"College Official Bites Dartmouth Student" was the gist of the news stories describing the incident.
"He bit me right here," says Dartmouth graduate Benjamin Hart, 25, putting aside his kung pao chicken. He pats the right side of his chest, where the associate alumni fund director left his mark. "You could definitely tell it was a human bite . . . It hurt." He laughs. "It hurt a lot."
"He had me in a headlock, with my neck under his armpit," recalls Samuel Smith, 55, speaking by phone from Dartmouth's Hanover, N.H., campus. "The pain of the headlock was increasing, so I bit him. When I got to the emergency room, I was black and blue from head to toe. And I lost my three lower incisors."
It happened one May morning two years ago. Hart was distributing copies of The Dartmouth Review, a right-wing campus weekly he had founded with some classmates. Smith, coming upon Hart with his stack of papers, was trying to stop him.
The Review -- whose Latin motto means, "No one crosses my path with impunity" -- had been raising the collective blood pressure on campus with its broadsides at faculty and administrators, homosexuals, feminists, nuclear freeze supporters and affirmative action advocates. "Dis sho' ain't no jive, bro," ran a headline over one column written in dialect. "Today, the 'ministration be slashin' dem free welfare lunches for us po' students," the column said. "How we 'posed to be gettin' our GPAs up when we don't be havin' no food?"
In the end Smith, who is black, received a court-imposed fine and probation for biting Hart, a week's suspension from work and three false teeth. The Review received a formal censure from the faculty. And Hart, the son of conservative columnist Jeffrey Hart, a Dartmouth English professor, received a tetanus shot.
It was just another battle in what Ben Hart calls "the war of ideas."
Today Smith, Dartmouth Class of 1949, is still with the alumni fund. And Hart, Dartmouth Class of 1981, is the $25,000-a-year director of studies for the Heritage Foundation, where he writes for Policy Review, the foundation's quarterly magazine, and presides over Third Generation, a group of under-30 conservatives who meet every other Wednesday to discuss supply-side, prayer-in-school, anti-abortion philosophy.
The biting anecdote is the first shot fired in "Poisoned Ivy," Hart's Dartmouth memoir, the maiden opus of a rising young conservative in the tradition of William F. Buckley Jr.'s "God and Man at Yale" and John LeBoutillier's "Harvard Hates America." There's a big difference, however. While Buckley and LeBoutillier were voicing minority views, Hart speaks for a generation that -- if you believe recent polls -- may be nearly as conservative as he.
"What Hart describes will prove interesting to everyone interested in the kind of experiences young people have in college today," Buckley writes in the introduction. "And I believe today, as strongly as I believed when I wrote my first book, that a knowledge of what young men and women are reading, and saying, and listening to, is social intelligence of the very first rank." Buckley -- whose magazine, National Review, employs Hart's father as an editor -- is giving the author a big sendoff tonight with a party at the magazine's Manhattan offices.
Naming names, the book chronicles one skirmish after another between a coterie of campus conservatives and the Dartmouth "ethos" -- a liberal porridge, as Hart portrays it, of mindless administrators and berserk academics. By dint of anecdotal accumulation, the book charges the college of Daniel Webster and Robert Frost, not to mention Paul Tsongas and (briefly) Meryl Streep, with being "openly hostile toward American values."
That may come as something of a shock to those who think of Dartmouth in terms of the Winter Carnival and "Animal House"-style blowouts at which fraternity members fill their basements with beer and plunge in. Yet Dartmouth is a place, claims Hart, where "agents of the Kremlin" are warmly welcomed by the college president while Jerry Falwell is coldly snubbed.
The ethos "is not confined to Dartmouth College" -- Hart also indicts Barnard, Harvard, Yale and other hotbeds of Ivy League liberalism -- but it's apparently very strong there. The proof is in the book, which offers these combat highlights:
* The Indian Symbol Battle. Once the unofficial symbol of Dartmouth College, which was chartered in 1769 to educate "the Indian tribes of this land," it was condemned by the administration as racist and demeaning in 1972. Six years later, at a hockey game, two students appear on the ice in feathers and loincloths. The crowd cheers wildly, Dartmouth wins. John Kemeny, then president of Dartmouth, brands the display "horrendous" and "in the worst possible taste." Other officials call for "the strongest possible disciplinary penalty." To avoid certain suspension, the culprits must conduct public seminars on the evils of the Indian symbol and take Indian students to lunch.
