Voces Clamantium in Deserto
A Look at The Dartmouth Review
Author's Note: The author writes solely as an individual. The opinions he expresses do not necessarily reflect those of the Harvard Salient or its editors.
Normally, Hanover, New Hampshire is a fairly quiet place. Dartmouth College exists there as "the granite of New Hampshire," as its leaders like to say--a solid institution whose changes, though perceptible to the keen observer, are usually so gradual that they appear natural. Except for an innovative college calendar which requires students to spend a summer at the College on the hill. Dartmouth's administration has usually adopted fairly conservative policies. Dartmouth, for instance, was the last Ivy institution to admit women as undergraduate degree candidates (although the first woman graduate student received her degree in 1896).
Dartmouth students as well, while not necessarily politically conservative, have a healthy respect for tradition. Every Dartmouth student knows that in the second verse of "Men of Dartmouth," one shouts--not sings--the line "Lest the old traditions fail!" In addition, the Dartmouth, the daily student newspaper, is the most conservative in the Ivy League--meaning, of course, that it is solidly moderate.
But the quiet of the college, as well as its profound and deeply valued sense of community, have been disturbed in the past two years by, as it turns out, the very people whom one would expect to be most interested in preserving that sense of community. The Dartmouth Review began two years ago as a conservative alternative to what it viewed as the excessive liberalism of Dartmouth students and administrators. Their right to provide such an alternative I do not question; indeed, I fail to see how responsible intellectual discussion of the problems facing a college or university can harm that college or university. But over the past two years. The Dartmouth Review has often degenerated into little more than a thin veil for personal attacks, racist comments, and an offensive, satiric sarcasm, thereby belying the principles of the very conservatism they claim to espouse and causing deep divisions within the Dartmouth community as a whole.
Over the course of the past two years, the madcap antics of the Review have included:
* publishing a faked composite picture supposedly representing a Black lynched on the Dartmouth campus, accompanying an otherwise fine interview exposing a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan;
* printing the quotation "The only good Indian is a dead Indian;
* a short piece entitled "Chinks to chains," in which the Review commented on an Asian American's group's showing of a Bruce Lee movie by stating. "We eagerly await the Afro-Am's showing of Uncle Tom's Cabin;"
* a piece entitled "Grin and Beirut" in which the Review stated, supposedly sarcastically, that a Jewish sukkah set up at Dartmouth would not be removed until "a new Jewish dormitory" was built on the Connecticut River. Two days after the piece appeared, the sukkah was destroyed by vandals;
* most famous, or infamous, of all these "satires," an article about affirmative action and Blacks at Dartmouth written in "jive" entitled "Dissho' ain't no jive, bro."
None of this would be excusable, but some of it might be more understandable, if the Review did not purport to represent intellectual conservatism at an academic institution of high calibre, if it did not claim on its advisory board such distinguished conservatives as George Gilder, Walter Williams, and Mildred Jefferson.
But on the whole, most of the criticism of The Dartmouth Review (and there has been plenty) has come, not surprisingly, from liberals and the Left. The effect this can have on the Review, however, is negligible; indeed the Review probably enjoys making liberals angry and admitted recently "National attention in the major media has been gratifying, and has played its part in the now guaranteed future of this newspaper." The time has come, though, for responsible conservatives (and I consider myself among them) to criticize the Review for its unwarranted attacks and its concommitant abandonment of conservative principles of equal rights under law, religious tolerance, and commitment to an American community of diverse ethnic and racial groups.
To understand why there was a Review in the first place, one needs to understand the nature of the profound changes that took place at Dartmouth during the administration of John G. Kemeny from 1970-1981. Full coeducation was instituted, the innovative Dartmouth plan was adopted (one takes three courses per term three terms a year, at least one term must be taken in summer, and one cannot attend for four fall terms, except under special circumstances), and courses were added in Afro-American Studies. Women's Studies, and "Policy Studies." The alumni, predominantly conservative, responded unfavorably to these changes and one other, one which has provoked bitter controversy because of the symbolism involved.
