A broad range of subjects-the purpose of a Dartmouth education, the role of athletics, the relationship between teaching and research, the role of fraternities and sororities on campus, the importance of the capital campaign-were topics of conversation this winter as the president and the chair of the board of trustees met with alumni across the country.
President James Wright met with alumni clubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and Naples, while Board Chair William H. Neukom '64 addressed the Seattle club and attended the California events. Karen McKeel Calby '81, president of the Alumni Council, spoke to all three West Coast gatherings about the council's work and the alumni trustee election.
Speaking with clubs in Chicago and Denver, Wright presented an update from the campus before addressing questions he hears regularly from alumni. Citing new student satisfaction survey results, admissions applications, facilities progress, endowment return and growth, fund-raising success, and faculty recruiting, he assessed the state of the College as very strong. He then reaffirmed Dartmouth's status as a national leader in undergraduate education, addressed the role of academic research, and commented on the College's financial management, the importance of the fraternity/sorority system, and freedom of speech on campus.
The president also spoke at a luncheon meeting of the Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association in Chicago, presenting an update on College activities and responding to questions on issues affecting minority alumni.
At the Florida events, the president also updated the groups on the latest developments and addressed questions on class size and course availability, the role of intercollegiate athletics, legacy admissions, and the importance of the capital campaign.
Wright first reminded audiences of the purpose of a Dartmouth education and of his primary goal as president. "The goal ... of a Dartmouth education is to develop a lifelong curiosity, an eagerness to learn and relearn, a sense of independence and initiative, the discipline and commitment to persevere, and a respect for the individual-all within an environment that is collegial and that encourages a deep sense of loyalty to the community," he said. "Our graduates assume roles of leadership and of responsibility. This is the enduring strength of a Dartmouth education. My aim is to protect and to enhance it as the best undergraduate experience in the country.
"The vast majority of classes at Dartmouth remain small," he said, with freshman seminars, introductory English and language classes, and upper-level seminars ranging in size from sixteen to twenty-two. With some class sizes limited by departments for pedagogical reasons, he noted, "only between 2 and 4 percent of upper-level courses close, resulting in students having to choose another course." He added that the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences pays close attention to this matter.
The role of athletics was a topic at the Florida and California events, where Wright said athletics are a key part of the Dartmouth experience, teaching students "discipline and teamwork, time management, competing hard, and, whether they win or lose, completing the competition graciously. Athletics foster loyalty and how to build a sense of community and school spirit."
Reflecting on his work on the NCAA Board of Directors and the difficult national issues that body faces, Wright said Dartmouth "and the Ivy League in general have worked to protect a traditional model of college athletics where our students are true scholar-athletes. They meet the academic standards of their institution, they work hard in the classroom and in their sport, they graduate at the same or even a greater level than their classmates, and they are full contributing members of the community. They go on to live productive lives, assuming roles of leadership and embracing responsibility."
The president outlined the College's recent investments in athletics and reinforced his commitment to a strong program. "I value and support athletics, just as I value affirmative action programs, need-blind admissions and financial aid, and a strong fraternity system," he said. "[But] let's face it, my insistence that the Dartmouth approach, the Ivy philosophy of considering athletics as part of an overall student-learning experience, is more impressive if we also win! ... We need to strengthen our program overall so that it can compete effectively against our peers. We do this academically, and I expect to do it in athletics."
On policies guiding legacy admissions, Wright said, "Legacies provide a generational continuity that is critical to the continued endurance of the College. We must communicate better how we value and welcome these applicants. Dartmouth alumni cherish their relationship with the College, and it is not surprising that they then want their children to have the same sort of relationship with Dartmouth."
Trustee Chair Neukom, meeting with the alumni club in his home city of Seattle, focused on Dartmouth's distinguishing characteristics. "Fellowship is always near the top of the list of what alumni say matters to them about their Dartmouth experience," he said. "It manifests itself in a collaborative spirit, a sense of teamwork ... which prepares Dartmouth graduates to participate in productive work lives and be useful citizens in the broad community. It is a sense of respect for each other and for diversity, and a sense of being in a joint learning experience together in a very special place."
Both Wright and Neukom emphasized the importance of the $1.3 billion Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience. "The campaign is essential for us to continue to offer the remarkable learning experience that is the hallmark of Dartmouth College," Neukom said. "With this investment by the people who know it best, we can continue to be the very distinctive undergraduate educational experience we have been for a very long time."
Underscoring the campaign's priorities, Wright noted the need to increase the size of the faculty to enhance student learning, to invest in financial aid to keep Dartmouth accessible to students from all backgrounds, and to build new facilities.
"If Dartmouth is going to continue to offer the finest undergraduate education in the country," he said, "we must continue to invest in the academic and residential life programs."
Full text and video clips of the speeches are available at the Office of the President website.
By WILLIAM WALKER '71A
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Last Updated: 5/30/08