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Dartmouth settles sexual misconduct lawsuit

HANOVER — Dartmouth College has settled with nine female current and former students and researchers who filed a class-action lawsuit alleging college administrators turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct by three professors.

The settlement, which the college announced in a community-wide email Tuesday, includes $14 million for the class of plaintiffs, which is defined as all students who meet certain criteria and who certify that they endured a hostile environment created by the conduct of the former professors, who worked in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

The plaintiffs released a statement celebrating the settlement deal, which includes not just financial restitution but Dartmouth-funded efforts to prevent similar misconduct in the future.

“We are satisfied to have reached an agreement with Dartmouth College, and are encouraged by our humble contribution to bringing restorative justice to a body of Dartmouth students beyond the named plaintiffs,” plaintiffs Kristina Rapuano, Vassiki Chauhan, Sasha Brietzke, Annemarie Brown, Andrea Courtney, Marissa Evans, Jane Doe, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 said Tuesday.

“... Together with Dartmouth, we plan to continue addressing the systemic roots of power-based personal violence and gender-based discrimination across all levels of severity so that our experiences — and those of the class we represent — are never repeated.”

The college and the plaintiffs entered mediation in late July with assistance from retired N.H. Superior Court judge Robert Morrill. Seven plaintiffs initially filed the lawsuit last November. Two more joined the suit this spring.

Two of the professors, Paul Whalen and Bill Kelley, resigned last summer, and the third, Todd Heatherton, retired, after internal Dartmouth reviews recommended that all three be terminated. Efforts to reach the three men and their attorneys Tuesday were unsuccessful.

A criminal investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct by the professors is “pending review” by the N.H. Attorney General’s Office, spokeswoman Kate Spiner said in an email Tuesday.

In the college’s announcement, Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon thanked the women who “courageously came forward alongside other students to bring to my administration’s attention a toxic environment created by three former tenured professors, who will never set foot on this campus again. ... Through this process, we have learned lessons that we believe will enable us to root out this behavior immediately if it ever threatens our campus community again.”

The settlement, which is due in U.S. District Court in Concord by Aug. 20 and will subject to the court’s approval, also includes specific Dartmouth-funded initiatives under the effort known as the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative.

Those projects, according to an email from Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson, include an expansion of a diversity recruitment fund; a way for the plaintiffs to weigh in on the initiative such as how to solicit input from a broad cross-section of the community; and, as necessary, an expansion of Dartmouth’s partnership with WISE, a Lebanon-based nonprofit organization that provides support for survivors of gender-based violence and has an office on Dartmouth’s campus.

The ability to negotiate non-financial issues is a feature of a mediated settlement, said Eric MacLeish, a Boston-based attorney who has represented victims of clerical abuse and litigated against several private schools. When cases go to trial, the awards are purely financial, he said.

That said, MacLeish said $14 million is not a small penalty and should serve as an “incentive not to let anything like this happen again.”

In general, MacLeish said he favors mediated resolutions to such cases because they limit the trauma that victims may face when they have to describe their experiences in court.

“I’m really glad that a resolution has been reached,” MacLeish said. “... Everybody needs to move on.”

Chauhan, who is still a graduate student in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department, known as PBS, and who alleged in the suit that she was sexually assaulted by Whalen, said in a tweet Tuesday that she and the other plaintiffs believe that the Dartmouth community is resilient.

“Litigation reduces the world to winners and losers, but coming together as a community can be healing,” she wrote.

The advocacy group Dartmouth Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence wrote in an emailed statement that its members, which include students and alumni, welcome the settlement and hope that it ushers in change at Dartmouth.

But the group, which formed late last year in response to the lawsuit, said that there is still more work to be done for Dartmouth to regain the community’s trust. The group called for the college to take “full responsibility for the abuses that occurred in PBS.”

The group continues to have questions for administrators about how the professors’ alleged actions were allowed to continue for years and how the school’s community has been affected; and it seeks to have the school acknowledge its “misguided tactic” of opposing the use of pseudonyms for three of the nine plaintiffs’ in the case.

“The College must also acknowledge that the reparations it owes its community extend beyond the lawsuit and settlement, and are long overdue,” the group’s statement said.

