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Behind the Scenes: 'Why Dartmouth?' for Dr. Jim Yong Kim

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By Martha Beattie '76, Presidential Search Committee member, chair of the Alumni Council's Alumni Liaison Committee, and past president of the Alumni Council

A remarkable thing happened at Dartmouth recently—we named a new president. Dr. Jim Yong Kim is a visionary leader, revered educator, and brilliant motivator-and he said that he believed that no school in the nation was as well prepared as Dartmouth to offer young people the kind of liberal arts education that would prepare them to be leaders in the 21st century. He sees an exciting partnership of the brightest students, a superb faculty, a cross-disciplinary passion and potential, a confidence and optimism that is Dartmouth to the core.

KimWomen's volleyball players (from left) Kendall Houston '12, Annie Villanueva '12, and team captain Jess Thomas '09 surprised President-elect Jim Yong Kim-who played in college and still enjoys the game-with a ball and jersey after the March 2 announcement in Spaulding Auditorium. "One of my favorite moments of the day was receiving my own #17 jersey from the women's volleyball team," says Kim. "I look forward to squeezing into it and playing with them when I get to campus." Thomas says, "President-elect Kim joked about needing to train and 'increase his vertical' [ability to jump] before coming to our practices." (Photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

Dr. Jim Yong Kim did not come to Dartmouth through the conventional path of academic administration, of deanships and provost positions. Instead, he has put his enormous energy and transformative leadership style towards saving the lives of the poorest people in the world.

He was a founding trustee of Partners in Health with Paul Farmer and others, and was the architect of the World Health Organization initiative to bring treatment for HIV/AIDS to the world's poor. His scholarship has been honored by his medical peers with election to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences. He is a physician and he has a Ph.D. in anthropology. He has been called one of the best teachers ever at Harvard, creating undergraduate courses that have waiting lists of 200 and more. His colleagues call him humble, engaging, collaborative, and funny. All speak of his vision and his humanity. He's a lifelong athlete who played high school basketball and football, as well as college volleyball.

beattieMartha Beattie '76 (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)
For all the remarkable qualities that Jim Kim brings to his next job, perhaps the most important is that he "gets" Dartmouth. He understands what makes our College unique-the special sense of community, the passion of its alumni, the focus on teaching, and the great sense of tradition. He wants to nurture that, to build on it, and help Dartmouth to "soar with its strengths."

When the Presidential Search Committee asked stakeholders what they were looking for in the next president, the most common thread was the desire to be inspired. One alumnus wrote, "All of us have tremendous passion for Dartmouth. I hope we can find a leader who will harness that passion to make Dartmouth even better. The president needs to lead and energize us. The position of president needs to be filled by an inspirational, Big Green unifier." As if in response to this plea, another alumnus who knows Dr. Kim wrote that he will bring people together and make Dartmouth even stronger.

When the search committee asked "Why Dartmouth?" after a career of astounding success and stature in the world of global health, Dr. Kim told us that something critical to his happiness is working with the students of today who are "susceptible to being inspired," just as he has always been.

Selecting Jim Yong Kim as president is a bold move that is a great statement about the values of an institution that has chosen such courageous leaders in the past as Ernest Martin Hopkins, John Sloan Dickey, and John Kemeny. We have a remarkable person who will become the 17th president of a remarkable place, and my guess is that Dartmouth's future will be remarkable.

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 1/14/10