Dartmouth was founded by the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock in 1769 to provide an institution for the education of American Indians. To this day, American Indians pay no tuition to attend Dartmouth. Because of this tradition, the athletic teams were named the Dartmouth Indians and the college symbol (not its seal) was a rather stern-looking representation of an Indian with a small headdress. In 1974, after protests from Indians at Dartmouth. President Kemeny dropped the Indian symbol and changed the team name to "Dartmouth Big Green." The controversy, however, still continues about the college symbol, and the Review is able to exploit this financially, through the sale of Indian symbol patches, canes, doormats, and caps.
In fact, especially since coeducation has been treated as a fait accompli (the Review even consistently takes a strong stand in favor of women's sports), once can say that the changing of the college symbol led to the founding of the Review for it provided a symbolic issue around which traditionalists could rally and to some, pointed to the need for an alternative voice on campus. The Review has gained popularity among alumni (and financial advantage from them as well) in large part because of its support of the Indian symbol; many seem to believe that if the Indian symbol is restored, the Dartmouth of old will be restored as well.
Similarly, the Review's advocacy of the Indian symbol symbolizes the problems with the newspaper in general. Its concern over the symbol seems to override it, concern for Indians at Dartmouth. The Review's support of the Indian as college symbol would perhaps be less offensive to the Indians if it were not coupled with apparent racism; as it is, the Review's position is intolerable and divisive, a hindrance to its own cause. Further, the Review is, in the name of restoring a sense of community to Dartmouth, dividing that same community, one whose strong traditions of community spirit Harvard could do well to emulate.
President Kemeny's policies, then, provide the backdrop against which The Dartmouth Review was formed, Incidentally, not even he was exempt from personal attacks by the Review: the paper ran an advertisement in which it supposedly sponsored a "Take a Homosexual to Lunch" program, featuring a picture of former President Kemeny eating lunch with a Dartmouth student.
Much of the bigotry that appears in the pages of the Review can be attributed to an inappropriate use of satiric form. Occasionally the satiric style is inappropriate because outsiders to the College, among whom must be numbered the alumni (at least in relation to many college trends) are not sure whether an article is to be taken seriously (the article about the sukkah is an example of this). More often though, satire is inappropriate because it could not be made to work well in a particular instance. The Review claims "We believe in the horselaugh as a weapon against pipsqueaks in power," and it acts on this belief with satires ranging from the amateurish and low to the amusing. The problem, obviously, is the former, and even to give the paper the benefit of the doubt by conceding that its more offensive satires were inspired not by racism but by misapplied zeal does not excuse the Review. Irresponsible journalistic techniques cannot be condoned, especially on the part of conservatives who publish because of what they see as liberal biases in other media.
The article concerning affirmative action has received the most national attention, primarily because of the ferocity of its satire. Given the fact that few who read the piece interpreted it wholly as satire, the Review in effect left its readers with the opinion that Blacks have lower GPAs, don't read the classics, and complain about discrimination in the College dining facility. Written from the supposed perspective of a Black student at Dartmouth and complete with "footnotes" on certain words of the "jive," the article's flavor is illustrated by the following quotations:
"'Fyu be expectin' us to tink, you best be giving us fus dibs on du food line."
"We be culturally 'lightened too. We be tukin' hard courses in many subjects, like Afro-Am Studies, Women's Studies, and Policy Studies. And who be mouthin' 'bout us not bein' good read? I be practicly knowin' Roots cova to cova.,
An' I be watchin' the Jeffersons on TV til I be blue in da face.
"Citations for Blacks wit Cs would be bucoanice."
One's first reaction on reading the article is a simple disbelief that such an article could be written and published at this time at all. The article insults the entire Dartmouth community by the very fact that such a shameful production could be associated with Dartmouth College. Further, the article misrepresents itself, for according to Dartmouth sources and The New Republic, the article was not written by Keeney Jones, the purported author, but by two students still at Dartmouth when the article was published.
By its apparent racism and its looseness in journalistic principles, this article betrays conservatism. The Burke who expounded conservatism so eloquently also spoke for the rights of American colonists, the Irish, and Indians against the excess of colonial administration. His enlightened conservatism contained a respect for human rights as an integral part; a paper which claims to defend "retention of valuable traditions a la Burke" has no right to such an appelation after the publication of such an article.
In short, The Dartmouth Review does not define conservatism at American colleges. Can't the Review editors see that such pieces divide the community? Can't they see (and here I address myself to the editors of the Review) that such attitudes hurt the cause of conservatism at American colleges and destroy their own reputation and credibility?
