Dartmouth’s pseudo-turnaround

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Dartmouth. I do so now to respond to the claims of two members of the Dartmouth community, both of whom I respect, that Dartmouth is experiencing a turnaround under its current president Jim Kim.
This is the claim of my friend Peter Robinson, a trustee, and of Charles Dameron, editor of the Dartmouth Review. Peter made the case in a letter to alumni that he and fellow trustee T.J. Rodgers wrote. Dameron made it in an editorial published in the Review.
Has Dartmouth turned it around? Or do the objections raised here on Power Line and by other “dissidents” still fully apply?
It depends on which objections we’re talking about. If we’re talking about things like insufficient attention by the president to the football team or an an unwillingness to say nice things about fraternities and the Dartmouth Review, then we have indeed witnessed a transformation under Jim Kim.
But what about academics, which I assume is the foremost issue for nearly all of Dartmouth’s critics? The two major problems I have focused on are (1) class size/inability to get into desirable classes and (2) instruction marred by the left-wing bias and/or outright foolishness of the professor.
I see no evidence of a turnaround on either score. In the spring of this year, my daughter, by then in her last term at Dartmouth, was still being shut out of courses she wanted to take in several humanities departments. And her search for that elusive third course was made more difficult by the fact that some of the courses that otherwise interested her were being taught in a foreign language — leftist, post-modern gibberish. I’ll have more to say about this soon.
It’s implausible to believe that this state of affairs has been transformed in the past nine months. Nor does my perusal of the online course guides in the departments in question indicate such a transformation.
It’s also implausible to believe that there will be a transformation in the future. Under President Kim, Carol Folt, the person primarily responsible for the academic problems I’ve tried to chronicle over the past four years, has been given greater responsibility. Kim has also promoted David Spalding, a prime mover in the successful effort to strip alumni of their ability to elect Trustees who might serve as a counter-weight to Dartmouth’s descent into a bastion of mindless leftism. And Kim has elevated veteran diversity-monger Sylvia Spears to the position of acting dean of the college.
None of this should come as a surprise. Kim himself is an ardent man of the left. At the time the Board of Trustees was interviewing Kim for the presidency, research revealed that he had written articles full of left-wing orthodoxy, and the inevitable accompanying jargon, about global health. In the one public appearance by Kim I’ve witnessed, it was apparent to me that he suffers from Obama worship.
As president, I understand that Kim has been pushing for a minor in something like health distribution services. One need not imagine what the politics of that minor will be. A recent graduate of Dartmouth describes a course at the College on global health as follows: “The prof spent 50% of his time bashing Reagan for ignoring the AIDS crisis because it was occurring in the gay community, and the other 50% talking about how Republicans don’t care about the world’s poor.”
Thus, even assuming that Kim has an active interest in the nature and quality of instruction in Dartmouth’s humanities courses (an assumption I don’t make — in a candid moment, he opined on the uselessness of studying philosophy), that interest militates in favor of business as usual. So, again, do his key appointments.
Peter and T.J. Rodgers address the issue of academics in their letter. But they speak mostly in generalities — “abiding commitment to excellence in teaching,” “commit[ment] to Dartmouth as the finest undergraduate institution in the world,” etc. Although they provide a few specifics, none speaks to the problems I raise above.
So why is Jim Kim getting something close to a free pass from what was once a contentious Dartmouth community? Partly because he’s a good politician. But the main explanation is found, I think, this passage from Dameron’s editorial: “After years of fighting, it may be that everyone had simply had enough of it.”
That’s understandable. There are plenty of other things for conservatives and other believers in a traditional college education to fight about. And now that Dartmouth has stripped its alumni of their best mechanism for fighting back — the ability to elect Trustees in numbers that could make a difference — it’s quite rationale to turn our attention away from Dartmouth.
But if we do, it should not be on the pretense that the fight has been won or that serious progress has been made. For now, at least, we have instead lost.