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In loco parentis floats uneasily upon the moat between the administration and the student body. This term refers to the legal principle of the College serving in place of a parent, being responsible to protect and empowered to regulate the lives of its students in their best interests. Historically, in loco parentis has focused upon improvements in safety and student culture.
To provide a historical example of in loco parentis at work, one might consider a case involving Berea College of Kentucky, a school remarkable for its good architectural sense and commitment to affordability. In 1913, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld one of Berea’s rules that students were prohibited from “eating houses and places of amusement in Berea, not controlled by the College” — a restriction upon students’ freedoms justified by the college’s need to “pass rules tending to prevent students from wasting their time and money, and to keep them wholly occupied in study.” The legal history of in loco parentis in higher education is fascinating, particularly because in loco parentis as we knew it is dead.
Students today have never been more free. It was once common for private and public universities to enforce curfews, dress codes, and strict limits upon speech or political activities. Today these sorts of restrictions would be unthinkable at most American colleges and universities. Most have adopted a model of facilitation whereby administrators pursue a more nebulous approach of personal, professional, and academic development among students.
Freedom is now chief among our virtues, for both pragmatic and moral reasons. We cannot expect some hapless administrator to successfully control what students do on their own time in their own spaces across the College. And even if we could do so, this kind of paternalism seems incompatible with the autonomy and development of the modern student. How ironic is it that the sons and daughters of Dartmouth today are more free than they have ever been, yet the principal defect of the modern campus is the crippling of the individual?
Despite the solid heart that endures at Dartmouth, what ails us? In this age of personal liberation, students feel trapped by the dominance of some groups and the apparent self-segregation of others. Nihilism has embraced the modern Dartmouth man just as he has been released from the dead hand of tradition. Never before at Dartmouth have Greek houses been more progressive in their character — and simultaneously more corrosive for so many students. Never before at Dartmouth have student groups had more institutional support, recognition, and attention; never before have the members of those groups felt so alone. Where are the writers and the scholars among us? They are too busy to be anywhere in particular. Their D-Plans makes them transient, their college loans make them a mercenary, and the tired patterns of Dartmouth’s social culture make them miserable.
I do not wish to pile upon the old debates about student culture which have made all students so weary. I do not wish to overstate my case, either; the College is still a wonderful place for learning that most students love and cherish. Nor do I wish to cast fraternities and sororities in an unfair light; what ails them ails us all. The pathogen is far upstream of Greek rush weekend, the administration’s mismanagement, and even of matriculation.
I recently finished Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton and at one point he writes about social progress and to what form a good society might aspire:
“I could never conceive or tolerate any Utopia which did not leave to me the liberty for which I chiefly care, the liberty to bind myself. Complete anarchy would not merely make it impossible to have any discipline or fidelity; it would also make it impossible to have any fun…I should ask to be kept to my bargain, to have my oaths and engagements taken seriously; I should ask Utopia to avenge my honor on myself.”
I believe that what plagues the College and many of its peer institutions is unparalleled freedom paired with a vacuum of authority and shared purpose. The evil fringes of disrespect and sexual assault persist in this environment, while the creative energies of our students often wither. How do we move forward?
First, the attention of our administrative leadership and our faculty must be focused laser-like upon the undergraduate academic experience. Should President Hanlon ensure justice for the victims and perpetrators of sexual assault? Absolutely; but this is a realm that ideally would be ruled by a fiercely competent Dean of the College. Invigorating the College’s intellectual life, edifying the minds and pursuits of its students, is the surest way in my mind to improve campus climate and culture. I sense that President Hanlon gets this; yet still the administration sprawls haphazardly across the College. Focus on students’ writing, rhetoric, ethics, philosophy, and curriculum; behold the response in the ways that students commune, protest, love, write, and perform. Behind the scenes, pick the low-hanging fruit that this space has detailed for so long.
Second, students must understand their exclusive responsibility for campus culture. A thick set of social norms must be the responsibility of student leaders and handed down by the institutions that matter most: sports teams, Greek houses, campus publications, and all large student organizations. I wish I had understood this point better as an undergraduate. As early as 2011 we could see a model in Panhell’s boycott of fraternities that responded passively to violence or threats from among their members. A strengthened student culture might be far less libertine — in fact it would be profoundly conservative in its treatment of certain groups or traditions. This is a matter of respect, not political correctness. This sort of culture would suppress a great deal of harmful stupidity while facing the strong headwinds of laissez-faire within the College’s social scene.
