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Hayden’s Hopes

Dear Hayden:

Thank you so much for applying for the Presidency of Davidson College. This year we received a record number of applications, and there were a number of highly qualified individuals we were forced to turn down this year. Unfortunately, we cannot offer you the Presidency of Davidson College.

Should you decide to apply again, we believe your extensive track record of deeply ethical, impressively intellectual, and honor-driven behavior would be strengthened by membership in the Presbyterian Church-USA. Rigorous scientific studies have shown that uniquely Presbyterian behaviors–such as believing that certain people are predestined for eternal damnation, entirely absent of their own free choices–are directly correlated with Presidential efficacy. Until then, we will regard your highly moral behavior as suspiciously motivated and somehow half-rate, and will be forced to disregard any of your numerous meritorious accomplishments that may make you the best candidate for this entirely non-religious job.

Irish may apply. Catholics, Methodists, Buddhists and other sorts of heathens need not.

Should you be disappointed in our decision, please remember that we are only instruments of God’s will, so therefore take up your petition with Him in your chosen manner.

Sincerely,
The Trustees of Davidson College

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This article was written in response to a local issue regarding a natural gas pipeline. That issue is detailed by the Charlotte Observer here. A compromise has since been reached.

Pipelines and Politics

Note: I’ve been asked to comment on this issue this week. You can look for further columns of “Hayden’s Hopes” next week.

Violence is intrusion. It might be someone breaking into your house to steal your things, or a knife physically entering your body. Violence can, less literally, be committed by intrusion when one’s rights are encroached upon: violence is done to us, for example, in censorship, when the hand of another enters our text and redacts or alters our words.

It is no wonder, then, that talk of a natural gas pipeline through Davidson’s campus has aroused such wariness. It is because it is felt an intrusion, and as such resembles other forms of violence, in form and intent.

Last week, the College was notified that Piedmont Natural Gas (PNG) is planning to build a natural gas pipeline through College property, notably, through the Ecological Preserve. This pipeline is part of a larger, regional network stretching all the way to Wilmington. The plans to build this pipeline have been known for years; however, the actual route of the pipeline was only revealed last week.

This revelation comes after years of silence from PNG. As far back as July 2010, the College asked PNG what its plans were for the pipeline, receiving no answer—in spite of the fact that PNG was on our land, cutting down our trees, having already made up its mind, without the input of the College, where the pipeline would go.

Call that what you will legally, but it is clearly not the kind of conduct that we would expect from someone you would want to work with. It seems obvious that Davidson, which knows the Ecological Preserve best, could have been a valuable partner in planning where the pipeline would go. PNG purposefully ignored this possibility, instead opting for what was easiest for them. PNG forced Davidson into confrontation. If that is what they seek, I hope they get it.

As in the case of the Keystone pipeline, the course of the pipeline is the most objectionable element of the plan.

There already exists a PNG pipeline corridor through town, but it—for reasons that have not been revealed—is apparently unsuitable, prompting the need for a new pipeline. It would require a 70-foot easement all around the pipeline.

As a pragmatist, I do not understand why PNG has not sought a route that seems to unnecessarily destroy swathes of tree canopy, destroying biodiversity on Davidson’s campus and in the town. As the Davidson Lands Conservancy has pointed out, the pipeline could be sited alongside the east bank of the Rocky River, rather than the west, or could be moved to the middle of a greenway (which would be cleared of canopy anyways, and is already planned).

Finally, as a student at Davidson College, I know how much the experience of my peers in the Biology Department is enriched by having the Ecological Preserve as a research site. At least four long-term projects, in plant ecology, wildlife conservation, avian ecology, and insect ecology, are conducted on the Preserve. It is an invaluable resource to the Biology Department, which is one of the best of its kind. Disturbing the Preserve would unnecessarily disrupt these studies.

At this point it is not clear what will come next. If PNG can prove that the route through the Preserve is in the best interests of the people, it can seize the land by eminent domain. But my intuition, at least, whispers: if this really was the best route, why was it researched in secret?

In the spring of 2012, I compiled a number of my thoughts together into memo form and passed them on to President Quillen. I don’t know whether she ever read them, except that she once called me “the zipline guy.” I had originally hoped for a bolder, more exact vision (for some time I considered nailing 99 suggestions to her door)–instead, I hope that these suggestions can create, by cluster, some suggestion of the spirit that I am going for. Some of these suggestions I have since reconsidered. Some have since been achieved or been rendered obsolete. But I stand by the spirit of them, and the act of boldly reenvisioning our social organization–of creating, imaginatively, a new and better place–is central to the vitality of our world.

TO: President Carol Quillen

FROM: Hayden Higgins, Class of 2012

RE: Future Directions

 

President Quillen:

You must be very tired after your trip to Washington today. I was very happy to see that message passed on to the national stage.

I saw that there was a Student Forum tonight to meet with you. I decided to take this opportunity to write down and submit some of my thoughts and ideas. These have been bubbling around in my mind and batted about in my discussions with others.

You will notice a division between pithy recommendations on the first page, and more detailed proposals on the following pages. Some of these more detailed proposals have been written down before, in the form of my weekly column in the Davidsonian, called “Hayden’s Hopes,” and others have been discussed in SGA memos. In these suggestions I have tried to strike a balance between boldness and thoughtfulness. Each is, of course, a virtue, properly applied.