Though the plaintiffs acknowledged that the work will continue, Brietzke — like Chauhan — also took to Twitter to celebrate on Tuesday.

“Progress is achievable,” wrote Brietzke, who also is still a graduate student in the department and who alleged in the lawsuit that one of the professors touched her inappropriately. “It is so easy to get absorbed in cynical thinking. It is so easy to convince yourself to do nothing. But that’s what institutions bank on to stop from changing. We have to force them to engage. Through conflict, incremental change occurs.”

Stephan Romano  

A watchful bald eagle parent.

Stephan Romano  

One of the bald eaglets.

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Facing climate change, area farmers sow solutions

Nature has always thwarted farmers’ plans. But the changing climate makes things even less predictable.

That was one of the messages of a forum featuring U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster in Keene Tuesday, which focused on small farmers’ responses to climate change.

“The weather’s not been predictable,” said Steve Normanton, a Litchfield-based farmer who used to have a farm in Jaffrey. “Sometimes we have late winters, late springs or late falls. It’s all over the place, and you can never plan.”

Heat waves follow intense rain events, with implications for livestock. Normanton has lost chickens in extreme heat. An October microburst can displace a chicken coop.

The uncertainty means farmers need to be observant and quick to adapt, he said.

“Mainly what I’ve been trying to manage for is drought,” Normanton said. “It’s getting hotter, it’s getting drier.”

In his pastures, he has used warm-season perennial grasses that are better adapted to hot, dry conditions. When the heat index rose above 100 earlier this summer, he lost fewer chickens than in the past due to changes in management practices, he said.

Normanton was one of several farmers and business representatives speaking at the event at Stonewall Farm. It was organized by Kuster’s staff. The congresswoman, a Hopkinton Democrat whose district includes the Monadnock Region, kicked off the session by talking about the importance of healthy soils as a “carbon sink” and her own involvement in an effort to conserve a picturesque farm in her hometown.

Earlier in the afternoon, Kuster discussed the opioid crisis with health care professionals and others at The Doorway on Marlboro Road (Route 101) in Keene, which connects people suffering from a substance use disorder to treatment.

Normanton was not the only panelist at Tuesday’s forum to have noticed climate change’s effects.

Julie Davenson, Stonewall’s executive director, said heat stress has affected the farm’s dairy cows.

“Simple things that we’re looking at is silvopasturing, so bringing grazing into the forest,” she said. “Also grazing at night … or different times of day.”

Roger Noonan of Middle Branch Farm in New Boston said he’s seen early-spring weekends — during maple season — in the mid-80s, and unusual dry spells. “A few years back I had to irrigate to get my peas, it was so dry,” he said. “And then of course, this spring is the opposite. It was very wet and cold.”

He said data based on U.S. Farm Service Agency claims show an increase in extreme weather events. “That includes too much rain and not enough rain in the same month,” he said.

Despite the talk of extreme weather and an uncertain future, the tone of the panel was generally upbeat. Participants described measures they have taken to improve soil health and otherwise make their farms more sustainable. They also discussed innovations that could lower agricultural emissions, and the role federal policy could play in helping small farmers and tackling climate change.

Beth Hodge of Echo Farm in Hinsdale — which produces organic puddings — said it can be frustrating to hear agriculture framed as a major problem when it comes to climate change. She said farms can help by becoming more efficient and trying out innovative solutions — provided bureaucracies are flexible enough to accommodate that.

“Conservation programs have to be able to look at innovative new ideas,” she said. “I think right now, sometimes rules are written in a way that make it very difficult for someone to take advantage.”

Jess Baum, sustainability manager at W.S. Badger Co. in Gilsum, said the natural body-care products maker sources organic ingredients from around the world.

“We’ve seen the impacts of climate change in far-flung places throughout the globe, through our suppliers,” she said. “We’ve seen ingredient scarcity, we’ve seen increased prices, we’ve seen all sorts of extreme weather that’s happened throughout our supply web.”

Conscious of its global reach, the company is working to reduce its carbon footprint while encouraging farming practices that help fix carbon in the soil, she said.

That includes efforts at the company’s Gilsum headquarters. Baum explained after the event that Badger’s property includes a sand pit she hopes to convert to soil and vegetation that will absorb carbon, helping the company move toward carbon neutral.

