Charles Dameron, editor of the Dartmouth Review, has responded to my post disagreeing with his claim that Dartmouth is experiencing a turnaround under President Kim. Joe Asch at Dartblog, in turn, has responded to Dameron.
I have two points to add to Joe’s response, with which I agree. First, Dameron writes:
As for left-wing bias and general foolishness, I have been lucky enough not to encounter much of either in my Dartmouth studies. Sure, I’ve taken classes with professors who are very far to the left, many of whom I now count as friends. They have never imposed those personal feelings on me as a student; I have always been perfectly free to express myself as a conservative, and have never suffered academically because of it.
This statement is consistent with the experience of my daughter, a 2010 graduate, but I think it misses part of the point. The problem at Dartmouth is not that careful humanities students can’t usually avoid large doses of left-wing bias and general foolishness in the classroom. Nor is the problem that left-wing professors curb free speech and give bad grades to conservative students based on political concerns (although these phenonmena are not unheard of at Dartmouth).
The problem is that to avoid left-wing foolishness in certain departments, a Dartmouth student must avoid enrolling in courses he or she would otherwise take. But in doing so, the student is deprived of the educational he or she should be receiving.
The best example I know of is the English Department. Dameron’s upbeat view may have something to do with the fact that he does not list English as a field of concentration.
My second point relates to this statement:
[Kim] has met with the Review’s own Jeffrey Hart on a regular basis to discuss the implementation of a new Great Books-like program that would give more coherence to the humanities, and the administration is apparently in the middle of a review process for reintroducing a Great Issues curriculum for sophomores during their summer term.
I take little comfort from the fact that Kim is meeting regularly with Hart. Professor Hart was a supporter of the slate of candidates that gave away the right of alumni to elect half the board of trustees. If I recall correctly, Hart, in a letter explaining his support, expressed confidence in the adminstration of Jim Wright, the former president of the college and the man compared to whom Kim is supposed to be a breath of fresh air. Hart was also a supporter, as I understand it, first of the presidential candidacy of John Edwards and later that of Barack Obama.
Perhaps none of this matters when Hart advises Kim about great books. Perhaps in this scenario, Kim takes Hart’s advice seriously, and is not simply using the professor to gain credibility. But I’m not confident on either count.
Nor am I confident that the great books, however well selected, will not be used as a springboard for a politically correct discussion of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and other left-wing obsessions. If it can happen to Shakespeare, it can happen to any book. To paraphrase a former Secretary of Defense, you study the great books with the faculty you have.
As for the Great Issues program, one alum who formerly served on the Dartmouth Review told me:
[Kim] wants to revive the “great issues” course that former President Dickey made famous, which sounds great in theory, but the question is what he chooses for those “great issues.” That’s one area to keep an eye on him.
He has something he calls his “presidential lecture” series, which may be a take off of the great issues lectures. If so, he’s only had two of those: he delivered one himself, the other was delivered by Mike Bloomberg.
But even if Kim comes up with a useful great issues course, it will not overcome the problems that plague too many other courses — over-subscription and political bias. Only when these problems are overcome will Dartmouth have experienced a meaningful turnaround by my reckoning.