Throughout most of its history, the Review has found itself in the position, unusual for conservatives, of actively opposing the College administration. The problem, to the Review, is not primarily that students want too much change, but that the administration does. And it is undoubtedly this position of having to oppose the administration on many matters of policy--women's studies, affirmative action, and the like--that causes so much of the antagonism present at Dartmouth over the Review. The problem was particularly acute during Kemeny's administration, for it was he after all who had initiated many of the changes the Review so dislikes. The situation shows some sign of improving relations between paper and administration, especially since David McLaughlin took office last year. The Review printed a picture of McLaughlin (a Dartmouth alumnus, as Kemeny is not) helping to carve an ice sculpture for the Winter Carnival; so one has reason to hope that the Review might not oppose the administration as much in the future. Unreasonable and poorly stated opposition provoked the controversies of the past; calm deliberation can quiet them in the future.
One cannot deny, after all, that the Review has had some effect at Dartmouth. Walking across the campus, one can see people sporting jackets and sweatshirts with the old Indian motif; the Review is surprisingly well-read, both at Dartmouth and outside of the College; and even the Dartmouth plan is coming under review (though this can probably be attributed to President McLaughlin, but after all, which section of campus opinion kept it an issue?). Although the Review should continue to oppose intelligently those aspects of policy with which a disagrees, a continued polarization of campus opinion might eventually lead, in effect, to a condition in which there were two sets of people connected with the College with two fundamentally different visions for its future. That is certainly not the course a Burkean conservative newspaper, as The Dartmouth Review styles itself, would want to pursue.
Basically, however, the idea behind the Review has worked. There is an alternative voice at Dartmouth, read by most students and many alumni. The Dartmouth (an exceptionally fine student newspaper, by the way) is the oldest college newspaper in America, yet after only two years of publication, many people associate instead the Review with Dartmouth. This year the Review is being copied--some proof of its success--by a liberal paper called The Harbinger (the title is taken from Milton's line. "The bright morning star day's harbinger"). It addresses primarily those issues on which it feels its positions threatened by The Dartmouth Review--affirmative action, for instance. (A recent article on the subject was described by the Harbinger as being about "Freshman Clones.")
I sincerely hope this article has come too late. By this I do not mean, of course that the Review should cease publication, for it has done some good for Dartmouth simply by expanding the spectrum of political debate. In addition, as the first conservative college newspaper in the country, it deserves some recognition for helping start a movement that has since spread to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Williams, and many other colleges. Indeed it is because the Review, as the first of its kind, has failed so often, that I as a conservative feel so strongly about it.
There may yet be some light at the end of this tunnel. In its first issue this year, the Review, under new management, expressed its "regret" about the affirmative action piece and similar articles. Perhaps the sudden tragedy with the destruction of the sukkah will finally shock the Review into realizing the consequences of its actions. The Review can remain "the most exciting undergraduate newspaper in the country" (its own appraisal) without deicing into inappropriate satire angering fellow students, or dividing the community. A fuller apology would have been preferable, but having apologized, the Review should be given a second chance to prove itself a responsible member of the Dartmouth community. As a conservative. I believe that the legitimate message of the Review, but not its past offensive messages, to be vital both to Dartmouth and even other colleges as well. Even The New Republic agreed that "There is a need for special-interest newspapers on college campuses," conservative as well as liberal, libertarian, or what-have-you. That article continued to commend the Review, even while deploring its past actions, for having "succeeded where countless tenured professors have failed--in instigating animated discussions in the Dartmouth community about freedom of the press, affirmative action, women's rights, and journalistic ethics." It concluded, "Although most sensitive people are bound to be disgusted with the paper's tactics, they should accept the paper's challenge and turn the controversy into an experience everyone can learn from."
The Dartmouth Review will probably emerge from these controversies at least slightly singed. But it cannot be totally burnt; its position on campus by now is too secure, barring other mishaps. Let us hope that the Review's editors learn from their mistakes and learn to accept the rights and feelings of other members of their community, so that in the future, it may be said of them, in the words of the old Dartmouth song, that
The still North remembers them.
The hillwinds know their name.
And the granite of New Hampshire
Keeps the records of their fame.
John Gardner, a junior in Dunster House, is a member of the Harvard Conservative Club and a writer for The Salient. He is concentrating in American history and enjoys reading on the subject of the history of higher education.