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Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015

Remarks by President James Wright to the General Faculty

October 18, 2000

It is my pleasure to join you today for the purpose of sharing my annual report on the state of the College. Preparing for this meeting provides me an opportunity to reflect on some of the things we are doing and to discuss with you some of my objectives and aspirations.

Let me begin by giving you an update on some ongoing initiatives. Last year in the course of our discussions with the reaccreditation committee and our consideration of the student life initiative, some matters came up that warranted further study and specific recommendations.

During our discussion of the Report of the Committee on the Student Life Initiative last winter, there were faculty, student and alumni/ae suggestions that it may be time to consider going off the Dartmouth Plan. In April, the Trustees announced that they would request an analysis of the practical consequences and costs of discontinuing the mandatory summer term. Following this, if the Board judged it was something we could consider now, then it would ask the faculty to initiate a review to see if it was desirable to move away from this requirement.

This summer, we conducted an extensive review of the cost of moving away from the D-Plan. I asked a group chaired by David Lagomarsino to look into the first part of this charge: how much it would cost for Dartmouth to move to away from the current plan. In August, this committee reported to the Trustees their finding that discontinuing the mandatory summer and not reducing the size of the student body would cost at least $32 million in current dollars for additional residence halls. An additional capital investment for other facilities that could not be specifically calculated now because it would depend on the extent of facilities that will be constructed as part of our several parallel academic, social, dining, and recreational projects. We would also confront an annual increase in operating costs of over $1 million.

These estimates are not, by themselves, sufficient to cause us to back away from doing what is necessary, but it is our conclusion that expenditures of this magnitude cannot become priorities now. We have too many other urgent academic, residential, and social projects that need to be addressed. We all need to work to lessen some of the discontinuity that accompanies the Dartmouth Plan; we need to work to make the summer term academically more unique; and we need to encourage students to take even greater advantage of the opportunities provided by the Dartmouth Plan. We will focus on doing these things over the next five or six years. Following this, if the faculty would determine that we needed to review more comprehensively the fate of the D-plan, then the Board would be prepared to consider all alternatives. The Dartmouth Plan does offer us a rich range of options. It also is part of what makes Dartmouth a distinctive place, attractive to students and faculty. Let us now see if we can take even fuller advantage of it.

I wanted to report to you that the committee constituted to undertake the review of Dean Edward Berger in the Arts and Sciences is now in place. The faculty at the Tuck School reviewed Paul Danos last year, and Deans Baldwin and Duncan will be reviewed next year. The process in the Arts and Sciences is established by the faculty and is described in Organization of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (the OFDC). The review committee selects its own chair and determines its own procedures. I know they will communicate with the faculty of Arts and Sciences soon. I hope they can complete their work and report to me by the end of the calendar year.

The report from the reaccreditation committee last year suggested that we needed to do a better job with our advising system, comprehensively defined. This includes not only first-year and major advising, but also pre-major advising, graduate, professional, and fellowship advising, and the general counseling systems in place for our students. Some of us have been through these discussions many times over the last thirty years. I suspect that this is something that no school has exactly right, but it was clear that we needed to think about the particular systems that might be appropriate for Dartmouth at this time. Currently these various responsibilities are shared by the faculty and by the Dean of the College office. Deans Berger and Larimore will announce soon a committee consisting of faculty and administrators to look into the whole realm of advising at Dartmouth. The committee will issue a report that will come to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for consideration.

Last year the Board of Trustees stated its conviction that a Dartmouth education should take place in "a residential and social environment that encourages students to understand difference, to learn from each other, and to recognize their own responsibilities as citizens of the world." Susan Prager has appointed a committee to take on this charge, which will be chaired by Professor Melissa Zeiger and Dean of the College Jim Larimore and will include faculty, students, and administrators. it will be an important committee and I am looking forward to having an opportunity to discuss their report later this year.

As we assess more comprehensively the state of the College, I am struck by our overall strength.

Admissions and Financial Aid - I have met many members of the Class of 2004 and share the view that I have heard from a number of you: they are an impressive group of students, yet again. The professional schools have also had successful years, and the undergraduate, graduate, and professional admissions offices are gearing up for admitting next year's entering classes. It is clear that we continue to attract a very high quality pool. The improvements we made to our financial aid package a couple of years ago have certainly helped us to remain competitive.

Recruiting - has likewise gone well. We have welcomed new faculty in each of the schools. My own observations and reports from the deans suggest that we have made some very strong appointments, including a number of lateral appointments, and we continue to be competitive in all areas. We need to continue to look for ways to make certain we can appoint a diverse and a strong faculty. It is critical to strengthening our programs and enhancing even more our attractiveness to students.

