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The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Frontpage Interview’s guests today are:

James Panero, a former Editor-in-Chief of The Dartmouth Review. He is now the Managing Editor of The New Criterion. In addition to his editorial duties for The New Criterion, Mr. Panero serves as the magazine’s gallery critic. He writes on art and culture regularly for several publications and lectures widely.


Stefan Beck a former Executive Editor of The Dartmouth Review. He is now the Associate Editor of The New Criterion. In addition to writing fiction criticism for The New Criterion, Mr. Beck has contributed reviews and essays to the Wall Street Journal, Policy Review, National Review, NRO, and Fortean Times.

Preview Image

Beck (left)                                    Panero (right)

Both gentlemen are the editors of the new book, The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent: Twenty-Five Years of Being Threatened, Impugned, Vandalized, Sued, Suspended, and Bitten at the Ivy League's Most Controversial Conservative Newspaper.

FP: Stefan Beck and James Panero welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Beck: Yo, Blair!

Panero: Where you going? Sorry, this isn’t the G8 Summit?

FP: No this isn’t the G8 Summit gentlemen.

Tell our readers please a bit about The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent.

Panero: Stefan and I were editors of The Dartmouth Review in the early Oughts and late Nineties, respectively. We’d been kicking around the idea of a Review anthology since our student days—to get together those infamous articles that saw our Review forefathers “threatened, impugned, vandalized, sued, suspended, and bitten.” (Yes, this all really did happen.) So these brilliant articles that could send left-wing college administrators into apoplectic shock were collecting dust in the filing cabinets of the Review offices off Main Street, Hanover. The twenty-fifth anniversary of the newspaper gave us the chance to rediscover them. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute was the first and only publishing house we approached for the anthology—ISI has been a supporter of The Dartmouth Review from the beginning, and its Collegiate Network now has a Review-like newspaper questioning the regnant liberal orthodoxy at just about every college in the land. But I should add that the Review never called it “regnant liberal orthodoxy.” The Review called it “chum.”

In preparing the book, Stefan and I had the joy last fall of flipping through every page of the old issues, often late into the night in the offices of The New Criterion, stringing the articles together into a narrative. ISI gave us wide latitude towards including even the raciest bits of the archive. In turn, Stefan and I designed, edited, and laid out the book to the same editorial standards we use to produce The New Criterion. Bill Buckley, Jeff Hart, and the editors of The Wall Street Journal also generously let us include the columns they’d written on the Review over the years. The story came together like a great college novel—wishful kids versus draconian deans. Stefan and I began our introduction with a quotation from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted. More than merely an important footnote in the history of campus activism, it’s the timelessness of the Review story that we took away from this experience.

Beck: During my years at the Review, we moved offices twice, at one point to the heavily soiled living room of a derecognized fraternity. Our archives—a dozen file cabinets lacking any organizing principle whatsoever—always came with us, and always got lost under a mountain of pizza boxes, scrap aluminum, and foam tomahawks. Most of us figured that the stories of the early Review were exaggerated, if not outright apocryphal—and were in any case lost to the sands of time.

Well, I have seen the archive, and it is no myth. Ben Hart really was bitten by a fellow on the College payroll. The College really did sponsor a rally celebrating hate—its own hate for the Review. And “vexatious oral exchange” really is the College’s technical term for any spoken communication that hurts a faculty member’s feelings. The Review’s experience has rendered satire redundant—at least as far as campus stories go.

FP: So why Dartmouth? Why was Dartmouth the perfect environment for the Review to flourish in?


Panero: The ingredients were just right. More remote than it ever should be, Dartmouth is a combination of Parnassus and NBC’s Survivor, with a singular, isolated campus culture that has a particular resistance to left-liberal academic assumptions.   While a point of pride for many, and I believe the school’s saving grace, for decades this situation has vexed Dartmouth’s progressive leadership. Its self-selecting trustees and administration have therefore been at loggerheads over the future of the institution with more moderate rank-and-file students and alumni. Twenty-five years ago, The Dartmouth Review tapped into the discontentment already brewing over the issues of free speech and the school’s Indian symbol. The passions that Dartmouth students and her alumni feel for their alma mater can be difficult to fathom. It can be more Dartmouth than Dartmouth. The majority of the Review’s funding continues to arrive in the form of regular small donations from thousands of alumni, who view their contribution as a form of protest against administrative molestation and the misuse of the College Fund. This pays for the Review’s off-campus offices and the printing and distribution of the newspaper to every dorm-room door, plus the mailing of the issues to thousands of alumni—weekly or fortnightly, as the news demands it. The students write fundraising letters five times a year, and the money comes in. I’m not sure this could have occurred at a school where emotions did not run so deep.                 


