October 26, 2010

Kim's Worst Nightmare?

Yesterday, President Kim spoke at the general meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to address sexual assault and alcohol abuse. During that speech, Kim described the scenario that haunts his darkest dreams:

“My nightmare is that someone dies with a .396 blood alcohol level … because people were scared that calling for help would get the student or themselves in trouble — and then I have to call the parents the next morning, and the mother is a public health physician, and the father is a lawyer.”

Perhaps this author's naiveté knows no bounds, but shouldn't President Kim's nightmare scenario be that a student dies of alcohol poisoning? Why the caveat about the student's parents?

This post is not intended to question Kim's fundamental concern for student safety. But for a President who is oft lauded for his communication skills, this seems a faux pas extraordinaire. To effectively communicate with students on the dangers of alcohol abuse, and to work with students on crafting an effective alcohol policy, Kim needs credibility. Students should trust that Kim cares for their well-being. Statements like the one above give the opposite impression: students are left feeling that Kim is more concerned with covering his own liabilities than ensuring students' safety.

Kim's communications failure becomes even more egregious when juxtaposed with his record of accomplishment in this arena. As Joe Asch over at Dartblog points out today, Kim's rhetoric of action doesn't square with his record of inaction. Kim needs walk instead of just talk.

Of course, if Kim just wants to keep talking about a new alcohol policy instead of writing one, he should at least choose his words more carefully. Kim's speech to the Faculty of Arts & Sciences is a big step in the wrong direction.

President Kim is losing political capital with students who are increasingly frustrated with his lack of action. As an anonymous poster on the aforementioned story in The D proposes, leaving students to wonder if Kim hopes that the first student to die from alcohol poisoning has uneducated parents does little to build necessary trust.

October 19, 2010

A Sign of the Times

Observers of the Dartmouth political climate have commented on, or critiqued, the perceived negativity of recent campaigns for trustee or Association of Alumni seats. The Board claimed that its 2007 expansion, which reduced elected trustees to permanent minority status, was in part a response to the increasingly expensive and negative campaign efforts by petition candidates. Recent elections, such as the contest between John Replogle '88 and Joe Asch '79, were no different, with each side accusing the other of taking the low road.

Over the coming weeks, your servants at LGB will consider the merits of contested elections for alumni positions. Understandably, there are a plethora of opinions on the subject which we hope to uncover. Yet, as we posted yesterday, moving the College forward will require partisans to sit at the table and compromise.

A letter submitted to The Dartmouth by former Alumni Council president Rick Silverman '81, and the ensuing sniping in the comment section, are discouraging. Bickering over the use of dangling modifiers does little to move Dartmouth forward.

This is, admittedly, a small dispute -- but it is indicative of a deeper problem in College politics. Progress will forever be bounded by the maturity of those who seek to advance it. We have plenty of big issues to tackle; let's stop arguing about grammar.

October 18, 2010

The Corporatization of Academe

After a brief hiatus, your servants at Little Green Blog are returning to reconsider Dartmouth in her broader context. Many of the issues that face the College are reflected in the faces of university trustees, administrators, faculty members and students across the nation.

Too often we become ideologically ensconced, with doctrine serving as a perceptual screen intended to filter information. To the extent that we connect new information to our ideology, we either accept it or throw it out. Such a division over perceived party lines makes us rigid and stale. In considering how to address the challenges of the next decade, we must free ourselves from the confines of old entrenchments and sample good ideas from across the ideological spectrum.

In the process, though, we would do well to not ignore the guiding lights of history. Understanding whence we've come can inform whither we go. Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an interesting piece by Marvin Lazerson, a professor at Central European University and former professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania. In it, Lazerson eloquently guides the reader through the history of higher education in America, putting academe's current challenges in a concise but apt context.

Like the automobile and housing industries, Lazerson argues, the academic industry has marketed itself into the American dream. As demand exploded, so did the cost of attendance. As universities increasingly saw themselves as providers of a valuable service, their leaders became more market-oriented in their governance. The lessons learned after the the dot-com bubble burst were soon forgotten -- until history, infamously known for doing so, repeated itself. As Lazerson writes:

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the automobile industry appeared to collapse, along with the housing market—two of the mainstays of success in America. [...] The higher-education industry has not collapsed, but it has faced complaints similar to those hurled at the automobile and housing industries: chastised for offering overpriced, poor-quality products and services; as inefficient and bureaucratic, unwilling to adapt to new markets, technologically backward, administratively bloated, uninterested in teaching, and more concerned with frills than the core product.
The complaints sound all too familiar. For the past decade, increasing choruses of disparagement have risen from factions of Dartmouth's faculty, alumni and students. These have largely been described as the wind in the sails of previous petition candidates for trustee. Yet as the first decade of the century spirals toward its end, has the competition between the keepers of the status quo and their increasingly vociferous critics served to better the College?

That is, my friends, the sixty-four dollar question. We cannot answer those questions in a single post, but intend this one to begin a conversation. Stay posted.