February 5, 2010

For the Love of Dartmouth

What a week it has been.

The Thayer school forced its students to [briefly] evacuate the building due to an unfortunate accident. Hanover Police announce that they’re (re?)-launching a war on underage drinking at the College. The Winter Carnival committee told us they’ve learned from the catastrophic Moosilauke Lodge-turned-dirty-snow-pile travesty of last year’s wintertide festivities.

Oh, and then there’s the candlelight vigil on the Green, where concerned students enjoin the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future to visit President Kim and the Trustees ahead of their meeting to discuss fiduciary strategy.

What’s next? My money’s on The Dartmouth publishing that Barry Scherr is actually John Edwards’s lovechild.

It’s unfair, really. Why does all of the craziness have to unfold after I leave Hanover? All I get to watch is this freak snow storm plough DC in ways that could make Ron Jeremy blush.

In all seriousness – what is happening to Hanover? Did our swine flu fevers addle us so? Is this all a jealous response to the South getting more snow-related news coverage than New England? (Because to be honest, you can have the snow. I ran toward the Mason-Dixon to avoid another gross winter, thank you very much.)

In any normal week, Hanover Police would win the “WTF, mate?” award for most ridiculous, ludicrous or otherwise idiotic idea. Scrapping a plan to engage the Greek system on campus to find shared solutions to shared problems – namely destructive behavior resulting from boozy over-consumption – HPo decided to announce a new plan. Now they’re going to launch “sting operations” at Dartmouth fraternities.

Brilliant, Barney Fife! Send agents posing as underage students into frat parties to bust the evildoing brothers. Nevermind that a stringent Dartmouth ID check at the door will allow frats to hedge against risk. Oh, and this one little problem: Students are gonna drink anyway. Except now, they’ll binge before going to that brotastic party.

But cooperating to accomplish mutual goals is so ‘90s, anyway. This is the nation that invades sovereign states in the face of international disapproval. Less talk, more action. What could possibly go wrong?

(And to Hanover Police Chief Giaccone, who told the students who didn’t care for his for-the-greater-good despotism to “go to another Ivy League school,” here’s a clue (because you obviously haven’t one): Dartmouth is the main reason you get a big department, neat cars and cool toys. Chug on that, dude.)

Sadly, the most recent issue born as a yoke upon the shoulders of many students is even more shortsighted and lamentably irresponsible. The Students Stand with Staff crowd has juiced up the Hope Express of 2008 with enough amphetamine to make Lenny Bruce uncomfortable. Wishful thinking is fine, but it has to be tempered with truth telling from time to time.

Dartmouth must deal with its $100 million structural deficit. No way around it. Spending the endowment is not an option. And, despite my best efforts, I don’t think Obama’s gonna send any TARP funds our way.

Layoffs will happen. Nobody likes that idea, but it is an economic reality. During boom times, Dartmouth added more staff – support and administration – than it needed. I sympathize with students who want cuts to be made on the highest wages, and want the wealthiest parents to pick up more of the tab to avoid layoffs. (I worked for John Edwards in 2008, and then worked for the Democratic Coordinated Campaign effort in the fall of that year. I get the soak-the-rich argument, I do. But it just can’t work in this context.)

Cutting wages on our best talent risks losing top performers. Raising tuition for those who can afford it (which is fewer than half of our students, by the way) risks our applicant pool falling sharply. Both put us at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Raising hell to avoid any layoffs is a quixotic gesture and a terrific mistake.

Here is the program – get with it: If you want to help the staff, then do some quantitative legwork and figure out ways to minimize staffing cuts; propose realistic solutions to ensure that cuts are made across the board; and fight so that support staffers aren’t unnecessarily targeted. And, for the love of all things Big Green, don’t take compensation and benefits negotiations off the table.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I left the College on the Hill, but it also seems that much has changed. With all this craziness, it’s enough to make me wanna come back. Good thing for you I’m snowed in.


