Houlahan June 2007
June 17, 2007
Dear Fellow Dartmouth Graduates,
DAC Meeting: The following is my report on the Dartmouth Alumni Council 194th Meeting that took place in Hanover May 17-19. This will be my last such report, as my three-year appointment as a Councilor ended with the May meeting. I’m grateful to have spent these three years as a regional representative, as they have given me a much better understanding of how very well Dartmouth is fulfilling its primary mission of offering its students the best possible undergraduate education. It also has given me a greater appreciation of the important improvements to the Dartmouth educational experience brought about by greater diversity, an expanded graduate program and the impressive upgrading of facilities throughout the campus. The Dartmouth experience for today’s students is much richer and more varied than was available to my classmates and me in the Class of 1961.
Perhaps most importantly, it has put to rest reservations I had about the growth of the graduate education community at Dartmouth . It is now clear to me that this expansion has been crucial in attracting and retaining top faculty, and in offering significant numbers of undergraduates the opportunity to further enrich their education by taking courses or working on research projects tied to graduate programs. I had not previously realized the importance of this and had been concerned that expanded graduate programs might be having a negative impact on the primary mission educating undergraduate. Let me say emphatically that Dartmouth’s support of graduate and under graduate programs is not a zero sum game. Both programs are enhanced by the interaction of students and the sharing of faculty.
During my three years on the Council, I’ve been encouraged by the increasingly more focused sessions we have been having. My initial reaction to these gatherings in Hanover was that too much time was spent socializing with the administration and too little time spent in contact with students and faculty. That has changed, largely as a result of suggestions from various Councilors backed by three consecutive very able Council Presidents. Our last session featured breakout discussion groups between students and alumni, as well as opportunities for Councilors to dine with various student groups and attend classes. As the meeting coincided with Green Key weekend, a number of Councilors visited fraternities and/or sororities after the Friday night sessions ended.
Diversity: Because there already has been considerable reporting on the Council meeting, I’ll restrict my remarks to just a few areas. The first is the breakout session I chaired on “Membership in a Diverse Community”.
I had asked to chair this group, because of concerns I had coming out of our December Council meeting during which it became clear that Dartmouth had an on-campus problem built around a series of events ranging from insensitivity to racism, that impacted minority groups in general and the Native American students in particular. Some of these incidents attracted national attention and were threatening to create problems in recruiting faculty and minority students. See the report below that I wrote back in December.
Approximately thirty-five people attended the meeting, including students representing Native American, Latino, African American, Asian, International and Gay/Lesbian/Transgender & Bisexual groups. There also were Council members representing several of those groups. The following are the impressions I carried away from this lively and, I think, cathartic session, as well as the dinner I attended afterwards at the Native American House:
- There is widespread feeling among minority groups that they aren’t valued at Dartmouth .
See Chronology below.
- The College needs to be far more proactive in countering insensitive and abusive behavior towards minorities.
Comment: During the discussion, a NAD student leader pointed out that Native American undergraduates, who already are under pressure trying to adjust to Dartmouth and its’ highly demanding academic standards, should not be expected to be the lead group in countering attacks on their culture and ethnicity. The Dartmouth Administration should take the lead and do so much more quickly and robustly than has been the practice. My impression is that, after the incidents last fall, the College now realizes this.
- More should be done during freshman orientation to stress the importance of tolerance and the value of diversity. When an incidence of intolerance occurs, there should be a process in place bringing the offended and offenders together to discuss the incident or issue. This seldom, if ever, happens.
- To blunt the Indian symbol issue, the College should throw its full weight behind the selection of a new mascot.
Comment: The College seems to be encouraging the choice of a new mascot, but probably should let students take the lead here. The Moose or “Dartmoose” appears to be a leading contender.
- Many international students feel that their housing isn’t sufficiently integrated and that they weren’t recognized or valued on campus.
Comment: When international students complained that most of them were placed on the same floor of the same dormitory, they were told it was because they were brought on campus earlier than most students, which limited the dorm choices. However, athletes who also were brought on campus early, were dispersed throughout the dorms.
- One international student is leading a campaign to have needs blind admissions apply to all international students, not just those coming from Canada and Mexico or through the United World College Program.
Comment: According to Dartmouth : “Sixty-six percent of international students receive financial aid, compared to 45 percent of domestic students and the average aid package for international students is higher.”
- All groups feel that more diversity was needed in hiring at Dartmouth . Both students and minority alumni stressed this.
Comment: All the groups maintain that too little has changed over the years probably do to a lack of insight and sensitivity that more diversity within the College Administration might correct.