There are good reasons for the death of in loco parentis in higher education. Yet the fundamental desire for authority, shared purpose, and deep community remains unmet for many at Dartmouth. Our great constellation of freedom dies without virtue; it is this void and wilderness into which Dartmouth must speak.
We are happy to announce that Dartblog alumna Jenn Bandy ‘09 will be clerking for SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas this fall. At the College Jenn majored in government and French, and she was President of the College Republicans. Before moving up to Dartblog, she wrote for The Dartmouth. Jenn graduated from Duke Law in 2012, where she was executive editor of the Duke Law Journal. This past year she clerked for Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William H. Pryor Jr., and she is currently an associate with Kirkland & Ellis in Washington. Congratulations.
Following hard on Phil’s visit to the White House to discuss sexual harassment with other college presidents and the Vice-President, and this past weekend’s assault, Theater Professor Peter Hackett took Phil Hanlon to task for the kind of self-congratulatory hyperbole that I hoped had left town with Carol. Here is Hackett’s letter from yesterday’s Valley News:
To the Editor:
In a recent press release announcing the formation of the Center for Community Action and Prevention, Dartmouth’s Office of Public Affairs described the college as “a leader in developing cultural-changing strategies.” President Phil Hanlon, referencing his recent attendance at a White House session on sexual assault, was quoted as saying that “Dartmouth’s efforts to address sexual assault were recognized by the White House as exceptional.” Another announcement touts the college’s participation in a symposium on sexual assault recently convened at the University of Virginia.
It is precisely this sort of hyperbole that discourages victims of sexual violence to report, jeopardizes the college’s credibility, creates an atmosphere of deep cynicism on campus, and undermines the administration’s efforts to build support for their initiatives.
Far from being a leader on this issue, Dartmouth lags behind many of its peer institutions. Violence prevention centers are already present on many other campuses. While aspiring to be a welcoming and inclusive community, Dartmouth continues to support a fraternity system that dates back to the 18th century, discriminates by gender, and is arbitrarily exclusive. The college provides no hard data measuring the effectiveness of the new Bystander Initiative or any of its other prevention programs. Although information on other crimes is routinely shared with the campus community by Safety and Security, real-time information on campus sexual assaults is not. The college provides no mandatory sexual assault awareness education for its students, a recommendation of many national violence prevention experts.
The truth is that the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, on its own initiative, recently opened an investigation of Dartmouth and its compliance with Title IX, the statute that guarantees women a campus environment free from the threat of sexual violence. The OCR targeted Dartmouth specifically because the college’s problems appear to be “particularly acute or national in scope.” The college has directed considerable resources to the prevention of campus sexual violence, assault and harassment. However, much more needs to be done effectively before Dartmouth can truthfully claim a place as a leader in the field.
Avalon Professor of the Humanities
Professor of Theater
Personally, I thought that they had stopped giving grades for effort back in kindergarten. In the real world, results are what matter.
The gang that can’t shoot straight is at it again, this time by ending the greatest coup de théatre that the College sees each year: the moment in the Dimensions show when freshmen who have been posing as prospies leap up in song and reveal themselves to be already matriculated students. I haven’t lived the moment, but two posters on Facebook give articulate descriptions of the gem that the College is losing in yet another stupid decision:
The top post is from a year ago. It is a nice example of unrehearsed praise. The bottom post, from yesterday, already has over 200 likes on Facebook.
To date, I have never heard a single complaint about this aspect of the Dimensions show. This pop-up surprise is a lovely, original touch — a rare thing in Hanover these days.
What will the administration do next? Turn the Green into a staff-only parking lot?
Addendum: A letter in today’s D makes the same arguments.
President Jim Wright transformed Dartmouth: he grew the bureaucracy by 40% in his first few years in office, though the number of students remained unchanged; salaries and benefits skyrocketed as he attempted to buy popularity; he lowered tenure standards so much that the College will be burdened by about one hundred sub-par professors for decades; a plethora of senior administrators fled to other schools (Lee Bollinger, Jamshed Barucha, Susan Prager, Mike Gazzaniga); his borrowing binge and overspending left Dartmouth with fewer financial resources on net at the end of his eleven-year reign than when he started in office; he did virtually nothing to improve the academic climate or the undergraduate program; and he engendered a toxic institutional culture of spinning, lying, and punishment for dissent.
