Where motley is worn

The story of Dartmouth’s disgrace hits the newspapers today. The New York Times covers the board’s diktat, as does the Boston Globe, Inside Higher Ed, and Bloomberg News. Bloomberg has already posted an update.
In his great poem “Easter 1916,” William Butler Yeats reflects with ambivalent admiration on the Irish uprising against the British. He bitterly notes his past certainty that he lived in a land “where motley is worn.” He moves from observing how the uprising has altered his perception of his fellow countrymen, to paying tribute to the sacrifice of those fallen at arms, to wondering whether their valor may have required too much hardness of heart, to asking whether their sacrifice might prove needless. Yeats nevertheless finds the uprising a transformative moment. The poem concludes with a tribute to the executed leaders of the rebellion:

I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

At Dartmouth College, where green is also worn, the college’s board of trustees has produced a transformative moment of its own.
Unable to achieve its desired results through democratic outcomes, the board has imposed by brute force what it could not win by consent. On its behalf board chairman Ed Haldeman is engaged in a Soviet-style public relations offensive. Over the weekend Haldeman claimed that increasing the number of board-selected charter trustees will allow for a more diverse board “in terms of race, age, gender, abilities and viewpoints.” Yet the proximate cause of the board’s action appears to have been the election of petition candidate University of Virginia Law School Professor Stephen Smith earlier this year. Professor Smith is black and offers the board his own diverse viewpoints, but Haldeman means to make sure that his like not have too big a role on the board.
Dartmouth is a college that has long prided itself on the extraordinary attachment felt by its alumni to the school. At Dartmouth, all appears to be changed, or changing, but it is something far from a terrible beauty that is born. Working “Easter 1916” in reverse, the college is showing itself to be, in Yeats’s damning phrase, “where motley is worn.”


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