In conversations with Native American alumni who have gone on to play important roles following graduation, it seems clear to me that the innovative and pioneering Native American program at Dartmouth is endangered by a combination of insensitivity on the part of some students and ridicule from the Dartmouth Review, which appears to delight in taunting the Native American community. The Review’s role is puzzling, as it appears to be aimed at disruption and alienation as an end in itself. While freedom of the press makes this legal, it is difficult to imagine any positive gain that can come from it. The Dartmouth Review apparently has a low on-campus circulation, but it is protected by the financial backing of conservative political groups.
Board of Trustees: This brings me to what I believe is the most important issue facing Dartmouth today. A group of disgruntled and largely conservative alumni are attempting to take over the Dartmouth Board of Trustees by “gaming” the system through a statutory loophole in how trustee elections are conducted. Indeed, Dartmouth appears to have become a battleground in the wider and very political culture war that is having a growing impact on our nation’s governance and sense of community. This larger political agenda has turned these last three trustee elections into far more confrontational and expensive affairs than has been traditional or was envisioned when the original constitution was drafted.
The Dartmouth Alumni Council is required to nominate three candidates for each trustee opening. In the last few elections, a fourth “petition” candidate, highly critical of Dartmouth, has been nominated and elected as more satisfied alumni split their votes among the other three candidates.
The petition candidates express nostalgia for the simpler and less diverse Dartmouth of several decades ago. Most of us who graduated during that period have very fond memories of our Dartmouth experience; however, most of us also realize that the diversity of today’s Dartmouth makes it a fairer and more tolerant place and that the clock can’t and shouldn’t be rolled back. We realize that Dartmouth has been made stronger by allowing admission to our daughters as well as our sons. And we know that the College’s educational strength and relevance to national needs are better served by encouraging students from a much wider range of backgrounds to be admitted on a needs blind basis.
While nostalgia for an overly idealized past is used by the group attempting to control the Board of Trustees, this isn’t the main weapon of their campaign. In pushing their candidacies, the conservatives and their supporters routinely mischaracterize the College itself. Examples of this from the last campaign include the following:
Petition Candidate: "Over the last six years, a period in which total inflation was only 17.1%, the administrative budget grew a staggering 79.8%." (Based on his analysis of past budgets.)
Response: The increases appear mostly due to a robust on-campus building program.
Petition Candidate: "Over the last five years, the administration has created more than twice as many new positions in the administration ('111 new positions') as on the faculty of Arts and Sciences ('50 new positions')." (Taken from Executive Summary of the profession assessment of Dartmouth prepared by McKinsey and Company.)
Response: True, but misleading. The gain was in administrative and service support positions, which, after taking out abolished positions, yielded a net gain of 86 full-time employees over five years, for what McKinsey and Company describe as a “modest compound annual growth rate of 1.1%”. McKinsey further reports the administration-to-student ratio as “in line with peer institutions”. The five-year addition of 50 new faculty positions represents an “annual increase of 3%”.
The McKinsey report also makes the following points concerning College staff increases:
· The include support to professional schools in the areas of compliance, research, legal affairs, development, endowment management, etc.
· Dartmouth professional schools have added 101 new administrative positions, mostly in medical school research. This is a five year increase of 5.2%.
Petition Candidate: "The total Dartmouth faculty is actually smaller than in 1996-while the bureaucracy has more than doubled in size."
Response: According to the College, the “number of faculty who teach undergraduates has grown by 16 percent since 1996. Since 1998 the student/faculty ratio has improved from 10 to 1 to 8 to 1.
Other points worth noting in response to other criticisms are as follows:
- 98 percent of students are satisfied with the out-of-class accessibility of faculty
- 96 percent of course requests are met
- 91 percent of students are satisfied with the size of their classes
- 66 percent of classes have fewer than 20 students in them
- Additional faculty have been hired in Government and Economics where over subscription of classes had become a concern
An unfortunate byproduct of the present situation where a disciplined minority can control the election is that it is becoming difficult to convince alumni to accept nomination for the board of trustees. The most recent petition candidate spent over $60,000 to run his campaign. Who is willing to spend such sums to participate in an election weighted in favor of a disgruntled petition candidate? It appears that the Board of Trustees itself will have to prescribe a remedy for what has become a broken electoral process.
It’s been an interesting and, in most ways, rewarding three years trying to represent alumni interests as a Regional-at-large Representative of the Dartmouth Alumni Council. I’m particularly grateful to those of you that have weighed in with suggestions and support during my term.
