The Latest Posts

Emily Esfahani Smith ‘09 had a review (pdf) yesterday in the Wall Street Journal of William Deresiewicz’ book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite. A fuller treatment of the book’s themes can by found in a dialogue between Harvard’s Harry Lewis (author of Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?) and Deresiewicz in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Excellent Sheep.jpg

The book recalls for me a work by one of my professors at Yale Law, Tony Kronman, entitled Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life.

I hope to review the book anon.

Jim Aronson3.jpgThe Scarlett Johansson movie Lucy is in theaters at the moment, and the film refers several times to the female Australopithecus afarensis, the putative first human, discovered several decades ago in Ethiopia, whose age was determined to be over three million years. A little reading was in order.

It turns out that Lucy’s age was determined using samples recovered and methods refined by recently retired Professor of Earth Sciences Jim Aronson. No less an authority than Wikipedia reports:

Lucy Skeleton.jpgThe Lucy fossil was dated reliably in 1990-1992 by applying the argon-argon radiometric dating method to the volcanic ash surrounding it. Initial attempts were made in 1974 to estimate the age of the fossil using the potassium-argon radiometric dating method in James Aronson’s laboratory at CWRU, now moved to Dartmouth. These efforts by Maurice Taieb and Aronson were hindered by the scarcity of datable crystals, the fact that the volcanic rocks in the area of concern were chemically altered or reworked, and the complete absence of pumice clasts at Hadar. Lucy’s skeleton occurs in the part of the Hadar sequence that accumulated with the fastest rate of deposition, which partly accounts for her excellent preservation. The older ash was about 18 m below the fossil and the younger ash only 1 m below, closely indicating her age of deposition.

Fieldwork at Hadar was suspended in the winter of 1976-1977. When it resumed thirteen years later in 1990, the more precise argon-argon technology had been improved by Derek York from the University of Toronto. In 1990-1992, two suitable samples of ash found by Aronson and Robert Walter [Aronson’s 1980 PhD student, and long-time research colleague] were argon-argon dated by Walter at 3.22 and 3.18 million years in the geochronology laboratory of the Institute of Human Origins.

Note: the field photo above of the various recovered parts of Lucy’s skeleton was taken by Jim in 1974.

A story goes that back in the day, when Jim was asked his occupation, he would reply, “I date older women.”

Addendum: Curiously enough, when Jim retired two months ago, the praise that he received at the faculty meeting elided his professional achievements:

Aronson came to Dartmouth as a research professor in the Department of Earth Sciences in 1998, and has been a dedicated and active member of the department, as both a teacher and a contributor to departmental business, throughout his relatively short time at the College, said Associate Professor W. Brian Dade, chair of the Department of Earth Sciences.

“Jim is warmly regarded by not only his departmental colleagues, but as well by a generation of Dartmouth earth science majors for his breadth of knowledge of all things geological, as well as his upbeat personality, humility, natural curiosity, and his endearingly nonlinear thought process,” Dade said.

Dade said in Aronson, the idea that a person encompasses all the stages of their life experience is especially evident.

“In a single conversation, he could be an absent-minded professor wondering where he parked his car, a gray-beard sage sharing hard-won wisdom, a mature student of nature with the inquiring mind and vigor of a mid-career scientist at the peak of his powers, or an exuberant child experiencing things for the first time with wonder and amazement,” Dade said.

Someone should have done better homework. Isn’t Dartmouth a research university in all but name?

No alcohol.gifWord is floating around campus that the administration might try to ban hard liquor (anything other than beer and wine) when the new social life rules are announced in the fall. Such a policy would follow the lead of Maine colleges like Colby, Bates and Bowdoin.

The idea is an interesting one for it seems to understand that the most significant change at the College over the last few decades has been the increasing prevalence of hard liquor on campus. Beer ruled the social world in my day, but as I have written before, when the administration outlawed fraternity taps serving fresh beer from kegs, the move led directly to pre-gaming with strong drink that could be easily smuggled into dorms (a bottle of vodka more easily evades the prying eyes of UGAs and S&S than sixpacks).

