College growth affects atmosphere, professors say
By Ashley Ulrich, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, September 17, 2012
Despite its tradition of maintaining a compact campus centralized around the Green, Dartmouth has recently undertaken a number of projects — including the 1978 Life Sciences Center and Black Family Visual Arts Center — meant to expand classroom and research resources for students that have created hubs of student activity in farther reaches of campus.
While such resources have helped Dartmouth maintain its world-class academic caliber, they may also contribute to a growing student body and the erosion of the small college atmosphere, according to former music professor Jon Appleton, who began teaching at the College in 1967 and left in 2009.
“Over the last 20 years, Dartmouth has gone from a small college to a university,” Appleton said. “There was a time when a French class had eight to 12 students and a [computer] science class had 25 to 50 in it, and now it’s like a large university, where classes are much larger.”
Despite the slow change to the College’s small campus atmosphere, expansion efforts have been successful in providing students with new opportunities and projects, according to chemistry professor John Winn.
“[Expansion] is absolutely a good thing,” Winn said. “Change is inevitable and necessary.”
When Appleton began teaching at Dartmouth, enrollment was about half of the current 4,100, he said. Enrollment surged with the acceptance of female students to the Class of 1976, but Appleton attributes the College’s more recent expansion efforts to a fear of falling behind rival Ivy League schools, which have also expanded enrollment and facilities in recent years, he said.
“Dartmouth feels it needs to compete with its sister Ivy schools, so it’s become a university, although it was probably the last Ivy to do so because of its geographic location,” Appleton said. “These new buildings are a reflection of that.”
Winn said new construction is meeting demands for instruction, research and athletic spaces on campus, as well as keeping pace with routine maintenance and upgrades for older facilities.
“We’ve seen a lot of building in the last 20 years for sure, and it’s been in other facilities besides academic buildings, like fields and tennis courts,” he said. “It has really made a big impact on the quality of life on campus and opportunities for students.”
Increased research spaces in particular have challenged the traditional offerings of a liberal arts college, according to biology professor Edward Berger.
“[Dartmouth] has changed from a small liberal arts college to a mid-size research university,” he said. “It has refined its facilities, upgraded faculty in terms of aspirations as professionals and taken away a bit from the teaching mission.”
The changes do not reflect a negative change to the College’s mission, but an increased research focus within the curriculum, Berger said. They have also impacted the credentials for hiring new faculty and the requirements for the tenure track within science departments.
Nonetheless, space for future expansion is extremely limited due to the College’s property ownership in Hanover and building codes that restrict new buildings taller than four stories, he said.
To accommodate these limitations, new buildings have to be constructed further from the College’s nucleus. The VAC, for example, dips into downtown Hanover, and the Life Sciences Center edges down the hill toward the Hanover Country Club.
In addition to increasing the time that students need to walk to class, this sort of expansion impacts the College’s relationship with the Hanover community, according to Berger.
“The growth of the campus is impinging on the friendliness and size of the community,” Berger said. “Now [Hanover] is just a big old college town.”
New construction projects also often take over valuable parking spaces on campus, making it more difficult for faculty members to access their offices, Winn said.
“We want to be able to park on campus so we can be here to talk to students, and if it’s impossible to park near our offices, faculty are more likely to work at home,” Winn said.
Careful planning has allowed the College to expand while largely maintaining its orientation around the Green, according to philosophy professor James Moor, who joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1972.
“[Dartmouth] doesn’t seem to have undergone overwhelming expansion at all,” Moor said. “In general, the buildings have seen big improvements.”
The most striking change to Dartmouth has been the increased diversity in the student body, he said.
“When I came, it was the College’s first coed year, so [campus] was pretty much all male and white,” Moor said. “For me, that’s the big change on the campus in the last four decades, much more important change than physical changes.”