The Blog

Bucking the Deans at Dartmouth

A new challenge to the university monolith on the hill.

11:00 PM, Feb 20, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

WHEN WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY founded National Review in 1955 at the age of 29, he lit the fire that sparked the modern conservative movement. Buckley had already achieved notoriety--if not celebrity--with the publication of God and Man at Yale in 1951. He attacked the undergraduate education on offer at Yale for its hostility to Christianity and its adulation of collectivism and sought to dispel the indifference of Yale alumni to their supervisory responsibility, calling on them to grasp the nettle of university governance.

Yale was, of course, only the example which laid closest to Buckley's hand. Mutatis mutandis, as Buckley himself might say, he undoubtedly could have written the same book about any of America's most prestigious universities. In the ensuing decades the conservative movement as a whole has experienced successes that must exceed even Buckley's visionary imagination. Yet the university remains untouched by Buckley's call to action. In fact, it understates matters considerably to say that circumstances on campus have not improved since 1951.

University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and Harvard president Lawrence Summers have recently served to illustrate the absurd conditions that prevail in the university. Churchill is the tenured professor of "ethnic studies" producing bogus scholarship and anti-American vitriol in roughly equal measure. He appears to have qualified for his post on the basis of a claim to Indian lineage that turns out to have been of the cigar-store variety. In the meantime, Churchill has become a campus celebrity who speaks before enthusiastic student audiences. Academic bystanders refrain from passing judgment, instead waving the banner of academic freedom.

On the other hand, President Summers can testify to the powerful taboos enforced on university campuses. For the sin of offering informed speculation about possible gender-based differences giving rise to the numerical disparities between men and women "in high-end scientific professions," Summers has been subjected to a ferocious reeducation campaign.

In the film Cool Hand Luke, prison authorities sought to maintain order by teaching the film's hero to "get [his] mind right." Luke refused to conform and met with an unhappy ending. President Summers is not as hard a case as Luke; he has quickly set out to prove to the faculty that he has got his mind right all on his own. The success of his efforts, however, remains in doubt; conformity may not be enough. The faculty is not as easily appeased as Luke's keepers.

The adversary culture that has been widely institutionalized and ruthlessly enforced in the university is so out of step with the rest of America that it is perhaps time to wonder whether it can survive the publicity it has received in recent weeks. Next month's election of two trustees to the Dartmouth College board may provide a portent.

LAST YEAR Cypress Semiconductor chief executive officer T.J. Rodgers waged a successful insurgent campaign--the first in 24 years--for election to the Dartmouth board against three candidates selected by the alumni council nominating committee. Rodgers leans libertarian and shuns characterization on the left-right divide; he says he was motivated to run by "the degradation of freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly . . . at [Dartmouth] today." Rodgers initially promoted his candidacy via a website and mailed alumni to solicit signatures (500 are required) to have his name placed in nomination for election to the board.

This year the alumni council nominating committee has presented a slate of four alumni candidates for two board positions. Following in Rodgers's footsteps, Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki have set up websites and solicited signatures to have their names placed in nomination in addition to the four pre-selected candidates. They have both secured signatures sufficient to be added to the ballot that will be presented to alumni in the election that takes place next month. Rodgers supports their candidacies.