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Thursday, January 15, 2004
Ronald Edsforth

Ron Edsforth, a visiting professor in the History Department, and a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq (see here or here), will no longer be teaching here come this July. He's taught here for 11 years.

The reasons for this are unclear. I suspect it has nothing to do with his political beliefs, which are actually far less radical-left than most would think. I say this having attended several panel discussions on the war featuring Edsforth, and having spoken to a colleague of his who supported the war and who knows Edsforth well. It can't be his scholarship either, given that he's a full professor elsewhere and has published a couple of books. And by most accounts - John will testify, having taken a class with him - Edsforth is a very good teacher. So why then the dismissal? Does the College have something against visiting professors? Fiscal issues?

Update: Matt Singleton '04 wrote an op-ed to The D on Prof. Edsforth's dismissal, but they haven't published it yet and probably won't. Matt decided to print out copies of his article himself and distribute them around campus (I found one in Homeplate last night). With his permission, I'm reproducing it below:

As of July 1st, 2004, Dartmouth College plans to make redundant one of the most well-known, and well-respected professors on Campus. Professor Ronald Edsforth of the History department will not be returning to Dartmouth to teach for the Fall of 2004 after 11 years of dedication to the education, both in an out of the classroom, of his students. Upon being informed he would no longer be invited to teach his ever-popular War and Peace Studies class by the college, the History department also made the decision it would not be offering Edsforth the opportunity to teach as well.

Although the rationale behind these decisions is debatable, one thing that is for certain is that in no way, shape, or form were student opinions and evaluations considered in the college’s ultimate decision. Ironically, I cannot think of one student I know who has taken a class with Professor Edsforth that would concur with Dartmouth’s ultimate decision not to renew his contract. In the classroom, he is a passionate and interesting speaker who is truly invested in what he teaches, is committed to after-class hours, and has been responsible for bringing a number of renowned guest speakers and lecturers from all over the world to campus. Always available both during and outside of office hours, Professor Edsforth is truly dedicated to each and every student in the classes he taught.

Having taken my first History class with Professor Edsforth, I can undoubtedly claim his American Business History class was the single most important factor in my decision to become a History major. His extraordinary pedagogy transcended the specific curriculum; he taught us to embrace history as discipline in and of itself. Although a year or more has passed since I was last in his class, whether I meet him on campus or in Carson Hall, Professor Edsforth still greets me with as much warmth and energy as he did when I was his student.

One can speculate endlessly regarding the issues that led to the termination of one of the College’s best and most dedicated professors. The process leading to Professor Edsforth’s departure, reeking of purely administrative interests, belies Dartmouth’s claim of a commitment to giving students a voice in college affairs and runs counter to the popular opinion of the student body. If we accept this unfortunate decision without expressing our dissent, we may risk losing more professors of high quality in a similar fashion, but even more importantly, we will forfeit our expectation that the voice of the student body will be heard, particularly in matters that affect us as directly as classroom instruction.

Sadly, Professor Edsforth has been unable to find a job elsewhere given such short notice. However, all hope is not yet gone, for I would like to believe the students should have the last say in this matter. Dartmouth would be foolish to let such a valuable resource go, and it is our responsibility to ensure the continued excellence of education at Dartmouth College. Our legitimate voice in such matters is being eroded by a myopic and exclusive process. I strongly urge each and every student that has taken a class with Professor Edsforth and recognizes his extraordinary value to the Dartmouth community to express their support for Dr. Edsforth to the Dean of Faculty and contact me if you would be interested in organizing an effort to help retain one of the most prized faculty members Dartmouth has and to set a precedent for student influence in the future.