Being a student at Dartmouth means being encouraged to take one's self seriously as a young scholar—a person of promise who has a rare and valuable opportunity to learn and grow. It means that here students are not merely passive recipients of information, but are active participants in their own learning process. It means also that the out-of-classroom experience complements and supports the central mission of the College.
PRESIDENT JAMES WRIGHT
September 23, 1998
For more than two hundred years, students from all over this country—and increasingly the world—have come to spend some of the most important years of their lives at Dartmouth. Here they are exposed to the best that a liberal education can offer: the opportunity to think, to work with a superb faculty, to meet people different from themselves, and to develop a reservoir of skills, knowledge and broad perspective on the world that will sustain them throughout their lives. By design and choice, moreover, Dartmouth is a residential academic community—in effect, a modern-day version of what Thomas Jefferson once described as an "academical village." The residential and social component of a Dartmouth education is as important as what happens in the classroom. It must simultaneously foster the values of an inclusive community even as it supports and enhances the central academic mission of the College  .
On several occasions over the past two decades, Dartmouth's Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, students and alumni have discussed ways to strengthen the institution's social and residential system  . When James Wright assumed the presidency in 1998, he urged the Board to adopt a comprehensive approach to the issue. As a result, in February 1999, the Board adopted five principles that it said should govern Dartmouth's social and residential life  . The President and the Board then initiated a process through which the community would develop ways to enhance the out-of-classroom experience.
The resulting Student Life Initiative covered all aspects of the social and residential life of Dartmouth students, including graduate students as well as undergraduates. In the spring of 1999, President Wright and the Board appointed the Committee on the Student Life Initiative. Co-chaired by two Trustees, the Committee on the Student Life Initiative consisted of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, administrators and alumni, all of whom brought a diverse range of views and life experience to the group. The Board charged the committee to consult broadly with the Dartmouth community about the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and to propose to the Board specific measures to enhance the system.
Beginning in May and extending into December of 1999, our committee held more than 150 hours of full committee meetings as it undertook this challenging assignment. As charged, we met with groups of students, faculty, administrators and alumni. We received written and oral reports from interested individuals and groups, and held several public forums. The committee also consulted with outside experts. In addition to the more than 150 hours of meetings, individual committee members also worked countless additional hours to gather information and to formulate proposals  .
This report is the culmination of all of these efforts. It sets forth a proposed new vision of social and residential life at Dartmouth that builds on many strong features of the current system, and that we think will propel the institution to even greater levels of excellence in this new century. We lay out specific features of this new vision in Recommendations 1-7, discussed at length in Part III. In general, they include a new system of residential "clusters," or groups of residence halls, that would form a far more stable basis of social and residential life on campus; new and enhanced places campus-wide for socializing, dining and recreation, and more equitable access by all students to such spaces; and new and higher standards for social organizations that on the whole will foster a far greater sense of community at Dartmouth.
This new vision is idealistic but achievable. We have confidence in the resolve of the institution to further excel in the future—in no small part because a wide range of student, faculty and alumni groups asked us for an opportunity to make Dartmouth a better place. As our proposed new vision takes shape on campus, we hope that shortcomings of the current system will be minimized or eliminated. These include a lack of continuity in residential life as students are made to move regularly from one dormitory to another; excessive use of alcohol by many students; a tolerance for uncivil behavior; and other deficiencies that this report discusses in more detail.
Instrumental in devising our new vision was a discussion of values that the committee undertook at the outset of our process. During this session, Dean of the College James Larimore described how Comanche leaders sought to instruct other members in the community way. This led us to an intriguing question: What is the "Dartmouth Way?" More specifically, what should be the hallmarks of social and residential life for students?
We reached resounding consensus on the following features:
- Dartmouth should be a place where learning is paramount. By this, we mean not just learning by absorbing material in the classroom or mastering skills such as critical reasoning. We also mean learning in the sense of coming to know more about one's self and others, through interactions among students themselves, together with professors, administrators and others.
- The "Dartmouth Way" is based on Dartmouth's Principle of Community  and on adherence to norms of civil behavior. It assumes that members of the community will be honest, will respect and be fair to others, will be open and inclusive, and will be responsible for their behavior. Dartmouth should challenge its bright and talented students to uphold this principle. It will thus encourage the optimal environment in which learning can take place and enable all to feel at home at Dartmouth.
- Dartmouth should be a place that affords students a rich array of social and residential options and broad freedom to associate with groups and individuals of their choosing. But hand in hand with this freedom goes the responsibility to uphold the Principle of Community. We understand that an inevitable part of learning is making mistakes and wrong choices. Yet we also believe strongly that individuals, groups or organizations who routinely fail to meet their responsibilities to the community must be held accountable for their actions—and must expect to see their freedoms restricted, for the good of the community as a whole.
- Dartmouth should be a diverse community. Over the past three decades, the institution has truly become coeducational; now it must seek to raise gender relations to an even higher level. Dartmouth is also increasingly multicultural, with students and faculty from different ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet the institution can and should do far more to foster the important learning opportunities that stem from this greater diversity. There is no better place than in a community of learners for people to grow to understand each other better, to learn how to get along with one another, and to prepare for lives after graduation in an increasingly diverse nation and world.
- The lives of Dartmouth students should be characterized by substantial continuity and a strong sense of being rooted in a special place. The beauty of our location and the distinctive architectural features of our campus contribute uniquely to this sense. Yet still other features of our institution are in some respects competing against a feeling of stability and rootedness. The Dartmouth Plan and year-round operation, for example, afford students wonderful opportunities to have flexible college careers, to travel and to study elsewhere. But at the same time, they also foster frequent comings-and-goings and a periodic sense of upheaval for students. There is considerable room for the institution to increase the sense of stability, continuity and attachment that students of earlier eras have long prized during their years of residence at Dartmouth.
Once our committee reached agreement on these fundamental attributes and aims for Dartmouth, we began an analysis of the current social and residential system. Our goal was to hold up our "values mirror" in front of the institution to determine where these highest ideals were truly being reflected and where they were falling short. In keeping with the spirit of almost all the students, faculty, alumni and others who came before the committee, we have chosen to undertake a candid and self-critical assessment. The conclusions of this analysis are described in Part II.