Research Support and Activity - this year we are celebrating $100 million dollars in external support. Our faculty are involved in important scholarship. The success rate of our faculty's grant applications has increased and I am very pleased with our progress in this area.

Endowment and Fundraising - our endowment growth has been phenomenal. Last year we had a 46.6 percent return on market value and at year-end the endowment stood at $2.4 billion dollars. At the end of September we had seen still further growth to around $2.5 billion. Fundraising has also been very successful. We have seen two record years for the annual fund, and all indicators are up for this year.

Infrastructure - we are moving ahead with major physical plant issues. Just last week we had a ribbon cutting for the Berry Library. We are moving ahead with the Carson wing of that building. Ten days ago, we dedicated McCulloch Hall in the Wheelock Cluster- already one of the most popular residences on campus. A week ago we dedicated the Boss Tennis Center, the Gordon Pavilion, the Scully-Fahey Field, and the Blackman Fields. We have completed our expansion of Wilder Hall and are proceeding with renovation of that building along with Fairchild and Steele. Silsby Hall, the home of most of the social science departments, has been renovated. Whittemore Hall at the Tuck School is nearing completion and we are looking forward to that dedication in December.

We are also moving forward with our planning for future facilities - new residence halls, enhanced social and recreational space, the Kemeny mathematics building, the expansion of the Thayer School, and a second phase of Whittemore Hall. I attach a high priority to moving ahead aggressively in planning and developing a significant new space for the arts and a major and substantial new building for the life sciences.

This is a time of tremendous change in higher education. There are new initiatives in e-learning, there are new information systems, and new companies spinning off from faculty research. It is a competitive consumerist age. Prospective students and their parents are demanding more from their academic experience; particularly, they value an environment that enables them to take on a project of their own or to work one-on-one with faculty on real research. They also want a strengthened residential and social experience, more recreational opportunities, and more choice in housing. Demands on faculty have increased significantly as we expect you to develop and expand a program of scholarly accomplishment while also sharing a commitment to excellence in teaching and in strengthening the out-of-classroom experience.

The cost of sustaining these aspirations continues to spiral upward. Required investments in the sciences as well as the infrastructure needed for all of our disciplines have skyrocketed. Costs associated with health care and energy are also rising uncontrollably. Finally, to remain competitive, our compensation - for both faculty and staff - must continue to increase at a higher rate than tuition.

Donald Kennedy, the former president of Stanford, used to ask how it is possible to look so rich, yet feel so poor.

Bricks and mortar are essential. Dartmouth has delayed too long in meeting some real needs. We are doing that now with an eye to strategic siting of new facilities and to making certain that qualitatively and aesthetically we build enduring structures.

The student life initiative is critical. We are now addressing some of the programmatic and capital needs that should have been dealt with twenty-five years ago, when we did not then have the resources to think about doing so.

We need to think as well about some of the opportunities that seem to be available in developing distant learning systems and new enterprises. Some of our competitors are establishing major new corporations for this purpose and are aggressively licensing the products of faculty research.

But, finally, our purpose returns always to our academic vision. Let me reiterate my sense of what Dartmouth is and what it can be.

  • This is a residential learning community, one where faculty and students engage in learning together.
  • It is a place that values research, individual as well as collaborative, student as well as faculty.
  • It is a place with a primary mission to encourage unequaled undergraduate programs in an environment that includes small but highly competitive professional and graduate programs.
  • It is a place where diversity is a critical shared purpose both for its educational as well as its community value.
  • It is a place where barriers between schools are few and where physical proximity is an advantage.
  • It is a place where much learning takes place outside of the classroom.
  • It is a place that sustains a comprehensive learning environment, and one that is not only campus-centered but also reaches out, through our international programs and research and through the digital environment.

Dartmouth has an exceptional opportunity: to maintain our historic strength as a strong and supportive community where colleagues, classmates, and friends bridge anonymity, and to meet our highest goals, to build a unique place of discovery and learning. As large and complicated universities try to subdivide into more manageable scales, we have here the model. To sustain our effort to reach for our highest aspirations, it is critical that we continue to attract the best students and the best faculty. It is to meet our goals as a residential academic community that we are discussing ways to expand and enhance significantly the residence halls. It should be possible for any student who wishes to live on campus to do so.