Beck: Dartmouth is the only “college” in the Ivy League, and that isn’t a minor point. “College” suggests small-scale, traditional, old-school in a way that even the oldest universities can’t match. It means an indifference to fashions, intellectual and otherwise. This is what attracted many of us to Dartmouth—by us, I mean the kind of students who are impatient with being told what it is and isn’t okay to believe. As James said, this isn’t an attraction that the College is delighted to have. But it does have it, and the fact that it does more or less guarantees a steady flow of new Reviewers to Hanover.


FP: What makes the Review different from the conservative newspapers that have come after it? What can those papers learn from the Review's history/example?

Panero: The promise of a Review revolution spreading throughout academia has yet to be realized. If the Review experiment is to be considered anything but a local success story--a conservative aberration in the liberal academy--the scores of tiny newspapers now dotting the university landscape must grow to Review-style strength and self-sufficiency. Created on the model of The Dartmouth Review, with some notable exceptions, most of these conservative student newspapers survive solely through small grants from the Collegiate Network and handouts from the same institutions they are there to shake up. They publish sporadically when the money’s around, usually out of the editor’s dorm room. They often fold and restart every couple years—this, despite the fact that these editors and writers are bright and passionate about what they are doing.

How The Dartmouth Review came to dominate its campus as an alumni-supported, six-figure-a-year media operation can be a take-away lesson of the book. The newspaper certainly benefited by being the first of its kind. But the newspaper has survived through a strong institutional structure. It formed a bond with alumni, who subscribed and made contributions. Reviewers saw alumni as a part of their audience. Alumni saw Reviewers as their boots on the ground to a retaking of the soul of Dartmouth. The Review also established a board of governors, made up of Review alumni, to oversee finances, elect editors and presidents, advise editorial content, and steer undergraduate staffers into successful careers. Board members like myself meet in Hanover twice a year and once in New York. We get to know the students. How do you think Stefan ever got a job after graduation?

Beck: It’s true. I owe all my success to a shadowy old boys’ network that extends from The Dartmouth Review to the Knights of Columbus, the Majestic 12, and the Trilateral Commission—just to name a few. The network is everything. As an editor, you can’t just graduate and forget about your paper. Your paper needs alumni support to thrive. I’m talking about money, yes, but I’m also talking about editorial advisement, organization, and job placement. The paper, of course, must do its part to maintain a strong bond with its alumni readership, by treating campus issues in a serious but entertaining way. In the digital world, this kind of alumni-student coordination should be far easier and cheaper to do than it was at Dartmouth twenty-five years ago.


FP: Can you talk a bit about what we might call "right-wing guerrilla theater" in the success of the Review?


Beck: Some students complain when they’re penalized for their unpopular views. Reviewers go out of their way to make sure that they’re penalized for their unpopular views. This is terrifying to the administration and faculty, who are left with nothing to hold over the Review.

Panero: The editors of The Dartmouth Review forced the dominant culture of Dartmouth, the "party of resentment," as Harold Bloom called it, to contend with their own conservative ideas. This they did through a combination of reporting and activism. Early stunts, such as the tearing down of illegal protest shanties on the College Green (concerning the 1980s cri de coeur: South African divestment), brought national attention to the newspaper, and to a school that celebrated free expression while maintaining a byzantine code of permissible conduct and thought. Such exposure allowed the newspaper to advocate the candidacies of conservative trustees more broadly, to reveal intellectual delinquencies on campus and in the classroom, and to explode the false pieties of Dartmouth's "Principle of Community" (a fancy name for speech codes). It also provided a cushion as the newspaper stared down college intimidation, including frivolous lawsuits meant to break the Review editorship (one cost the Olin Foundation, which came to the Review’s defense, $300,000 in legal fees).

The newspaper went "too far in its criticism of College policies so that other people will feel compelled to go far enough," as Harmeet Dhillon, a former Editor-in-Chief, once said. The Review’s opponents denounced the newspaper's radical tactics, rarely, if ever, understanding them to be more than churlish pranks. Through these activities, the student editors grew battle-tested and emboldened. Of course, it’s all in the book.


