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The President's Plan

Moving Dartmouth Forward

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Moving Dartmouth Forward

January 29, 2015 – Remarks as prepared

Good morning, students, faculty, staff and alumni.

We’ve come today to talk about our future. 

But I want to begin the conversation by reaching back into our past.

I begin with a story of a young professor of philosophy at Princeton University in the wake of World War II. The professor, at the behest of Dartmouth’s then dean of the faculty, was convinced to pick up from Princeton and move to Hanover to become the chairman of the mathematics department at Dartmouth. His task was to revitalize the department, filling it with faculty of the first rank, capable of attracting the brightest students in the nation.

It was a risky proposition made riskier by the fact that this professor would be a non-tenured chairman. And yet the philosopher turned mathematician—who studied under Einstein—took the leap. He came to Dartmouth. He recruited tenaciously and built a stellar department from the ground up. As a Dartmouth undergraduate, I had the good fortune to be a beneficiary of his efforts.

But he did not stop there. A computer genius—he foresaw that while the invention of the computer was an incredible breakthrough … the real revolution would be putting the computer into homes and classrooms across the country. So he helped to invent the language that would make computers accessible. Which we know as BASIC.

But he did not stop there. He became president of the College, and he presided with calm during a time of tremendous social unrest in our country. He inspired and managed the transition of Dartmouth to a coeducational college, without doubt the most significant change in our College’s history.

I share the story of John Kemeny—a story of risk, a story of best-in-class teaching, a story of leadership, a story of visionary problem-solving, a story of the courage to CHANGE—because it encapsulates perfectly the incredible promise that is Dartmouth.

You have heard me speak before of my vision for our future. You have heard me speak of Dartmouth becoming an even stronger magnet for talent … a college that students select above others because of the educational experiences we offer, and the chance to work directly with our outstanding faculty. A college that faculty choose because of our path-breaking scholarship and the chance to work with the world’s most driven students.

You have heard me speak of the power of a liberal arts education … in an age when information is ubiquitous but wisdom is rare. 

You have heard me speak of a campus that is even more intellectually energized, a site of significant academic entrepreneurship and innovation, a place of big ideas, bold efforts, and path-breaking scholarship.

Everything is possible for Dartmouth. 

But our aspirations will never be realized if we fail to address a vital component: the environment in which our students live and learn.  Like Kemeny, we must recognize a moment in time when change is necessary to reach our potential.

Now is such a moment.

What then is the environment that will enable Dartmouth to fulfill our potential?  As I see it, it is an environment where:

  • Students are free of extreme behaviors and part of a safe and healthy environment;
  • We foster inclusivity through a variety of options for community building and social interaction;
  • Students are 24/7/365-day-learners;
  • And yes, where students continue the tradition of independently organizing and defining the social scene—but with greater accountability and engagement with the faculty. 

This is the vision for the future of student life at Dartmouth. Today, I present to you a program of changes that will Move Dartmouth Forward toward that reality.

Before I do, I owe enormous gratitude to the Presidential Steering Committee that has studied these issues extensively over the last nine months. I thank the Committee for their dedication to the difficult task that was put before them.

And I especially thank Barbara Will for her tireless leadership and for her relentless efforts to hear and include the thinking of the community.

The steps I will share with you today are informed by research, crowd-sourced ideas, and especially the final report advanced to me by the Committee.

While I will detail this morning some of our major interventions, there are others we plan, and they come on top of an impressive set of actions we have taken over the past four years. I encourage you to visit the President’s website where you can read in detail the comprehensive list of steps we will take to Move Dartmouth Forward.

First, we will fundamentally transform residential life at Dartmouth.

We envision a campus that is more inclusive, where faculty and grad students play more influential roles in the lives of undergraduates, where students learn and grow outside the classroom, and where we have more options for social life and community interaction.

Our new housing plan addresses each of these important needs, and today I am pleased to report that we are aggressively moving forward to implement it.

Beginning next academic year with the class of 2019, every student who enters Dartmouth will be placed into one of six house communities. Each community will have a cluster of residence halls as a home base. From sophomore year on, students will reside within their residential community when they live within the dorms. Even if a student is living in a first-year dorm, Greek house, affinity house, live-learn community, or off campus, they will remain a member of the residential community, included in all its activities, and partaking of all the rights and responsibilities of community membership.

As part of this initiative, each Residential Community will organize and host social and academic programs, and eventually each will have dedicated space for study and social interaction. We are committing in excess of $1 million per year to support programming in the Residential Communities and other College-owned venues.