Baum said talking about solutions and innovative farming practices can help shift the climate-change conversation away from gloom. “With this agricultural lens,” she said, “there’s so much hope.”

Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize, a terrifying staircase and the king who rescued her

Collecting her Nobel Prize for Literature in December 1993 was one of the most terrifying moments of Toni Morrison’s entire life, she said later.

Not because Morrison, who died Monday at the age of 88, felt unworthy. Not because she had to make a speech before a large audience. But because the novelist was wearing a floor-length gown and Manolo Blahnik heels, and her entrance involved a long marble staircase.

“I’m not talking about six stairs,” Morrison, then 62, told friends at a party a few weeks later, which was reported in The New York Times. “There must have been 90.”

Fortunately, the king of Sweden came to her rescue, escorting her down one step at a time.

“The king was very reassuring,” Morrison said. “He told me: ‘We’ll take care of each other. You hold onto me, and I’ll hold onto you.’”

Morrison was the first African American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. She was also the first black woman of any nationality to win a Nobel in any category. The moment she accepted the prize and delivered a stunning in Nobel lecture was the culmination not only of her magnificent career, but of a years-long campaign by black intellectuals to get her the recognition they thought she obviously deserved.

Morrison burst onto the literary scene at the age of 39 with her 1970 novel “The Bluest Eye.” In 1977, she received the National Book Critics Circle Award for her third novel “Song of Solomon.”

Ten years later, she released her her fifth novel “Beloved,” about an enslaved woman haunted by the child she murdered. Critics and fans hailed it as a masterpiece; it spent 25 weeks on the bestseller list and remains one of her best-known works. In her review of the book, novel Margaret Atwood said, “If there were any doubts about [Morrison’s] stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, ‘Beloved’ will put them to rest.”

But then awards season started, and the response from the nation’s ivory towers of literature was decidedly muted. First, in November 1987, the National Book Award prize for fiction went to Larry Heinemann for his novel “Paco’s Story” — which even he noted was “an interesting surprise,” given the competition.

Then, in January 1988, the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction went to Philip Roth for “The Counterlife.” The Washington Post reported that while “Beloved” was initially considered a strong contender, it “quickly faded” with the 24-member board, who debated between Roth’s book and Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”

A week later, a group of 48 black intellectuals expressed their shock at the snub in an open letter published in The New York Times Book Review, calling it an “oversight and harmful whimsy” that Morrison had not yet won a National Book Award or a Pulitzer Prize.

The signatories were a who’s who of African American writers and critics, among them Maya Angelou, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Amiri and Amina Baraka, John Edgar Wideman and Angela Davis.

Notably, the Pulitzer prizes for that year had not yet been awarded. But Wideman told the Times the letter was “not an order” to Pulitzer judges but “a point of view.”

“It should be seen in the context of democratizing, not tyrannizing the standards and notions of literary quality,” he said.

Three months later, Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for “Beloved.” The board chairman said that while judges were aware of the open letter, it didn’t affect their decision. Gates told The Post he had worried judges would punish Morrison over the controversy.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I decided it was more important to deny the evil, and I figured justice would out, and justice did.”

Rather than marking the pinnacle of her career, Morrison’s rise only continued after the Pulitzer win. In 1992, she released “Jazz,” the second novel in a trilogy with “Beloved” and “Paradise.

The next year, she received the highest honor of all — the Nobel Prize for literature.

In a trailer for the recent documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” Morrison described the moment she heard the news: “A friend of mine called me up early in the morning and said, ‘Toni, you won the Nobel Prize.’ And I remember holding the phone, thinking, ‘She must be drunk.’”

Two months later, The Post’s Eugene Robinson reported from the awards ceremony in Stockholm, calling it “the perfect setting for a fairly tale. And Morrison, suddenly, is the princess.”

Fittingly, once she made it down the harrowing staircase to a standing ovation, she began her electrifying Nobel lecture with, “Once upon a time ...”

She told a story of a wise old woman, blind and black, visited by young people, one of whom challenges her to tell him if the bird he holds is alive or dead. The old woman responds that she doesn’t know, “but what I do know is that what you do with it is in your hands.”