FP: How has the Review remained vital since the notoriety it enjoyed in the 80s began to subside?


Beck: Well, for one thing, every school needs a school newspaper. Have a look at the Daily Dartmouth sometime and you’ll see why the Review is vital. Even the editors of our Marxist competitor, The Dartmouth Free Press, have told me off the record that no other paper is the Review’s equal for quality of writing, analysis, critical verve, and hang-outs. After all, what’s notoriety without great content to back it up? Great content will always remain vital.


Panero: Not only would the Review’s Reagan-era tactics fizzle today, they are also unnecessary precisely because the newspaper won its early battles. The Dartmouth Review has earned its right to exist. Now, strong campus reporting and a vision for Dartmouth’s future keep the paper vital. These days the Review is in fact doing what it was up to in its very first issue: reporting on conservative petition candidates for the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, and staring down the barrel of an “alumni constitution” that would gerrymander trustee elections in favor of approved liberal candidates.  


FP: What is it like editing the Review? What makes it "Dartmouth's J-school"?


Panero: Reviewers are vested with a great deal of authority. Any one of them has the power to seriously screw things up. But eighteen-year-olds also have an ability to rise to the occasion. When your predecessors include Peter Robinson, Dinesh D’Souza, Laura Ingraham, and Hugo Restall—one brilliant editor and writer after another—you’ve got a tough act to follow. But the system works. It starts Freshman year. Maybe you’ve been harassed for uttering capitalist, pro-American views during Freshman re-education—er, I mean “orientation.” Maybe you’ve encountered bias in the classroom. Maybe you’ve had it with your hippie lecturer telling you right from wrong. So you come to one of the Review’s weekly open-house meetings. You start writing notes for the “Week in Review.” Pretty soon you’ve fallen in with the “worst set in the university” through your association with the newspaper--and you wouldn’t want it any other way.  The Review offices can be a social club and a J-school in one, offering ad hoc instruction on both good writing and good manners. This includes how to turn a pizza-box lid into a plate. It’s an amazing experience. As editor-in-chief, it’s the best full-time, no-sleep, unpaid job you could ever have. So even when you don’t ace your Latin exam, hey, at least you’ve got the newspaper and a clubhouse off Main Street.     


Beck: Editing the Review is one of the most physically and spiritually debilitating experiences available to today’s elite student. Like the United States Marines, the Review will break you down, only to build you back up again. Sometimes, it won’t bother to build you back up again. A number of our editors have vanished without a trace since graduation; others have lurched leftward (you know who you are, Ben Wallace-Wells), which is more or less the same thing in our eyes. Lingering health problems are pretty much a given. For a better picture of the hazards of a Review editorship, I recommend Editor Emeritus Larry Scholer’s account of our various emergency room visits.


FP: How has the Review been received on the right, from its founding to the present?


Beck: There are certainly some elements on the right—I won’t name any names, because that would be hurtful—that don’t share the Review’s taste for confrontation, mean-spiritedness, character assassination, lewd humor, skeet shooting, pizza parties, and late-night trips to Cactus Jack’s. To those elements, I’d just like to say (and I’m borrowing Allen Ginsberg’s words about the Review, mind you): “You are fascists, and you are no different from the Russian bureaucrats.”


Panero: In the office of our boss, Roger Kimball, there’s a print of a grinning Matthew Arnold. Below it, the caption reads: “Mr. Matthew Arnold. To him, Miss Mary Augusta, his niece: ‘Why, Uncle Matthew, oh why, will not you be always wholly serious?’” So it has been with the Review and the conservative movement. The newspaper has never been wholly serious. It’s often been on the edge. It sometimes takes a gleeful leap over the edge. Bill Buckley and National Review have always championed such style. But it has not put the Review in the good graces of every type of conservative--the type that doesn’t like to stir the pot, or the type that doesn’t care about culture and campus issues. But in truth, the Review has accomplished more than many serious adult organizations a thousand times its size. This it has done brilliantly—radically and conservatively at once. The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent may just contain the most radically conservative writing ever assembled.   


FP: Thank you for joining us today gentlemen.

Panero: Thank you Jamie.

Beck: Our pleasure.


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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

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