Most importantly, Wright changed governance at Dartmouth from a 16-person Board of Trustees, half elected by alumni, to a 24-person Board dominated by an in-crowd of appointed MBA cronies with no knowledge of higher education.
For all his trouble, Wright was fired by the Board. Not that it was announced that way, of course. Shortly prior to his resignation, and also until just before a hearing on an alumni lawsuit where the College was clearly bested by insurgent alumni’s counsel, Wright had been giving interviews in his avuncular style: he felt younger than he looked, he guffawed, but he expected to be the College’s President for several more years, at least. And then, out of the blue and not long after the problematic hearing, boom, he announced that he was retiring. Needless to say, several College publications found themselves scrambling to reset their type.
Now we learn that Wright, an historian by trade, has made sure that his time in office won’t be comprehensively studied by scholars until all of the actors in his administration are playing golf on the big green in the sky. The Alumni Magazine is reporting that by decree in 2003 Wright bottled up for 50 years all of the documents relating to the Board of Trustees from his time in office. That’s a shame. The Trustee records of Wright’s Presidency would make interesting reading for historians of the College. And for anyone interested in the truth. But, then, history was never really Wright’s concern; it was always about Jim.
I wonder, can Wright’s self-interested decree be un-decreed by a future President?
Addendum: Worst President ever.
The only other major school to suffer a significant drop in total applications this year that has come to our attention is the University of Chicago (-9.5%). Alert readers have written in to ask why.
First of all, let’s compare the recent application figures for Dartmouth and Chicago:
Dartmouth’s 14% decline in applications this year dropped the College back to where it was in 2010 (Class of 2014); in contrast, Chicago’s 9.5% decline still had it 42% above the number of applications for the Class of 2014.
In addition, early decision applications at Dartmouth have varied only marginally over the past six years; whereas early action applications at Chicago continued their unbroken, six-year run of increases this year (almost tripling in this time period):
Explanation? The folks in Chicago talked about glitches in the Common App this past fall as having hurt their total application numbers. Like Dartmouth, they delayed closing the application period as a result. That rationale is nonsense, of course. There is no reason why the Common App’s problems affected Chicago to this extent, when they did not affect other schools, including Illinois schools like Northwestern.
The more likely reason is simply that the Chicago numbers saw a momentary pullback after a fantastic rise, which people in the Windy City attribute to the hiring in 2010 of superstar admissions director Jim Nondorf and to his energetic efforts to market the university. None of the articles in the Maroon cited scandals or policy changes in Hyde Park.
In contrast Dartmouth’s admissions charts look different: they point to a school that has been dead in the water for a while now, beset by problems that are particular to it.
Addendum: The evolution of the total number of applications received by Chicago and Dartmouth is striking. Chicago has 5,607 undergrads and Dartmouth has 4,276 — a difference of 31%. Chicago received 43% more applications last year than Dartmouth (27,499 vs. 19,235). More interestingly, looking at the above charts, it appears that Chicago and Dartmouth received about the same number of applications five years ago (even though Chicago had many more students then, too), but since that time Chicago has pulled ahead of the College. Like almost everything else in Hanover, our admissions department needs some shaking up.
One aspect of the recently published Dartmouth Freedom Budget was its call for a minimum quota of 30% of each incoming College class to be set aside in equal parts for members of each of three minority groups:
We’ll set aside the issue of whether the primary mission of Dartmouth College is social and economic redistribution (there’s a good argument that the College should be devoted to giving the finest possible education to the young men and women with the finest minds in the land). Let’s simply ask if there are enough members of the various minority groups in question to fill the proposed quotas.
One measure (and, yes, I know that it is not a perfect measure) of preparation for college-level studies is the College Board’s set of SAT exams. Dartmouth is proud of the high scores of its incoming students: the current median average (that’s the mid-point in the incoming class: half of students fall above it; half are below) for critical reading and for math is a score of 740, a figure that has been quite stable for many years:
The College Board breaks out by race and gender the SAT scores of each year’s students. It is striking how the number of students scoring over 700 (let alone 740) can vary by racial groups, and how few scorers over 700 there are in the three minority groups that the Freedom Budget recommends receive privileged access to the College:
To be clear: in 2013 a total of 2,012 African Americans/Blacks scored over 700 on the SAT (1.0% of all African Americans/Black test takers); 4,262 Latin@ students did so (4.7% of Latin@ test takers); and only 295 American Indian/Alaskan Natives did so (3.0% of American Indian/Alaskan Natives test takers). Among white students, 50,096 scored at this high level (6.0% of White test takers), and 29,405 Asians did so (15.0% of Asian test takers).
