Voices in the Wilderness

A forum for discussion of all things Dartmouth.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Inquiring Minds

Proving it actually is good for something other than juicing the Upper Valley's bicycle black market, the Dartmouth Student Assembly has asked each of the trustee candidates a set of questions from a current student's point of view, and posted the answers on a website (link here). Two of the candidates, Ric Lewis and Greg Engles, have yet to respond, but the other four have replied at length. The questions aren't totally dissimilar from the ones the candidates were asked by the College, but have a much more productive, shall we say, flavor and have thus generated more interesting responses.

The responses from the candidates, in our view, are telling. The two Alumni Council trustees are somewhat concise and - ah, crap, no sense in sugar coating it- they basically repeat the same inoffensive, fairly mundane, and uncritical schpiel that we've heard from every trustee candidate save TJ Rodgers for the past two decades. "Dartmouth is wonderful, the sports teams are wonderful, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, yada yada yada."

The petition candidates, no surprise, have a different view. Their answers are not only insightful and yes, critical, but also show constructive visions for the future of the institution, as opposed to an affirmation of a vaguely defined status quo. As always, it bears repeating that this site explicitly does not endorse any candidate; however, it is very hard to take Shiela Cheston seriously when she pens statements like "Notwithstanding the recent revelations, it is my understanding that the actual admissions policy still values athletic contributions" given Dartmouth's documented general athletic failings these days. Don't worry, Shiela says the emperor really does have clothes, phew!

Special attention also should be given to each candidate's answers regarding undergraduate teaching and the state of research at Dartmouth. Peter Robinson does not mince words: "Calling Dartmouth 'a research university in all but name' betrays a profound misconception of the College’s history, traditions, and signal strengths. Dartmouth College is a college." Did you hear that Mr. Wright? He goes on to say "While maintaining the excellence of its graduate schools, each essentially a free-standing institution, Dartmouth should strive to provide incomparably the finest undergraduate education in the nation. I’d work to ensure that the College reduced its bureaucratic overhead, provided enough courses in the most popular subjects, granted the very highest standing to the very finest teachers, and concentrated resources where they belong—in the classroom."

In our view, it is not necessarily professors doing research that is troubling at Dartmouth, rather, it is the rapid rise in graduate students being attended to by those teachers that is the problem. Two of our favorite professors, Bruce Sacerdote in economics and Jere Daniel (sadly now professor emeritus) in history, did excellent (even prize-winning) scholarly work outside of the classroom. However, to our knowledge, they never had grad students and were commanding lecturers whose classes never failed to inspire.