Evidence of decline at Dartmouth

From a reader, the parent of a graduating high school student, comes anecdotal evidence of academic decline at Dartmouth College. The student was admitted to Dartmouth in early April and was all set to commit to Dartmouth. The student wants to study Classics and had been turned on to Dartmouth by a high school teacher who studied in this field at the College not many years ago, and who raved about his undergraduate education.

Before committing to Dartmouth, however, the student took another look at the course catalog. According to the father:

The intro and even intermediate course are thematic – with titles like “The Heroic Vision,” “Reason and the Good Life,” or, more provocatively, “Sex, Celibacy and the Problem of Purity: Asceticism and the Human Body in Late Antiquity.”

Instead of concentrating on one text, these courses use selections of many texts organized loosely around the professor’s favorite theme. Depending on the professor, this can be quite good, but there is risk to this approach when the professor in question has a post-modernist outlook.

A bit turned off by this approach, the student again consulted the high school teacher who had been so enthusiastic about the study of Classics at Dartmouth. The teacher took another look and reported that the really good teachers in this department have left Dartmouth and one superb teacher is about to retire. He said that, from the standpoint of studying Clasics, the student now would be better off at Cornell. The student took this advice.

Note that the decline here is being reported by a Dartmouth grad with a PhD from a top Ivy League school who was initially a huge booster of the College. I’m also told that the high school teacher is a liberal, so this isn’t about politics.

Note too that the decline being reported is not the kind of nearly universal decline we conservatives think we see in college education generally. This is decline in relation to a an Ivy League rival caused, it seems, by Dartmouth’s failure to retain top faculty.

The problem isn’t confined to the Classics department, as I plan to show in future posts.


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