  1. Dartmouth added more services, programs and staff than it could AFFORD. Need is relative.

  2. Anonymous1:39 AM

    Apparently one of two things (possibly both) has happened: Dartmouth Students Stand with Staff has not been sufficiently clear in our purpose, or people are willfully ignoring what we're about in an intellectually dishonest attempt to undermine our efforts. Absolutely we must deal with the deficit. Professor Irwin distracts from the point when he says it would add $20,00 to the tuition of each student if they were forced to bare all the burden. Let's not kid ourselves, tuition is going up regardless, around the country, and we're not suggesting the entire burden be put to one solution. In fact that's the mind set we're trying to get away from. The problem is everyone seems to assume as a matter of course that budget problems = layoffs. We're saying that we don't have enough information to know that we have no other reasonable option. I would LOVE for us to be able to do the number crunching you suggest. In fact, one of our prime purposes is to get the college to share with us the information to do just that. Do you not think we've thought of adding productive suggestions instead of just engaging in "quixotic gestures?" Do you not think the union has talked about making concessions to save jobs? And let me make this clear. WE ARE NOT SAYING NO LAYOFFS NO MATTER WHAT. We fully recognize that they might be necessary. We just haven't seen enough numbers to be sufficiently convinced there is no other way. We believe that it might be possible to spread the pain in a reasonable way. Other schools have done it. Will Dartmouth be able to? I don't know. And frankly neither do you. So thank you for your wonderful caricature of our efforts and regurgitation of basic economic principles lacking any quantitative evidence of their applicability to the current situation. At what percentage increase of tuition does Dartmouth lose comparative advantage? Many institutions are cutting back right now. Do you know at what point our lowering of compensation reduces our ability keep and attract talent? There is more to the equation than dollars and cents, though that is obviously a very important consideration. In assuming us to be thoughtless hope-mongers you seem to fall into the very trap of thoughtless assumption you accuse us of.

    Dan T

  3. Well Dan T, in large part this is moot point as the College has announced its proposal and will be moving forward to balance the budget.

    But were we to pretend it wasn't... well, I still wouldn't be able to decipher much of a theme amidst your Leviathan paragraph-gone-wild.

    We take "as a matter of course" that layoffs must happen because they must. There is no area of the budget that offers as much leverage as we need without cutting into the vital parts of the Dartmouth experience. (Salaries and Wages account for 43 percent of the budget, the largest tranche by a mile.) Education is the primary function of the College, and it must be at the top of our priority list.

    Tuition isn't a viable solution; our current 2010-11 increase of 4.9 percent barely outstrips inflation. But per Prof. Irwin's data crunching, I think a 40 percent rise in tuition would be greeted as widely untenable. If your family could afford it, though, I hear the Dartmouth College Fund is accepting donations.

    Or you could just hope for the deficit to go away. Light a couple of candles and see what happens...

  4. Anonymous1:49 PM

    Hello again Brice, yes I would say "Leviathon paragraph-gone-wild" is an accurate representation of my last statement. Clearly 1:39 AM is not the time to be ranting on the "internets". But a couple of points. I agree a 40% rise in tuition would be untenable, in fact that was my point. (Though it may have been hard to tell from the rambling nature of my post.) I was merely suggesting a small rise in tuition, something that will happen regardless, might be a tiny piece of the puzzle. I can't speak for everyone associated with the group, but my position has always been that everything the administration has been saying could be right. It could be the case that it's not possible to more progressively spread the pain of cuts to wages and salaries without affecting the Dartmouth experience. However, being unsure that this were the case, I chose to act with those pressuring the administration to slow down the decision making process until we could feel sure that a more progressive distribution of wage cuts was not possible, or until we could demonstrate it was a viable option. After reading Kim's letter, I'm convinced they largely did what they could to reduce layoffs. I still think they could have let the bargaining process with the union yield concessions that might have led to cost savings that would allow them to save jobs, but I can live with the decision made.

    You make me laugh Brice, I know you're having fun with the cutesy hope lines as you know I was an Edwards supporter myself. It makes me sad to see all of that D.C. snow and proximity to Obama has apparently frozen you heart to the very notion of hope. Maybe I'll send you a few candles you can light for warmth.

    Dan T

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