I have enjoyed Davidson. Nonetheless, I am always an expansive thinker, and so have enjoyed the chance to comment on these issues, and envision a Davidson that might have been even better. I may wake up tomorrow and disagree with much of what I have suggested herein. But I hope that this is the kind of deliberate, forward thinking that you are looking for.

I hope that my thoughts are informative and useful to you.

Thank you for listening.

Guilelessly, etc.,

Hayden Higgins

A 10-Year Vision for Davidson College: Wishlist

Don’t get too much bigger. Bigger, but not too much bigger.

 

Be competitive. We should want the best of the best.

Be more okay with our weirdnesses. People at Davidson are quirky in wonderful ways.

Talk to more people about this, but this is the one of the most segregated places I’ve ever been. It weirds me out. I don’t fully understand it.

This institution, right now, is full of charity—the will to do good. But it is not full of activism. It is not full of people who seek structural change. That has left me, personally, very dissatisfied.

This place, right now, is full of smart people doing amazing things. But it is largely devoid of very big ideas and very new ideas.

Bring speakers who will get people riled up. Bring speakers who will challenge us. Not just ambassadors and bankers.

Speaking of which, Career Services (fairly or not) is largely perceived as useless if you do not want to go into banking, consulting, or teaching. This should change.

Let’s do something fun with the space being opened up downstairs in Alvarez.

Be fearless. Be different. Seek diversity. Seek frontiers. Stick to principles.

Academic excellence should always be the hallmark of Davidson College.

The NCAA is contradictory and outdated. The writing is on the wall. It will fall in on itself before too long. What that means for Davidson, I don’t know.

Let’s continue to foster creativity in every discipline. Students should be encouraged to produce their own, original work: reading, doing, and teaching are the three steps to learning. In other words, watching, emulating, and creating. Davidson: a research institution of ideas of the liberal arts and sciences.

Bring back the Eumenean Society.

Challenge students to take responsibility. I mean this in many ways. Physical Plant staff should never have to pick up at Armfield the way they currently do because students should be able to get up and pick up after themselves in the morning. But I also mean that students should continue to play a vital role in the management and direction of the College.

35 Ideas for Davidson College

This document is meant to provide a number of suggestions for the future direction of Davidson College. They are ideas and nothing more; many will turn out to be untenable or undesirable. They are written from the perspective of my personal student experience, and while they are meant to be objective they of course reflect particular, subjective experiences. While the suggestions all come from a common place of concern and share similar motivations, there is no reason why they cannot be considered individually. While this writer recommends the adoption of all suggestions, they will not necessarily be seen by all as sharing a common time horizon or degree of importance. Moreover, it should be noted suggestions are by no means ordered in any meaningful way. The “common place of concern” and “similar motivations” mentioned above merely reflect the student-writer’s opinion that Davidson needs to remain a forward-looking institution in order to retain and progress upon its impressive past. These are suggestions, therefore, which provide for a future in which Davidson itself serves as the highest paragon and exemplar for its students. The Davidson as imagined here is congruent with the spirit of the school as the student-writer understands it: a place of learning that enriches student lives even as it best prepares them to enrich the lives of others. Finally, it should be noted that this document is primarily concerned with new, administration-centric initiatives. It does not, for example, list current projects that merit further support. The writing herein addresses administrative matters, but the administration is not its only audience, and the student-writer implores his fellow students to consider his suggestions with the thoughtfulness that characterizes their lives as scholars at Davidson. This student-writer believes student-propelled change is ultimately the best motivator and will probably ultimately be the only thing that can bring some of this platform to pass. I fully expect and encourage the critical discussion of these ideas and the many that I hope will follow.

  1. 1.     Discontinue the football program

The football program at Davidson has much to be proud of. It fields a competitive team in Division I-AA (FCS) despite the small size of the College. It is financially self-sustaining, as I understand it. It plays in a beautiful stadium. But Davidson in the future will be better off without a football program. There are several reasons. One, many of our peer institutions either do not play football or play it at a reduced level of competition. Two, the program has had little success on the field in recent history. Three, the program attracts little student interest. Four, there is a high degree of turnover due to burnout or injury. These things are worth mentioning, but they would not alone merit the abandonment of the program. Rather, the problem lies in mathematics. There are 95 males on the football team, and something like 900 male students . That means that around 10% of all males are football players. So? So that means 10% of males dedicate an incredibly high degree of their time to a very insular group of people who, out of necessity, spend most of their time in an inwardly-focused group. It’s just too big a group of people within the school to be socially optimal.

  1. 2.     Expand the campus composting program with vermicomposting

The campus composting program has been very successful, but problems exist. The graduation of one work-study means there is a knowledge gap to be filled. The composter is often breaking down from lack of professional attention. More to the point, the college is producing more compost than the machine can handle. The college should invest in a second composter, expand the program to Vail Commons and the Senior Apartments, and if excess compost is produced it can be sold on the market.

  1. 3.     Build a campus pub

The college would immensely benefit from a low-intensity social environment like a pub. While the Union serves as the center of formal student life, social life at night often shifts down the hill for most students, and there is no current public space that facilitates student gathering. The conversion and expansion of the Outpost or some other building into a full British-style pub would provide such an environment to the student body, providing a venue not only for social interaction but also student performances, informal get-togethers with professors, and small-scale student meetings. It would also satisfy growing demand for a legal drinking place. Witness the immense popularity of 21 Year Old Night at the 900 Room. The fact is that it would be immensely popular, has the potential to run a profit, and would act as a safety valve against binge drinking. There is some concern that the student body is simply not large enough to support such a pub, but University of Cambridge colleges are often centered around a pub and do not have as many students each as Davidson does.

