Saturday, May 14, 2005

Not easy bring Green

(Sorry for this Dart-centric post. Please skip if you're more interested in Xan or movies, heh heh...)

I admit that when I entered Dartmouth, I was incredibly naive. I had no idea it was the inspiration for Animal House, nor did I realize its reputation for being a generally conservative school. Happily, I traipsed up to Hanover with only the notion that I was going to get a rock-solid, challenging education in at atmosphere that had a lot of green. The alumni support was an added bonus. (It shoud be said that, at this time, I was also planning on being a math and chemistry double major. And that I had a "Bush/Quayle '98" button. My, how things change.)

While at Dartmouth, I ran into my share of older alumni while working Commencement and Reunion, which I did for three out of the four years there. The large majority were wonderful, genteel men who had fascinating stories to tell of Dartmouth Hall, war and having to import women from Mount Holyoke. It always amazed me, however, when I ran into an alum who would mutter under his breath, "Dartmouth was better when the women weren't here." Personally, I'm thankful for the women. (I'd better -- heck, I married one.) Dartmouth could not remain an all-boys school and maintain its position as a top school. The world changed; it continues to change and institutions have the change with it.

I mention all of this because I am really upset by recent events caused by the otherwise apathetic attitude of some of my fellow alums. Dartmouth's alumni just elected two new trustees, Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki, two candidates who were nominated by petition instead of by the College's nomination committee and who reflect rather reactionary values concerning the direction Dartmouth should go (not to mention higher education in general). In this Bush-tastic world, I should perhaps no longer be surprised by their election. I have come to realize that my way of thinking is far enough out of the mainstream that I can no longer call myself "left of center" as much as "left," even though I'm not yet wearing any hammer-and-sickle apparel.

The attitudes that Robinson and Zywicki seem to represent, however, reflect a very "old school" Dartmouth that promises to thwart any and all attempts to innovate the quality of the school's reputation. Though both are relatively young alums, they share the attitudes of the older alums from the 40s and 50s, not the overwhelming ideals (I think) of those like myself from the 90s. As a college educator, I now understand what Dartmouth's current administration is trying to do; nonetheless, I'm flabbergasted that the alums now stand poised to step it its way. In the most awful way, I'm glad I'm not teaching at a school where the alumni don't care enough to meddle in the school's current activities. I've always loved the fact that Dartmouth's alumni did care this much, but now I'm seeing a flaw in the system.

Enough is enough, I say. I can't be the only one sickened by this trend. Maybe the alums just aren't aware. Maybe they need to be smacked around enough to be made to care. (A snarkey note: "they" in this last sentence includes my own wife.) Or am I just a wistful liberal who should just quietly go the way of the current conventional trend? Am I ridiculous for having these feelings about my school? (Heck, AU would love if their alumni would feel this way.)

Here's a modest proposal to any of the Dartmouth alums who feel similarly: in the last two trustee elections, all the candidates who won were by petition. Can the same grass-roots efforts that brought these trustees in also work to our advantage? Why not try a petition candidate from our side?

Wow, look at me. I've become a crusty, bitter alum after all.

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