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Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015
Email: james.wright@dartmouth.edu

Remarks to the Dartmouth Community

Alumni Hall, April 6, 1998

Opening remarks by James Freedman and Bill King


Remarks by James Wright

As Yogi Berra â€" one of the sages to whom I regularly turn â€" said "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." I take it with pleasure. Following my discussion with the Trustees this weekend and now being here, at this place, this afternoon, with friends and colleagues, and reflecting upon the exciting opportunities we have ahead of us, gives me a great sense of anticipation. I am grateful for this singular opportunity to lead Dartmouth into a new century. I thank the Trustees for their confidence.

I would also like to add my thanks to those of Mr. King in recognizing the contributions of President Freedman and Mrs. Freedman. They have been great and supportive friends of Susan and of me. The Freedman Presidency has been marked by a growth in the intellectual distinction of Dartmouth and by the recognition that this is now a place more open to difference and less defined by contention.

Even as the institution is richer because of their contributions, so too all of us are enriched who have come to know them personally. Jim's and Sheba's personal grace and quiet courage, their intellectual warmth, their good humor and good will, these are qualities that leave their indelible marks on our individual spirits just as they have upon our College. Jim, we are delighted that you and Sheba will be remaining here at Dartmouth; we value and treasure your continuing presence.

Thirty years ago this coming fall, I made my first visit to Dartmouth â€" indeed, my first visit to New England â€" for a job interview in the History Department. I was very pleased to accept their offer and thought I would be here for a few years. I was encouraged from the very beginning by a group of colleagues who were supportive of each other, colleagues who took both teaching and scholarship seriously. And I was captured by an environment in which faculty, students, and staff cared about each other and cared about the broader world of which this campus was only a small part. It is important to know that I still today consider myself â€" and always will consider myself â€" first and foremost a faculty member, a teacher, and a historian.

Dartmouth is a far more complicated place than it was when I came here, but I believe the basic themes and values remain. This is a place where all members of the community take seriously their responsibilities to each other and are committed to the values of this institution.

I have asked three special friends to join Susan and me today, three people who have worked closely with me and who personify that commitment: Gail Vernazza, June Sweeney, and Jeannine McPherson. They have supported me over many years, and are colleagues deeply committed to the purposes of Dartmouth. Even the most complicated organizations finally come down to people, and I would salute all of the people, from faculty to those who take care of our superb facilities, who make this place true to its principles and give me great confidence in the assignment I will assume.

There will be ample time over the next several months for me to share with you in detail my vision for Dartmouth and the objectives of my presidency. I expect to engage in a wide discussion of who we are and what we aspire to be, sharing with you my perspectives and learning from yours. For now, let me outline some of the important principles that will inform my presidency.

President William Jewett Tucker said that the "risks of inertia are far greater than the risks of innovation." I have no interest in inertia. We end the 20th century in a position of real strength, thanks to the commitment and efforts and vision of my predecessors. John Dickey raised our aspirations and reminded us of our common obligations to our world and to others. John Kemeny moved us through a period of significant change and enlarged in every way our sense of who defined this community. David McLaughlin enabled us to rededicate the residential experience and secured our financial strength. Jim Freedman reminded us that our primary commitment and obligation is to the life of the mind. And it has been the very special support of Dartmouth's alumni for this place and its values that has enabled our College to thrive and excel.

Our legacy is wonderful but our task is unfinished â€" it will always be unfinished. Now we must focus upon the next century and prepare ourselves for the challenges that it will surely bring. We need to affirm the importance of the liberal arts in this world of change.

My vision of Dartmouth is of a research community that is committed to attracting and retaining the very best faculty and recruiting and engaging the very best students. A place marked by learning rather than teaching, learning in which students are full participants rather than passive observers. A place where the out-of-classroom experience fully complements the formal classroom learning. A place where students enjoy the freedom and independence to shape their own lives. Freedom and independence entail responsibility. Being a member of a community involves necessary negotiations between our personal interests and the values that bind us together. I expect to participate fully with the Board of Trustees, with faculty and administrators â€" and especially with students â€" in a full discussion of what membership in this community means.

