Since the appointment of President-elect Philip Hanlon '77, many have highlighted the need for Hanlon to reconcile Dartmouth's undergraduate-centered identity with the needs of the College's graduate and professional schools. While I do not believe the development of graduate programs has been, or needs to be, in opposition to Dartmouth's outstanding undergraduate education, I would like to offer a solution to this perceived problem.
After graduating from Kalamazoo College, a small liberal arts college in Kalamazoo, Mich., and obtaining a Master of Arts from Columbia University, I chose to enter Dartmouth's comparative literature master's program in large part due to the undergraduate-centered education here. While this rationale may appear poorly conceived at first, one must recall that most university graduate programs are focused on PhD candidates and do not allow for interaction with undergraduates until after qualifying exams. However, the unique, professional development nature of the Dartmouth program requires master's candidates to serve as teaching assistants or work in other areas at the College, which promotes the quality of undergraduate education. Furthermore, all master's candidates are required to enroll in the same classes as undergraduates with additional work assigned as well as in several graduate seminars that are also open to undergraduates.
This model of graduate education is mutually beneficial. Graduate students benefit from professional experiences, a high level of education and extensive interaction with faculty advisors. One needs only to consult the placement history of past comparative literature graduate students in highly competitive positions to gauge the success of this unique model. Likewise, undergraduates benefit immensely from shared classroom experiences, increased campus resources and additional mentors.
Perhaps the only hurdle to overcome in the continued success of this model is the very thing that makes it possible Dartmouth's extreme focus on undergraduate education. It has been my experience that, to many undergraduate students, graduate students seem non-existent or, at best, distant and reclusive. However, this is certainly not the case, and I believe that an increased effort by the new administration to create opportunities for positive graduate-undergraduate interaction would go a long way to ameliorate this misconception.
Admittedly, there are certain limitations to this model. Namely, the program requirements of the professional schools and some of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, known as STEM, do not allow for such an educational model. Additionally graduate students in the STEM disciplines far outnumber graduate students in the humanities, which I believe is unfortunate considering the liberal arts education that Dartmouth offers. Nonetheless, the new administration can find ways in the short term to better utilize the available graduate students in order to make a meaningful difference.
Dartmouth has long been renowned for its undergraduate education, and this should continue to be the case. That being said, graduate education does play a significant role in the cultural institution that is Dartmouth and ought to continually be supported and augmented. Despite the reality that the College must make tough choices with its available finite resources, there are ways, such as the model I outlined above, that can be mutually beneficial for all parties concerned.