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.