Such an idea might work if it were the object of a Grand Bargain between students and the Dean of the College’s office: students would accept and self-enforce a ban on the hard stuff in exchange for the return of taps at Greek houses (with no limits on the amount of beer served at parties — limits that are routinely cheated on today anyways) and permission to bring beer into dorms. S&S would stop interdicting such supply missions, and UGAs would not report beer/wine drinking by students (though UGAs could enforce the hard liquor ban).

Such a solution might not satisfy teatotalling absolutists, but it could lead to a reduction in incidences of blackout drunkenness and the myriad problems that result from severe incapacitation. It’s a lot harder to get loaded on beer (most beers fall between Keystone’s 4.2% and Bud’s 5.0%) and wine (12.5% to 15%) than on vodka/whiskey/rum (usually 40%).

One surprising counter-argument — at least for me — to the above idea is that women seem to prefer hard liquor to beer because vodka and other distilled drinks contain no carbs (a 12oz. can of Keystone Light has 5g); alcohol has a similar number of calories by volume whatever the vehicle used to convey it.

I wonder if the administration has the nerve to propose such a idea. Nitpicking critics will rail against the return of taps, to be sure, but the quid pro quo might be the basis for real progress.

Addendum: Memo to the IFC and Panhell: Go to Dean Ameer and propose this idea to her before she proposes it to you. You take ownership that way.

Addendum: An attentive reader writes in:

Your “Grand Bargain” essay is a good one. Some of the fraternities, like “TDX,” have had policies of not serving hard alcohol for some time. As your correctly point out, pre-gaming is a huge problem. If the College allowed the same social activity to occur in the dorms that it allows in College-owned sororities, then it would make the campus less dependent on the Greek system.

Lastly, President Hanlon should rename his initiative “Moving Dartmouth Backward”, as he is just rehashing the same hackneyed ideas of the Freedman/Wright student life initiatives.

I find it incredible that the College wants to promote experiential learning except when it comes to life skills, in which case it just wants to tell students what it thinks the answers are. Either Hanlon has no confidence that the College can help teach these skills or he believes the College is admitting students incapable of learning them.

Addendum: A rising junior adds a comment:

What prompted me to finally write in after keeping my opinions to myself was your post on banning hard alcohol. I have attended a few events this summer aimed at getting the Greeks’ perspective heard by the Steering Committee. One of my group of friends’ main ideas, one which we have expresses to members of the committee countless times, is to institute an open-door pregame policy in the dorms similar to the policy at Stanford and Vanderbilt. The idea is to only allow beer and wine at pregames, while having a policy in which UGAs can monitor the levels of drinking at the party with no repercussions for the students drinking (which they are going to do, no matter what the College says or does).

This plan cuts out hard alcohol in dorms where most of the reckless drinking is done anyways. Hard alcohol in Greek houses is less of a problem, as it is typically only in private rooms and thus generally out of S&S’s ever-watchful patrols. It seems like a no-brainer to institute this open-door policy, along with making sororities go local. The Greek system has to fix a social system that is entirely dependent on Greek houses to host parties, taking on all the risk, while getting yelled at with charges of exclusivity if steps to minimize risk, such as guest lists, are imposed.

Many of our ideas have been expressed to the committee, and we recognize changes must be made. However, the amount that they take our suggestions into account will surely shape the response by the students. We’ll see what the committee suggests (most likely on the day after The D stops publishing for the fall, before the six-week break with no students around to protest and before the winter term with one third fewer students than a normal term, so they can make these sweeping changes with as little backlash as possible).

Sorry to rant, but I feel like these are commonly held beliefs around the Greek community.