* The Dartmouth Review Battle. In the spring of 1980, the author and several others launch an independent newspaper to mount "an all-out assault on the ethos." The college tries to stop them from using the word "Dartmouth" in the name -- the first of many potshots fired by both sides. The Dartmouth Review comes out for the Indian symbol and Ronald Reagan, and against everything from President Kemeny to Women's Studies to affirmative action. The college brings editor-in-chief Greg Fossedal before a nine-hour public tribunal on nebulous charges involving a "misappropriated" press release, which he used as the basis for a Manchester Union Leader article allegedly before its release date. (He is put on "college discipline.") Then music department chairman William Cole, described by the Review as incompetent, among other things, cancels his classes and presents himself at a reporter's room, where he shouts and bangs on her door. (He is reprimanded by the dean, and later sues the Review for libel.)
The Veterans Day Battle. During a college-sponsored Veterans Day "consciousness-raising" session in 1981, faculty and administrators, Grandparents for Reducing the Arms Race and children dressed up as radioactive mutants stage a mock nuclear blast on Dartmouth Green. The author and his friends stage a counterdemonstration. They drape an American flag from their third-floor dorm window, play John Philip Sousa records and drink brandy. "Put out more flags!" yells one of them, a student with a weakness for Evelyn Waugh who totes around a foam-rubber shark named Chesterton.
And so the war rages on, even to this day.
The most recent guerrilla action involves a freshman Review reporter who surreptitiously taped -- then published a transcript of -- an advertised meeting last spring of the Gay Students Association, which receives financial support from the college. The New Hampshire attorney general's office investigated the case for possible wiretap violations, found none and recently bowed out. The college, which had suspended its own proceedings in favor of state action, decided not to discipline the student, but in a mass mailing announcing the decision, dean Edward Shanahan exhorted the Dartmouth community to "speak out" against such "damaging or hurtful behavior."
* "It has become evident that 'academic freedom,' so much praised and defended on high-prestige campuses, only applies to right-thinking folks," The Wall Street Journal editorialized last spring in a blistering attack on the college administration, headlined "Dartmouth on Trial."
"Poisoned Ivy" finds the defendant guilty as charged. The publisher, Stein and Day, has printed up 40,000 copies -- an impressive run for a first book -- and the Dartmouth Book Store has received a special advance shipment.
"I think the reaction in Hanover will be mayhem," says the author. Judging from certain noises wafting out of the New Hampshire woods, he may not be far wrong.
"Here is some little kid who has put together a book with 40,000 copies which you folks are going to give major publicity to," complains history professor Michael Green, chairman of Dartmouth's Native American Studies Department, who presided at the tribunal in the "misappropriation" case. "It's almost as though folks take the ideas of children seriously. This is what I find so absolutely staggering."
The book, for its part, says: "Green would go to any lengths to prosecute students who took a position even remotely in favor of the Indian symbol, or those who had criticized the college's reverse discrimination policies."
"Well, you know the effect it's going to have -- it's going to make me out to be a buffoon, as usual," says music professor William Cole, whose libel suit against the Review is still pending. "There's a lot of heavy reactionary thought in this country, and people like myself are going to be the victim of it. I'm resigned to it, because I'm old enough to know what America's all about. It's about the Ben Harts of the world."
The book claims: "If Professor Cole had been anything but black . . . he would have been turfed off the campus."
"Certainly it concerns me, but everyone has a right to freedom of the press," says Dartmouth president David McLaughlin, John Kemeny's successor -- a former Dartmouth football star whom Hart slams as a dispenser of "vacuous platitudes."
Says the book: "The once vertebrate David McLaughlin has been transformed into Silly Putty."
And John Kemeny, a renowned mathematician and computer whiz (he invented "BASIC" language) who stepped down from the presidency in 1981, says, "It certainly is not going to help us on the outside, especially if it's read by people who don't know Dartmouth."
"Pasty complexion . . . a chain-smoker with a chronic cough," says the book.