If Dartmouth allotted 30% of each freshman class to “Blacks, Latin@ and Native students,” and the Admissions department insisted that these students average at least 700 on their critical reading and math SAT tests, the College would have to enroll 4.8% of the nation’s high-scoring African Americans/Black students, 2.3% of high-scoring Latin@ students, and 33.9% of high-scoring Native students. Self-evidently that would be impossible, given the number of other colleges and universities who have diversity goals like the College’s.
If we allowed the admissions department to dip into populations of minority students who are less well prepared for high-level academics than the average Dartmouth student, we’d run squarely into the problems of mismatch, the injustice of admitting unprepared students into a demanding academic program, only to watch them fail to achieve their goals. Not that these students would not graduate, but, for example, a great many minority students, people who came to the College with the goal of majoring in the hard sciences, would find that they are unprepared for the amount and the complexity of the work in these courses (at present the administration provides little effective academic support to such students), and they would end up drifting over to the various “studies” disciplines and abandoning their dreams of becoming a doctor or a scientist.
Extensive studies (the first of which was done at Dartmouth by Professor Rogers Elliott) have shown that these same students, in schools whose academic programs are appropriate for their level of pre-college preparation, would become doctors, etc.
We might end by looking at the equity of allocating 30% of the freshman class to these three groups. The racial background of all students scoring over 700 on the SAT exams is divided up as follows:
(Puerto Ricans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives each score 1% on the above graph.)
Of high school students scoring over 700 on the SAT in 2013, 55.35% were white; 32.49% were Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander; 4.81% were in the Other category (often Asians seeking to avoid categorization). In total, only 7.4% of all students scoring over 700 on the SAT were in the three groups that the Freedom Budget asks be allocated 30% of the freshman class (currently 18.4% of incoming freshmen are Black, Latin@, or Native). The Freedom Budget asks that the over-representation of minorities be increased from the current factor of 2.5X to 4X.
Addendum: Below are the U.S. Census’ figures for the breakdown of the American population by race in 2012. “Blacks, Latin@ and Native students” make up 31.2% of the population:
A number of readers have asked about the various positive references I have made in recent posts to natural winemakers (here and here). “Isn’t all wine natural?” is the inquiry. Well, no. Far from it — even in France and other Old World nations with a long tradition of viticulture. An article from the website of Tribeca’s Chambers Street Wines, a pioneeering vendor of wines made in a traditional manner, describes what you are too often drinking when you consume modern, industrially produced wines:
Grapes are mostly grown in sterile vineyards, where herbicides, pesticides and fungicides eliminate plant, insect and microbial populations. The vines themselves are modern clones, chosen for certain characteristics, such as disease resistance or high yields, which reduce the genetic variety of the vineyard and can radically change the nature of the wine. Commercial fertilizers are applied that feed the vines a chemical soup on the surface and then run off to pollute local waters. Machine-harvested grapes are then brought to the winery, often containing bunches that are unripe, rotten or dirty, which are hopefully sorted out before the crush. The grape must (juice) is then sulfited to prevent spoilage and to kill off unwanted wild yeasts. Then selected yeast strains are added to start the fermentation process. These yeasts are selected to create certain flavors or characteristics in the wine. “…the ICV D47 wines were fruity and floral, compared to the QA 23, which were predominated by tropical fruits and spices.” Nutrients and enzymes are added to increase viscosity, “mouthfeel”, and to assist the selected yeasts. Roto-fermenters and other mechanical manipulations are used to extract the maximum color and concentration, and sugars are added to increase alcohol production if necessary. The resulting product has the desired aromatics, a dark color with supple mouth-feel, an intense palate (with gobs of lush hedonistic fruit) and, well, not usually much of a finish… Wines made in this style tend to taste very much the same, no matter where they are made or with what grape.
The age-old French drinking toast is Santé — To your health. It is needed more in certain circumstances than in others.