Though The D hasn’t written a word about Andrew Lohse ‘12 for many months (at least as far as I can tell; the paper’s website search function is still a mess), his memoir is receiving plenty of attention in the national press. See reviews, extended comments, and excerpts in Rolling Stone, the NY Post, the UK’s Daily Mail, Cosmo, and Newsweek.


More than a few people in attendance two weeks ago at the Bones Gate presentation on preventing sexual assault commented on the thoughtful questions and the mild demeanor of the brothers present there. The mood was no surprise to me; however perhaps some folks were expecting raw-meat eating animals and evidence of the “rape culture” that is broadly believed to exist in sticky basements?

I asked a young alumnus who had been a member of a supposedly out-of-control frat for his take on his brothers’ attitude to sexual assault even in their wildest moments. I have known him for several years and trust his integrity completely:

One of the hot topics about higher education these days is the culture. Specifically, much of the focus (outside of hazing) is on the existence of a supposed “rape culture.” The focus of my observations here will be whether or not the common description of the “rape culture” in fraternities discussed by academics (many of whom have never gotten within 50 feet of a fraternity in their lives) is the same as the general culture found in Dartmouth fraternities.

Obviously my experiences will neither confirm nor deny the existence of a generalized “rape culture” at Dartmouth, and my insight can generally only be taken as one alum’s observations based on his experiences in one fraternity. And much of this can only be written about in general terms as time has faded this 10’s detailed memories of the beer-soaked past.

With all of that said, rape jokes or boasting about rape was never a thing that I heard. There was clearly a level of respect and envy given to those young men who prolifically “hooked up” with women whether that meant intercourse or fellatio or “dance floor make-outs.” To a large degree these men were much more celebrated at brotherhood events than men with a wonderful girlfriend whom everyone liked. So, while there was much open praise like, “Congratulations to Bother X for hooking up with this hottie,” there was never, “Congratulations to Brother X who raped Ms. Y.”

Of course such a machismo culture did lead to questionable situations that, when combined with alcohol, surely led to some young women being sexually assaulted. I believe that it is in this way that the “rape culture” is most prevalent at a place like Dartmouth. While there is no active promotion of rape, and if a Bother told the Fraternity that he had forcibly raped a girl, he would likely have been condemned, the constant positive reinforcement and pressure directed at hooking up leads to a consistent search for sexual conquests for many men.

Further, when observing a Brother and a very drunk woman, the common course of action would be to look the other way rather than to inquire about the well-being of the young woman. I think this was driven by a desire for your brothers to be sexually successful and a desire to not be a “cock-block.” One final impact that might be felt was a likelihood to support a brother if he was accused of rape in any situation where the credibility of the parties mattered. About the only thing that could pressure the fraternity into punishing a brother whom a woman accused of rape was if the woman’s sorority threatened to socially punish the fraternity as a whole.

I also never witnessed any overt acts of rape or attempts at rape. For example, I never knew anyone to spike a drink with roofies or any other type of “date rape drug.” However, I did know of brothers who greatly enjoyed urinating in the punch. Gross and unsanitary, yes. Rape, no.

It is important to stop sensationalizing a fictional “rape culture” in order to address the culture and associated behaviors that do exist. Painting fraternity men as animals who constantly joke about rape while plotting rapes with their brothers does no good except to embitter the accused and distract attention from the things that could be fixed.

Lest one be tempted to decry social mores that place a premium on sexual triumph, let’s keep in mind that such a attitude is hardly limited to fraternity brothers, as I noted a few years ago in a post about sororities entitled Girls Just Wanna Have Some.

What to make of this Wall Street Journal article? It announces nothing, but it does seem to put everyone on notice that new policies regarding the Dartmouth Greek system are in the offing:

WSJ Frat Comp.jpg

Is the piece part of a scripted PR campaign to prepare the College for a major fall term announcement about frats? Given the press pieces that I noted yesterday, one could come to that conclusion. Ostensibly policy is still being formulated, but the Trustees have a long history of deciding first and then forming the committee later, so anything is possible.

