Blogs > Cliopatria > On the Dartmouth Front

Feb 21, 2005 5:11 pm


On the Dartmouth Front



The Weekly Standard has an interesting piece on pending trustee elections at Dartmouth, where two insurgent candidates are standing against the slate selected by the Alumni Association. The platform of one, Peter Robinson, captures the essence of the insurgents' agenda: excellence in undergraduate education; freedom of speech on campus; and improving the Dartmouth athletic program.

As a Harvard grad who's a fan of Columbia athletics, I can't say that I favor the third of Robinson's planks. But the first two certainly deserve support. Dartmouth has one of the worst records of any major campus on issues relating to free speech. Perhaps because of its geographic isolation and the relative lack of diversity in surrounding areas, Dartmouth administrators have regularly sought to impose a rigid form of ideological conformity on campus. Meanwhile, the Dartmouth Review, perhaps the highest profile conservative student newspaper in the country, has just as consistently pushed the envelope against political correctness, creating an atmosphere of low-level, but continuous, confrontation on campus. The election of Robinson and his fellow insurgent, Todd Zywicki, might provide some pressure from above on administrators to promote free inquiry on campus.

The Dartmouth story is particularly notable in light of the AAUP's establishment on its website of a special page denouncing"political intrusions into the academy.""The freedom to teach and learn and the freedom to discover and convey knowledge," the organization declares,"are fundamental to the common good of this society and, indeed, of any free society." The two threats to these freedoms detected by AAUP? Bills promoting academic freedom of students and congressional calls for an oversight board to monitor expenditures of Title VI funds, which help pay for Middle East Studies programs around the country.

The latter complaint, as I've noted before, is indefensible: the AAUP's position amounts to saying that professors, alone among recipients of government aid, should be entitled to receive taxpayer dollars free from any oversight.

As to the former concern, I would be much more sympathetic to the AAUP's position if the organization suggested ways short of government intrusion to deal with the internal threats in the academy to"the freedom to teach and learn and the freedom to discover and convey knowledge." Instead, the organization has steadfastly maintained that no problem exists regarding intellectual diversity in the academy. From a tactical angle, pretending that there's no problem all but invites intervention from the outside--whether from potential trustees like Robinson, or from legislators backing academic bills of rights.

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