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Dartmouth is a Contradiction

Sept 4, 2023

By Henry Eberhart

INTERVIEW: DSA's Internationalist Experiment: News Articles

DARTMOUTH has lied to me, to my friends, to our families, and they will lie to you. You have been sold a tight knit community of learners who are dedicated toward bettering the common good. Dartmouth markets itself as an institution that supports this intimate and student-centric educational experience in every way. From smaller class sizes, to offering dinners with your profs at the Pine, to lots of campus funded student programming, Dartmouth is supposedly an institution that puts students first. Unfortunately, no matter how wide your dean smiles at you, how big of a hello President Bielock gives you on the sidewalk, or how many times the dean of the college tells you they care about your opinion, Dartmouth must be structurally antagonistic towards its students. There is a fundamental contradiction at the basis of all universities. Dartmouth and other higher education institutions are not principally educational institutions— they are businesses that are primarily interested in accumulating wealth. 

The sincere promises and good intentions of any one administrator are unable to alter this structural fact. The most powerful decision makers on campus are the Board of Trustees— a governing body made up mostly of wealthy millionaires who are solely interested in growing the institution's endowment and capital stock. When they make decisions they rarely start from the standpoint of what is best for the most marginalized and under-supported students on campus— they ask themselves how they can grow their endowment and attract wealth donors. If student wellbeing was at the center of all of the Board of Trustees decisions there would be subsidies for students who couldn’t afford books, large and accessible emergency funds for students struggling with affording housing, food, and medication, vastly increased number of open and available full time on campus therapists, and the retention, support, and tenure of student-centric faculty (largely faculty of color and women faculty). But we know these decisions aren’t made. Students have had to create their own mutual aid organizations, beloved faculty of color are denied tenure, and an overwhelming amount of students still face financial hardship on campus— all while Dartmouth’s endowment doubled over the pandemic.

When Dartmouth does fund programs and create institutional support for students, it is usually for things that students from wealthy families would benefit from. Why is it that there is so much institutional support to help students get consulting internships, but not a comprehensive emergency relief fund for students without the ability to pay for food, medication, rent, a computer, etc. Wealthy students benefit from programs that match them with volunteering opportunities that look good on their resume (and so those programs are well funded), but they wouldn’t benefit from funds that give students money to buy books (a program that doesn’t exist). This isn’t to say that volunteering programs and job matching advisors aren’t useful— poor and marginalized students can benefit from each of those opportunities, and both should continue to be funded. It is rather to say that when Dartmouth does make decisions that are supportive of students, they only do so if it is something that wealthy students would benefit from. Such programs make it enticing for wealthy students to come to Dartmouth, and ensure the college has more long-term donors. 

This is not just my interpretation of the college's actions— this has been the college’s policy. Currently Dartmouth, among a group of other elite higher education institutions, is being sued for failing to adhere to need-blind admissions. The college was caught intentionally preferring wealthy students over students that didn’t come from elite families so as to not have to dish out as much financial aid and attract large funders. As much as Dartmouth wants to say it cares about all students, they quite literally told us they don’t.

While frustrating, unethical, and violent, none of this is surprising. All elite higher-education institutions are mandated to make decisions under the profit-motive. They are fundamentally large corporations whose sole purpose is to grow their own wealth. As much as any single administrator wants to make good policy decisions, Dartmouth will always continue to prefer wealth accumulation over the well being of all students— they have to if any of them want to keep their jobs. And while Dartmouth is structurally a business and not a school, they can never tell you that. Any administrator will never come out and say that to your face. They must lie. They have to. It would undermine their ability to make money as a business if they admitted otherwise. They have to preserve the lie that they are structurally an educational establishment and not a business that happens to provide some educational opportunities. Nobody would willingly attend Dartmouth if they admitted so. The public backlash would rip apart any higher educational institution that said anything other than “we are a student first campus”. And thus, Dartmouth is structurally required to lie to you. Therein lies the structural foundation of the school—a contradiction. 

But just as contradiction creates the possibility of institutional violence, so does it create the possibility of its own undoing. The contradictions of capitalism provide the means to organize people towards its destruction. Demonstrating to the masses the contradictions of the wealthy can be the mechanism of unifying the people. This is no different at Dartmouth. Dartmouth must constantly lie to us students. They must tell us they care about us while they simultaneously must make policy decisions that sacrifice student wellbeing for profit. While operating under a capitalist paradigm they are structurally required to contradict themselves. We are currently in a prime time to organize the student body against these contradictions. With a new President just appointed, the new administration has been promising and promoting its student-centered regime. They have and will continue to advertise how supportive of marginalized and underrepresented communities they are. When they likely fall back into a profit-driven calculus we can be ready to mobilize. Every time they fail to put marginalized students first we should spotlight them. Everytime they promise us that they support us, we should have a list of demands ready to tell them how to do so. A new regime is here to contradict themselves, and we should be ready.

So much amazing student organizing has already happened at Dartmouth. From the creation of one of the first wave of undergraduate dining unions in the country, to the formation of the Dartmouth Student Union which formed a mutual aid fund and advocated on behalf of students during the pandemic, and the strong voices of Black, Native, and Latinx organizations on campus, there has been plenty of unity forming between students on campus. Now is the time to continue to organize ourselves and mobilize on the issues and improvements we believe in. While Dartmouth’s settler colonial, anti-black, and neoliberal foundations will never allow it to be a truly liberatory place, we must attempt to transfer as much power and money as possible to the students that make the institution possible.

Organizing efforts ought to unify a list of demands that is representative of the needs of the student body— similar to the Dartmouth “Freedom Budget” that students have previously organized around. Once written, we can organize our peers around their needs to be able to unify the student body around the demands. This could primarily be done by resurrecting the Dartmouth Student Union’s mutual aid fund which allowed students to be able to apply for funds two to three times a quarter to meet any emergency need they had. Once enough students have unified behind the demands we can mobilize against the administration. With enough support we can insist that our demands be met, and if they aren’t we will act. Strikes, sit-ins, media-engagement, you name it. Dartmouth needs us, they can’t make money without us. They need cooperative students who go to classes, conduct research, and smile for instagram videos. If unified, we have the power to force liberatory change.


Now is the time. Let us act.

The Dartmouth Radical

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