A “downward death spiral” at Dartmouth?

In 2006, Peter Fahey, a former Dartmouth trustee wrote:

Failure to adopt the new [Association of Alumni]constitution would risk dire consequences for the College. It would be a step down the road of allowing a radical minority cabal to take over the Dartmouth Board of Trustees. If this were to begin to happen, it could well lead the College into a downward death spiral.

As Joe Asch reminds us, the feared “radical minority cabal” did not take over the Board. “Rather, the Board cut off that attempt, and then it expanded so that its component of directly elected alumni was reduced from half to only one third.”

But it’s far from clear that Dartmouth was spared a downward spiral (I won’t mimic Fahey’s juvenile use of the word “death”). Last November, the number of early decision applications that the College received dropped by more than 15 percent. Another drop this year, especially if all of the other Ivies are up again, would look an awful lot like a downward spiral.

Fahey warned us about this specific consequence in his 2006 piece. “Sooner or later,” he predicted, “the outstanding students that Dartmouth now attracts would notice any deterioration in its competitiveness and choose to go elsewhere.”

But Fahey claimed that this would be the result of a hostile takeover by a “radical minority cabal.” The “takeover” never came close to materializing. Fahey and friends had their way, but now students are choosing to go elsewhere.

Why? At the most general level, there’s a sense that, in Joe Asch’s words, “all is not well in Hanover.”

But what is driving that sense? The biggest immediate driver is probably a series of “student life incidents” involving binge drinking and fraternity hazing. This New York Times article will give you a sense of the problem.

But I agree with Joe that the downward spiral can be traced back to around the time Fahey wrote his foolish and obnoxious piece:

[T]he downward death spiral began at that time under an unfettered, incompetent Board and the ugly trinity of Wright/Kim/Folt: spending ballooned out of control, the debt binge continued, hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted on massive building projects, academic life stagnated, and the student life events so regrettably summarized in the Times’ article began to follow one and other at ever shorter intervals.

The complacency so evident in Fahey’s article — see especially his assumptions that the big-money contributors know what’s best for Dartmouth and that those who perceive the need for a change are a dangerous “radical cabal” — provides the real key to understanding Dartmouth’s decline.

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