February 12, 1999
I have drafted the following memorandum in response to some of the questions that we have received regarding the Trustees Statement on Residential and Social Life. I hope that it will help provide further clarification regarding the future of student life at Dartmouth.
Over the last several days there has been a lot of discussion generated by the announcement of the Trustee decision to institute a process that would result in a significant enhancement of residential and social life at Dartmouth. I recognize that not everyone will agree with the principles and the objectives the Trustees have established, but I would hope that we can engage fully in the discussion of how best to accomplish these things to enhance the experience and quality of student life at Dartmouth.
Some students have expressed surprise at this decision. There is perhaps no way to have a discussion of these matters without some people having this reaction. The Trustees have been discussing the nature and the future of student life at Dartmouth for at least twenty years. Many students and alumni participated in these discussions. We have explored ways to enrich the residential and social life of students and to add even more options and opportunities to student life. Over the past few years, the Trustees have regularly discussed with students these questions, including the nature of fraternities and sororities and their contributions to the community.
The Boards action on this occasion was indeed a very important step, but marks the beginning and not the conclusion of a process. The Board has encouraged the community to work with the administration to develop an even stronger residential and social system at Dartmouth. They approved three principles that indicate their willingness to identify resources that can expand our residential life options, provide more social space and options, reconsider dining opportunities, and support student program initiatives.
They have not tried to proscribe the model. However, two additional principles describe important objectives:
- 1. The abuse and unsafe use of alcohol should be eliminated.
- 2. The residential and social system should be substantially coeducational and provide opportunities for greater interaction among all Dartmouth students.
As far as I know, it is only the latter that has been a matter of controversy.
People have questioned me on the use of the language "substantially coeducational" in the Boards statement. What the Board seeks is a system that represents more fully the range of the Dartmouth student body and not a system that does this through separate but equivalent types of organizations. Again, I think that the options and opportunities are open.
A number of students who have talked with me about this have asked specifically what this new system would look like. I have tried, as best as I can, to respond to questions, but the Board does not have a single model in mind that they would like to see evolve. The Board defined principles and a process. They are hoping to receive substantial constructive community input. I have stated that the fraternity and the sorority system as we know it now would not survive. I have not said, nor has the Board stated or concluded, that as we move to the new and evolving system there would be no single sex residences or houses. The challenge to us, including fraternities and sororities, is to develop a system that is more fully inclusiveand even stronger.
All of this will take some time to discuss, plan, and implement. What the Board has said is that next year following community discussions of ways to implement these objectives they would begin to take actions toward meeting them. In fact, I have stated in response to some inquiries that I assume that next fall there would still be a Rush in the fraternity and sorority houses. This is my own perspective and does not represent a Board view. But I really cannot imagine that the community and the Board would have developed a new system and have it in place before then. And surely no residential or social arrangements would be ended without having strong replacements. The students who Rush next fall would need to recognize that many of the organizations that they are joining may well evolve to a different form by the time of their graduation. I dont think that any of us can predict specifically what the new system will look like when fully put in place or how long that will take.
The Boards statement addressed a range of opportunities that they hope to provide to the Dartmouth community. It is my sense that Dartmouth students, faculty, and administrators have a chance to do something that very few students at any American college or university have had a chance to do: to participate fully in imagining what a significantly enhanced student life and residential system would be like and then working together to make it happen. I find this prospect very exciting, and the options are as expansive as our imaginations. These range from residence halls to outdoor and athletic programs, from the arts to student social spaces. There are many qualities that mark the Dartmouth experience close friendships, bonding, a sense of place and security which are very important. All of us need to participate in the process to make certain that these special things about the Dartmouth experience are protected as they are enhanced.