Morrison said she understood the bird to be language, and delivered a lyrical meditation on its power. “The conventional wisdom of the Tower of Babel story is that the collapse was a misfortune, that is was the distraction or the weight of many languages that precipitated the tower’s failed architecture, that one monolithic language would have expedited the building and heaven would have been reached.

‘Whose heaven,’ [the old woman] wonders, ‘and what kind?’

Perhaps the achievement of paradise was premature, a little hasty, if no one could take the time to understand other languages, other views, other narratives. Had they, the heaven they imagined might have been found at their feet.

Complicated, demanding, yes. But a view of heaven as life, not heaven as post-life.”

She continued: “We die. That may be the meaning of our lives. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

Her own measure is boundless.

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Liberty gets nod to start converting Keene system to natural gas

Liberty Utilities can start converting its Keene propane/air system to natural gas, a state regulatory body has ruled.

The company has said it wants to change its 1,200 or so Keene customers over to compressed natural gas to increase reliability. The request, which drew opposition from a Keene city councilor on health and environmental grounds, has been pending before the N.H. Public Utilities Commission for more than two years.

In a July 26 order, the commission said Liberty can move forward with the first phase of its planned conversion — commercial customers at Monadnock Marketplace on Ash Brook Road.

Liberty will be required to submit additional documentation before continuing with later phases of the conversion.

“We are happy that the PUC has given us the green light to go forward with our conversions to natural gas in Keene,” John Shore, a Liberty spokesman, said in an email. “We plan to start work at the end of September and will continue into early October.”

The piping is already in place, Shore added, “so the work that remains is converting the equipment currently running on a mixture of propane and air, so that it will run on natural gas.”

Liberty took over the Keene franchise in January 2015 with the purchase of N.H. Gas Corp. It’s the company’s only propane/air system, according to its website. By contrast, Liberty serves natural gas to more than 100 communities in six states.

Company representatives have described the propane/air system as antiquated and promoted natural gas as a cheaper, more reliable alternative.

In December 2015, an issue at Liberty’s propane/air production facility allowed pure propane into the system, triggering a city-wide emergency response in which four people were taken to the hospital and more than 1,000 homes and businesses were checked for carbon monoxide exposure. A similar, much smaller incident occurred in Keene in February 2016.

In spring 2017, Liberty obtained city approvals to set up a temporary natural-gas decompression facility on Production Avenue, over opposition from some local activists who protested the building of new fossil-fuel infrastructure as the world grapples with climate change.

Around the same time, the company filed a petition asking the Public Utilities Commission to allow it to distribute natural gas in Keene, under the same franchise right that allows it to distribute propane.

The commission ruled in Liberty’s favor that October, but later reopened the proceedings at the request of Terry M. Clark, a Keene city councilor.

Clark — who intervened in the process as a private citizen — has expressed concerns about the health and environmental impacts of natural gas, particularly gas that has been extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

In an interview Monday, Clark said he was “disappointed” by the commission’s latest order. He said utilities should be transitioning to clean energy, not making long-term investments in fuels that contribute to climate change.

“We simply don’t have that kind of time,” Clark said. “It’s very short-sighted.”

Last year, staff with the Public Utilities Commission’s safety division identified various deficiencies in Liberty’s plans that the company needed to correct before moving forward with the first phase of the conversion. The issues cited by staff included instances of incomplete or incorrect documentation, as well as planning shortcomings. The company has since addressed those items, Randall S. Knepper, the safety division’s director, wrote in an April communication to the commission.

The company has not yet submitted detailed plans for later phases of the project, Knepper wrote.

The commission’s order last month requires Liberty to file, within 90 days, a business plan with more specifics about the economics of the conversion. It also requires the safety division to sign off on detailed final plans for each new phase of the conversion.

The commission noted that Liberty’s plans for converting the rest of the Keene system to natural gas have not been spelled out. Though the commission found that Liberty has the right to distribute natural gas, the order states that this “should not be construed to constitute pre-approval of as yet undefined proposals for future capital projects within Liberty’s Keene service territory.”

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Stephan Romano of Cary, N.C., captured this view of a pair of bald eaglets, as well as an adult eagle, on an island in Granite Lake while kaya…