Addendum: I am put in mind of a witty English pre-dinner prayer from the days, not that long ago, really, when it was hard to get a good meal in England:
We’ve already written at some length about how the number of valedictorians is increasing each year: the last sub-4.0 GPA valedictorian was in 2003; this past Commencement saw five valedictorians with perfect GPA’s.
However if you look at the astoundingly tight regression line on a chart that was given to the faculty as part of a discussion about grade inflation, it appears that 55 years from now the average grade at the College will be an A. Therefore, all students will be tied with the best grades in the class.
Now that’s equal opportunity. Everyone can be a valedictorian.
Addendum: Here’s an example of a time when an A really meant something: the History 35 (“Colonial America”) class that Phil Hanlon ‘77 took with Professor Jere Daniell ‘55 in the fall of 1975. Look closely: out of 42 students, only three received an A grade (including Phil!), five earned A-, and a total of fourteen students were given a C+/C/C-.
Professor Daniell was a tough grader. His average grade in History 35 was just below a B (2.85 to be precise). Two years later, he only gave Phil a B in History 36, in which Phil wrote an independent research project on Gouverneur Morris, the “Penman of the Constitution,” who gave his name to Hanlon’s hometown of Gouverneur in upstate New York.
I’ll bet that nobody’s parents called the Dean to complain about the unfairness of their child’s grade in either course.
There are far more plausible explanations for the 14% drop in admissions applications than the ones we reviewed yesterday. Obviously the elephant in the room is the ongoing string of campus life problems — we’ll start with that one — but there are other valid reasons to review:
● The serial scandals. The College was repeatedly depicted in the press over the past two years as a debauched, racist, strife-ridden institution. From the Andrew Lohse-inspired article about hazing in the Rolling Stone, to the RealTalk-motivated, CarolFolt-ordered class shutdown that was reported in every newspaper in America, and the many little scandals like the Crips and Bloods party, the message went out repeatedly that Dartmouth is in trouble.
The College employs over three dozen PR staffers to broadcast a positive message about Dartmouth to the public with the expectation that positive stories in the media enhance our reputation in the eyes of students, parents, college counselors, and the public. PR works, to be sure. That’s why we employ all of these people. But PR works both ways. One would think that it is self-evident that all of the ugly stories coming out of Hanover would hurt applications. How can anyone even question the validity of this assertion?
Ugly stories have piled onto each other over the past two years. Fewer occurred before that. They are a primary cause of the decline in applications. However, to admit this fact one would need to admit that the administration is not effectively creating a vigorous, intellectually enticing climate in Hanover. Based on past performance, obviously the Trustees and the administration won’t acknowledge that anyone has done less than a perfect job over the past two decades, right? After all, this is Dartmouth. Everything is awesome. So they blame the weather, etc.
● The end of AP credits. The import of this action is hard to pin down. A little background: since its January 2013 decision, the College is the only Ivy that does not offer some kind of academic credit for AP course work done in high school. We are routinely excoriated for this fact in the national press — as recently as last week. And as a practical matter, by not according AP credits, we make Dartmouth more expensive for incoming students. I wrote about the knock-on effect of this new policy last year on October 14:
Sources tell me that Admissions regularly receives skeptical questions about the new AP policy from potential applicants to the College. In fact, the Admissions staff agrees that applicants do not seem half as interested in our campus life issues as they are in the fact that we don’t give credit for any AP work. They also perceive that this new policy is hurting us especially among many of the best prepared applicants.
Sounds like a twofer to me: the AP decision has us losing interest among students who are sensitive to the high price of a college education and who have worked hard enough in high school to amass a large number of AP credits.
The whole AP policy change was an example of administrative incompetence: the faculty was repeatedly told that the modification to our traditional approach would put us in line with the other Ivies. That assertion was patently untrue. We are now paying the price.
● A >$60k Price Tag: Setting prices is an art and a science. Sometimes passing a magic price point can have an entirely disproportionate effect on customers. When the College vaulted over the $60,000/year price level — becoming the only Ivy other than Columbia over $60k, and making Dartmouth cost $3,000-$5,000 more per year than HYP — the families of high school students might have reached a tipping point about the College: why pay so much money to go to a place with so many problems?
● Tight-fisted financial aid. The word is getting out there, especially to high school college counselors, that the College’s financial aid program is the worst in the Ivies. As we noted in September last year, a family with an income of $150k would have to fork over about $20k/year more at Dartmouth than at HYP, and more, though not that much more, than at the other Ivy schools.
