission of the College, spoken straightforwardly and honestly, and if those ideas don't catch on, then we'll be humble enough to realize that our vision of what Dartmouth should be is just one of many, and not necessarily the best one. I'd also like to think that if an alum is truly ticked off, it's because they've spent time really learning about the situation at Dartmouth, talking to students, to administrators, and to faculty, and then formed an opinion, not the other way around, which is definitely the case here with the petitioners.

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  5. 9:35AM anonymous12:36 PM

    I suppose you're right, and our difference of opinion is on what sort of ideals we can reasonably hold Dartmouth leaders to.

    In national politics, politicians can basically say whatever they want short of outright lies to convince people to vote for them, so long as they try to get votes through persuasion and not, for example, by sabotaging the voting machinery or having people tricked into not voting.

    At Dartmouth, we certainly hold people to a higher standard, but I'm not sure how much higher it is. Professional politicians' tactics have crept into the Trustee election process, and I'm not sure whose fault it is or how bad it is.

    For example, during the alumni constitution referendum, many people complained that the drafters of the new constitution were the ones who resorted to shady professional politician tactics, spreading lies about the content and purpose of the new constitution and using the College's resources to spread their propaganda.

    Now, the petition candidates are doing the same thing against the "establishment," though with more skill and apparently more resources. Their excuses for it are: (1) the other side started it, and (2) there's nothing insidious about contacting voters to tell them what you think.

    I think at this point there's a precedent out there to the effect that people are free to act like professional politicians in matters of alumni governance. Do the best job you can of selling your ideas to the voters, short of telling outright lies, let the other side expose your deceptions, and let the public sort it out.

    Consistent with that, Smith sells his ideas and protects his secrets as best he can. One of the points of the "marketplace of ideas" is that it's usually unprofitable to engage in deception and intellectual dishonesty, because those things will eventually come to light and cost you credibility. If people are truly troubled by Smith's failure to disclose where his funding is coming from, they won't vote for him. If he's truly changed his position on free speech, that can be demonstrated, and his credibility will suffer accordingly.

    I think all of this is cynical and shitty, and that the Trustee candidates should just have a candid conversation about the best interests of the college, but I think alumni governance turned contentious a long time ago and that this is an unrealistic expectation. This is a fight, not an academic conference, and the candidates are acting accordingly.

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  6. I think all of this is cynical and shitty too, and I think it will continue to be cynical and shitty as long as tactics like these are successful. If the insurgents (and others) want to hold that the administration and the Alumni Council was up to shenanigans first, fine. They can think that if they wish, but no Dartmouth alum should reward them—even if they agree with their assessment of the Wright administration—as long as the insurgents' methods are so far from being pure themselves.

    When you assume that you're fighting for a political goal, you feel entitled to use political methods. I don't think a stronger Dartmouth is a political goal—figuring out the policies that will enable Dartmouth to meet the needs of its students most effectively does not need to be dominated by political motives or ideologies—and I think that those who do see it as such are doing Dartmouth a grave disservice.

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  7. Alastair Mackay5:13 PM

    3/29/07

    Andrew,

    I'm an alum ('78) who took to Google after getting my ballot today, which brought me here from its first page of results. Glad to find the LGB.

    From the post, I read Smith's comments, and from there, I went to Wright's speech. Most reasonable people would say that the sentiments Wright expressed on free speech are, well, right, e.g.:

    "An academic community - indeed a free society - rests on the freedom to think and to speak out. The free expression of ideas is a bedrock principle, even though not all that is thought or said is equally valid or true. The corollary of the freedom of speech is the freedom to criticize that which is said. And sometimes this freedom to disagree becomes an obligation. If politeness and civility and mutual respect form the basis of our community, so too do engagement and debate and, assuredly, disagreement. Academic communities at their best are places that challenge more than they reinforce."

    To damn Smith for praising such sentiments seem a bit off. A generous explanation would be that Smith was trying to act in a gentlemanly fashion rather than a bare-knuckles one--searching to find genuine points of agreement with Wright.

    You conclude that Smith's paper makes him a flip-flopper, and political where politics shouldn't intrude. Having read the linked material, I don't see it.

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  8. Alastair Mackay5:20 PM

    Stupid interweb! (A line that should be here, somewhere.)

    The immediately prior comment by yours truly was meant to appear at the tail of the thread at Smith on Free Speech from 3/22/07. It's delightfully off-topic here, so feel free to delete it. My apologies.

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  9. Mr. McKay, you are entitled to your reading of Smith's motives for praising Wright. However, when he says something like this on his blog and turns around to the National Review and says that Dartmouth has a new form of McCarthyism, well, I think you can't just assume it's a gentlemanly attempt to find common ground. I think he's realized that some important facts are against him on the free speech issue as he initially framed it--I mean, even Rodgers in his most recent op-ed expresses doubt in Smith's initial read of the situation.

    My problem with the post was that Smith begins it by stressing a longstanding trust and admiration for Wright—something that has never come out before. Smith is vastly downplaying the degree to which he's changing his story, and I don't think that's the kind of tactic a trustee should employ.

    I'm not damning Smith for praising a basically true formulation of free speech rights and protection; I'm damning him for pretending like he always believed in Wright.

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  10. Alastair Mackay7:05 AM

    Thanks for your response. I'll be reading more on the subject. Your links are helpful; it's much better to see the source material for oneself. Regards, AM

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  11. Anonymous12:46 PM

    Seal wrote:

    "Here is a flow chart of the organization of the administration of the faculty of the arts and sciences. There are a lot of deans, assistant deans, etc. on here. Or how about the John Sloane Dickey Center? I'm not sure if they have deans, but they sure do have staff. Or perhaps our staff related to the Hood—does a 'small' college need such a big museum? Does ruddering away from 'bigness' mean we should be cutting out some of these people? I may very well be wrong, but my Smurf-sense tells me that most of those who are worried about 'bigness' aren't targeting these deans."

    Seal's Smurf-sense is entirely wrong. All those other deanships merit questioning. And long before alumni complain about OPAL-type programs, they will question the need for:

    "Each cluster or group of clusters is supervised by a full-time, live-in Community Director. Community Directors are supervised by one of two full-time Associate Directors of Residential Education."

    You students should be able to survive, even learn from, being responsible without surrogate parents.

    Many alums would rather see money saved by cutting these positions going to faculty, or even better, lower total costs and thus lower tuitions (or at least tuitions that do not keep increasing faster than inflation).

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  12. Many other alums would probably rather see these monies used for something else—but these positions aren't the ones talked about when the topic of administrative bloat comes up. The first to get the ax (judging by the rhetoric) will be the deans connected to diversity issues.

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