In any event, before the administration rushes off and abolishes/restructures the 30 houses in the Greek system, we might ask a few questions and note a few facts:

● Membership in Greek houses as risen 27.5% over the past decade (+29.4% for fraternities; +15.4% for sororities; and +17.3% for co-ed houses). Participation in Greek life at the College is at an all-time high today: 67.4% of upperclass students are members (2,213 out of 3,282 eligible students). Students seem to be voting with their feet in favor of Greek houses. How much does the legendary loyalty of Dartmouth alumni have to do with the bonds forged as Greeks?

● Are the statistics for sexual assault, binge drinking and other banned activities lower at schools without an important system of fraternities and sororities, especially ones that have banned Greek life altogether on campus in the past, like Williams and Bowdoin, etc.? If not, one has to seriously wonder about the cause and effect relationship between fraternities and inappropriate behavior. In making major changes, would we be throwing out the baby with the bath water?

● Greek students have GPAs just slightly above the unaffiliated-student average.

● Dartmouth will not have a new Dean of the College to replace the hapless Charlotte Johnson before the summer of 2015 at the very earliest (a search committee has not yet been formed). Is it conceivable that major changes to student life will be enacted this fall without an administrator to oversee them? And how easy will it be to recruit a new Dean if the College is in chaos due to major changes in a central area of student life?

The people who are the most severe critics of the Greek houses often seem to be people who spend no time in them. Let’s hope that this decade’s effort to reform the system is the product of knowledgeable reflection and not animated by ignorance and prejudice.

The Huffington Post put out a breathless headline the other day: Hundreds Call On Dartmouth To Overhaul Its Powerful Greek System. The D was not far behind: Online Suggestions Point to Abolishing Greek Life. Let’s play the same game, but with the opposite goal: Only 0.3% of Dartmouth Community Wants to Abolish Greeks.

Greek Vote.jpgWhere does that tiny number come from? Start with 75,787 alumni; add 3,443 staffers; 1,059 faculty members; and 6,342 students. Those figures sum up to 86,631 members of the Dartmouth community who could vote on the future of frats and sororities.

In fact, fewer than 600 people cast votes on the Moving Dartmouth Forward website as regards the Greek system, and less than half of them (only about 43%) voted to abolish the Greeks. The others has different suggestions. To whose headline should we listen?

The College seems to have a stats problem. For example, negotiations with the Freedom Budgeters seems to be ongoing, but for whom do these 30 or so disgruntled students speak? Not for the student body, that’s for sure. The FBers bore no petitions with thousands of names, nor any other evidence of broad-based support. They speak only for themselves: 30 students out of 6,342. That’s 0.5% — one in two hundred students.

No mandate there either.

Addendum: If the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils wanted to be clever, they could get word out to their members that voting for the preservation of the Greek system would influence the Moving Dartmouth Forward committee. I wonder if a surge in votes in this direction would lead to different headlines in the HuffPost and The D.

While the College was not included in the Princeton Review’s Top 20 LGBT friendly colleges, we did make the Campus Pride Top 50 — with a picture no less in LGBTQNation:

Campus Pride Comp1.jpg

Meanwhile, Forbes ranked the College #10 in the nation in entrepreneurial activity and support:

10 Dartmouth College

Dartmouth’s Entrepreneurial Network (DEN) has provided support for over 500 projects and companies since 2001.

When we found out that Spencer and Sabrina Powers were breeding free-range chickens in addition to selling fresh eggs at Bear Knoll Farm in Canaan, we hustled right over to have a chat and purchase some of their broilers. They raise fast-growing Cornish Crosses in mobile enclosures that they displace every two days, so that their chickens have a fresh stretch of grass — and its associated bugs — to feed upon. Allowing the hens and roosters to live outside and move around results in the best tasting chicken that we have had in a while.