● Difficulty of Admission. As the College ramps up the number of places in the incoming class allocated to early decision students (up in the last four years from 35% to 40% of the matriculating class), the number of spots remaining for regular applicants falls proportionately. When you add to this observation the slots that the College reserves for special groups — students of color, recruited athletes, legacies, international students, and first-generation-to-college students — the number of spaces left for high school students whose parents went to college, but not to Dartmouth; who are white; who have always lived in the U.S.; who are not the children of Dartmouth Trustees or large donors or prominent alumni or senior staff members; and and who are not varsity athletes, is pretty small indeed. Yet students with this profile today make up the majority of high-achieving college applicants.
Alumni complain of working hard to generate interest in Dartmouth, only to see nobody at all admitted from their area, even though many of the same students are accepted at other Ivies. At a certain point, the word gets around that there is no room in Hanover for most top students. As one admissions officer mentioned to me, the local chatter about Dartmouth in many high schools is that “regular, well-rounded white kids don’t get in.” That perception is supported by the fact that this year more people of color (37%) and students applying for financial aid (70%) applied to the College than ever before. Given that total applications dropped by 14%, a fortiori the number of Caucasian students from privileged families fell even more than that figure.
Finally, the fact that the College is need-blind for international students — the only Ivy outside of HYP to have adopted this policy — has generated a surge over recent years of applications from China, India and Korea. When few applicants were actually admitted from these countries, international applications fell 20% in 2013. Regrettably, the Admissions department does not tell us what % of total applications come from abroad.
● Miscellaneous Ideas. Some readers have pointed to the Admissions department’s uninspired, one-step-behind-everyone-else, marketing efforts, but this point fails to explain the precipitous 14% drop. Lackluster marketing is nothing new from McNutt. It did not turn the tide in the last two years.
Other readers have suggested that the College’s admissions form requires more essays than other Ivies. That is just not true, though we do require a peer evaluation. In fact, HYP and Brown have more demanding supplements than the materials that Dartmouth requires beyond the Common App.
Conclusion: As an entrepreneurial businessman, I make decisions based on a lot less information than required by academics. Do I make more wrong decisions as a result? Certainly. But I make far more correct ones, too. At the end of the day, the balance is in my favor. To my mind, the bad press and the AP-credit error bear the greatest weight in the applications drop, a fall that will in all likelihood continue next year when our U.S. News ranking drops in September. However, the good news is that the problems advanced in this post as reasons for the 14% decline can all be fixed by a determined College administration. Does Phil have the necessary determination?
Addendum: A reader asks if the drop in admissions applications was evenly weighted between men and women — with the thought that perhaps women were shying away from the College due to stories in the press. I responded that according to the Admissions department, applications were evenly split between men and women. He commented further:
I have heard female students consistently say that they would not encourage their brothers to come here because they would not want them to be changed by the cultural aspects, such that they become more like the perpetrators at Dartmouth that go unpunished. So, you still could see a somewhat equal decline, by gender, for that reason.
One other thought on the gender issue: if you are a male, you are tainted by the bad press that the perpetrators bring to the institution, even though, of course, the great majority are completely innocent. Why take on that “taint” when you can go elsewhere and not be affected by that bad connotation?
Addendum: Another alum writes in with a couple of comments:
I would also add that the new AP credit policy not only makes Dartmouth more expensive, but it limits academic flexibility. Because I came to Dartmouth with some AP credits, I could have graduated my senior winter. While I appreciate how nice that would have been, instead I took a couple of terms of two courses, focusing on independent study, research with professors, and thesis work. These were two of my most intense and academically stimulating terms, and they would not have been possible under the new policy.
In other news, I’ve moved to the Midwest since graduation, and I find the weather excuse from Prez Phil, Maria, and the PR Machine to be laughable. A 20% drop in applications from this region cannot possibly be attributed to Hanover’s winter. I can assure you that the Hanover winter is almost tropical compared to what Midwestern high schoolers experience.
