Dartmouth’s “politically combustible” women and minorities

Dartmouth alums, especially those of my daughters vintage (class of 2010), are buzzing about a politically incorrect letter published by the alumni magazine. The letter, from John Barchilon ’60, responds to an article about the grievances of certain minority and female students.

Barchilon wrote:

The comments of Aby Macias ’14 and Dondei Dean ’17 as quoted [in the alumni magazine article] reveal why Dartmouth suffers from chronic inflammation around issues of gender and minorities: bad manners. The College accepts too many politically combustible women and minorities who fail to grasp that they were admitted to an elite traditional institution older than the United States. Instead of saying, “Thank you,” they try to change the majority of Dartmouth students and traditions in ways that attract an endless stream of politically incorrect wisecracks.

Dean, identified as black, feels alienated when, after telling a white student she should discuss diversity, the white student wisely answers, “Politics and the economy are what’s important.” She showed Dean the way to fit in better, but Dean ignored her, totally involved with her own sense of injured entitlement. The rules for a happy college experience are good manners, remembering “When in Rome do as the Romans” and the words of Cassius: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

As usual, the response of the offended is non-substantive, relying on name-calling (“racist,” “sexist,” “backward”) and attacking the alumni magazine for enabling Barchilon to express his views to fellow alums. Kaili Lambe ‘09 put up a petition on the MoveOn.org website demanding that the publication “Apologize for publishing a racist, sexist rant telling women–especially women of color–to have ‘good manners.'”

The alumni magazine should not censor complaints by alums about the “manners” of Dartmouth radicals. Indeed, the issue of manners seems particularly timely now that some Dartmouth rads have disgraced themselves and possibly harmed the institution with their ridiculous, foul-mouthed questions to Gov. Rick Perry during his recent appearance at the College.

However, Barchilon is misguided, I think, to criticize Dartmouth for admitting “too many politically combustible [ed: I love that phrase] women and minorities” who fail to grasp what Dartmouth once stood for. The nation’s best 18 year-old students inevitably will include a sizeable number of the politically combustible. And in this era, many members of that subset inevitably will be suspectible to the appeal of leftist race-gender entitlement theory and the unpleasant tactics that accompany it.

Dartmouth’s response should not be to attempt to cull out applicants who may be politically combustible. Rather, it should respond the way it did back when I was a politically combustible student. That is, Dartmouth should vigorously uphold the right of all students to express their views and punish students who interfere with free speech rights or who otherwise violate college rules of conduct.

Finally, and this is sheer fantasy, Dartmouth should introduce greater academic rigor into the classroom. Student radicalism is actually a healthy phenomenon up to a point. But today’s radicals are betrayed by instruction that seems to leave them unable to contribute more than mindless cliches, name-calling, absurd demands, and crude tactics that substitute for a willingness to debate.

As I argued here, Dartmouth’s radicals seems more narcisistic and less sophisticated than their counterparts at comparable institutions. That’s quite an indictment of the Dartmouth educational experience.

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