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Behind the Scenes with the Board

Trustees talk about their work

Dartmouth Life asked Charles Wheelan '88 to interview five members of the Board of Trustees and the four alumni Trustee candidates. Wheelan, author of Revealing Chicago and Naked Economics, teaches public policy at the University of Chicago and is a member of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine editorial board.

William H. Neukom '64

CW: What would you describe as the Board's most significant achievements while you've been chair?
WN: This Board has maintained the balance that distinguishes Dartmouth from its peers. It's an advantage of scale. We're small enough to offer undergraduates an intimate learning experience they won't find at the bigger schools and to provide a scope not found at purely undergraduate colleges. We have laboratories, a broad array of research opportunities, and access to high-quality professional schools and graduate programs. We're one of the few need-blind financial aid elite schools in the country. This is a strategic commitment because it improves the quality and diversity of the students we get. We're doing a terrific job in a fiercely competitive market to hire and retain faculty who are world-class scholars with a passion for teaching. And the Student Life Initiative, which was intended to create a marketplace of extracurricular opportunities, is coming together very nicely. Students are getting a better education because of it.

CW: Every time I've seen you in a photo, you're wearing a bow tie. Can you trace that back to your Dartmouth experience?
WN: I think I admired well-tied bow ties in those days but never wore one. And I don't always wear one. Every now and then I wear something different just for the heck of it.

CW: What's the most enjoyable thing about coming back to Dartmouth as a Trustee?
WN: I have the opportunity to feel Dartmouth's inescapable magic: intellectual curiosity, high energy, fellowship, and the physical beauty of the place. It's a high honor to be a Trustee and to help in the stewardship of an alma mater. Just stepping onto that Green, walking the campus, and getting all the data—being immersed in that data—reminds me what a remarkable school this is.

(Read William Neukom's complete interview.)

Board of Trustees
From left: Nancy Kepes Jeton '76, Board Chair William H. Neukom '64, and President James Wright at the March meeting of the Board of Trustees. (Photos by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09)

John J. Donahoe '82

CW: If an alumnus could be a fly on the wall at a Trustee meeting, what would that person see?
JD: A group of very engaged alumni working to support the president and the administration to ensure that the College is strong, both in the short and the long term.

CW: What's the most significant issue you've dealt with during your tenure on the Board?
JD: In my first year we restructured the Board's governance. We reduced the number of standing committees so we could spend more time on issues facing the College and less time on administration. We now have finance, facilities, and governance committees.

We also agreed to take one or two important topics each year and create a working team of Trustees and College leaders to really focus on them. For instance, one of the more important examples of this was the working team focused on assessing the health of Dartmouth's undergraduate education. Leon Black '73 was the Trustee who led this, working closely with Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Carol Folt. Dean Folt was fabulous-she provided a rigorous fact-based assessment of the various elements of our undergraduate program. It was clear that the undergraduate education at Dartmouth is quite strong, and the working team laid out a number of steps to ensure that Dartmouth continues to provide the best undergraduate program in the world, well into the future.

Other working teams have focused on alumni relations and communications, and Dartmouth's professional schools and graduate programs. This year, we're focused on Dartmouth's core mission and mission statement. President Wright is leading this effort, and it will result in an updated mission statement for the College.

CW: Would your classmates have described you as a future Trustee?
JD: [Laughter] I'm a big believer in servant leadership. I was president of Aquinas House my senior year which was a servant leadership role. In my professional career, I've had a variety of what I would describe as servant leadership roles, so when the opportunity arose to serve Dartmouth by being a Trustee, I viewed it as a huge honor and privilege.

It doesn't take long to realize that the students today are having the same kind of special Dartmouth experience that my classmates and I had when we were there. And seeing the passion and commitment of the faculty is inspiring. Every time I'm back in Hanover I long to be a student again!

(Read John Donahoe's complete interview.)

Russell L. Carson '65

CW: As chair of the Finance Committee, describe the financial challenges of managing an enterprise as complex as Dartmouth.
RC: You're constantly dealing with conflicting priorities. Somebody needs to decide what the most important objectives are—which to spend money on, and which may be less important. That's a significant responsibility. The College, like other organizations, has finite resources. How those resources are deployed is something we talk about constantly.

CW: Is there an issue that's looming, not just for Dartmouth but for all of higher education?
RC: The single biggest issue that higher education folks face is what's happening in the sciences. The physical sciences are going to be increasingly important, particularly the biosciences, and bioscience is extraordinarily expensive. It requires very expensive laboratory space, very sophisticated faculty, and graduate students to assist in the laboratories. The challenge is how to stay competitive in the sciences while expending necessary resources elsewhere in the College.

CW: Has Dartmouth made steps in that direction?
RC: Yes, we clearly have. One of the Board's significant, strategic decisions was to proceed with the construction of a life sciences building without a donor identified whose gift would cover most of its cost.

CW: On my Dartmouth application, the last question was "Ask and then answer your own question." How would you respond to that?
RC: My question is: What's wrong with Dartmouth? And my answer is: Nothing. It's a world-class institution. It's extraordinary that little Dartmouth College-with three small graduate schools and a relatively small undergraduate body-is continually ranked as one of the top 10 colleges and universities in the country. Could we improve? Of course, and we will. But it is truly a wonderful place, and we should all feel very good about the present position of the institution.