Addendum: An undergraduate shares a few interesting ideas:
Just wanted to give an undergrad’s thoughts on the 14% drop, specifically about the supplemental essay. Yes, it is true we require far less demanding supplements than that of HYP/Brown. However, in previous years, applicants who already had completed their Common App could, within a few minutes, easily apply to Dartmouth, as there was no supplemental essay at all. Any busy high school senior (qualified or not) who otherwise would not have thought of applying to Dartmouth during regular decision could try their chances of admissions at our Ivy without spending time and effort perfecting an extra essay for Dartmouth. This year was the first application year where a supplemental essay was required for all applicants. Not to be a cynic, but I think you underestimate the decisions that teenagers make when they are confronted with an extra essay that increases burden of completing an application. Whereas reputation and AP credits do factor into decisions to apply, it’s pretty intuitive that more work involved in applying (i.e. another essay) means less students will take the effort to apply, directly lowering admissions numbers.
Drawing out the implications of the supplemental essay, you could say that those high school seniors who didn’t think they were qualified enough to apply (but would’ve applied in previous years just to see how they’d fare in admissions) would choose not to apply this year given the extra costs of the supplemental essay. Additionally, seniors who knew they were qualified but chose not to apply given the extra time and effort of writing an essay for a College they had little interest in (due to AP credits, reputational effects due to bad PR) would not apply as well. These non-applicants would probably be composed of students who apply to a large number of colleges during regular decision, since these students would be the ones who, before this year, would simply add Dartmouth to their list of colleges that they could easily apply to without any additional effort. And which subset of applicants can afford to send out applications to so many different colleges? If you say the richer students, then I propose that maybe this is one explanation that more students are applying for financial aid this year (70%), which also correlates with your analysis about the number of Caucasian students from privileged families falling even more than the overall admissions decrease.
This obviously won’t fully account for the 14% drop (and it might just be a coincidence with no evidence of causation), but the introduction of the supplemental essay is a minor factor that you shouldn’t discredit so quickly. It’s just a shame that the Admissions Office would introduce a supplemental essay that clearly disincentivizes students from applying to Dartmouth right as we’re in the middle of a PR nightmare and AP credit fiasco. The only positive I can see from this is that we will be receiving applications from students who put in the extra effort to apply here, which could marginally increase the yield (and this, of course, is subject to other confounding factors as well). Lastly, from my personal experience on campus this term, it seems like more undergraduates are talking about the change in the supplemental essay (and are perhaps more perceptive of teenage laziness and its effects) than the faculty and administration. It just really boggles my mind when the administration starts blaming the weather without acknowledging other minor year-to-year changes that could actually result in tangible effects on admissions.
Addendum: An insider gives a different perspective on the subject of application essays.
Thought I’d provide a little more context to the discussion on how Dartmouth’s supplement may have affected the applicant numbers this year. First of all, it’s not quite accurate to say that Dartmouth “introduced” a new supplementary essay this year. In fact, the Common Application removed a 150-word “Activity essay” that had always been part of the application this year, and gave universities the choice of whether or not they’d still require it. This essay was often a factor in the selection process, and I was disappointed to see the Common App remove it. Dartmouth, like many schools, elected to keep the activity essay as a required part of its application. Dartmouth made its word limit 250; other schools asked for shorter or longer essays. But as this essay is so common, it’s almost certain that at least a few schools on a student’s college list would already ask for it, and students could simply use the same exact one for Dartmouth if they so chose.
Addendum: Another reader puts an idea out there:
Just thought I’d give my two cents on the drop in applications. One thing that has been overlooked was the Greek house ban for freshmen during the first 6 weeks of the term. During this period, freshmen literally had nothing to do on Friday and Saturday nights. They ended up drinking hard liquour in tiny dorm parties which 8 or 10 kids would attend. During this time, they were inevitably talking to their friends who were still in high school who might be thinking about applying to Dartmouth. Why would anyone choose to apply to Dartmouth when the only thing you’re hearing about the school is how miserable the social scene here is. Couldn’t possibly account for the entire drop, but I’m sure it made some difference…
Let’s get analytical about the theories flying about as to why admissions applications to the College dropped by a hefty 14% this year, when all of the Ivies were up, some of them substantially (save for a 2% drop at Harvard and a 1.5% drop at Columbia). As Bloomberg noted, 14% is the single biggest year-on-year admissions decline at Dartmouth in 21 years, and the only reduction in applicants in the previous decade other than last year’s 3% decrease. So what caused the change? The College put forth several justifications, and Dartblog’s readers have not been shy in advancing their own ideas. Let’s review the College’s thoughts first:
● Hanover’s rural location. This point was mentioned in the College’s silly press release, and Phil noted it during his remarks at the recent Club Officers meetings. Uh, Phil, this is a transparently bad explanation. For example, although Cornell is only about an hour’s drive from beautiful Syracuse, it is, in fact, almost four hours from NYC and from Philadelphia. Dartmouth is two hours from Boston. I don’t think that several thousand people only realized this ground truth last year, after ignoring it for decades.
