We have previously discussed attacks on both faculty and students for expressing opposing views of the current protests or their underlying causes, including a recent case at Georgetown where a student was censured by the student senate. Now, over 1000 students and faculty members have signed a letter to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees to disassociate the school from the conservative student newspaper, the Dartmouth Review. The letter accuses the newspaper of “hateful ideologies” and “racist” columns, including one cited column objecting to the careless use of the word “racist.” There were two striking aspects to this story. First, the Dartmouth Review (which counts such conservative figures as filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza and Fox anchor Laura Ingraham among its alumni) has always been an independent newspaper. Second, the reason stated by the organizers to move against the newspaper in part because of a recent controversy involving an alumni who resigned from Fox News.
The Review website states that it was was founded in 1980 to “question stale academic orthodoxy and to preserve Dartmouth College’s unique liberal arts character.”
The petition cites some columns that the Review has previously self-condemned for racist tropes or language. However, the organizers admit that they decided to move against the newspaper as a way to responding to the controversy surrounding the resignation of a Fox producer with Tucker Carlson. Blake Neff is a 2013 graduate of Dartmouth and Review alumni. He was found to have written a series of bigoted anonymous comments.
Diana Whitney ’95, says that attacking the newspaper was viewed as a way to respond to the Neff story. Laura Tyson Li ’85 came up with the idea of the letter to force the Board to prove its antiracism by attacking the newspaper, which had no role in Neff’s misconduct: “We thought, how can the senior leadership of Dartmouth, President Hanlon and the trustees write this letter to every member of the community, and then continue in silent complicity with a publication that since its inception has consistently been an incubator of racist hate and white supremacy?”
Whitney is an author who cites bylines in the New York Times and Washington Post. Yet, she is leading an effort to punish student authors.
What Whitney calls “silent complicity” is the Board not actively opposing the conservative newspaper. The failure actively target the newspaper is now viewed as de facto tolerance for racism even after the school issued a letter proclaiming its support for Black Lives Matter.
The student editors have objected that the cited articles in recent publications do not contain racist attacks but rather criticism of prevailing views on racism. The student editors note that one of “insidiously racist pieces of recent years” was a piece on the careless use of “racist” and “sexist” labels. It also cites the fact that the newspaper uses a logo containing the image of Dartmouth’s iconic weathervane, which the university removed earlier in 2020 as offensive to Native Americans.
The student editors address the criticism in an article, titled “An Overdue Response to the College Jacobins.” The editors wrote “Notably, the petitioners also botched the College’s mission statement, strategically editing ‘the vigorous and open debate of ideas within a community marked by mutual respect,’ to specifically exclude ‘vigorous and open debate,’ but this frankly isn’t markedly surprising.”
As a blog committed to free speech issues, the concern over this controversy is obvious. There are routinely over-heated rhetoric in college newspapers including many reckless statements from faculty and students on the left. We have defended many of those speakers and writers. However, the first response of many Dartmouth graduates to the Neff story was to seek to attack the leading conservative newspaper on campus in part for its prior association with Neff.
The effort to deny the use of “Dartmouth” is clearly meant to marginalize and exclude these conservative students. What is being lost in such moves is the diversity of thought on campus. These student editors contribute to a passionate dialogue on these issues. Graduates like Whitney can voice their own views and write their own columns. Instead, they are seeking to pressure the university to marginalize students who want to participate in these debates from a conservative viewpoint.
Adrienne Lotson ’82, is quoted as saying the newspaper should never have been allowed to use the name of the college where all of the writers and editors are students:
“Dartmouth lost an opportunity in the 1980s when the Review was founded to make a firm standing on not using the Dartmouth name. People are always talking about free speech issues, this isn’t a matter of shutting down the paper, this is a matter of not using the Dartmouth name.”
