Congratulations to Stephen Smith! In our April issue, we reported on the candidacy of Mr. Smith, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, who was running against three other Dartmouth alumni for a spot on the Dartmouth Board of Trustees. On May 17, the college announced the results of the election: Mr. Smith won handily, with 55 percent of the vote. This is good news for Dartmouth—good news, too, for American higher education—though we doubt that it is being much celebrated by the Dartmouth administration, which quietly but inexorably opposed Mr. Smith’s election. Why? Because Mr. Smith was an independent candidate, not groomed by the Dartmouth administration, and one, moreover, who had declared himself critical of administrative bloat and curricular errancy. “The administration,” Mr. Smith wrote in one of his position papers, “is on a path that rewards administrators at the expense of faculty—and to the detriment of undergraduates.” We have no doubt that this is true, but how do you suppose such frank talk plays in the administrative chambers of the college?

Dartmouth has an unusual board structure that more colleges and universities might well take as a model. Eight of its eighteen members are nominated by college alumni. This near majority means that alumni—an important source of moral as well as material support for any college—potentially have a significant voice in the governance of the college. In the past, the winning candidate had almost always been sanctioned by the college administration. In 2004, that changed, when T. J. Rodgers, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, ran and won as a “petition,” i.e., an independent, candidate. He was followed in close order by Todd Zywicki and Peter Robinson. The Dartmouth board now had a nucleus of independent members willing to question the collegiate status quo—which, at Dartmouth as at other institutions of American higher education, meant a situation in which the dictates of political correctness and administrative fiat generally triumphed.

With the election of Mr. Smith, independent thinking at Dartmouth receives an important boost. Dartmouth is now poised to become a national leader in addressing some of the manifold blights that have affected liberal arts education in America, not only administrative hypertrophy but also the intellectual and moral banes that congregate under the rubrics of political correctness and multiculturalism. In the last few decades, the academy has mutated from being an ivory tower into a hermetic and increasingly ideological redoubt. As such, it exists not so much apart from as in opposition to society at large, effectively insulated from public scrutiny by institutions such as tenure and by boards that function partly as human ATM-machines and partly as exalted vassals for administrations whose educational directives they neither understand nor, in most cases, really care about. At Dartmouth, concerned alumni have thrown open a window in this rank edifice. We suspect that the salubrious breezes that follow will freshen the halls of learning far beyond the confines of Hanover, New Hampshire.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25 Number 10, on page 1
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