  1. 4.     Build a campus Free Café

This would be an entirely student-run space which would serve as a meeting place, coffeehouse, and free art space. It would in a social sense fulfill much the same purpose the pub does, only for the morning and daytime hours rather than afternoon or night hours. It would not cost the college anything other than building and utility costs; it would be entirely stocked and paid for by students on a communal basis. Envisioned is a room the size of maybe an apartment common room. The Food Club’s Food Cart could be stationed here, stocked with goodies which students pay for on an honor basis. Tea and coffee would be stocked by student volunteers, again with payment on an honor basis. Fluffy, cushiony, comfy old chairs abound. It could be adjacent to the pub, and always open.

  1. 5.     Enact the plan for a Davidson College Farm

The plan to put College land into use as a farm has had a long genesis. It is time these plans be actualized. The implementation of this land for vegetable crops will supplement Dining Services’ intake, saving the college money if it can operate the Farm in an effective manner. These crops should be chosen to fill a niche that is not currently occupied in the local food offerings currently available in Davidson, and should be versatile and usable in a wide variety of dishes. They should also be chosen somewhat on basis of cost-effectiveness. The Farm will be operated organically by a professional with the help of student work-studies and volunteers. The Farm will also be a source of cocurricular learning for professors to work into their classes.

  1. 6.     Have a Fall Lake Day

Though the revival of Winterfest is very welcome, the balance of official party time still tilts toward the spring. Moreover, Davidson has an amazing resource at its disposal in Lake Campus which it should continue to use to its best advantage. The establishment of a Fall Lake Day to celebrate this resource would boost collegial spirit and allow us to say farewell to the swimmable months in fair fashion. The Lake Day would be a Friday off of class, announced spontaneously sometime in the fall (probably in September) by the President in the fashion of Williams’ Mountain Day. The Union Board, Davidson Outdoors and others would coordinate activities to be held at Lake Campus, in a manner similar to Spring Frolics but less capital intensive. It could also be merged with SGA’s Fall Block Party.

  1. 7.     Expand student access to fresh, local, organic, and sustainable foods

There is clearly student opposition to the established food system, which Davidson officially participates in to a large extent. Student opposition is backed by extensive literature suggesting the way we eat is damaging to the health and economy of our nation and the world. This organized student opposition is surely joined by tenfold less zealous students who are also concerned about the way that they are eating. Every time the College has provided options for alternatively produced foods, these options have been met with widespread student acclaim. This fall, a student-run Food Cart will open with the purpose of beginning to meet this demand. The challenge will not fully be met, however, until Davidson makes an executive and administrative decision to support food that is good for our planet and good for ourselves. It is possible; it can be economical; the examples are there. Let Davidson be the next pioneer, to serve as an example for others.

  1. 8.     Offer rebates to winners of EAC’s annual Do It In The Dark electricity-saving contest

The annual Do It In The Dark contest pits residence halls against one another in a fight to see who can save the most energy over a baseline level of consumption. Prizes are currently offered, but the contest’s aims would be most perfectly realized if winners were offered the value of their saved electricity as a credit on their student accounts. Their kWh saved could be multiplied by the rate at which the college purchased electricity for that month, then divided amongst the inhabitants of the building. While this amount of money would not necessarily equal the money saved by the College as a result of their actions, it would be an appropriate lesson for students soon to enter a world marked by the necessity not only of environmental but also financial awareness. By tying the consumption of electricity to fiscal responsibility in the minds of young Davidsonians, the College can fortify the future of not only the Earth but the pocketbooks of its alumni.

  1. 9.     Hold a referendum on a student Green Fee, with options on how money will be spent

This mechanism has been instituted at a number of leading academic institutions as a way for students to contribute towards environmental investments on their college campus. There are many ways this mechanism could work. Students could be required to give $5 each with their tuition (as an item to appear beside the ATC Fee, for example), but with options to give more. This is the ‘fee required’ model; however, opt-out or opt-in models could also be effective and have been at other institutions. How this money would be spent could then either be decided by an elected or appointed committee, voted on by the student body, or allocated in some other fashion. Improvements made at other schools through the institution of a Green Fee include submetering dorms and installing solar panels.

  1. 10.  Create a Classes 2.0 system that will allow students and professors a chance to learn practical skills and fun activities outside the classroom

Classes 2.0 would be a market-based parallel extracurricular program through which a variety of campus and community activities could be conducted. Essentially, Classes 2.0 would match campus and community members who have common interests in taking a class which is not offered through the college. These classes could be of academic, personal, or practical interest. There is a demonstrable lack of practical life training for graduating seniors. Therefore, classes that would interest graduating seniors would surely include instruction on personal finance, basic auto repair, cooking, and so on. Zanier classes, such as beer appreciation or history of graffiti, could also be offered given demand. Persons interested in offering a class would put a description on Classes 2.0 before the semester, listing a fee if necessary, and individuals would be able to sign up on Classes 2.0 then communicate with the instructor to figure out any details. The system would be very hands-off. Classes 2.0 would allow professors and students to branch out in a low-stress environment into subjects they may not be able to explore in a full academic context.

