It Is Time for Dartmouth to Change
April 23, 2014
President says school's promise is "being hijhacked by extreme behavior, masked by its perpetrators as acceptable fun."
Good evening, students, faculty, staff, alumni. Thank you for being here tonight.
It has been almost one year now since I returned to Dartmouth…returning to this home in Hanover in a far different capacity than I left it 37 years ago.
Much has changed since I left in the spring of 1977. But more has remained the same.
Foremost, what I took for truth as a young graduate, has been affirmed through nearly four decades in higher education: there is no finer undergraduate education than the one offered by Dartmouth.
Everywhere on campus, I have been greeted with manifestations of this reality.
I see it in the quiet and uncelebrated moments—the conversations and dinners I’ve shared, my hours in the classroom, the letters I have received. All of which affirm the intellectual curiosity of our students, the strength of our faculty, the living and breathing commitment by so many people to make the world a better place.
I see it in our College’s leadership in experiential learning— fundamental to ensuring a sustaining higher education model for the future.
And I see it, of course, in the many accolades earned by our students —in the classroom, on the field, in the studio, in the lab.
In this year’s graduating class, not one but two students will become our College’s 74th and 75th Rhodes scholars.
Of the 20 Thiel Fellows chosen from around the world—three hail from Dartmouth.
Dartmouth is home today to one of the most decorated NCAA athletes in the history of college sports.
Indeed, some of the most talented, passionate, and engaging students, faculty and staff that you’ll find anywhere in the world call Dartmouth their home.
As an alumnus, I have been so proud to put this institution’s name behind my own on my resume. I’m doubly proud to have the privilege today to serve at its helm. There is, I echo, no finer undergraduate education than the one offered here.
And while ours is a legacy of scholastic excellence, it’s also a legacy of a unique social experience—an experience of lifelong friendships formed in this New Hampshire town, a singular experience that has for generations borne graduates with unparalleled emotional intelligence.
We are a great institution, 245 years old, poised for an even better future. (Pause) But Dartmouth’s promise is being hijacked by extreme behavior, masked by its perpetrators as acceptable fun.
The list of offenses is familiar. From sexual assaults on campus…to a culture where dangerous drinking has become the rule and not the exception…to a general disregard for human dignity as exemplified by hazing, parties with racist and sexist undertones, disgusting and sometimes threatening insults hurled on the internet…to a social scene that is too often at odds with the practices of inclusion that students are right to expect on a college campus in 2014.
The actions I have detailed are antithetical to everything that we stand for and hope for our students to be. There is a grave disconnect between our culture in the classroom and the behaviors outside of it—behaviors which too often seek not to elevate the human spirit, but debase it.
IT IS TIME FOR DARTMOUTH TO CHANGE. And as your President, I will lead that change.
It is time for us to act in order to preserve what is unique, joyous and fun about the undergraduate experience at Dartmouth and to end the extreme behaviors that are in conflict with our mission and fundamentally harmful—to individuals, and to the fabric of our community. This is the right thing to do, and the time to do it is now.
On campus, extreme behaviors are harming too many Dartmouth students, dividing our community and distracting us from our important work of teaching and learning and advancing the frontiers of knowledge.
And they are doing serious damage to Dartmouth’s reputation:
In the last year, applications have declined by 14%.
A Title IX investigation is under way.
External scrutiny of our campus life has never been higher.
We can no longer allow this College to be held back by the few who wrongly hide harmful behaviors behind the illusion of youthful exuberance. Routinized excessive drinking, sexual misconduct, and blatant disregard of social norms have no place at Dartmouth. Enough is enough.
I am calling on us to create fundamental change in every place on campus where social activities take place—residence halls, Greek Houses, Affinity Houses, Senior Societies, and other campus organizations.
To be clear, we have taken a number of corrective actions in this direction.
The Bystander Initiative—introduced last summer—is giving students the tools to recognize and intervene in the case of a potential sexual assault.
In February, we announced the formation of the Center for Community Action and Prevention (CCAP), that will more broadly mobilize the community towards the prevention of sexual assault and violence.
Two days ago, we finalized a new sexual assault disciplinary policy that includes zero tolerance.
We are launching a major initiative to create a house model within residence halls, which will provide another powerful option for students to build community and carry out social interactions.
Simultaneously, our efforts to reduce the incidence of excessive drinking are starting to bear results, with the number of episodes involving students with dangerously high blood-alcohol content falling this year by 60%…continuing a three-year downward trend.
In each of these areas, we’ve seen a number of student organizations step up to provide support, and to introduce new initiatives…such as the Greek Leadership Council’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.
This is progress. But we must not confuse it with success.
As you may recall, last month Chairman Steve Mandel wrote to the Dartmouth community stating that the time had come for a serious discussion of social norms and community standards on campus. This meeting, over a month in the planning, kicks off that discussion.
I am calling on every member of our community to be a part of this discussion, and more importantly, part of the solution. Each of us must ask, with every action we take on this campus—are we strengthening our community, or undermining it?
Behind me stand leaders of this College, representatives of all of the constituents, from faculty to students to distinguished alumni. We are men and women, young and old, united in our abiding love of this school.
I am asking them, and each of you to join me today to bring a student experience to our college that is every bit the equal of the preeminent undergraduate education we offer.
Allow me to offer a roadmap of how we will move forward together towards actions that will be decided on by the November Board of Trustees meeting.
To begin, I am forming a Presidential Steering Committee that will recommend actions to end extreme and harmful behaviors in the following three areas: high risk drinking, sexual assault and inclusivity.
The Committee will be made up of students, faculty, administration, and alumni, and will spend the summer researching and crowdsourcing the best solutions for a better way forward. They will look at the best practices of other universities, speak with the leading experts in each of these areas, and solicit ideas from student organizations, individual students and every member of the Dartmouth family.
The Committee’s full recommendations will be presented to the Board this fall.
This effort overall cannot be viewed as a mandate from the top. To be successful, every member of the community must be a part of this effort.
In my address to the faculty last November, I painted a vision of what Dartmouth could become. I spoke of a campus that is intellectually energized, a place of big ideas and bold efforts. A place with the courage to take on the world’s most urgent problems and pursue its most compelling opportunities. A campus where students are formed into leaders through rigorous academic training and shared efforts to make a difference in the world. In short, a future where Dartmouth’s footprint on the world has never been greater and where a Dartmouth degree is the most highly valued credential in all of higher education.
Extreme and harmful behaviors stand between us and that vision. They prevent Dartmouth from reaching its amazing promise and potential. We cannot let that happen. Enough is enough. We will move Dartmouth forward.
There are some in higher education who say that this set of problems, extreme and harmful behaviors, cannot be solved. I say, Dartmouth will prove them wrong.
Dartmouth WILL take the lead in American education by bringing campus life to a safe, sustainable place.
Students WILL come to Dartmouth because we offer the finest education in the world, and because we offer a campus life experience that is in every way worthy of its stature.
Always, but especially at this hour, much is expected of Dartmouth. I speak for our community when I say, we welcome the high expectations. And we will deliver.
Thank you very much.