The message from Dartmouth

Intending to smooth the waters over its cancellation of classes in lieu of a full day of left-wing indoctrination served up to placate a small number of protesters, Dartmouth College has sent out an email blast to alumni under the name of board chairman Stephen Mandel. Interim president Carol Folt is responsible for the disgraceful production defended by Mandel, but Folt is on her way out. She has been named Chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Public relations such as Mandel’s message might have worked in the old days when information was at a premium. With information running free on the Web, however, this really doesn’t cut it:

April 26, 2013

To the Dartmouth community:

As some of you know, a small group of students disrupted the Dimensions Welcome Show for prospective students on Friday, April 19, using it as a platform to protest what they say are incidents of racism, sexual assault, and homophobia on campus. Following the protest, threats of bodily harm and discriminatory comments targeting the protesters and their defenders ran anonymously on various sites on the Internet.

With tensions high across the Dartmouth community, Interim President Carol Folt, the Dean of the Faculty, and other senior leaders across campus agreed that the best course of action was to suspend classes on Wednesday, April 24, for a day of reflection and alternative educational programming. This decision was made to address not only the initial protest, but a precipitous decline in civility on campus over the last few months, at odds with Dartmouth’s Principles of Community.

This unusual and serious action to suspend classes for a day was prompted by concern that the dialogue on campus had reached a point that threatened to compromise the level of shared respect necessary for an academic community to thrive. The faculty and administration together determined that a pause to examine how the climate on campus can be improved was necessary. This was an important exercise that the Board supports. It is also important to note that there will be an opportunity for faculty to hold the classes that were missed as a result of Wednesday’s events.

Neither the disregard for the Dimensions Welcome Show nor the online threats that followed represent what we stand for as a community. As Interim President Folt indicated Wednesday in her remarks in front of Dartmouth Hall, the administration is following established policies and procedures with regard to any possible disciplinary action in both cases. As in every case regarding a disciplinary investigation, this process is confidential and respects the privacy of our students.

Dartmouth is not unique in the challenges it faces concerning campus climate and student life. We aspire to lead in responding to these challenges.

The Trustees and I are committed to addressing and supporting efforts necessary to resolve these issues, improving the campus climate and strengthening the institution. The Board’s Committee on Student Affairs is working with senior leaders and consulting with outside professionals to make progress on this front.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions with me at Stephen.F.Mandel.Jr.78@Dartmouth.edu

Best regards,

Steve Mandel ’78, P’09, P’11
Chair, Board of Trustees

Joe Asch’s commentary on Folt’s speech during Wednesday’s indoctrination is a good counterpoint to Mandel’s public relations. What Joe says about Folt’s speech applies with slight adjustments to Mandel’s public relations message:

How to understand these words? Perhaps we can start with a story yesterday on Yahoo News. A U.S. Department of Education press release announced that Dartmouth ranked 23rd nationally in a study entitled “25 Private Colleges with the Happiest Freshmen”: 96.5% of Dartmouth freshman said that they were happy at the College. Princeton ranked first with 99.2% of freshmen professing happiness.

Yet according to Carol Folt, Dartmouth is rife with “on-line vile [sic] and vitriol… terrible posts, the hate speech, the violence, or threats of violence… terrible new wounds… alienation…hateful language anonymously carved into the benches in library meeting rooms years ago, cyber-bullying, terrorizing, no accountability, taking sadistic delight in hurting people… sexual assault, violence, discrimination, homophobia, intolerance, social divisiveness.” She says that “these types of issues have been going on for a long time here at Dartmouth…”

You read words like this and you halfways expect the Co-op to start selling T-shirts that say Concentration Camp Dartmouth. But what is the truth?

First off, anyone with experience at the College knows that Dartmouth students are endlessly positive, friendly, supportive, and that they try very hard to do the right thing. That’s a fair description of at least, say, 96.5% of undergrads. And we also know that the angry, aggrieved RealTalk students are but a small minority of students. They do have, mind you, a good argument that Dartmouth is far from perfect and that it has serious issues to work on, but their relentless focus on the negative obscures a fair, overall evaluation of the institution. Finally, as this space has documented, the B@B site is an isolated, poorly attended chat area; the number of chest-thumping fools who anonymously wrote hateful things there over the past couple of days can be counted on one or, at most, two hands.

The thing is, Carol Folt also knows these things, but what better, self-aggrandizing move than to set herself up as the protector of the poor and the oppressed — even while tarring the school and its students with a dirty, dirty brush, one that will hurt its reputation for many years to come.

That’s not her only intellectually dishonest move. She describes the performers in the Dimensions show in this way, “Many of them said that even as they disagreed with the methods, they respected the right of their peers to dissent.” How nice. Of course, people are allowed to dissent. That’s the basis of Dartmouth, and the whole country, for that matter. But for the Dimensions kids who cried at the interruption to their carefully prepared performance, who were shocked at the anger that the self-indulgent protesters displayed to prospies, well, Carol’s words of whitewash do not do justice to them. To test that proposition, put on a show yourself that illustrates something that you love very much, and have it invaded by uninvited screamers.