That was last year. This year we went one better and asked the Powers to raise Dorkings for us — a heritage breed of chicken that routinely wins chicken taste competitions. (Take my word on this. I could give you multiple links, but, really, you have better things to do.) Dorkings are like Cornish Crosses that have had a real education: they produce meat with a deep, more complex flavor and a finer texture than any chickens that we have ever had.


From now on, we’ll have the Powers raise about twenty Dorkings for us each summer. Spencer and Sabrina will slaughter them humanely in the fall, freeze them rapidly, and we’ll enjoy them for the rest of the year.

Addendum: Rather than paying a farmer, a distributor and a supermarket for our chicken, we go straight to the source. The Powers family makes a better living, and we eat better chickens. We do the same once a year with beef and maple syrup, and in Europe we buy olive oil and wine directly from producers.

Or already looking for the next big job?

Kim Obama1.jpg

Birds of a feather…

Professor Tom Kurtz introduces a very fine film:

Why is what we did at Dartmouth fifty years ago so great? Well… let me think about it a second. Computing was coming into its own, but in all of the other projects that were undertaken by industry and by universities, the target was research and development computing ideas and so forth, whereas here at Dartmouth we had the crazy idea that our students, our undergraduate students, who were not going to be technically employed later on — social science and humanities students — should learn how to use the computer. A completely nutty idea…

The whole project was governed by the idea of introducing computing to everybody on the Dartmouth campus, or nearly everybody…

Bill Zani Tuck ‘64 observes:

In the fall of ‘64, we were invited to make a presentation at AFIPS [American Federation of Information Processing Societies]. It was a big deal of computer people in San Francisco. There was a room of, maybe, 2,000 people in the room. We hooked up the acoustic coupler with the handset, and we linked the Model 33 teletype to Hanover.

We got the dial tone, and all of this was videotaped on the screen for the audience. And we were entering programs in it, and lo and behold, out comes the answers and shown on the screen. And everybody went bananas on this simple, basic language being compiled and run in San Francisco over ordinary telephone lines in the computers in College Hall [now Collis] in Hanover.

And we were bombarded with questions of what it was. That’s the first time I really got to see the impact of what the Dartmouth Time Sharing had.

Kurtz concludes:

The second thing that was interesting about it was that it was all done by Dartmouth undergraduate students. Nowhere else do I know of in the history of computing has something like this been done.

Sounds a like a great bunch of teachers at a great school, don’t you think? In fact, the film is a remedial education unto itself about the real nature of the old Dartmouth; it is of particular usefulness to people burdened with prejudices about the nature of the College prior to their own arrival on campus.

Addendum: The film was made by Professor Dan Rockmore, the College’s Director of Media Production Mike Murray and filmmaker Bob Drake. It premiered at the College’s “BASIC@50” event on May 1.

The NYT graphs the evolution of the origins of the people living in all 50 states. As everyone knows, the Granite State is being overrun by refugees from Massachusetts:

New Hampshire Population.jpg

We are living through a revolution in the depiction of data. Never in the field of human endeavor can so few charts show so much information about so many people.

In late May, we noted Phil Klay ‘05’s fine essay in the Wall Street Journal — Treat Veterans With Respect, Not Pity. Klay has now published a set of stories about Iraq entitled Redeployment, and David Brooks ‘15 has written two pieces about Klay’s work for Business Insider: a review, This New Book Reveals That War Is Much More Than Combat; and an introduction to the initial chapter of Klay’s book, The First Chapter Of This Book Will Change Your Understanding Of Soldiers In Combat.


In his own review, the New York Times’ Dexter Filkins lauded Klay’s book: “Redeployment is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. The best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls.” George Packer wrote even more fulsomely in The New Yorker:

“Redeployment” is military for “return,” and Klay’s fiction peels back every pretty falsehood and self-delusion in the encounter between veterans and the people for whom they supposedly fought…

Klay, a Dartmouth grad who served in the Marine Corps in Anbar Province during the violent months of the surge, in 2007, is a writer who happened to be a marine—you can imagine him writing well about anything, not just Iraq. His fiction is extremely funny and absolutely serious, his control over language and character so assured that the array of first-person narrators in these dozen stories—combat grunts, a desk-bound officer, a beleaguered State Department official, a Marine chaplain—are all distinct and persuasive.