● The cold New Hampshire winter. The winters were cold in Hanover over the last 245 years, and they were cold between 2004 and 2012, too, when the number of applicants to the College doubled. Phil, You embarrass yourself and the College when you mention this fact as an explication for institutional failure.
● The demographic shift of the American population towards the Southwest. Geez, the College might as well mention the shifting of the tectonic plates as a rationalization for the 14% drop, too. Did New England lose 14% of its population this year? Why would the slight annual movement of Americans to the Southwest affect us more than the rest of the Ivies, all of whom, I’m told, are also located in depopulating New England.
Frankly, these three explanations don’t even meet the straight-face test. You could just as well cite global warming, sunspots, El Niňo, the bad economy and the dysfunctional Congress as reasons for Dartmouth’s declining number of applications. When you have a consistent pattern of behavior under given conditions, and then the behavior changes markedly even though the conditions in question remain the same, it is a pretty good assumption that the unvarying conditions did not cause the change. Who came up with these ideas? Maria and the folks in admissions?
The only plausible explanation for such nonsense is that the above points are reasons why people, in general, might not apply to Dartmouth — that is, year in and year out, these observations might explain why people would choose to go to other schools. But they are in no way relevant to why we had a unique-in-the-Ivies 14% decline in admissions this year. Why did so many people, who would ordinarily have applied to the College this past year, not apply? That’s the question Phil and Maria should be trying to answer.
We’ll move on to intellectually valid explanations tomorrow.
Addendum: A reader wrote in to note that Phil also mentioned, “the rising popularity of pre-professional programs in the wake of the financial crisis, that may be playing a substantial role” in the decline of applications to the College. Given the College’s fine Economics department, and the fact that other Ivies have not lost applicants to such programs, we can consign this argument to the dustbin of history, too.
The Bored@Baker website takes a great deal of grief, and with good reason, for some of the opinions expressed on it, but it is also a forum for the kind of forthright comment that is unexpressible (without angry, bitter rebuke) in public at the College these days, to wit:
Here are details of the Freedom Budget.
The sanctions imposed on TDX by Dean Johnson have been slightly reduced after a lengthy series of disciplinary procedures. You can read all about it in Charlotte’s 14-page decision — a legalistic missive that took way too many people much too much time to draft, but I guess that they have little else to do in their overpaid time.
Of greater interest is the letter’s summary of the initial charges against TDX (some were determined to be groundless or unprovable for lack of evidence) . If these “violations” are the kind of thing that can land Greek houses in trouble, then it is clear the administration is on a zero-tolerance warpath against the frats. Can any house on campus not have been guilty of at least of few of these infractions within the last few weeks?
What are the houses going to be charged with next? Jaywalking? Bringing books back late to Baker? Having a College chair in a private room?
Addendum: A great many TDX alumni wrote to Phil Hanlon to protest the capricious prosecution of their fraternity. Phil responded to each of them with the same content-free letter:
The D ran a story yesterday that had to leave private-sector business executives laughing:
The payroll office and the campus finance centers are implementing the employee time management system, which transfers all hourly paid campus staff and students to an electronic platform.
Up until recently, as Dartblog described in 2010, many Dartmouth staff members would fill in their timesheets by hand, drop them into campus collection boxes, and the information on those paper sheets would then be transcribed into the College’s accounting software by a team of six diligent data-entry specialists (possibly the most boring job on the planet). Of course, the potential for error was huge, as was the potential for, ahem, inaccuracy on the part of employees who entered their own hours.
In my own business, employees swipe a card through a reader when they arrive at work, and that swipe goes straight into software that calculates their paycheck every two weeks. We’ve been using this method of recording employees’ hours since we opened the doors in 1998. Of course, the technology has been out there for much longer. ADP and Paychex are two of the huge payroll processing companies that do timesheets and produce pay checks for most companies in America.
Addendum: Yale switched to electronic timesheets a decade ago.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…