  1. 11.  Require qualifying examinations within the major

A qualifying examination with the major would be a large but beneficial change. Codifying a corpus of information which all individuals graduating from a department will help ensure that students have a strong fundamental basis. While it can be argued that this is already ensured by requiring students to take introductory classes, the important thing is that this information is retained and continuously applied throughout study in a department. The examination should be administered in the fall or spring of junior year and should be passed before students can be admitted to senior-capstone type classes. It should be able to be retaken, of course, but should not be easy, requiring review of core concepts from the department.

  1. 12.  Install solar ovens at the senior apartments

Solar ovens like the one constructed at the Eco-House can be made cheaply and would be perfect for the senior apartments area. They could also easily be constructed with a metal covering to fit over the top if Physical Plant is worried about accidents breaking them while not in use. Solar ovens would be practical for students because they could cook things over the course of several hours, to be ready when they return, without the worry that comes with leaving an oven on. Moreover they are entirely eco-friendly and would set a powerful example for students.

  1. 13.  Install a grey-water collection system for irrigation

The College currently buys water from the municipality to satisfy all demands, then separates it according to its end use. This is inefficient; it is not necessary to buy potable water to use to, for example, irrigate the College’s vast green spaces. The Piedmont of North Carolina is so verdant because it receives a good deal of rainfall. This rainfall could be put to good use. On a small scale, roof rainwater collection systems would be easy; better still, the College could put to good use depressed points in its geography to collect rainwater from throughout its significant catchment area. This may or may not be accompanied by the much-maligned lake as planned as a reservoir for this catchment. It is also recommended, however, that the College, pending positive results, continue with its experimental implementation of native grasses (which is, of course, not experimental at all; the experiment has already been done by nature and the years, which prove these grasses adapted for this environment).

  1. 14.  Offer classes in film photography, if not formally then through the Classes 2.0 system

It is high time film photography, which fills the halls of the world’s most famous museums from London to Tokyo, was given its due as a fine art with a place at Davidson. There are a significant number of students with some experience in film photography who desire to continue their formal study but are confronted with a curt denial at Davidson. Davidson is certainly in the minority amongst its peer institutions in pretending that photography is not worth recognition.

  1. 15.  Follow the recommendations of the Premajor Advising Subcommittee from the Academic Advising Committee (Team 6) convened by Dr Fox in Spring 2010

These recommendations may be in place for the upcoming year, but if they are not they should be. Premajor advising is one area in which the tremendous faculty of Davidson College have not always met their own very high standard. To that end, the new framework recognizes the difficulties of premajor advising, for which professors have not always been adequately prepared or supported. It offers incentives, training, and assistance to facilitate a positive student-teacher relationship that can be productive for both. It also offers a step-by-step charting of the appropriate adviser and advisee relationship. In their most vulnerable time on campus—the first years—students deserve the best possible counsel as they adjust to college campuses and explore their options as young intellectuals.

  1. 16.  Organize a rent-a-dog service, or buy a community dog students can sign up to walk or play with

Anytime a dog comes to campus, the library becomes a little less relevant. And sometimes that’s a good thing. There are numerous psychological studies concluding companion animals such as dogs help stressed individuals relax and perform at a higher level. Sound like something Davidson students could use? It’s something that has been put into place already at other schools, including Yale. And a community dog would increase campus togetherness by giving all students something they could agree on.

  1. 17.  Pressure Duke Power to provide submetering services; if help is not forthcoming, do it ourselves

Knowledge is power. As an institution of higher learning, we don’t need to be told so twice. One area in which Davidson could clearly do with more information regards its electrical usage. Submetering will allow the College to optimize its electrical efficiency. While it would be very difficult to submeter each of the College’s hundreds of buildings individually, if the main buildings could be monitored individually the College would stand to be able to make financially valuable corrections to electricity consumption. Duke Power has dragged its feet on the issue long enough. As part of its dedication to a smarter grid, it should stand with the College on this issue. But if it wants more than the market rate or does not finish the job by the end of the year, Davidson is more than capable of providing this service for itself.

  1. 18.  Work with Duke and Progress to restructure our energy deal to make it easier for us to install micropower programs on campus or at the campus farm

The College is currently blocked from pursuing solar projects on the Farm property by a mildly absurd legal issue. Because the Farm land is administered by Progress, and the main campus by Duke, it is not feasible to inject any power created at the Farm into the grid and access it from the College. Three responses come to mind: firstly, the Farm could simply sell the power to Progress, and the money deposited in whatever account pays Duke for the power on campus. Secondly, a direct line into the Duke grid could be built (the College cannot use any power it produces without first selling it to Duke). Finally, the College could organize some third way with Duke and Progress, by which Progress might sell the rights to the Farm to Duke, or permit some other way to be found. (This point might be made moot by the possible merger of the two.)

  1. 19.  Support WALT in quest to obtain AM signal to Charlotte

Davidson could expand its regional presence by supporting WALT in its quest to regain an AM signal to Charlotte. Davidson obviously stands much to gain from this arrangement, and could gain notoriety with youth in the area if WALT were to become an eminent youth music radio station within the metropolitan area. Examples of highly successful student radio stations operated by peer institutions include WKNC in Raleigh, run by NC State students. WALT officers already gain a degree of business experience through their dealings with record companies, and would gain even more by working through all the pressure that would come with an AM signal. Programs could be taped live in the afternoon and night, and replayed to make up the rest of the time so that programming would be continuous.