It is about free speech when you are seeking to marginalize or exclude students because you disagree with their views. This is a successful student newspaper with decades of columns and alumni. It is part of the diverse fabric of the university with more liberal publications and student groups. There is every reason why these students would identify with the college where they study and write. Moreover, the letter includes the demand that the university “hold student staffers accountable for their bigotry.” Lotson is accusing these students of being racist and demanding punishment for their writings. That is a free speech issue. The letter leaves such allegations on a highly generalized level while seeking potential expulsion for student writers.
Lotson is also demanding that the Board prove its commitment against racism by acting against this conservative newspaper: “What we are looking for is a bold, broad statement of the newspaper and the division it has sown at Dartmouth.”
The petition below is just five relatively short paragraphs (including one on Neff) that makes sweeping claims of racism, sexism, and other abuses without any discussion of specific language or the context for the writings. When you are calling for possible expulsion of college students, there should be an obligation to do more than labeling unspecified claims of racism and sexism. It links to four “insidiously racist pieces” but only two are from 2020.
February 5th, 2020: “On Moral Currency”
January 22, 2020: “Bridging the Gap: Affirmative Action”
May 8th, 2017: “The Problems of Affirmative Action”
November 7th, 2016: “In Defense of Milo Yiannopoulos”
“I hesitate to call what I experienced “racism.” Not that many of my negative experiences weren’t largely based on my race—they certainly were. I hesitate to call it “racism” because what I went through wasn’t all that bad. Every specific label for a problem implies a certain response. When we call something “racist” we expect people to rise up and fix the problem. In a perfect world, everything even slightly “racist” would be fixed. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, we live in a real world—one defined by limited supply and unlimited demand.”
The second 2020 article is by another minority student, Zachary Z. Wang, who explores what the logic of affirmative action and the author’s disagreement with it:
The liberal point of view uses the principle of regression towards the mean to explain how affirmative action will swiftly correct for racial inequality. Regression towards the mean states that under the circumstance of many trials, the average of those trials will eventually approach the mean (the actual true value).
Since many minorities have been displaced to the lower end of opportunity due to systematic oppression, liberal logic states that by using affirmative action to continually place them above the mean—giving them easier access to more competitive schools—eventually the average academic performance of these minorities will approach the actual average academic performance in society. When these two means of academic performance are equivalent, then affirmative action is no longer needed. This is logically sound reasoning, and everyone should be in favor of equal opportunity for those of all demographics (this operates under the assumption that all races are equally capable of the same level of academic performance, which I believe to be the case).
None of the context or language is quoted, let alone addressed. Rather, the petition simply makes sweeping allegations of
“malicious and dishonest “conservatism” through vituperative ad hominem attacks, covert and overt racism, vicious taunting and race-baiting, and blatant homophobia and misogyny. BIPOC students, faculty, and staff have been harmed by this bastion of racism on campus, as have Jewish people, women, and members of the LGBTQ community.”
Those labels can ruin a student’s future. Yet, two students are cited as vehement racists without the slightest effort to address their viewpoints or claims of non-racist reasons for the columns. I am particularly surprised to see faculty sign such a letter attacking student authors. The signatories include Professors Mary Desjardins, Eng-Beng Lim, Mark Williams, Mary Coffey, Jodie Mack, Annabel Martín, Katie Hornstein, Kristin O’Rourke, Desiree Garcia, Melissa Zeiger, Christopher MacEvitt, Peter Hackett, and Leslie Sonder. Professors Mary Desjardins, Desiree Garcia, Mark Williams, and Jodie Mack teach media studies at Dartmouth and yet have no qualms in signing this petition, including a call for the disciplining of student authors presumably based on these two columns. .
The university itself has declined (thus far) to make any gratuitous moves against the newspaper — citing its commitment to both protecting free speech and opposing racism. College spokesperson Diana Lawrence noted that the newspaper is “not a recognized student organization and receives no funding or support from Dartmouth.” She added:
“All students, faculty, and staff enjoy the freedom to speak, write and listen, and are encouraged to challenge ideas, in pursuit of better learning and understanding. However, bias or discrimination in any form — including racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia — are contrary to Dartmouth values.”
Here is the petition: Dartmouth Petition