"I'm not curious enough to want to read it," says Kemeny, who admits to being a chain-smoker but denies having a cough. "And besides, if I bought a copy of it, the money would go to some cause that I absolutely hate."
Ben Hart, for instance?
"Yes, he would be in that category."
Ben Hart says he worked on "Poisoned Ivy" while staying at his parents' farmhouse near Hanover -- a rambling place with five horses, six sheep and a ski lift in the back yard. He did much of his revising and polishing at, of all places, Dartmouth's Kiewit Computation Center.
Hart bursts out laughing. For all the passion and invective, he is an amiable young man with a softspoken manner. He is tall and blond, his face dominated by a slightly off-center nose. A Yuppie who lives in a Rosslyn condominium, he says he grew up wanting desperately to be an Olympic skier. Perhaps his confident air comes from being the big brother in the family, the eldest of four kids -- or perhaps from his conservative Republican faith.
"Liberals are always in self-analysis," he says. "It's constant self-evaluation. You know, am I really a sexist? Should my entire generation be forced to live out in a desert until we all die off, because there's no other way we can get rid of the sexist attitudes in society? I think constant self-evaluation and self-psychoanalysis is kind of damaging -- and really inhibiting."
The Dartmouth Review, of course, was (and is) anything but inhibited. Recent issues of the paper -- with its annual budget of about $100,000 raised from conservative foundations and alumni -- have accused President McLaughlin of being a hypocrite and branded female faculty members "professorettes." As in, "This professorette is a feminist fanatic who talks about the systematic repression of her gender even as she bullies her male students and departmental colleagues with her abrasive, masculine style."
Such rhetoric apparently has done the rhetoricians no harm. Among those who have worked on the paper are a speech writer for President Reagan (Peter Robinson), a widely syndicated newspaper cartoonist (Steve Kelley), the editor of Prospect, Princeton's dissident alumni magazine (Dinesh D'Souza), and an editorial pundit at The Wall Street Journal (Greg Fossedal, who helped with the "Dartmouth on Trial" editorial last spring and distinguished himself this fall by yelling "Answer it!" at Geraldine Ferraro during her full-disclosure press conference).
"If The Dartmouth Review was outrageous," says Hart, who sits on its board of advisors, "it was intentionally outrageous. The idea behind any joke -- or any publication like The Dartmouth Review -- is really to expand the bounds of freedom, to expand the bounds of what can be discussed. We didn't think we were going to convert many people. But we're not trying to convert people. We're a publication, not the Republican National Committee."
All of which may lend a certain interest to a chapter in "Poisoned Ivy" about Hart's college sweetheart, a liberally inclined student named April Cooper, no fan of The Dartmouth Review.
Hart writes: "Her personal reason for disliking the Review, I think, stemmed from our steadfast opposition to segregated social and living arrangements. April was a member of a predominantly black sorority, spent a lot of time at the Afro-American Society, and lived for a time in Cutter Hall, an all-black dormitory."
Hart says today, "A lot of people thought the reason we were going out was that I was trying to refute charges of racism. And, indeed, she probably felt that maybe I was for a while. Absolutely not true. We were actually in love with each other and went out for a number of years. It's a little hard to say what the status is right now because she's in medical school for four years in Illinois. Either I have to move to Illinois or something has to happen."
Cooper, 23, who attends medical school at the University of Illinois, says that she and Hart talk often -- and are often at odds politically. She says the Review "is a major pen in Dartmouth's side. A lot of what I saw there was in poor taste, or like putting a match to the keg. But Ben is a very caring person, and there were a lot of things, despite the circumstances, that he could have done but never did . . .
"Of course, there was a lot of pressure on our relationship. Which is somewhat logical, because, after all, I was going out with the person who was bitten by a black college administrator -- Sam Smith, who is highly respected by everyone at Dartmouth. Sam Smith's wife Dartmouth psychology lecturer Barbara Smith was my advisor."
Hart says he bears no scars from Smith's historic bite. As for Smith, he's developed a thicker skin. "The pain is still there," he says. "When The Dartmouth Review comes out with something malicious, okay, it still hurts. But the 15th time they do it -- maybe not as much."