  1. 20.  Remodel Davidson.edu

The Davidson website is, alas, out of date and awkward for the user. It is very hard to search, in particular, with ancient pages coming up first and obviously relevant pages buried behind mounds of trash. It needs a professional remodel. Let’s consider it an investment==the website is, after all, the first face Davidson shows to most of its prospective students.

  1. 21.  Consider making the Honor Code a living document which must be written anew each year

The Honor Code is obviously one of Davidson’s distinguishing characteristics and a pillar of value upon which much of the College rests. Yet making the Honor Code a living document would fortify its relevance and strength. With a convention and referendum held each year, students would become more familiar with the document whose presence is so pervasive in our lives, and would moreover gain a degree of voice over its contents that is currently absent. Right now students have no avenue through which to air grievances over the structure (rather than application) of the Honor Code. A yearly convention would offer such an opportunity.

  1. 22.  Require of all Trustee meetings the presence of a Student Oversight Representative from the SGA to represent the interests of students to the Trustees and communicate the activities of the Trustees back to the student body

As of present the role and powers of the Trustees of the College is not much known to the common student. Whether because of this lack of information or because of truth, the Trustees are often thought to be the ones pulling the strings out of the view of the students; whenever there is some administrative decision which seems out of the students’ power or interests, it is often ascribed to the Trustees. While the Trustees obviously have the interests of the College at heart, it may not hurt to have a current student present at their meetings, so as to serve as a living reminder of the interests of the students. It will not be possible for any student representatives to always report on issues  (due to confidentiality), but official proceedings of the Trustees ought to be 1) easily accessible to the student, 2) examined by the appointed or elected student representative, and 3) summarized and relayed to the general student body on a monthly, quarterly, or semesterly basis through either a general e-mail or Davidsonian report. (I’m told the Trustees might actually welcome such an interface.)

  1. 23.  Conduct a significant review of clothing (and general) purchasing practices to eliminate implicit support of sweatshop-reliant businesses and other businesses with ethics the College should not support

It is a shame that the Davidson logo should grace so many garments that are the result of so much pain. Criticism of purchasing practices is doomed to hypocrisy, as few students can or do make such conscious decisions in their own consumerism. Yet as an institution Davidson should consider its reputation as a moral leader at stake, and its weight as a large purchaser a correspondingly great ability to make a difference. A wholesale switch to a certifiably fairly produced inventory will doubtlessly eat into Bookstore profits, or at least require raising prices. But if Davidson is to live up to its considerable promise and past as an ethically-guided institution, neither students, nor staff, nor alumni should continue to support unfair labor practices.

  1. 24.  Invest in a machine to convert our waste oil (and the waste oil of local restaurants) into biodiesel which can be used in campus vehicles or machines or sold on the market in Charlotte

This would be really fairly easy, and could pay for itself given some time. Cocurricular possibilities abound, for economics, chemistry, and environmental studies, as has been the case at Dickinson College. The collection of waste oil to be converted to biodiesel could be facilitated by a work-study, and overseen by Physical Plant (probably not requiring the addition of a new staff member; the process is fairly simple, and other than the cost of perhaps consulting sessions at the beginning of the installation, costs could remain under $10,000 for the system itself). Current rate of return of investment on ASTM-grade biodiesel for colleges and universities is only 5-7 months, and is expected to accelerate as the price of diesel increases.

  1. 25.  Continue to support the Davidson Trust, protect it, strengthen it

The Davidson Trust is one of the most empowering programs in higher education. The opportunity to graduate from college debt-free is a huge step towards fiscal independence for many young people. In all too many instances across America college ends up being an investment with dubious value due to the lingering debts it incurs. The Trust allows students from all backgrounds access to higher education of the highest quality. The biggest beneficiary of the Trust, though, may not be any individual student but the College itself. Since the institution of the Trust Davidson has become more diverse with every coming year even while maintaining its excellent performance, proof that the Trust is worth further investment. In this difficult economic climate making such a large commitment may seem daunting, but the investment—in both the amazing students it brings and the College these students greatly enrich—is well worth it.

  1. 26.  Continue to expand, diversify, and solidify course offerings

Recent reexaminations of the curriculum have yielded significant advancements. The College should not shy away in the future from continuing to explore new options, including those currently decried as too “professional” for study at Davidson. Courses like journalism can be taught in a style that is suitable for a liberal arts institution. I do not personally support recent pushes for Africana Studies and Gender Studies departments, but that doesn’t mean the College shouldn’t be open to such proposals.

  1. 27.  Make public reaffirmation of institutional devotion to Climate Action Plan

The Climate Action Plan is a pillar of success in the environmental movement at Davidson, and the culmination of many hours of work by people across departments at Davidson in the common interest of both the institution and the Earth. With the recent change of presidents, some force (both legal and de facto) may have left the CAP and the Presidents’ Climate Commitment which created it. A public reaffirmation of institutional devotion to the Commitment and Plan is in order.

  1. 28.  A zipline system throughout campus

Only half kidding.