Each Residential Community will have a house professor and graduate students in residence. We will begin interviewing interested faculty within the next few weeks, so that they can spearhead faculty and student involvement in the design of the residential communities and their activities. 

As we pilot new spaces and academic and social programming within these Residential Communities, I am asking students, faculty and staff to be deeply involved. We must design the Residential Community system that works best for Dartmouth and your enthusiasm and ideas will be crucial.

At Dartmouth we are working to create a more inclusive and diverse environment—on and off campus—to enrich our community and strengthen the academic experience.  Our new housing model is one step forward in this regard.

Additionally, we have committed $1 million per year in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty. Our new vice provost will focus specifically on this objective.

At the same time, we will invest in new strategies to recruit a broad socio-economic demographic of undergraduate students, and to ensure that financial aid is available for those who need it. 

The bottom line is that we will work to ensure that our community conveys a message of inclusion to every student, faculty and staff member at Dartmouth.

Second, we will promote a safer and healthier campus environment.

We envision a campus where students are free of extreme behaviors … where sexual assault and high-risk drinking are eradicated from our campus.

Over the past few years, we have taken a number of steps to this end.

In June, we adopted a zero-tolerance sexual assault disciplinary policy, with mandatory expulsion in the most egregious cases, and have moved to a new model providing for a professional investigation process with a trained, independent investigator. 

We also introduced a customized Bystander Training program that trains students to help prevent assault before it occurs. I know many of you have taken that training. 

Starting next year we will introduce a comprehensive, four-year education and awareness program for students as well as first-responder training for faculty and staff. And we will roll out a Dartmouth specific smart-phone safety app. 

Let the message be heard: we have and will continue to take every proven step to prevent sexual assault, and to respond promptly and fairly to reports. When it comes to a safe environment—and one that is advantageous to learning—we know that excessive drinking is one of the most pressing challenges we face.  Over the past four years, the DCHIP Program has brought us measurable improvements.

But still, the Steering Committee found that high risk drinking is far too prevalent on our campus and that in the vast majority of alcohol-induced medical transports, it is hard alcohol—rather than beer or wine—that lands students on a hospital gurney. 

Dartmouth will take a lead among colleges in banning hard alcohol on campus.

Undergraduate students will not be permitted to possess or consume hard alcohol in residential spaces or other college property, and hard alcohol will not be served at college-recognized organizational events.

Penalties for students found in possession of hard alcohol will ramp up, as will penalties for those who purchase and provide hard alcohol to minors. And I am asking the entire campus community to follow suit and not serve hard alcohol at college-sponsored events on campus.

These initiatives will help pave the way to a campus that is safer and free of extreme behaviors. But true and lasting change will not come from top-down policies alone.

It will come from individuals—and organizations—committing to live up to a higher standard of behavior.

And so third, we will clarify and strengthen expectations of individuals and student organizations.

Today, I ask every member of this community to ask yourself: will your actions and your decisions elevate our community and advance our mission? Or will they set us back?

To clarify what we expect of individuals, every student who enrolls in Dartmouth will be asked to sign a Code of Conduct beginning next fall. It will articulate the high expectations—as they relate to civility, dignity, diversity, community, and safety—that we have for Dartmouth students. These are the fundamentals for every graduate who will go out into the world to lead.

There are some actions and behaviors that no policy can change or regulate. The vile practice of online bullying and anonymous attacks falls into this category. For these behaviors, a student code of conduct is particularly germane. Our expectation is that students of Dartmouth act with the same integrity in the shadow of the Internet as they would in the light of day. A student code of conduct makes this expectation undeniable.

Simultaneously, we will clarify and strengthen accountability for student organizations … especially as it relates to hosting social events.

On this topic, I would like to speak in particular about the complex issue of Greek life at Dartmouth.

Over the last several months, many have suggested that we eliminate fraternities and sororities. Many others have articulated the positive outcomes of Greek life and advocated for reform rather than elimination.

At my request, the Steering Committee looked at colleges and universities that have minimal Greek life and those that have intense Greek life. And they researched, and even visited, institutions that have already abolished fraternities and sororities.

Their research found that every one of our peers, regardless of the history and intensity of the Greek scene, struggles with high levels of harmful behaviors on their campus.

I have given much thought to the future of fraternities and sororities on our campus, taking into account the input I’ve received and the work of the Steering Committee.

Ultimately, I do not believe that simply eliminating this one aspect of campus life would be a comprehensive, or even effective solution to the more pervasive challenges we face. It would not address the charge I placed before our community of purging extreme behaviors wherever they occur on campus.

