Making Change in New Hampshire

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Friday, April 25, 2014

Making Change in New Hampshire

"Dartmouth [College] 'being hijacked by extreme behavior' on campus" said the April 17 headline in the Washington Post. Dartmouth's reputation as a party school is catching up with it. According to the article, that's having an impact on the school's reputation and application numbers, that is, on it's pocketbook. "It's time," says Philip J. Hanlon, the college's president, "for Dartmouth to change."

"The list of offenses is familiar," said Hanlon in a speech. "From sexual assaults on campusto a culture where dangerous drinking has become the rule and not the exceptionto a general disregard for human dignity as exemplified by hazing, parties with racist and sexist undertones, disgusting and sometimes threatening insults hurled on the a social scene that is too often at odds with the practices of inclusion that students are right to expect on a college campus in 2014."

As a contemporary of Hanlon's, I know as well as he does that his list of offenses is the same old list (with the exception of the internet) from when he and I were in college. Having one glass of wine before dinner at Bates College circa 1976 was considered very strange behavior since drinking to access was the rule. Freshmen women found out early in the fall that the price of a date was sex lest the word get out that they were chaste causing their social life to come to an abrupt end. The behavior Hanlon criticizes is hardly news and even then Dartmouth had a reputation for being over the top.

Nevertheless, Hanlon went on, "The actions I have detailed are antithetical to everything that we stand for and hope for our students to be." I'm sure the administrators at Bates, if pressed, would have said the same thing, but as long as no one was injured or killed and as long as the city police weren't called, they made no effort to change the prevailing campus culture or student behavior. And apparently until just recently no one at Dartmouth did either.

Are changes long over due? Absolutely. Will they happen? Some might, but Hanlon is probably fighting a losing battle. "There is a grave disconnect between our culture in the classroom and the behaviors outside of it--behaviors which too often seek not to elevate the human spirit, but to debase it."

While I take it for granted that most if not all the classes at Dartmouth are a few cuts above drunken orgies, this last comment sent me to my bookshelves to find C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man (a book that, along with Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons should be on Dr. Hanlon's reading list). As Lewis demonstrates, there is no disconnect at all. Classroom culture and the frat party culture of "extreme behavior" fit together perfectly.

What do students learn in the classrooms at Dartmouth? Do they learn about the human spirit based on natural law? Do they learn that there are moral absolutes and virtues that ought to govern our behavior? Do they learn that human dignity comes from the fact that all humans are created in the image of God? Or do they learn that there is no truth, that the greatest value is choices made by autonomous individuals, and that morality, gender, truth claims, and culture are mere social constructs to be regarded with suspicion as power-plays by would-be oppressors?

Unless things in Dartmouth's classrooms are radically different than what goes on in most college classrooms, students (who have been exposed to pornography from, on average, eleven years of age) are repeatedly told that truth, virtue, and morality are just cultural constructs with no more substance than a passing breeze. Then they leave the classroom and act like barbarians. It is precisely what we should expect.

C. S. Lewis summed it up in The Abolition of Man: "And all the time--such is the tragi-comedy of our situation--we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible.... In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

"It is time for Dartmouth to change," says Hanlon. I agree, but without a change of worldview in the classroom the only solution left will be a change to a police state outside the classroom and that's a change we can all do without.

Publication date: April 25, 2014