My Two Beads' Worth: Dartmouth Should Know Better

Uh oh! Looks like Dartmouth stepped right in the middle of a steaming pile of controversy.

In my own attempts at "transparency" I must start out by letting you, gentle readers, know that I am a Dartmouth alumni class of 1986 (OMG, has it been that long already…). Additionally, I have applied for the position of Native American Program (NAP) Director so this column may be or at least appear as sour grapes and self-serving. So be it. Regardless, I have an opinion on the matter that makes the Op/Ed section a perfect place to share my viewpoint.

I should also note that I did not receive the courtesy of a phone call or email notifying me that I was not selected for an interview and only found out about the appointment of the NAP Director upon reading the Dartmouth press release announcing the hire of Susan Taffe Reed.

By now most of you should be familiar with the current unrest between the Native community and the administration of Dartmouth College surrounding the hire of Susan Taffe Reed as the director of their nationally renowned Native American Program. If perhaps you have missed the resulting kerfuffle you can get up to speed by perusing recent articles and blog entries at Taffe Reed Another Dolezal?, Fake Indians, The Daily Beast, Indian Enough For Dartmouth, and DartBlog

The NAP Director is the link between the student group Native Americans at Dartmouth (NAD) and the institution. It seems that Dartmouth was looking for someone with strong academic credentials to serve as leader of what is widely considered to be one of the best and most comprehensive Native American Programs in the country. All three of the final candidates had doctorates. I only have my BA from Dartmouth (Sociology modified with Education) and my teaching credential from Humboldt State University in California.

Oh yeah, I also have nearly 30 years of working directly in American Indian education programs to make the academic world a bit easier to navigate for Native students from kindergarten through graduate school. I am not saying that I am the most qualified candidate; clearly I am not after reading their curriculum vitaes on DartBlog. What I am saying is that I think Dartmouth is barking up the wrong tree if they relate strong academic credentials with the ability to work with students. Students need someone they can trust and identify with.

The Native American Program Director plays a critical role in the success of Native American students. They are the emotional and physical liaison between them and the unfamiliar world of an Ivy League institution. For students who are coming from a reservation, Native community or a traditional background Dartmouth is like an alien world as far distant from their reality as another solar system. The NAP Director is charged with helping the Native students get the support and assistance (academic and financial) needed to be successful in such a foreign and scholastically rigorous environment.

If it had not been for Grace Newell (the NAP Director when I matriculated in 1982), I would have not survived even one complete quarter and would have been headed back home on the Greyhound (the same way I got to Hanover from seven hours north of San Francisco on the Hoopa Reservation). That is not just hyperbole. She helped me navigate the rocky shoals of attending college so far from home. She fought for all Native students to have the best opportunity to find a home, family and support system.

All of the NAP Directors I have admired, respected and strived to emulate have been strong cultural role models and have served the College and Native students well beyond the scope of work in their job description. Their academic qualifications had no impact whatsoever in their efforts to help me. It was their ability to understand the needs and problems of a lonely, poor student from a Native community that made them successful at their job. Someone leading the NAP who is familiar with their unique cultural and linguistic needs best serves the students of Native Americans at Dartmouth. The vital importance of the NAP Director cannot be underestimated.

It is time for me to dismount my self-serving soapbox but let me leave by saying Dartmouth could have, and should have known better than this. They owe more to the current set of NADs. In performing their due diligence in the hiring of the NAP Director position they retained a head hunting firm to vet the candidates and shepherd the process forward. I hope they get a refund.

Just my two beads' worth.

Andre Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.