Folt’s more serious sleight of hand, the one that tips us to her skewed politics, is her comment that the College will “privately follow our processes and policies.” She seems to nod to the fact that the protesters will be somehow sanctioned, just as the anonymous writers on Bored @Baker will be. Her allusion to privacy seems to be an attempt to justify not criticizing the RealTalk protesters in her speech. Nonsense. This is where she should have shown honest evenhandedness. It is fair to criticize hate speech, as she forcefully did — the way to respond to speech is with more speech — but she should also have taken the time to point out that invasive, illegal demonstrations were an impediment to the Dimension’s crew’s own right to speech, a right guaranteed by the College’s own regulations and the laws of the State of New Hampshire. She did not do that.

Carol Folt has used this entire situation to her own advantage, and in doing so, she willfully distorted the truth. But as a great many members of this community know, Carol Folt and the truth only have a passing relationship, particularly when twisting and inventing facts will help her advance her own ambition. She should be ashamed of herself, as are so many people today in Hanover.

Joe subsequently added two notes to his commentary:

Addendum: The Baker Tower Irregulars assure me that in signing up for posting privileges on Bored@Baker, the site confirms that it keeps no details of posters’ identities. Even if the College attempted by subpoena to secure the names of posters, which no judge would allow, there is nothing to be found at the site to lead investigators to the identities of the posters of hateful, bombastic speech. There will be no College prosecutions.

As a coda to that comment, hateful speech on B@B is most often immediately reproached by other posters. The RealTalk folks did not quote their excerpts in context. Anonymity goes both ways. People on B@B are free to be stupid and aggressive, but others are equally free to criticize them.

Addendum: The D [student newspaper] reported that its poll showed 67% of students disagreed with the College’s decision to shut down for the day. It’s story quoted two students with pertinent, commonsensical remarks:

Roger Lott ‘14, one of many who criticized the College’s response, publicly denounced the cancellation of classes at Dartmouth Hall on Wednesday, wearing a sign with the words “Dartmouth is a safe place, Stop scaring prospies. I paid for class. Where is it?”

“I personally have many hundreds of Bored at Baker posts that are abusive towards me,” he said. “I never take any of those threats seriously.”

Blake Neff ‘13 said he was skeptical of the nature of the threats protesters had received.

“I don’t endorse threats, and I don’t believe they should be threatened, but the simple reality is that so far, like in their letter to the administration, is that it was offensive comments made on an anonymous internet forum,” he said. “If we’re going to shut down the entire College every time someone says something like that, then we could never open the College.”

These young men could never be administrators in an institution of higher learning.

The editorial published in the Dartmouth student newspaper on Wednesday — the Day of Getting Their Minds Right — speaks with greater maturity and sophistication than Mandel’s public relations message. Here is an excerpt of the editorial:

[W]e find ourselves starkly at odds with the administration. While they have done an admirable job of condemning and responding to threats against Friday’s protesters, no administrator has stepped forward to comment on the protest itself. This was a major event that has precipitated a dramatic polarization of our campus, and for the administration to leave the protest unaddressed is a gross abdication of responsibility.

By remaining silent, the administration has implicitly approved the protesters’ tactics and strategy, thereby tacitly endorsing their disregard for Standard VIII of the Dartmouth Student Handbook. Beyond the administration’s refusal to condemn the protest, Interim President Carol Folt and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson met with the protesters yesterday morning.

From this collection of events, the message seems to be that, if you fly a political banner, are sufficiently angry and manage to break enough College rules, you can gain a stranglehold over the administration. We cannot shake the feeling that a handful of students have hijacked not only the broader campus conversation, but also the administration’s control over the situation. Furthermore, these students and administrators refused to speak with The Dartmouth yesterday to add any context to their meeting and decision.

The decision to cancel classes for a day is also questionable. In the past, even the gravest of circumstances have not prompted days off from school. Two Dartmouth students have died since January 2012, events that Dean Johnson described as “tragic” and “unimaginable,” and in 2001 married College professors Half and Susanne Zantop were murdered, sending shockwaves throughout the Hanover community. On a less serious note, the intense New Hampshire winter weather has frequently prevented many of the College’s faculty and staff from traveling to work and made venturing outside a dangerous task for students. Yet classes have not once been canceled due to weather since 2007. While the gravity of and potential for today’s events are admittedly great, we are not sure that they warrant the suspension of academic activity, let alone in the midst of midterm exams. The programming could easily have been scheduled for this weekend, when students will be more available and no instruction time would be lost.

When the students have it all over the administrators who are running the place, it really is time to move on.

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