Our shared responsibility is to assure a place that attaches the highest priority upon learning, to assure a community that is open to everyone, a community that does not demean women â€" indeed that does not demean anyone. A community that does not tolerate the harming of others and that tries to prevent the harming of oneself. Let us celebrate all of our members and understand our obligation to the world in which we live. As we discuss the way to secure these things, understand that I think we can do no less. My sense of this community is that we need to come together to discuss our common purposes, and I intend to be an active participant in this discussion.

I also told the Board of Trustees that I fully intend to participate in debates that have a national resonance. One has to do with the value of research. Research in the academy is not a pastime that competes with teaching but a critical activity that informs the best teaching. It is too easy to dismiss research by focusing on things that have failed or projects that critics deem foolish. The American research university is the most successful in the world, and we should never forget the importance of this to our national well-being â€" not simply in those critical research fields which we hope make our lives safer and our world more familiar, but in the arts and the humanities that make our lives fuller and richer.

Dartmouth is a research university in all but name, and we are not going to be deflected from our purposes. This is a place that is marked by flexibility, by a sense of community, and by full opportunities for interdisciplinary work bridging not only arts and sciences departments but also including the strong programs we have developed in the professional schools. I hope to work with the deans and with the faculties to strengthen these ties. For, finally, it is the strength of the faculty and their work that makes this such an attractive place for the very best students. And the very best students attract an even stronger faculty.

I have particularly enjoyed over the last fifteen months my involvement with the three professional schools. I am impressed by their strength and by their sense of excellence. I am excited about the prospect of looking for new ways to build upon their accomplishments and to expand even more their ambitions. We have the potential here to develop new models of academic medicine and of health-care delivery, to strengthen engineering as a professional field while enriching its ties to the liberal arts, and to build upon Tuck's position as a residential business school committed to new models of business research and education. Dartmouth's venerable professional schools and her impressive graduate programs are fundamental to the special character of this College.

I strongly reaffirm our commitment to Affirmative Action and to diversity. This is not simply due to some sense of long-standing obligation, although this is important. This is not simply due to our need to provide opportunities to minority students, although it is hard to imagine our society if we neglect this responsibility. Most importantly, our commitment to diversity is rooted in the fact that we are an educational institution. It is hard for me to imagine education going on without a richly diverse student body and faculty. The world is diverse, and so must we be. I will see that we do not let up in our recruitment efforts. But recruitment is only the first step. This community needs to do still more to welcome and salute difference.

A personal note may underline my commitment to this principle. My path to Dartmouth was not a direct one â€" I didn't commence my college education until I was 21 years old because post-secondary education was not something that was part of my community or its values. One of my grandfathers was a miner and the other was a farm worker. Neither finished eighth grade. My father was a bartender. He dropped out of college during his first semester because the depression blunted his aspirations. I worked for a time myself as a miner â€" a powderman in 300-feet-deep hardrock mines.

I know well the distance from there to this spot for this occasion. Once I began to study, I found a world of excitement and of opportunity. I have been fortunate, and I have benefited from the support and encouragement of teachers, mentors, friends, and family over the years. I recognize personally the power of education and the capacity of institutions like Dartmouth, at their best, to enable full opportunities and rich lives. The post-war democratization of American higher education has been a wonderful story, and I have been pleased in my time at Dartmouth to see this extended to be fully inclusive. I can assure you that on my watch there will be no letting up in this College's commitment to a diverse and rich student body, faculty and administration and to a financial aid program that will sustain this.

Some of you will know that Emily Dickinson has a special and personal importance to Susan and to me. We were married in her house.

Emily Dickinson wrote:

"Hope" is the thing with feathers â€"
That perches in the soul â€"
And sings the tune without the words â€"
And never stops â€" at all â€"

I am privileged to be at a place whose soul is indeed filled with hope, and I will be honored to be the president of an institution so richly endowed with people who share in that sense of optimism and promise.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 8/21/08