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An Ivy deserves kudos for at least trying.

I have no idea if she'll be successful, but she's among the first Ivy League Presidents to stick her neck out and try. Kudos to her and gods speed.

How Dartmouth Keeps Its Cool

Its president has a commitment to free speech and dialogue.

By Emma Osman, WSJ

Feb. 19, 2024

Like nearly every other school in America, Dartmouth College is struggling with the breakdown of civil discourse and free expression. Students tend to self-censor or shout down views they don’t like.

“I don’t want safe spaces, I want brave spaces,” says Dartmouth President Sian Beilock in a phone interview. At the start of the winter term in January, the Hanover, N.H., college launched the Dartmouth Dialogues program.

Ms. Beilock says the program aims to convince students and professors that being challenged is crucial to education. “The idea is to be around the brightest minds and to be pushed and to be a little uncomfortable,” she says. “Even if you’re not going to change your mind, the ability to hone your arguments and to think differently from different perspectives, these are skills and tools of higher education.”

The Dartmouth Dialogues program will begin in the classroom. Faculty are already being trained on how to guide debate—particularly when a topic is likely to become charged. Ms. Beilock’s hope is that students will learn to disagree respectfully and take that skill with them when they leave the classroom. Starting in the fall, new students will be given similar training. These types of training sessions sometimes elicit eye-rolls from students, but by consistently reminding students that disagreement is OK, Ms. Beilock believes that the college can “create the environment to get this right.”

The program will also bring speakers to campus for discussions on touchy topics. These will be modeled on the school’s Middle East Dialogues, begun in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel and the start of the war in Gaza. Passions were running hot and the college sought to redirect some of that energy into a productive enterprise. Professors from the Jewish studies and Middle Eastern studies departments convened a series of public conversations about the history and politics of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The goal was to remind students that the college’s purpose was academic, not emotional.

This successful initial conversation series, attended in person by hundreds of students and streamed on YouTube more than 35,000 times, was profiled on “60 Minutes.”

Ms. Beilock knows these events won’t always be popular. “It’s OK if not everyone likes everything we’re doing,” she says. “Having a diversity of viewpoints is hugely important.”

This will be put to the test in coming weeks. On April 3, the college is set to host a moderated discussion between Samieh El-Abd, a former Palestinian Authority official, and Gilead Sher, who served as chief of staff to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

At a recent panel, a student opened by reminding the crowd that the Dartmouth community has “a responsibility to hold these conversations” and to “expect and encourage respectful disagreement.” Passions still run hot, and a single incident could set the campus against itself. But Dartmouth so far has avoided the negative attention showered on some of its Ivy League peers. Ms. Beilock’s commitment to civil dialogue and free speech deserves credit.

Ms. Osman is an assistant social media editor for the Journal editorial page.

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