  1. 29.  Raise parking permit amount by $10-20 to pay for community bikes

It is a travesty that it is even rumored a Davidson student might drive from down the hill to class, but the occurrence is more than a rumor. Davidson enjoys some of the lowest parking permit prices amongst peer institutions. It is also the site of the proud tradition of the shared bike, a symbol of trust amongst comrades and commitment to community. The community bike should replace the car as the Davidson student’s mode of transportation for anywhere within the campus or town. For this to be possible, however, we need bikes that are available and well-functioning. As of now, the community bike is a nearly dead tradition due to chronic abuse and lack of funding. Raising parking permits by a small amount, enough to offset the addition and upkeep of, say, 25 more community bikes, should be enough to negate the second problem. As for the first, that is something Davidson can only solve by looking itself in the mirror.

  1. 30.  Open the practice facilities in the Sloan Music building to all students during the school year and summer

Facilities should be open to all, though perhaps restricted to only those taking lessons or in orchestra during certain hours or parts of the year. Moreover, all students should have access during the summer. Other academic departments allow access to their facilities, why should Music be different? We have an honor code that should be reason enough to trust all students; if it is not students we are worried about, there could be a code that interested students must request from an administrator.

  1. 31.  A reconsideration of Career Services’ relationship with students and orientation towards the world at large

If you want to be a doctor, teacher, consultant, or banker, Career Services can make it happen for you. For the rest of us, however, Career Services at Davidson feels a bit lacking. While it is impossible to make the connections that are necessary to climb out of this hole overnight, the student body is indeed clamoring for real help on the career question. To a large degree the onus falls on the student, to seek out counseling—but once they do, that counseling should be forthcoming with more options than just Bain or Bank of America. It is unclear what kind of change is necessary, but the place and role of Career Services within Davidson needs a jolt, both to students’ relationship to the office and to its orientation towards the world at large. This is not meant to be an affront but rather a call to even greater vigilance—what they are tasked with is, after all, rather a challenge.

  1. 32.  Limit the number of speakers visiting campus each day

The college is saturated with speakers and events are often forced to be held at subprime times or simultaneously, resulting in sparsely attended lectures and film screenings. While any kind of review process for speakers has the potential to drag the college in an authoritarian direction, it might be fair for organizations to receive an equal allocation of ‘speaker events’ allowed—perhaps 3 per year, with exceptions for certain organizations like Dean Rusk. This is a highly imperfect solution, but the more important thing is cognizance of the fact that oversaturation of speakers and events in general is a problem. Sparsely attended speaker events are particularly embarrassing to the college and do not reflect the true vitality and attitude towards learning at Davidson, and something must be done to change that.

  1. 33.  Disallow the endorsement of candidates by holders of Honor Council seats

Those running for Honor Council seats can’t campaign for themselves. When in office why should they be able to campaign for others? There is far too much political interest in this sort of arrangement for it to have a place in the dealings of the Honor Council, which prides itself on staying objective.

  1. 34.   Ban or limit the use of paper fliers

Paper fliers are constantly strewn about the campus for all kinds of events. While it’s important that student organizations should have the ability to exert agency and make an effort to gain prominence on campus, there has to be another way, one that is not so blatantly irresponsible with regard to the local and global environment. LCD TVs all over campus, with cycling announcements, aren’t the answer either—all that electricity, even when no one is watching? Rather, centralized, known spaces for publication should be the norm—supplementing the bulletin boards in Chambers with others, in Commons and down the hill, would be a good start. Furthermore, students who are actively seeking this information can easily find it on InsideDavidson.

  1. 35.    Change how public art space is managed

There is a lot of great art being made on this campus, but most of the student body never sees it. No offense to Herb Jackson, but his monopoly on public art at this school should end. What about moderated, rotational art spaces in Alvarez, Chambers, and elsewhere for student and professor artwork? Seeing Annie Temmink’s work in the Union last year was an inspiration, but it shouldn’t be an exception, it should be the norm. Moreover, I suggest that communal art space would be a great way to encourage creativity on campus. This could be an area—for example, the round wall outside the side of Commons facing Patterson Court—which could be painted over constantly, with student organizations signing up to decorate it for a week at a time, for example. Another thing—what is up with that statue of a man in the Sculpture Garden? It’s a great sculpture, but a) maybe some people could get a sense of humor about it—I’ve heard you can get an Honor Code violation for putting a Santa hat on it at Christmastime—and b) have you noticed how downtrodden he looks? Is that what I want to see after hours in the library?

This column originally appeared in the Davidsonian in the spring of 2012.

Hayden’s Hopes

Did You Know? America, Your Food, & Our College

Washington’s insularity is condemned from the left and right. From both the Occupy and Tea Party camps, there is indignation at the idea that influential individuals cycle through a revolving door of eminent positions as consultants, lobbyists, and bureaucrats.

A prime example: let’s say a man is a lawyer for the biotechnology giant that holds numerous patents on genetically-modified (GM) crops.

This man then leaves this job, and goes to his country’s capital and is appointed the country’s second-in-command for food safety regulation. One of the key parts of his portfolio is—you guessed it—regulation of GM crops.

Does this strike anyone as a conflict of interest?

The man in this story is Michael R. Taylor, and he has spent the last few decades rotating between Monsanto, the FDA, and the USDA.

The safety of GM crops is, of course, a complicated issue, with many sides. As a Monsanto lawyer, his job was to argue that GM crops are safe. His job with the FDA (in the early 90s) then required him to rule whether GM crops were safe.

