Intimidation at Dartmouth?

I fear that Eugene may have misunderstood some of the underlying facts surrounding the Dartmouth episode he discusses. As a result, he seems to have misunderstood the concern about intimidation. Were the claim simply that there was an effort by an administrator, even a vigorous effort, to change a student's mind on a political debate than Eugene plainly would be correct. But the claim by the young man here is not merely that "He criticized my views and said my political views are wrong..." but a specific concern of intimidation that the student should cease his activities in opposition to the proposed new Dartmouth alumni constitution or the administrator would make public or otherwise use against the student information that the student preferred to remain confidential.

Eugene relies on an account from the student newspaper, excerpted in another blog. But that newspaper article is derived from an underlying text from a campus blog, "Vox Clamantis in Deserto." Eugene focuses only on the political disagreement, but not the not-so-veiled threat that lies behind it:

Next [the administrator] began questioning me about my personal life, including my membership in student groups. He had made clear to me that he knew which groups I belonged to, what positions I held, and who my friends were. As I answered his questions, I got the distinct impression that he was checking his notes against my replies, verifying the records in a file he had compiled on me.


I left that room feeling extremely intimidated, as if I'd been operating under [the administrator's] microscope for a year and nobody had bothered to tell me that my actions were being recorded and monitored. No students at an institute of higher learning, or anywhere for that matter, should endure intimidation of any kind, especially because of their politics. [His] condemnation of my political views, followed by his inquisition into the personal and private details of my life, affectively threatened those freedoms which ought to be sacred.

The clear concern expressed here is not about a political disagreement, but rather that the administrator was threatening to use this personal information to try to embarrass this student and/or his friends. As I read Eugene's post, he seems to misunderstand the phrase in the story "I think when someone tries to let you know that they know what you're up to" to mean that the administrator was monitoring the student's political views, when in fact, the reference is to the administrator monitoring the student's personal life.

And that seems like a clear case of it could be a case of intimidation to me.


I should have clarified that I was assuming the facts as stated by the former student (sort of like a summary judgment analogy), which is what I understood Eugene to be doing as well in his analysis. So I didn't mean to be prejudging the case just based on the little that is known publicly now. I have changed the final sentence of the post to reflect this.

DC Corporate Lawyer (mail):
Not trying to be totally flippant, but it's kind of funny that a student at Dartmouth would be on double-secret probation...
8.18.2006 5:34pm
John M (mail):
The blog entry seems to raise more questions than it answers:

I privately emailed my fraternity, Gamma Delta Chi, asking my friends to consider signing the petition, or to at least familiarize themselves with the facts of the issue. As the president of the fraternity and friend of the brothers, I expected my email to remain within reasonable confidence, and I feel certain that it did.(emphasis added)

I would be interested to know 1) did the e-mail explicitly state that it was confidential to the fraternity brothers? and 2) did he ever ask his brothers if any of them distributed the e-mail? This student sent an e-mail to a large number of people, for the purpose of soliciting signatures on a petition. If I received an e-mail asking me to sign a petition, and I agreed with the thrust of the e-mail, I would likely forward it to others absent a request that it be kept confidential. Concluding that the only way the administration could have obtained the e-mail is by accessing his account seems to be a tremendous leap.

Next Mr. Spalding began questioning me about my personal life, including my membership in student groups. He had made clear to me that he knew which groups I belonged to, what positions I held, and who my friends were.

Dartmouth is a pretty small campus. It doesn't strike me as odd that a university vice president would be familiar with the activities of a student who is a fraternity president and generally seems to be quite involved in student life. The student claims he was interrogated about his "personal life," but the only aspect of his personal life that he lists is his membership in certain student groups, which I wouldn't consider part of his personal life at all. Again, if the administration threatened to reveal something about this kid's personal life, he should say so. But his blog entry doesn't seem to support your description of it. What he grilled about his sex life? Dating? Illegal drug consumption? I realize he can't be specific, but he doesn't even give us anything to suggest that the administration's inquiries crossed the line.

The meeting does seem a bit odd, but ultimately it simply strikes me as a political disagreement. The student was a forceful critic of the administration, and the administration offered a forceful response. The student's account doesn't rule out a nefarious motive on the part of the VP, but doesn't come anywhere close to proving it, either.

P.S. Is it "intimidation" for a trustee of Dartmouth University to publicly and forcefully accuse an administrator under his purview of misconduct?
8.18.2006 5:55pm
frankcross (mail):
Sounds like intimidation, but of course this is only one side of the story. Probably should hear the other side before drawing conclusions
8.18.2006 6:01pm
Nunzio (mail):
Doesn't Darthmouth have a football team or something else to distract attention from all this nonsense. Both the student and administrator are petty.

Too much time on their hands in the New Hampshire woods.
8.18.2006 6:23pm
Richard Riley (mail):
Prof Zywicki, it still sounds whiny on this student's part. He ought to be more of a mensch. Your defense also reflects ill on your joining the board of trustees. Was it just to assure that conservatives and/or whites as well as liberals and/or minorities have a chance to play the victim?

I actually support almost everything you post and stand for vis-a-vis Dartmouth, but I totally agree with Eugene Volokh on this one.
8.18.2006 6:38pm
Dan Collins (mail):
Can't agree with those of you who agree with Eugene on this. This conduct on the part of the administration, if it is true, is outrageous. I don't see anything here that refers to something like an exchange of views regarding the merits of the constitutional changes proposed. There may well be another point of view here, but the student was under the impression that he was going to meet with one administrator, rather than two. The purpose of the meeting was not disclosed, according to his account. The email in question was printed and placed atop a pile of documents. The administrator asked him questions regarding his personal life and his associations, according to this account. Explain to me how any of this is supposed to be pertinent to an exchange of views regarding the proposed changes to the constitution? On the face of it, this seems like bullying plain and simple, and far from deserving being reviled as non-menschlich, this student ought to be praised for having the gumption to come forward and tell his story.

By all means, Frank, let's hear the other side of the story--but I haven't seen much candor on the part of the administration lately.
8.18.2006 7:06pm
"By all means, Frank, let's hear the other side of the story--but I haven't seen much candor on the part of the administration lately."

By all means, lets here the other side of the story. But I am already prejudiced against the administration even before I know the facts.
8.18.2006 8:09pm
Dan Collins (mail):
Yep, wouldn't want to cartoonize the speaker.

That would be . . . prejudicial.

Well, there's something about this that just doesn't pass the smell test, right? And of course some random alumnus can't be expected to care as much about his alma mater as the administration.

But in my defense, let's just say that I'd NEVER do this kind of thing to a student. You know why? Because I'm not an ass.
8.18.2006 10:16pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
DC Corporate Lawyer wrote:

Not trying to be totally flippant, but it's kind of funny that a student at Dartmouth would be on double-secret probation...

Heh. I can just picture the VP telling the student, "Put a sock in it, boy, or else you'll be out of here like sh*t through a goose!"
8.18.2006 10:18pm
It is pretty outrageous. If a university official feels like he has to criticize or call down a student for that student's speech or opinion, it should be done with a very light touch--or not at all. In class, where there is debate on a topic, the touch should still be pretty light, but even then students should be encouraged to think outside of the box, not harrassed for doing so.
8.19.2006 4:25pm
Somehow I reead this and I see the administrator with a monocle and a high nasal voice, drawing a leather glove through his hand. "Veee haf vays to get at you, I have been watching you, and I know who your associates are..."

But that is probably due to too many late night movies when I was little...
8.19.2006 5:55pm