Mike Houlahan ‘61
Worthington , Ohio
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An Outbreak of Incidents Targeting Minorities on Campus
By Mike Houlahan ‘61
Currently a major issue at Dartmouth is an upswing in on-campus incidents that range from outright racism to insensitivity toward minorities. The group most impacted by this appears to be the Native American students, who as President Wright has stated, “experienced a number of incidents where they have been ridiculed or caricatured.”
The damage has not been confined to the Native American community. Other minority groups and the campus as a whole have been negatively affected in varying degrees. Native American alumni and the College administration are particularly concerned over the potential impact of this on the sense of community and on recruiting students and faculty.
I suspect that this recent spike in incidents is not widely known among alumni. Furthermore, much of the limited media reporting most apt to reach Dartmouth graduates has been incomplete and misleading.
It is not, as some accounts would have it, a reaction to an awkwardly-framed attempt by Josie Harper to reach out to the Native American community by apologizing for inviting the “Fighting Sioux” from North Dakota University to play in a Dartmouth hockey tournament.
But first, a bit of background:
As we are all aware, Dartmouth was originally founded to “educate Indians”. However, the College quickly abandoned this mission and the reemphasis on teaching Native Americans did not reemerge until President John Kemeny launched an affirmative action program in 1970. Since that time, more than 500 young men and women from the various tribal nations have graduated from Dartmouth and the intake of such students has averaged about forty annually over the past five years.
This Dartmouth outreach program for Native Americans has become the preeminent such effort in the country, graduating 85% of matriculating students. (Cornell, Stanford and Harvard, the three other elite schools with such a program, graduate about 60% of their matriculates.) Graduates of the Dartmouth program hold leadership positions on many reservations and include numerous doctors, lawyers and business people both working with tribal groups and in the society at large. This has been an extremely successful program and one in which all of us should take considerable pride.
Unfortunately, a series of incidents this fall has thrown the Native American community at Dartmouth off stride and has impacted on other minority groups and the campus as a whole. I’ve attached an open letter from the Dartmouth Native American Council that addresses this subject in specific detail.
Clearly there has been a disruption of the very important sense of community on campus. Most of what has happened appears to me to reflect ignorance, insensitivity and immaturity rather than overt racism. However, the atmosphere was further impacted by a series of offensive encounters over approximately four weeks when a carload of young men drove around the campus on numerous evenings shouting racial and other abuse at female students and students of color. After several weeks of this, the young men were apprehended and turned out to be students from a Vermont high school.
There was considerable relief that the offenders weren’t part of the Dartmouth family, but these racist encounters already had further exacerbated the negative impact of other incidents which were clearly attributable to the campus community. It is difficult to maintain an academic focus following events perceived as personal abuse or abuse of the group with which you identify. It is even more difficult when the group attacked comes from the more isolated background often found among Native American students who suddenly find themselves moved from a reservation or a rural setting to the campus of an elite university. Adjustment difficulties and feelings of isolation are bound to occur even without the events that were so offensive this fall. They become much more acute when the campus atmosphere appears unwelcoming.
Since this has come to a head, the campus has rallied around and the situation appears to be improving; however, there is additional work to be done before the hurt from the earlier events is ameliorated. Furthermore, there is concern that this unfortunate series of incidents and the publicity arising from them may have a negative impact on Dartmouth’s national image, making it more difficult to attract top students and faculty. The College, the Student Assembly and various groups on campus are actively attempting to repair the damage.
Note: I’m indebted to Carmen Lopez ’97, the Dartmouth Alumni Council representative for Native American Alumni, for helping clarify the impact of incidents discussed above. Since graduating from Dartmouth, she obtained her PhD, then founded and now heads the Native American program at Harvard. (This is a slightly edited version of my memo following the December ’06 Council meeting.)
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A Chronology of Ignorance and Racism
(List of incidents taken from an open letter
from NAD (Native Americans at Dartmouth) to the College community)
- September 12, Orientation Week: The Review, an off-campus publication, sells t-shirts emblazoned with the Indian symbol…When Native students and the Student Assembly president arrive to protest, they are met with slurs.
- October 9, Columbus Day: Inebriated fraternity pledges disrupt NAD’s solemn observance of Columbus’ legacy of Native American genocide by clapping, mock dancing and then, finally, running through the sacred center of the Native students’ drumming circle.
