Kornberg: Wail to the Chief
By Josh Kornberg, Staff Columnist
Published on Monday, March 28, 2011
I met College President Jim Yong Kim last spring. He’s surprisingly tall, as perhaps many already know, with eyes that sparkle like obsidian and a soothing voice that sounds as if primed by the constant sucking of mentholated lozenges. He’s serious and professional and warm and charismatic, the kind of person who is able to inspire college students to work harder and think in ways we couldn’t on our own. I remember wanting to be exactly like him.
Since then Kim administration has overseen the overhaul of the College’s dining system, the closing of the river docks, the replacement of Blitzmail with Microsoft Online Services, the hiring of an unpopular graduation speaker and an increase in administrative turnover. Additionally, Dartmouth is now the second most expensive school in the Ivy League. There are very few new academic programs, star professors or alternative social scenes to show for it. Kim’s administration, of course, has had a few successes — the new house for Alpha Phi sorority comes to mind — but most of them either do not benefit undergrads directly or are so marginal that my mentioning them might only serve to remind you they ever occurred at all.
My biggest problem with Kim’s presidency, though, is not his policies themselves (although I do think they are counterproductive), but the undemocratic way in which he implements them and the haughty speeches he makes to defend them. I can grudgingly accept an inferior email client. I just can’t accept having to do so essentially because the administration says so. It’s Kim’s new habit of acting more like a salesman than a polished leader, of devising policies first and trying to convince us to buy them second, that I’ve found saddening.
A salesman is a lot like a leader. Both are likeable, persuasive and can get us to do things that we wouldn’t otherwise. The key difference is that a successful salesman is ultimately motivated by self-interest while a successful leader is ultimately selflessness. A salesman stands to profit regardless of whether he sells a good product. A leader, on the other hand, either subordinates his own interests beneath group interests, or equates the two because they are synonymous. A salesman is someone you believe. A leader is someone you believe in.
I’ll use the Dartmouth Dining Services “pay per meal” plan to illustrate my point. Kim justifies the plan on the grounds that “only 5 percent of students end the term with more than $10 in their accounts.” This explanation falls short of addressing the underlying issues of why the situation is the way it is and what is a smarter way of fixing it. It’s clear that students binge to avoid losing DBA at the end of certain terms and extravagant employee fringe benefits could be cut so food prices are lower. Failing to acknowledge these issues is disingenuous, unfair and antithetical to putting group interests (designing a good meal plan that students like) ahead of individual interests (designing a meal plan so that it looks like good administrative work is being done).
Kim tells students that their “critiques are very important.” Yet he barely involved us in the meal plan decision-making process. The only student input came from the 1953 Commons Advisory Committee, which consisted of just eight students and met with Director of Dining Services David Newlove just once all of Fall term. Kim’s speeches have become refined slogans iterated so frequently that they have gone from useful to cliché to white noise. Students either get angry hearing them, or worse, they roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders and decide next time they’ll go the gym instead of listening.
This is the real problem with Kim’s presidency: although Kim came here to cultivate student leaders and teach them that the world’s problems are our problems, the way he treats us has underscored the defeatist notion that it’s easier not to even get involved.
I want the president who I thought I saw a year ago. The president who lives in Hanover year round. The president who saves millions of lives through a superhuman unwillingness to settle for solipsism or cynicism. The president who shows us the possibilities of being human. The president who reminds us, in a world saturated with irony and hatred, how important it is to believe in heroes.