We are also considering ways to build more faculty and staff housing. We are moving ahead with the second phase of the Grasse Road project and we are putting in additional apartments on Park Street. As many of you know, the College had the opportunity last year to acquire part of the downtown area called the Hanover Investment Corporation. An investor wanted to sell all of his properties as a block. We had an interest in this area because a large number of our students (+100?) lived there. We have thought a great deal about what to do with this property and in so doing we have worked with the architect William Rawn of Boston. He designed the housing on Grasse Road and has also done major projects at Tanglewood, Phillips Exeter, and elsewhere around New England. As we have thought about the area we know that we are not interested in extending the campus itself into this area. We would like to preserve the sense of Hanover as a village/town and so we are thinking of using this property to provide commercial and retail spaces as well as increased choice of housing for our faculty and staff.

We are also in the midst of discussions with the Dresden School Board regarding the relocation of the schools onto Dartmouth property and the acquisition of the school site by the College. These discussions are still very preliminary although we are pleased to be able to participate in them. I believe that strong schools - along with a strong town - are to Dartmouth's advantage. Therefore, we are willing to consider ways to include Reservoir Road as a possible option, even though this complicates some of our own plans. As we think about acquiring the current school property, we have not considered using this land for either residential or academic facilities, but would again, most likely, think of this area as a potential site for faculty and staff housing, as well as for our own playing field needs.

There is no doubt that Dartmouth is in the strongest position, both academically and financially, that it has been in for years, and possibly the strongest ever in our long history. We need to secure this position. And to do so we must build aggressively, but with a sense of our purpose as well as a recognition of our limits. We are in a position of strength, but we face significant choices and challenges. We need to focus on our own aspirations and set our priorities.

To flesh out that vision, to more fully understand our purpose in the 21st century, we have spent the past several months engaged in an academic planning process. Provost Susan Prager chaired a committee consisting of the academic deans, the vice presidents, and the deputy provost, as well as additional faculty and administrators.

This group met with faculty and deans as they tried to assess where we are now. What are our particular strengths and weaknesses? What are our opportunities? What are the new fields about which we should be thinking? How do we shore up traditional areas of strength? Where are the points of consensus and how do we make decisions for those matters on which there is not agreement?

From these conversations we have gradually distilled some clear themes. And from these themes we may begin to work toward practical goals. We have found no shortage of big ideas, no shortage of vision.

We discussed the academic plan with the Board of Trustees in August and Susan Prager will meet with a number of faculty groups over the next few weeks to discuss the plan. She will also make a presentation to the General Faculty at the meeting on November 13. Lo Yi Chan, Dartmouth's master planner will also be at that meeting to discuss some of the planning implications of this vision.

There is still much to be done. First, we need to decide which of these themes and ideas make the most sense for us now. We need to prioritize these initiatives as well as the particular elements of each of them. In addition to the several faculty discussions, over the next month I will be meeting with each of the academic deans to discuss their vision and their priorities. Then the Provost and I will begin to put the pieces together and we expect to share that with you in the winter term.

As part of this process we need to develop an integrated financial plan that considers comprehensively the sources of capital and revenue that might assist us in attaining our goals. Vice President and Treasurer Win Johnson is working with the Trustee members of the Finance Committee and with his own staff to develop just such a plan, one that will lay out how we might fund these different initiatives. We will need to examine our debt capacity, our distribution from endowment, reallocation of existing resources, as well as our fundraising capacity.

Finally, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Stan Colla and Director of Development Carrie Pelzel are simultaneously developing a plan for the next capital campaign.

These discussions and planning projects will take time. Incremental campaign dollars are likely some years in the future. As critical as these processes are, we need in the shorter term to try out some things and begin to support even more our academic strengths and dreams. Over the last two years, we have taken some immediate initiatives including supporting student financial aid, commencing planning for some academic, residential and social projects, and developing and funding a strategic plan for investing more money in improving compensation for faculty as well as for officers and staff. These will continue to be priorities.

We have been able to move ahead with one of Dean Berger's objectives, the organizing of the Humanities Center under the directorship of Jonathan Crewe. Fannie and Dr. Alan Leslie recently committed to a magnificent $16 million gift to the College. Dr. Leslie graduated from Dartmouth in the Class of 1930.

I am most pleased to announce their support for three new initiatives to be known as (1) the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities, (2) the Dartmouth Conferences, and (3) the Leslie Professorship in Genetics at the Medical School. Although a portion of their commitment is outright, for the most part, the gifts will be realized through their estates and trusts. I will be visiting the Leslies later this week to thank them in person for their generous gift to Dartmouth College.