- October 12, Homecoming Weekend: A GDX fraternity member sells “Holy Cross Sucks” t-shirts to students in Thayer Dining Hall. The shirts depict a Holy Cross Crusader giving oral sex to an Indian. He opts to sell the shirts despite being asked not to do so by a Native American member of his fraternity.
- October 16: The Dartmouth Development Office mails a fundraising piece to all alumni that includes a calendar photo of a member of the Class of ‘56 proudly displaying an Indian head cane to an ‘06 at Commencement.
- November 4: The men’s and women’s crew teams hold a theme party in Collis called “Cowboys, Indians and Barnyard Animals.” Some students dress up as Indians. When confronted, a crew athlete says the theme is actually “Cowboys, Barnyard Animals and Indigenous People.”
- Late November: Front page editorial cartoon in Dartmouth Review depicting Indian holding dripping scalp accompanied with the headline “The Natives are Getting Restless”, coupled with several op-ed pieces mocking the outrage felt by the Native American community.
- Late November: Incidents involving Vermont H.S. students.
- Late November: Josie Harper’s apology for inviting “Fighting Sioux” from North Dakota University to hockey tournament.
- Ongoing: A college committee debates the fate of the Hovey Murals, which reside in a building slated for demolition. They depict Dartmouth’s founder, Eleazar Wheelock, “recruiting” half-naked Indian men and women to the college with the aid of a 500-gallon barrel of rum. In one panel, an Indian man crawls out of the woods, on hands and knees, to lap up rum from the ground.
- People or institutions that objectify Native Americans with full knowledge that they are causing offense are, by definition, committing racist acts. People who choose to say and do nothing in the face of acts that they know to be racist are, by their silence, complicit with racism.
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Letter from Alumni Council President Rick Silverman '81
August 27, 2007
Dear Fellow Grads,
I've just received the email below from Alumni Council President Rick
Silverman '81. I thought the content was worth forwarding on.
Subject: Message from Dartmouth Alumni Council President, Rick Silverman '81
"For the sake of dear old Dartmouth, and the honor of her name."
Fred Pattee, Class of 1888
Dear Former Alumni Councilor,
By now, I hope that you're aware of and have responded to the Governance
Committee of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, which is carrying out a
comprehensive evaluation of the size and composition of the board and the
method of trustee selection. Reportedly, feedback from alumni has been
constructive and diverse, but beyond that, I have no information regarding
the committee's conclusions, other than that a report will be issued upon
completion of their work in early September.
As this work has been carried out, alarms have been sounded by alumni who
claim we are witnessing the end of "democracy" at Dartmouth; that the Board
(composed almost completely of alumni) is trying to prevent alumni from
having a voice in the oversight of the College; and that alumni must speak
up now to be heard. I applaud these efforts to increase alumni feedback,
but I do not agree with the tactics or the rhetoric.
The crisis that Dartmouth faces is not one which involves the quality of the
experience provided to the students, who report remarkable rates of
satisfaction, nor is it one that involves a transformation from an
undergraduate focus-the College we all know and love-to a major research
university, something that would be anathema to most of us. The crisis
surrounds the public perception of the College outside of Hanover, the
result of negative publicity generated by attacks on the administration, on
the Board and on alumni volunteers. This national campaign of
misinformation, well financed and well coordinated, has tarnished the
reputation of the College. I can't imagine that the ends could ever justify
And yet, those making these claims know nothing more about this report than
you or I do.
Having served as an Alumni Councilor, you have had the opportunity to
understand the complexity of managing a major institution like Dartmouth.
The Board, which is designed to oversee this management, to serve as
stewards of the College, and to do what is best for Dartmouth, must do
everything in its power to provide the highest quality of leadership.
Undoubtedly, there will be stumbling points, and we have witnessed those
along the way. At such times, alumni, including members of the Alumni
Council, have stepped forward to provide support and feedback to the Board
and to the Administration to help resolve such issues.
The time has come once again for you as a former member of the Alumni
Council to come forward to work together toward the best interests of our
College. It is premature to criticize a decision which the Board has not
even made yet. Alumni should be poised to critically study and understand
the report, but cries of "foul" on the national (or international) stage are
unacceptable and destroy Dartmouth's reputation. The maligning of Dartmouth
College by any of her sons or daughters has no justification, and such
action undermines the stewardship befitting trustees and other leaders of
the College. We must work together to protect "our glorious Alma Mater,"
and preserve the tradition of excellence that is Dartmouth.
In that spirit and toward a stronger Dartmouth, I'll look forward to
contacting you in the coming weeks,
Rick Silverman '81
President, Dartmouth Alumni Council
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