High praise, indeed, for Klay and the College.

Addendum: Both Klay and Brooks are veterans, a group that is today more broadly represented in the undergraduate student body than at any time since the end of the war in Vietnam — an example of real diversity and a good thing for any number of reasons.

In the Harvard B-School case study of Google, that company’s ten golden rules are listed. In the Dartmouth context, one stood out:

Google Rules Comp.jpg

What could we do at the College to increase interaction between students and faculty, and to free up time for Dartmouth’s highly paid professors to teach, study and do research? Certainly as a matter of management, an effort in that direction should be one of the administration’s top, ongoing goals, don’t you agree?

The answer to that question, and one that will cost no money at all, is to rejigger the parking priorities at the College. Right now parking permits with equal rights are given out to all employees for a small fee. Janitors, administrative assistants and dishwashers can grab any open space on campus just like a full professor. So when hourly workers get to campus early in the morning at the start of the first shift of the day, they can park their cars behind Dartmouth Hall and leave them there for eight hours. When professors later come into town to teach a class, they find the central campus spaces all taken, and they are obliged to wait for a shuttle bus in one of the satellite lots that will eventually deposit them near their offices. Profs will put up with this inefficiency when it comes to teaching classes, but such delays make it hard to justify coming into town to meet with a student, especially when the time spent dealing with parking can exceed the time interacting with an undergraduate.

As a matter of efficiency, it would make sense for the administration to organize a system wherein full professors (many of whom earn $150k/year — almost four times what a janitor earns!) have their time optimized, even if some inefficiency is added to the life of a janitor (or other hourly worker). There is no shame in accepting that professors do more valuable work at the College than other employees — that’s why we pay them more. As Google opines about its élite engineers, steps should be taken to cater to professors’ every need.

The folks at Google would consider this question a no-brainer, as we used to say at Bain, and accord central campus parking privileges to the faculty. That the College does not do so is an example of egalitarian obtuseness that places a misguided ideology of equality over the goal of excellence in education.

Addendum: I’ve written about this subject before (here and here). One day someone somewhere in the administration is going to realize that a change of policy will not only free up faculty time in the service of education, it will also make professors deliriously happy. Is the latter a priority at the College? If it isn’t now, it should be.

Lisa Paige, Ph.D., who graduated from Harvard in 1980 and describes herself as a founder of the national coalition of alumni/ae working to end on-campus sexual assault, has written a piece in the Women’s Enew blog entitled My Acquaintance Rapist Finally Figured It Out. In addition to telling her own story, she details efforts underway at other schools to combat assault, before focusing on Dartmouth’s recent conference on the subject:

WE News.jpg

How interesting that other schools don’t want to follow the College’s lead. Methinks that the issue is not the $200,000 that Ms. Paige asserts was the cost of Dartmouth’s conference. Rather, nobody wants to challenge Dartmouth for the title of the nation’s rape school. Of course, Phil Hanlon doesn’t see things that way, as he said in an article in The Washington Post:

Asked whether he also worries about shining a spotlight on Dartmouth’s troubles, Hanlon said students and parents should take heart that the college is mobilizing to address its problems.

“These are issues everywhere,” Hanlon said. “A prospective student or parent should be concerned if a campus is not talking about them.”

To my mind, Phil is showing a mathematician’s sensitivity to the shaping of public opinion. His logical mind leads him to believe the public will applaud the College for assertively fighting assault, when, in fact, people will simply conclude that the problem is worse in Hanover than elsewhere; they’ll think that is the reason why Dartmouth is especially worried about assault. As I have said, the administration should have enlisted the seven other Ivies as co-sponsors of the recent conference. We missed an opportunity there.



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