Extremism and Crime Wave at Dartmouth? Really?

Dartmouth president Philip Hanlon recently gave a state-of-the-college address concerning disciplinary matters on campus. Dartmouth clearly wanted the address to receive attention—the college leaked the full text to the Washington Post, which dutifully reproduced it online and did a lengthy article about it.

In highly charged language, Hanlon charged that “Dartmouth’s promise is being hijacked by extreme behavior, masked by its perpetrators as acceptable fun.” What is this behavior? Some of it is hardly uncommon: excessive drinking (hardly uncommon on college campuses), parties with what the college administration perceives as “racist and sexist undertones,” and “disgusting and sometimes threatening insults hurled on the internet.” But Hanlon also included two criminal offenses in his list—hazing and sexual assault. That Hanlon seems to equate a crime that carries a sentence of 10-20 years in prison with insults on the web(!) suggests a difficulty in setting priorities.

But Hanlon appeared unaware of this contradiction. “Enough is enough,” he proclaimed. “IT IS TIME”—capitalization in the original—“FOR DARTMOUTH TO CHANGE.” Dartmouth, he concluded, needed “to end the extreme behaviors that are in conflict with our mission and fundamentally harmful.”

And yet in his address, Hanlon listed only two specific responses to the problem that he claimed was hijacking the college. The first—a program designed to give “students the tools to recognize and intervene in the case of a potential sexual assault”—is unobjectionable. The second—further empowering the office headed by Amanda Childress (the administrator who mused, “Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation?”)—almost certainly will ensure that innocent students are expelled from Dartmouth in the future.

Writing at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff quoted a Dartmouth source, who interpreted Hanlon’s speech as a presidential commitment to have “no enemies to the left.” That especially seems the case given that Hanlon did not include students who engaged in highly disruptive behavior (occupying his office) as among the hijackers of campus culture; and given rumors that the college won’t readmit a student acquitted of a sexual assault charge.

But assume, for a moment, that Hanlon is sincere in his belief that despite statistics suggesting otherwise, a campus crime wave is victimizing Dartmouth, that criminals are “hijacking” the campus. Surely the appropriate response to such a development would not be a feel-good initiative about bystanders and increasing the authority of a far-left administrator.

Given the seriousness of the crime wave in which Hanlon purports to believe, the college might even have to (at least) consider the tradeoff between security and civil liberties that often appears in other areas rife with violent crime, such as (according to FBI statistics) Baltimore, Detroit, or Hammond, Louisiana. Should security cameras be installed in dorm rooms to capture assaults in the act? Should campus police be allowed to prowl campus e-mail accounts to catch rapists speaking about their crimes? Such assaults on civil liberties might go too far, but if the crime wave has reached a “hijacking” stage, everything must be on the table.

But, of course, it’s not. Indeed, Hanlon has shown no interest to the obvious response if the administration really believed that criminals—and not just any criminals, but students committing violent crimes—were “hijacking” the Dartmouth campus: a substantial increase in law enforcement activity. Presumably Dartmouth could double (or if the problem is as serious as Hanlon suggests, triple or quadruple) the size of its campus police force. Surely, at a minimum, campus police officers could be given increased access to Dartmouth buildings, including dormitories.

That Dartmouth won’t even consider the obvious—increase security to meet a crime wave—suggests that the goal here is ideological, not the promotion of safety.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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