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?


  1. There are no strong arguments against housing continuity, except what I would call "toxic egalitarianism." Some people will get housing continuity in the River, and others in McLaughlin, and well, that just wouldn't be fair.

    Nevermind that continuous community is far more valuable than square footage or amenities.

    The problem is that we now have a durable, tragic equilibrium where students expect their continuity in the Greek system, their sole bulwark against the D-Plan and bad room draw assignments. Some classes would no doubt feel jilted in the transition back to continuity.

    A freshman once met with Dean Redman of Residential Life after reading my column on residential continuity. Redman remarked to him, "I agree with you, but the College leadership sadly doesn't care about residential life." I don't know what to gather from that in regards to the current state of affairs at Dartmouth.

    I pushed through Palaeopitus and other forums on this issue throughout my Dartmouth career and got nowhere. Granted it was all channeled through some terribly ineffective deans, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. My sense is that we don't have the effective, intelligent administrators we need to carry out a change like this.

  2. Not a Dartmouth grad' but I'll offer this perspective, for whatever it might be worth. When I went to Reed in the early 70s, freshmen were guaranteed a room on campus; for everyone else, it was a lottery (and most ended up losing -- like most lotteries). Some freshmen got great rooms in the old dorm block; some got crappy rooms in the dorms across the canyon (which have now been replaced and maybe they're the desirable ones). My point is (sorry for taking a while to get to it) is that almost everyone I knew ended up living for most of their four years with people from their freshman dorm. I spent most of my four years renting houses with people I'd known from day one -- or gotten to know during one or another drunken (we'll use that as an all-inclusive adjective) spree. I think there's a lot to be said for continuity -- and the solution to the bad/good building problem is to fix the bad ones.

  3. The College had housing continuity up until the mid-1980's: I lived all four years in North Fayer, even thought I came and went from the campus like everyone (fall LSA, winter exchange program, winter leave term, etc.). There were no freshman dorms: all classes were mixed together; we played intramural sports together; and we got to know each other.

    Back then the College has about the same number of undergrads as today (approx 4,100), and the East Wheelock Cluster, the Maynard Street dorms, and Fahey had not yet been built. But the administration managed to ensure that there were never more than 3,200-3,300 students on campus at any time by encouraging people to do off-campus programs in the fall and spring.

    Fraternities were popular then, too, but for many people, their home dorm was the center of an interesting, um, diverse (there, I said it!) social life.

    If our administrators wanted to do so, they could easily bring back dorm continuity. But as Isaiah noted above, the present bunch has other concerns. Dartmouth students lose out as a result.

    I wrote about this subject in The D about eight years ago (http://thedartmouth.com/2004/09/27/opinion/an) and on Dartblog since then, and a Trustee committee has been studying the topic for several years. Perhaps in another 10-15 years...

    Note: When Jim Kim was asked about this subject by Isaiah Berg at a faculty meeting, he gave the following response:

    "I hear very different kinds of responses to that: there are people who really don’t like it, moving so much; there are others who think that it makes them live lightly. You know, they are used to moving. So, I have heard different things at different times…"


    Do you really think that some people want to live in 5-6 different dorms over their College career, or was Kim's answer just the usual BS?

  4. Crowdsourcing can be used to mine established or original data and solutions, solicit feedback, improve organizational transparency and build consensus through a more interactive process, or even harness the labor of the crowd (for example, Amazon's Mechanical Turk).