I know you share my gratitude to Fannie and Alan Leslie, who over the years have been good friends of Dartmouth. I also know they will be pleased with the celebration of the Humanities Center's inaugural symposium later this week. Susan and I will celebrate the occasion with them. In November we will also launch the Dartmouth Conferences.

I would like to offer special thanks to Dean Berger and Janis Murcic in the Dean of Faculty Office and to Tom Farrell in the Gift Planning Office for their efforts in developing this wonderful gift.

When I came into the presidency, I discussed with the Board the importance of having some discretionary money to advance some initiatives. I have been holding this because I wanted to make certain it went into academic programs that could help to make a difference.

With the restraint that the money cannot go for permanent budget support, I wanted to focus on some things that will have a short-term impact or will be attractive for outside funding sources or campaign support. I will be investing some of my discretionary money into some projects immediately, and these in all cases relate to one of three objectives: to support faculty scholarship and student research projects; to look for ways to make the summer term intellectually even stronger; to encourage more and broader innovation in the use of digital systems and technology in our classes. Dartmouth has a historic reputation as being innovative in supporting a learning environment in which the computer can play a central role. We need to maintain that.

While we will need to share details later, over the next five years I intend to invest $6 million dollars in academic projects that will include:

  1. Collaborative Projects - we will establish a special venture fund in the Provost's Office to support meetings or planning sessions relating to new interdisciplinary and inter-school research initiatives. These will be awarded competitively similar to a program we had in 1997, which funded among other things the materials science group and the evolution conference.
  2. Senior Faculty Grants - as an example of the value of staying around for a period of time: in the early 1990s, as Dean of Faculty, I participated in some budget reductions necessitated by the serious deficits of that period. We finally had to reduce the number of Senior Faculty Grants by 2-3 a year. I am pleased now to more than compensate for that loss by immediately increasing the number by five a year. These will be awarded through the current competitive procedure beginning this year.
  3. Summer Programming in the Arts - when I first came here we had a delightful summer Convocation in the Arts program for the community. I believe deeply that our students need to have even more opportunities to participate in the arts, even if their participation is as audience members or gallery visitors. Accordingly, I will ask the Provost and Dean of Faculty, working with the Hopkins Center, the Hood Museum, and appropriate faculty and students, to consider ways in which we might expand our summer programming in the arts. Doing this will be of benefit to the entire community.
  4. Academic computing initiatives - I would like us to provide more support for faculty to use technology in their teaching. Consequently, we will increase the FTE in Academic Computing by 2 people and we will provide broad-based support for faculty ranging from small grants to much larger grants that could even involve a course reduction to allow faculty time to explore and develop innovations in teaching. We will also accelerate the upgrading of classrooms to provide technology. I hope that this will serve as a transition to a more comprehensive, permanent program that will support teaching innovation.
  5. Writer in residence - the Dean of the Faculty has had discussions with several departments and with the Humanities Center about the latter coordinating a Writer-in- Residence program at the College. Writers who participate in this would either teach courses or would have workshops for students. If the faculty who have discussed this can further develop a plan for its implementation and oversight, I would be prepared to support it for a period of five years.
  6. Student Research during the summer term - for a number of years I have been interested in doing more to provide greater research opportunities for our students. We have all been frustrated that Dartmouth students, despite their academic strength, do not fare better in securing competitive scholarships. A group of us, including faculty from the Committee on Graduate Fellowships, met four years ago to discuss this idea. One of the ideas was getting some of our students started even earlier on research projects. At that time we discussed taking advantage of the fact that in the summer students have fewer competing obligations. It would be possible to engage them fully in courses that would have off-campus components. Examples might include field work, trips to galleries or theatres, work in archives or other sites. The students would sign up only for this special course and would receive three credits for it. I will have a discussion tomorrow with the COI about how we might implement such a program on an experimental basis. I am prepared to use a discretionary fund to support this effort - including providing additional course support for departments or programs that might wish to try this.
  7. New ventures - because these programs relate to discussions we have had over a period of time or programs that have demonstrated strength, I would like to make certain as well that we are open to other new ideas. You are the best source for these. Accordingly, I am prepared to consider proposals for other ways in which we might strengthen the intellectual environment here, consistent with the objectives I described earlier. I would consult with the Academic Deans and the Provost on these proposals and we will share with you later some information on application procedures.

Needless to say, this is a very good time to be at this special place and in your good company. It is appropriate to acknowledge today one of our company, at her last meeting as an active member of the General Faculty - Librarian Margaret Otto. I look forward to our work to move us toward our highest aspirations.

Last Updated: 8/21/08