Taylor is the originator of an idea known as substantial equivalence, which holds that GM crops should be treated the same as conventional crops if they demonstrate the same characteristics and composition. Of course, the issue is much more complicated than that. Conventional crops can’t be patented for profit. GM crops expand monoculture by promoting reliance on a few varieties of crops (all patented by Monsanto). This exposes our food production to systemic risk associated with loss of biodiversity—think of it as putting all our eggs in one (genetic) basket.

Mr. Taylor must have been incredibly busy during his time as a Monsanto lawyer. Though it’s possible his work didn’t deal with any of these issues, Monsanto has a history of serious brushes with the law. In Indonesia, Monsanto tried to bribe a high-level government official to bypass the usual investigation of environmental effects of their GM cotton. In France, Monsanto was found guilty of false advertising when it tried to pass off the herbicide Roundup as “biodegradable” (Roundup in fact contains glysophate, and is classed as “dangerous for the environment”). The list continues.

The Union of Concerned Scientists gives Monsanto a “failing grade” when it comes to food security. But apparently this was exactly what the U.S. government was looking for when it hired someone to protect our food supply. Today, he’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Safety at the FDA.

No matter how you see GM crops—as frankenfood or as solution to world hunger—I hope you can agree with me that there is a dangerous intimacy in play between Monsanto and the FDA.

What does this have to do with our college? The man at the center of this drama, Michael R. Taylor, is a Davidson graduate. There goes the Honor Code.

 

The following column originally appeared in the Davidsonian in the fall of 2011. I have since used it as a writing sample for a number of job applications.

What We Buy Matters

Hayden Higgins

 

What we buy matters—and not just to us. It’s a simple premise, but one not often considered. A purchase is a transaction: there are two parties, or more, and there are always effects on both sides. Production and consumption are two sides of one coin, and both the act of making a product and the act of enjoying its use can have repercussions throughout broader society.

Food consumption is one area in which this campus is already making great strides in terms of taking into account the effects of its purchasing. Discussions about the food system often revolve around questions of environment—for example, whether local foods, by virtue of traveling shorter distances from farm to plate, save greenhouse gases. However, a recent panel event on chocolate points the discussion in a different, but equally important, direction, in which considerations of worker’s conditions are emphasized.

The event—titled Chocolate: A Bittersweet Story—emphasized that buying certain brands of chocolate implicitly supports slave labor, which is used illegally on some of the cacao farms in Africa that the chocolate companies buy their raw ingredients from. None of us would say that slavery is okay; this event advocates bringing one’s consumer practices into accord with one’s beliefs.

It would be easy for us to think that this is an isolated instance, something restricted to one particular item or company that we can easily avoid. In fact, however, this decision—whether to consider social responsibility in our consumer practices—is pervasive and powerful. The core principle of what I am saying is then thus: consumption is political.

By educating ourselves about where products come from, we can in effect give ourselves a vote on many world issues, from worker’s rights to sustainability practices and on. In fact, through education we may learn that our purchases have political repercussions even deeper than we realize, as corporations may take your hard-earned dollars, turn around, and donate them to political causes that are in their own interests (but not necessarily yours).

I’d like to suggest that the college—which has already amended its chocolate-buying practices in light of work by International Justice Mission and related groups—should conduct an extensive review of its purchasing practices. This review should encompass everything from food (are the oranges we buy coming from companies employing modern-day slaves in Florida?) to merchandise (are the shirts we sell in the Bookstore sewn by laborers with fair wages?), taking into account the fundamental question: does Davidson College, guided by its Honor Code and statement of purpose, support the way this product is made?

A tall task, to be sure. Luckily, there are significant guidelines already in place, not least among them the considerable work done by the Workers Rights Consortium and Students Against Sweatshops. But I think we are—if you’ll excuse me—honor-bound. If we are to be moral leaders, we must look after our own house.

 

This originally appeared in the Davidsonian in fall 2011.

 

Hayden’s Hopes: Ideas for Davidson’s Future

No. 3

By: Hayden Higgins

 

Do It In The Dark Rebates

 

Too often we think of environmentalism as a refuge of the privileged elite, when climate change, for example, is really a proletarian issue that will disproportionately affect the poor of the world. Environmentalism in our world is delinked from economic issues: indeed, to be ‘environmentalist,’ or at least to fit that label, it sometimes seems like one needs deep pockets indeed, to keep up with each new fair-trade, organic, local, no-testing-on-animals certification.

The truth of the matter is that more often than one might think, what is good for the environment is good for our pocketbooks. This is especially true when it comes to consumption of resources like water, food, and energy. By improving efficiency, we use less—and therefore have to pay for less in the long run. Conservation can be thought of as an environmental attitude—or it can be conceptualized as thriftiness, the willingness to turn down the heat and put on a sweater. In that scenario you’re not lessening the amount of coal burned—you’re lowering your utility bill.

Utility bills, it should be noted, are one thing that Davidson students certainly won’t be bothered with. But in this one instance, talking about utilities with students could be a great way to teach a life lesson about how conservation can be good for everyone, both on an individual level and on a collective level.

I suggest that Davidson start offering rebates to the winning hall of the annual Do It In The Dark energy conservation contest, hosted by the Environmental Action Coalition. The College could reimburse each individual in the winning hall by the difference between that hall’s average per capita energy consumption value from October and November. A similar, very successful program which could serve as a model is already in place at the University of the South in Sewanee.

