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Being Better and Being Dartmouth

President James Wright
President James Wright

"It is time for us all to join together and to say that Dartmouth with [today's] students continues to be a better place even as it continues to be Dartmouth. These are not conflicting things but are essential to each other—being better and being Dartmouth."

With those words, President James Wright urged the Alumni Council at its May 22 meeting to take pride in Dartmouth and work together to help it become an even better place, as the College seeks to offer the best undergraduate education anywhere.

Wright addressed a subject of "fundamental importance, and one that best describes my passion—that is, Dartmouth providing the finest undergraduate experience in the country." In describing the core of that education, he noted that the contributions of a range of people—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—are what make the College such a special place.

The president asked, "What distinguishes a Dartmouth education from that provided by any number of other selective institutions?" and offered seven characteristics: (1) the residential nature of the College, with its strong sense of community and belonging; (2) students with individual strengths and accomplishments, who are also well-rounded, multidimensional individuals; (3) a learning environment that emphasizes cooperation rather than competition; (4) a sense of social responsibility evident in students' actions in the Dartmouth community and underlining their commitment to the broader local, national, and global environments; (5) a location and the out-of-doors "in one of the world's great settings"; (6) the ability to transcend location "through excellent international programs and through a highly sophisticated computing environment"; and (7) the faculty and their commitment to teaching.

"Our challenge," Wright said, "is to protect these distinguishing characteristics and to continue to make all of this work in a world of tremendous change. Our further challenge is to do this in a community that is also marked by change. Dartmouth is neither static nor homogenous."

Noting that Dartmouth has valued diversity since the 1890s and, since the early 1920s, has pursued diversity as a matter of policy, he reinforced his own long-held view.

"My commitment to affirmative action is unequivocal, but admissions and recruiting are about means and not ends. We also need to have a learning environment that will prepare our students to go on to shape the world of the 21st century. Much of my effort over the past six years has been to ensure that Dartmouth not only was diverse in the people we attract but also provided a true community where all students could reach their full potential."

Wright described the important role the faculty have in meeting this vision: "faculty who are committed to the work of their field of study, who are engaged personally in it, and who are excited about it, and who can't wait to share their enthusiasm with students."

He outlined several recent initiatives to support strengthening teaching on campus, including the establishment of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, the addition of resources in the advising system for first- and second-year students, the development of an ambitious writing program, and the addition of extra compensation to recognize faculty who excel at teaching.

The president related a recent conversation with a financial executive that illustrates the impact of a Dartmouth education. "He noted that his firm had tried to assess what qualities the most successful people in his company had in common," Wright said. "They wanted to see if particular attributes contributed to a successful career in the company.

"It will not surprise you to learn that, in fact, once they had looked at their most successful officers, they found no single set of attributes that led to success. But what they did notice, or at least this person did, was that a significant number of those who succeeded in this company had been Dartmouth undergraduates—disproportionately so."

The reason this is so, Wright said, "results from our heritage and shapes our purpose.

"Dartmouth provides an environment where students reach their full academic and personal potential. It is an environment that encourages cooperation and teamwork, one that provides opportunities for leadership, and one that emphasizes responsibility."

Sustaining that environment, said the president, depends upon alumni and their longstanding commitment to taking pride in their institution and helping it to be better and be Dartmouth.

- By William Walker '71A

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Last Updated: 5/30/08