The Problem with Dartmouth

Linda Chavez

4/18/2014 12:01:00 AM - Linda Chavez
Dartmouth College has a problem. Protestors occupied the president's office at the Ivy League school a couple of weeks ago and demanded more "womyn or people of color" faculty, coverage of sex-change operations on the student health plan, and "gender-neutral bathrooms," among other things. Now Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon has responded with a call "to end the extreme behaviors that are in conflict with our mission."

But Hanlon's aim seems focused almost exclusively on the campus fraternity system, and his solution -- a committee to look into "high-risk drinking, sexual assault and inclusivity" -- appears more a way to appease those who engaged in the sit-in than to confront genuine problems at the school.

Let me be clear. Binge drinking is a huge issue on campuses across the country, and fraternity hazing can be cruel and dangerous. But fraternities are not, by and large, the cause of the breakdown of civil and responsible behavior at Dartmouth or other colleges.

Dartmouth could ban fraternities tomorrow, and students would still get plastered every weekend, and young women would still wake up after drunken hookups feeling like they've been assaulted (and they aren't entirely wrong). What's more, minority students who've been admitted with lower grades and test scores through misguided affirmative action programs would still feel alienated and find themselves the objects of unfortunate stereotyping.

Last year, the National Association of Scholars issued a scathing report on similar goings-on at another elite school, Bowdoin College in Maine. Like Dartmouth, Bowdoin considers itself a progressive school with a mission to embrace "diversity" and tolerance. But as the report documented, Bowdoin's own policies have done much to set the stage for the behaviors administrators there say they deplore.

According to the NAS study, "Sex and drinking loom very large in student culture at Bowdoin -- and elsewhere," and the authors spent significant time and care in detailing the result. What they found was that hooking up -- defined as "physical contact with no expectation of emotional attachment or continuing social relationship" -- was endemic. And the school, by promoting sexual license with no social stigma or normative standards through heavily sexualized student orientation sessions and in the curriculum, made things worse. "Sexual freedom at Bowdoin results in sex that is frequent but often impersonal, mechanistic, acquisitive and accompanied by consumption of large amounts of alcohol," the study notes.

Bowdoin's president, Barry Mills, stonewalled the report and criticism. But a year later, he has announced he is leaving Bowdoin. Dartmouth's Hanlon should read the report and take note. Bowdoin banned fraternities years ago, but binge drinking and sexual assaults didn't disappear along with the Greek system. The study is an indictment of the permissive culture that obtains not just at Bowdoin, but at most elite schools (and not a few less competitive ones) nationwide.

Dartmouth has seen a large decline in applications over the past year, down 14 percent. That's probably a good thing. Maybe it means that parents as well as prospective students are rethinking the allure of a school that marries a party atmosphere to political correctness. The cure, however, is not more sensitivity training and gender-neutral bathrooms.

If Dartmouth wants to curb drinking, how about a policy that says any underage student found with a blood alcohol level of .05 will be put on suspension and a second infraction will result in expulsion -- and mandatory expulsion for any student who provides alcohol to someone underage? Harsh, yes -- but you can bet students would be a lot more careful about their drinking habits.

As for assault, stop the drinking, and there will be fewer sexual assaults. But it also would help if student orientation sessions that emphasize the importance of consent in sexual relations spent some time exploring the negative consequences of hooking up. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease aren't the only things students should be protected against. The promiscuous culture rampant on university campuses leads to a coarser atmosphere and diminished happiness.

There was a time in American education when educators felt comfortable in passing along moral values to the young. Now the only thing they seem to know how to do is pass on platitudes about inclusivity.