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"Forever New"

Wright presidency looks to history, points to the future

President James Wright
President James Wright recently announced his intention to step down in 2009, following 40 years at Dartmouth. "Dartmouth: Forever New" was the title of his Sept. 23, 1998, inauguration address. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Soon after arriving at Dartmouth as an assistant professor of history in 1969, James Wright's leadership abilities quickly emerged. The chair of the department at that time predicted that Wright would someday become Dartmouth's president, recalls Gene Garthwaite, the Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor in Asian Studies, who was also a young professor of history in the late 60s.

"Jim demonstrated his abilities in the department, and he was given more and more responsibility," says Garthwaite. "He is very smart, judicious, and always balanced in reaching conclusions."

These skills have served Wright well during his Dartmouth career, which progressed from history professor, to dean of the faculty, to provost, to the presidency, a job he has held since 1998. He will step down from the top spot in June 2009.

"Dartmouth has been a wonderful place to spend forty years," says Wright. "I am grateful to have found here a community of scholars, colleagues, and friends, and [my wife] Susan and I have always been energized by a student body that's both talented and engaging. It has been a true honor to serve as Dartmouth's 16th president."

Throughout his tenure, Wright has focused on enhancing the student experience and expanding academic programs. Among his notable accomplishments, Wright has overseen significant growth in the size of the faculty and increased the diversity of the student body. He has also worked to integrate the professional schools into the life of the College and built and renovated numerous facilities on campus.

Nancy Frankenberry, the John Phillips Professor in Religion, is especially pleased with the advancements female faculty have made during Wright's administrative posts. In fact, today Dartmouth has the highest percentage of women tenured faculty in the Ivy League.

"The first thing I noticed about Jim Wright [nearly 30 years ago] was that he was comfortable around women as colleagues," says Frankenberry. "So I think it's no accident that when Jim became dean of faculty he appointed women as associate deans, and when he became president the glass ceiling came off, and we got such appointments as Josie Harper [director of athletics] and Carol Folt [dean of the faculty]. In the last 40 years Jim Wright has done more than any other single person I can think of to transform Dartmouth from top to bottom for the better."

Over the next year, Wright will continue to work on the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience-the largest fund-raising effort in the College's history-and he will ensure that progress is made toward his priorities, such as beginning construction on a new visual arts building and the Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center. After stepping down, he plans to continue his efforts to promote educational opportunities for wounded veterans and re-immerse himself in his academic field of American political history.

By SUSAN KNAPPĀ 

SOME FACTS ABOUT THE WRIGHT PRESIDENCY

  • Since 1998, the applicant pool has grown by 60 percent to more than 16,500 in 2007.
  • The College's endowment grew from $1.6 billion in 1998 to $3.8 billion today. The Dartmouth College Fund grew from $20 million to $39 million in 2007.
  • The financial aid budget has grown from $24.5 million in 1998 to a projected $71 million in 2009.
  • The College has invested approximately $1.1 billion in new and renovated facilities since 1998.
  • Enrollment of students of color rose from 20 percent in 1998 to more than 30 percent today and the percentage of international students from 4 percent to almost 9 percent in the Class of 2011.
  • Significant growth in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has been realized with tenure-track positions growing from 352 to 411. The student-faculty ratio decreased to 8 to 1, from 10 to 1 in 1998.
  • The Tuck School of Business has increased from 37 faculty lines to 55, and the Thayer School of Engineering faculty has increased from 33 to 43.
  • During the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience the College received 8 of the 10 largest gifts in its history.
  • The number of students living on campus increased from 85 percent to more than 90 percent.
  • The athletics budget doubled and a range of athletic facilities across campus were built or renovated.

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Last Updated: 5/30/08