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In His Own Words

 A conversation with Trustee Russell Carson '65

Russell Lloyd Carson '65 was elected to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees in 1999, one year after James Wright became president. Asked to reflect on their years of friendship, Carson says, "I had the privilege of serving on the Dean's Council [when Jim Wright was dean of the faculty] and the President's Leadership Council before going on the Board. Jim's vision for the College closely mirrors my own: to make Dartmouth the best it can be."

Carson is chair of the Board's Finance Committee and a charter trustee. Dartmouth Life recently had an opportunity to talk with him about managing the College's finances in a difficult economic environment and about what makes Dartmouth distinctive.

Russell Carson
Russell Carson ′65
(Courtesy Russell Carson ′65)

Q: How is the Board handling the economic downturn? Do you actually use the word "recession"? How does the current erratic state of the markets affect your ability to plan for the future?

A: Yes, we do say recession. It is something we're definitely thinking about. Thanks to the generosity of alumni and highly skilled management, we have an endowment fund that allows us to make changes over time if necessary. We have the ability to ride out any scenario. We're conscious of the downturn and the trustees will make the right decisions on how to respond. My own perspective is that we shouldn't let this difficult economic time affect our strategic priorities.  We've been through some very good times. If we head into bad times for a while, we need to temper our reactions to them.

Q: You care deeply about cutting- edge medical research. In a previous Dartmouth Life interview, you said that one of Dartmouth's greatest challenges was "how to stay competitive in the sciences while expending necessary resources elsewhere in the College." Where can Dartmouth make a difference in this incredibly expensive but important arena?

A: You do it through quality, not quantity. We have a relatively small medical school, and we need to ensure that we maintain its high-quality programs. We don't need to be all things to all people. A good example is the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, formerly known as the Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences. This is a world-class operation that continues to have a major impact in the area of health care and the U.S. economy. It's symbolic of what we can accomplish with a focused, high quality program. We need to be competitive in the sciences, but we need to pick those areas where we can offer exceptional programs.

Q: What can you tell readers about what it's like to work with President Wright? How has that evolved over the time you've known each other?

A: It's wonderful to see all the things he's done. The last nine years have been among the most productive in the history of the College. We've made dramatic strides in almost all areas during Jim's presidency-not the least of which has been the largest construction program in Dartmouth's history. Jim has done an exceptional job in leading the College.

Q: How do the trustees plan for what the College will need five or ten years from now?

A: What we have in place is a process by which we look at all aspects of the College-to see where it is now, and where it should be headed in the future. One example of something we've looked at is interdisciplinary studies, and as a result, we're asking how we can take advantage of our very high-quality graduate schools to give undergraduates more access to their knowledge base. Also, once a year the Board holds a meeting that's specifically designed to look at long-term issues. This is a time when we don't have anything else on our agenda.

Q: If you had to pinpoint the three most profound ways in which Dartmouth has changed during this past decade, what would they be?

A: There hasn't been revolutionary change, but there's been evolutionary change. Dartmouth has made great strides in gender equality. Our faculty continues to be world-class, our students keep getting more talented and accomplished, and the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience-the most ambitious in Dartmouth's history-is on track and will have a profound beneficial impact on the College for generations to come.

Q: Do you have any advice for the members of the Class of 2008 as they make the transition from students to Dartmouth graduates?

A: My advice to the Class of 2008 is: keep an open mind about what your future holds. I've never been able to anticipate what's coming next. Part of the joy of life is going where opportunity leads you. It's a great mistake to lock on early, because in all probability your life is going to go in a completely different direction.


Russell Carson majored in economics as an undergraduate and received an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School. He is a general partner in and co-founder of Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, one of the country's largest private investment firms. Carson leads the firm's health care investment activities. He is also chair of the Rockefeller University Board of Trustees, co-chair of the Board of Overseers of Columbia Business School, a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, co-chair of the New York City Investment Fund, and chair of the Inner-City Scholarship Endowment Fund.

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Last Updated: 6/23/08