Having said that, I maintain that Greek organizations—indeed all student organizations at Dartmouth—must and will be held to much higher standards and a far greater level of accountability than they have been before.

To be clear, when I speak of accountability … what I do not mean is simply being accountable for following rules—for issuing wristbands or maintaining strict sign-in procedures. I speak of an expectation that student organizations will exhibit behavior befitting Dartmouth’s noble mission and name. That ultimately student organizations contribute to an environment that is respectful, and inclusive and conducive to shaping leaders for the future. That they seek to elevate and not denigrate the Dartmouth experience. 

I have asked the Dean of the College to clarify in writing what we will expect of all student organizations and to put in place an annual review process to confirm those expectations. This will include an expectation that no student organization will engage in pledging of any kind. And that organizations will take steps to be inclusive and to diversify their membership and activities.

Moving forward, it will be simple. Organizations that choose not to fulfill these higher standards, will not be part of our community. 

Let me say that I am pleased by and optimistic about the progress I have seen by student organizations during the past year, in their willingness to increase accountability and root out extreme behavior. The proposal advanced by the Greek Leadership Council this fall introduces a comprehensive set of reforms which includes steps like elimination of pledge term (which they have already enacted), requiring every house to have active faculty advisors of both genders, and requiring each fraternity to commit at least 15 percent of their social/programming budget for financial aid. Taken together, this set of actions introduces more serious reform than the system has seen in 50 years.  

It is my hope that this is only the beginning of much more to come.

Lastly, we will strengthen academic rigor, while enhancing learning outside the classroom.

Our vision is for Dartmouth to be a college where EVERY experience contributes to building leaders with the wisdom for a complex world.

To achieve this vision, we will work to create a more vigorous academic environment … and we will infuse campus life with more opportunities for learning and growth.

The faculty must lead, and today I am asking their help in a number of areas—from curbing grade inflation, to not cancelling classes around celebration weekends, to earlier start times for classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Just think students, instead of listening to me, in the future you could be in class.

At the same time, I am asking faculty and staff to play a larger and more influential role in the lives of students to promote learning and growth 24/7, and to help encourage a healthier, safer, and more inclusive campus environment. 

Additionally, I am announcing today a major investment to expand experiential learning at Dartmouth, including the creation of a center within DCAL that will provide expertise and financial resources for faculty and students to pilot new experiential learning opportunities.

These are the steps we will take as we work to Move Dartmouth Forward.

We will fundamentally transform residential life, and in doing so will make Dartmouth a more inclusive community.

We will work to promote a safer and healthier campus environment.

We will increase expectations of individuals and student organizations.

And we will strengthen academic rigor, while expanding opportunities for learning outside the classroom.

To ensure these actions DO in fact mark a turning point in our history, I have convened an external Oversight Committee to be chaired by Tufts President Emeritus Larry Bacow to evaluate our progress. The Committee will hold us accountable by reporting to me and to the Board of Trustees on the question of whether we are doing what we said we would do.

In tandem, we will conduct two regular climate surveys to benchmark our progress. Beginning in April 2015, we will conduct the AAU Sexual Assault Climate Survey on a regular basis, along with a Dartmouth campus climate survey in the fall of 2015.

We will be transparent about our progress on all fronts. And we will reevaluate and retool these steps as needed to reach our end goal.

In closing, let me take you back to a wintry evening in April when we first gathered to speak of Moving Dartmouth Forward. 

As I said to you that evening, “much is expected of Dartmouth. We welcome the high expectations. And we will deliver.”

It is time to move this outstanding institution forward to the promise of our future … the promise captured by Kemeny that is our legacy to advance.

When we succeed, we will succeed in building an institution never better prepared for the future of higher education … never better equipped to solve the complex challenges of our world … never better positioned to prepare graduates with the wisdom, confidence, and capacity to lead.

I look to you—our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents—to help us step up to the challenge. Tenacity and courage and boldness and leadership are required for change that is transformative. 

But the last nine months have shown me that no community is more capable of rising to meet the challenge than the one before me today. 

Colleges and universities across the country face the issues I’ve detailed today.  We are not alone in facing them. But we WILL take the lead in saying “no more.”

We WILL take the lead in American higher education in restoring student life to a safe and sustainable place.

We WILL offer a campus experience that is in every way worthy of our name … that is in every way conducive to the promise of our future. 

We WILL Move Dartmouth Forward.

Now get to class.

Read more about the Moving Dartmouth Forward Plan:

Last Updated: 1/30/15