Tuesday, December 12, 2023

@dartmouthalumni @dartmouthcollege Welcoming President Bielock

On December 11, I went to Chelsea Piers 60 to attend a Dartmouth Alumni function to welcome President Bielock, 19th President of Dartmouth College.  I don't think I had been to this location before, tho I had been a background actor at another pier.  I should have realized, based on the other pier, that this was going to be an enormous facility, but I didn't realize until I got there.

Before arriving, I had this fantasy that I might actually get to meet the new President personally and might get to say something to her.  Once I got into the room where the ceremony was to be held, that fantasy quickly faded.  

We were informed that New York City has the largest collection of Dartmouth alumni of any city in the world. Later, I talked to one of the Dartmouth staff who was there and asked how many people they had.  She said that 1300 had accepted, but the room where we were seated only held 950, and not all seats were full, so they had had some drop off.  

When you go to an Ivy League College, you get the feeling that you're special.  When you go to this type of event, you don't feel at all special -- just a face in the crowd, if that.  

I once joined a group that was supposed to be for all Ivy League graduates in NYC.  The organizer of that group said that there were 250,000 Ivy League graduates in New York City.  That *really* makes you feel *not* special.

President Bielock is the first female, but only the 19th, president of Dartmouth College.  Since the college was founded in 1769, this would appear to mean that the average president has served for slightly over 14 years.  There's a funny contrast there for me.  254 years seems like a very long time; but realizing that there have only been 19 presidents in that time makes it seem like not such a very long time at all -- sort of the opposite of the size of the room, which made me feel insignificant, the number of presidents made her seem more significant.

Next time, if I go to an event like this, I should try to go to a different location.  I bet, if I went to London, there wouldn't be more than fifty people there.  On the other hand, do I really want to go to London for something like this?

This is a photo of President Bielock.  I'm incorporating this photo by reference from the college website.  I hope they don't take it down.

She clearly knows how to smile for the camera.  To me, tho, the smile looks forced.  Am I going to get flamed for saying that?

I'm thinking back to a discussion that I had on Facebook with some female actress friends.  One of them was asserting that smiling is subservient behavior and demanding that women smile is dominance behavior.  I wonder about that, looking at this picture

I noticed that she asked one of the other speakers to address her by her first name, Sian, rather than President Bielock.  If I understood correctly, he declined.  While I'm a Quaker, and we have been historically opposed to the use of titles, I sort of like the idea of his not wanting to call her "Sian" in front of this huge gathering.  President Bielock seemed more appropriate.

Of course, on everyone's mind was the recent kerfuffle where presidents of big Ivy schools were grilled by Congress over alleged calls for genocide on their campuses.  NY Times op-ed  There were some noteworthy points about that congressional hearing.  One was the seemingly evasive and unsatisfying answers of the presidents of Harvard, U Penn, and MIT.  Another was that they were *all* women.  The representative, Stefanik of NY, questioning them in a commonly viewed TV clip was also a woman.  

So here was Dartmouth's first woman President speaking only a few days later.  She addressed this famous situation by assuring us that "threatening genocide" was a violation of college policies.  Everyone cheered.

Curiously, though, the question posed to the other presidents was whether "calling for genocide" violated their codes of conduct -- not "threatening."  I wondered about the difference.  Why did she change the wording?  To me, the difference is significant.  Threatening violence is clearly a violation of the code of conduct of most places.  Calling for violence might not be.  Why did she want to leave us to guess about how she might have answered the real question?  The introductions clearly presented a brilliant woman of sterling academic and administrative credentials.  It seems unlikely to me that she made the wording change by accident.

Dartmouth was credited publicly for having forums where different opinions could be aired in a safe way on the Israel/Gaza situation. NPR article This was mentioned during the presentation.  It was nice seeing Dartmouth come up in a favorable story in the news.  Usually, when Dartmouth appears, it's because something bad has happened, like murders.  

I don't really know the situation on campus recently, but Dartmouth always used to be a quite a different place from those other campuses -- smaller, more conservative, less overtly political.  When my mom, a Mt Holyoke grad, learned that I wanted to go to Dartmouth she said "Those people fought on the side of the British in the Revolutionary War and they've been like that ever since," clearly implying that a liberal, as she expected her daughter to be, should not want to go there.  I wonder if Dartmouth's response could have worked elsewhere.

Bielock did give a rousing speech.  She definitely knows how to make a speech.  Knowing how to make a good speech is an important skill for the position of college president, imho.

Fortunately, since I didn't take notes, the college has helpfully put up a summary of the key topics in that speech

  • Fostering mental health and wellness across campus
  • Creating “brave spaces” for open dialogue about challenging topics
  • Strengthening our community’s lifelong bonds with Dartmouth, particularly to promote  professional and career development
  • Becoming a real carbon zero campus to minimize Dartmouth’s contribution to global climate change and advance sustainability
  • Unleashing the intellectual firepower of faculty, students, and alumni to drive innovation and impact
There were so many things I wanted to say to her, in that fantasy conversation that never happened -- indeed I never located her in the crowd after her speech.  There were a couple of women who sort of looked like her, but, upon close inspection, I was persuaded that they were not her.

Of course, I didn't look for her until after I finished eating, so she might well have left by that time.  I ate with a couple of very nice, and much younger, female alums and one mom.  It was pleasant.  I got two new instagram followers.

I think I was the only one in that gathering still wearing a mask.  I should mention that it was quite the departure from my normal post pandemic behavior to even go into such a large crowd.  I did take off the mask to eat, but not the rest of the time.  

Ultimately, I decided, given that I *do* have a college education, I might write some of the things I would otherwise have said to President Bielock.  

One thing I noticed, despite her stated desire to be carbon zero -- on some timeline, which struck me as rather pie in the sky -- was that she said she drives her daughter to school every morning.  That's sweet.  However, presumably, the daughter has the option to either walk or take a bus to school.  Driving is an extra trip.  Even if President Bielock has an electric vehicle, the power she uses to charge it is likely not all carbon zero.  

I've noticed this amongst a lot of so-called environmentalists -- that going carbon zero is generally someone else's responsibility.  I went to a gathering of environmental activists questioning congressional candidates in the 2020 election, and the topic came around to protecting national parks.  I asked some of the organizers afterwards how they were getting to those national parks without burning fossil fuels.  The response was quite amusing, in a way, as to why, somehow, traveling to a national park didn't count as burning fossil fuels -- much, I suppose, the way cheating on a diet with high calorie foods somehow is thought not to count -- except that those calories do in fact show up visibly on people's bodies.  

Physics is actually real.  I say this as a former physics major.

I also did want to tell her about my own rather negative experience with seeking counseling at student health services when I was a student at Dartmouth.  I think I'll write about that to her directly.  

I also wanted to tell her that I still am not ok with the college having unilaterally reneged on its 19th century promise to have the alumni control 50% of the board of trustees of the college.  

I'm running out of steam here.  More to come.  I often edit blogs after publishing them.  This might be like that.


Oh, I should mention that this facility has a spectacular view of the New Jersey skyline at night.  During the day, it's an ugly sight, but at night it's glorious.  I only got one blurry photo.  I should have done more.