(Read Russell Carson's complete interview.)

Board of Trustees
From left: Trustees T.J. Rodgers '70, John J. Donahoe '82, William H. Neukom '64, Russell L. Carson '65, and Pamela J. Joyner '79 in the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) at the March Board meeting.

Pamela J. Joyner '79

CW: What were you like as a Dartmouth student?
PJ: I was atypical. I grew up in Chicago—a liberal, urban environment. I'm not particularly athletic and don't like cold weather. Some of Dartmouth's attractions didn't speak to me. I came here because I knew I'd have a rich array of liberal arts educational choices in an intimate learning setting.

CW: As chair of the Investment Committee, can you talk about managing an endowment the size of Dartmouth's?
PJ: The Investment Committee's charge is to deliver the best results, as defined by balancing high returns versus risk and volatility. Our job is to make sure we get our asset allocation model as close to right as possible.

Relative to our peers, we're fortunate in that early on we made an asset allocation decision where we're very heavily weighted toward illiquid, high-returning assets, such as venture capital, private equity, and real estate. We've had tremendous success. In 2006, our returns were 19.6 percent, making us one of the top performing universities in the country.

At $3.5 billion, our endowment is larger than ever. But compared to our peers, we do more with less. Harvard's endowment is $29 billion; Yale's is $18 billion; and Stanford's is $15 billion.

CW: What is the greatest challenge facing Dartmouth and its peer institutions?
PJ: Finding leadership at the top of these elite institutions is going to be tough. We're extremely fortunate to have Jim Wright because he excels at two key skill sets that are diametrically opposed to one other and difficult to find in one person. These institutions need leaders who are recognized as substantial scholars. But they are also large businesses requiring all the skill sets that CEOs of major global corporations have.

And I'll add a third skill set that even CEOs don't need, which is that our institutional leaders have to be tremendous fund raisers. It takes a particular individual to do that well. Jim Wright is very, very skilled at all three.

CW: My final question is from my Dartmouth application: "Ask and answer your own question."
PJ: It took me months to answer that question! I don't have a question, but here's an answer: I'm very struck by how much progress Dartmouth has made since I was a student, while still adhering to its core values. In the mid-1970s, Dartmouth was much less diverse. Now it's remarkably so and has evolved to include and encourage diversity of all types.

And yet that patchwork of interests and individuals still treasures traditional, fundamental values: The environment is serious but doesn't necessarily take itself seriously. There's a sense of collegiality and community, an appreciation of history and tradition, and an interest in always going forward. The Trustees, the faculty, and the students all feel a tremendous sense of obligation to live up to the legacy they've been given.

(Read Pamela Joyner's complete interview.)

T.J. Rodgers '70

CW: Since you joined the Board in 2004, what have you focused on?
TJR: By virtue of the way I joined, [Rodgers was a petition candidate] I knew I'd be carefully scrutinized, so I made a decision up front to avoid political issues. I knew that if I were typecast as a "conservative," which I'm not, I'd end up fighting meaningless battles.

Instead, I focused on two things I thought extremely important to the College. One was free speech and the question of whether the First Amendment prevailed on the Dartmouth campus, which in my opinion it did not when I joined the Board.

The other is making sure that Dartmouth continues to be the "best college in the world." Many of our peer institutions, those that haven't been as committed to undergraduate education as we have, are now saying they need to improve their undergraduate programs. My memory of undergraduate education at Dartmouth squares with what students find today. In my day, Dartmouth put undergraduates in small classes with some of the best professors in the world. I want to make sure Dartmouth keeps that treasure whole.

Being the world's best college means small classes, an excellent student-to-faculty ratio, high-quality faculty, and a mission statement that acknowledges that teaching is the primary reason for the existence of the university.

CW: What about free speech?
TJR: The College has made good progress. There is an institute called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). It has its roots defending students who protested the Vietnam War and were attacked by conservative administrators. FIRE's free speech rating for Dartmouth—it has a simple red, yellow, and green code—was red; most colleges in the United States have a red or yellow rating.

I found an ally in President Jim Wright. He made powerful statements about free speech and I submitted them to FIRE. The College's rating went from red to green. I'm not completely satisfied, but we've made tremendous progress.

CW: What's the most enjoyable thing about coming back to Dartmouth as a Trustee?
TJR: It's wonderful being back in a place of great beauty that I hadn't visited for 20 years. I've enjoyed talking to students, hearing about their aspirations, their love for the College, and sometimes their gripes. The nitty gritty interaction with people is the best part.

CW: What haven't I asked?
TJR: You could have asked: Is Dartmouth really the best college in the world? The answer is: Yes, and I hope we can keep it that way.

(Read T.J. Rodgers' complete interview.)

Paul Christesen
From left: Christopher Blankenship '09, Margaret Sullivan '08, Assistant Professor of Classics Paul Christesen '88, and Dominic Machado '09 meet to discuss upcoming research projects. Christesen won the 2006 Council for Advancement and Support of Education New Hampshire Professor of the Year Award for outstanding work in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

"My memory of undergraduate education at Dartmouth squares with what students find today. In my day, Dartmouth put undergraduates in small classes with some of the best professors in the world." -T.J. Rodgers '70, Dartmouth Trustee

By CHARLES WHEELAN '88

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Last Updated: 5/30/08