The cost to the College would be minimal and the impact lasting. Though the amount each student would receive would be small, the message would be clear. Students would carry with them the lifelong lesson that environmentalism and economy are not fundamentally opposed.

 

 

Originally published in the Davidsonian, fall 2011.

Classes 2.0

Introductory Note from the Author:

Hi everyone. This column is meant to be an experiment in interactive, engaged journalism. Every week I will introduce a new idea for how to best prepare Davidson to meet its goals in the twenty-first century. These ideas will be largely focused on administrative measures, but they all carry at their center a concern for student interest, and none will come to pass without student support. I hope that each week people will write to me with a one-sentence reaction, and I will publish the three best reactions in the next week’s column. Moreover, I am actively seeking co-authors, who may contact me with ideas. I look forward to a year of exploration searching for ways to make our campus a better place.

Summary at a Glance:

This week’s idea: Classes 2.0

Budget estimate: $0 running costs, some startup costs to design the website

Who: Anyone who wants to convene a group around a subject

We learn everything at a liberal arts college, right? Courses abound, ranging  from wilderness leadership to quantum physics and reaching everything in between. Everything, that is, except some of the skills we’ll most need. It’s great that this isn’t a vocational school, but seniors shouldn’t go into the world not knowing how to do their taxes or change a tire.

To this end, I propose a “Classes 2.0” system that would fill a definite gap on campus. Classes 2.0 would be a market-based parallel extracurricular program through which a variety of campus and community activities could be conducted. Essentially, Classes 2.0 would match campus and community members who have common interests in taking a class which is not offered through the college. These classes could be of academic, personal, or practical interest. There is a demonstrable lack of practical life training for graduating seniors. Therefore, classes that would interest graduating seniors would surely include instruction on personal finance, basic auto repair, cooking, and so on. These might become mainstays of the program.

On the other hand, zanier classes, such as beer appreciation or history of graffiti, could also be offered given demand. Generally, Classes 2.0 would allow professors and students to branch out in a low-stress environment into subjects they may not be able to explore in a full academic context.

Persons interested in offering a class would put a description on a web page before the semester, listing a fee if necessary, and individuals would be able to sign up on Classes 2.0, communicating with the instructor to figure out any details; the order could be reversed as well, as in Craigslist. The system would be very hands-off. There would be no cost to the college except the upkeep of a web interface where seekers and offerers of courses could interact.

The success of a similar system at UC-Berkeley, the necessity of practical training (“Life 101” for seniors), and the allure of fun courses combine to make this idea one that could contribute significantly to Davidson’s mission and character.

—————————————

I was later requested to write a memo to the SGA on the subject of the Classes 2.0 system. This memo is below. To my knowledge, the matter never got far, though I had many high-level SGA officers approach me to learn more. Change is tough.

TO:          Faheem Rathore

CC:           Davidson College Student Government Association

FROM:      Hayden Higgins

DATE:      29 November 2011

SUBJECT:      Classes 2.0

 

You asked that I produce an executive summary of the proposed Classes 2.0 system, as well as a succinct roadmap of next steps that could be taken to make this happen. The goal is give students a place to learn outside of the parameters of Davidson’s liberal arts curriculum.

 

As I envision it, Classes 2.0 provides an arena in which students can pursue intellectual and practical interests unencumbered by the typical demands of curricular study. I see Classes 2.0 satisfying students’ desires to learn more about subjects that are too controversial, too practical, or too esoteric for study in our liberal arts context—for example, gardening, cooking, basic car maintenance, beer appreciation, Marxist Studies 101, and financial literacy classes might be offered.

 

Two models exist for satisfying the demand for such an arena. The first I will call the top-down model. In this model, a central authority researches student needs, recruits facilitators, and reserves space for the classes. The student need only sign up. In some sense this is like the winter terms employed by many colleges (and, once upon a time, this college). The second model I will call the bottom-up model. In this anarchic model, students meet in a central ‘marketplace’ (probably a web forum), express their desires, form groups, and make arrangements for a class on their own. The best model of this is the DeCal system that is highly popular at the University of California, Berkeley.

 

I suggest the following pathway for successfully implementing this system, broadly following a 2-year transition from the top-down to the bottom-up model:

-Semester 1 (Spring 2012): A small working group organized by SGA and supplemented with interested individuals arranges 3-5 pilot programs, perhaps focused on practical, post-Davidson life skills (“Life 101”).

-Semester 2 (Fall 2012): Successful pilot programs are continued under the supervision of the Committee. The option to self-organize with assistance from the Committee is offered. A website is launched where students can interact to organize classes.

-Semester 3 (Spring 2012): Similar to Semester 2, with a core group of courses administrated by the Committee and a fluctuating group of courses organized with their help by independent students

-Semester 4 (Fall 2013): The Committee falls away, and the entire system is run independently (like DeCal).

 

I hope that this explanation is clear and concise, while allowing flexibility for future adaptations. By focusing efforts on cultivating a core set of courses we will be able to develop a framework future student organizers can work through to offer their own independent courses. Please contact me with any questions.

 

Sincerely,

 

Hayden Higgins

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

 

http://www.decal.org

 

http://www.decal.org/about/decal-at-other-campuses/

 

http://oberlinexco.org/

 

http://www.uvastudentcouncil.com/student-services/initiatives/cavalier-education-program/

 

http://web.williams.edu/registrar/winterstudy/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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