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

Growing and Preserving: A mutual challenge

November 26, 2000

NOTE: The following opinion piece by Dartmouth President James Wright was published in the Nov. 26 issue of the Valley News.

I had the opportunity recently to share my thoughts on the relationship between Town and College with members of the Howe Library Corporation. Those thoughts touched on over 230 years of interrelationship between Dartmouth and the wider community, as well as some of Dartmouth's plans as we look to the future. The histories of Hanover and Dartmouth have been intertwined since our earliest days. We grew up together, and for the most part we have got along very well. As one historian has said "the connection of college and town was so intimate that the early history of one could not be written as separate from the other."

I first came to Hanover in 1969 as an assistant professor at Dartmouth and I have lived in the town ever since, both in Etna and Hanover. My children went through the Hanover school system. I know and understand the importance of the relationship between Dartmouth and the community.

Growth has marked both College and Town in the period since I arrived -- as indeed it has since the 1770s when Dartmouth and Hanover were just a collection of buildings surrounding the Green. An institution like Dartmouth can never be static. Change and growth are not only necessary but are inevitable. There are about 25 percent more students at Dartmouth now than there were in 1969, and there has been a similar increase in the numbers of faculty members. And over this period of time, more students have come to live in off-campus neighborhoods, and fewer faculty and staff live in Hanover. Dartmouth is now in a period of capital growth -- we want to bring our students back onto the campus and we want to provide more Hanover housing options for faculty and staff. We need to provide facilities that support our aspirations and assure our attractiveness as an institution of higher learning. These include additional academic buildings, residence halls, and enhanced social, athletic, and recreational spaces.

In the midst of this change and growth what remains constant is our understanding that no organization or individual in this town has a longer-term stake in the quality and strength of the Upper Valley community than does Dartmouth. Conversely, the community has a stake in Dartmouth -- in making certain it is a strong, vibrant, attractive place. College towns have become some of the most popular places to live, and it's easy to see why. They are marked by intellectual vitality and suffused with the energy of scholarship. They feature some of the best libraries and research facilities in the world and, through academic teaching hospitals, provide some of the finest medical care available.

Many members of the community enjoy rewarding careers at the College, and we are enriched by the talents and abilities they bring. Local high school students participate in many of Dartmouth's courses, and our lectures and other programs are often open to the public free of charge. The Hood Museum and the Hopkins Center bring superb exhibitions and programming to the Upper Valley, and both have outreach programs; the Rockefeller Center and Montgomery Endowment bring exciting public figures to campus; and our athletic competitions and facilities are open to the local community. The Dartmouth Medical School offers all of us the latest developments in medical science through its Community Medical School forums and Tuck and Thayer School students work with area businesses. Many of our graduates have remained here and started businesses of their own adding to the vitality of the Upper Valley that we all enjoy.

But with all this activity comes growth and change, and we know -- particularly in the superb natural setting we are fortunate to share -- that change can be unsettling and its consequences not always predictable. Throughout our intertwined histories, the College and Hanover have worked closely together to ensure that change is managed well. The college is interested in maintaining the natural beauty of the area and in maintaining a healthy and vital community that is itself a destination for nearby neighbors, as well as distant visitors. The quality of life here is not simply of value to the community but is critical to the College in terms of our ability to attract and retain the best faculty and employees. A large majority of our students see the rural nature of the Upper Valley as important in their decision to come to Dartmouth. Certainly our alumni return in large part because of the outstanding natural beauty and character of this area -- and, as we all know, increasingly retirees and others with no College ties find Hanover an attractive place to live.

The College had the opportunity last year to acquire part of the downtown area called the Hanover Investment Corporation from an investor who wanted to sell his properties in a block. Dartmouth had an interest in this area because a large number of our students lived there. While no decisions have yet been made about how we will develop this property, there are principles by which we will be guided. We want to achieve our growth without overwhelming the town. We are not thinking about extending the campus into this area. If Hanover were essentially a Dartmouth campus we would all lose. We would like to preserve the vitality of Hanover as a village/town. While we would like to use some of this property to provide increased choice of housing for our students and faculty, we would also like to see more opportunities for retail outlets and commercial and professional spaces to the extent they would be viable. As we plan, we will also need to keep in mind pedestrian pathways, parking, open, and green spaces. We need quality, variety, and the idiosyncratic whimsy so characteristic of a classic New England town.

The College is also in the midst of discussions with the Dresden School Board regarding the possible relocation of the middle and high schools onto Dartmouth property and the sale of the current school sites to Dartmouth. These discussions are still preliminary although we are pleased to be able to participate in them. As Dartmouth's president, my charge and responsibility is to protect and enhance this College and its long-term competitive strength and excellence. But this cannot remain a singular focus. Strong schools, along with a strong town, are essential to Dartmouth's vitality.

These are exciting times for Dartmouth, as well as the community. A hundred years ago, when Emily Howe gave her home to the town for a library in 1900 she did so with the hope "that this library may prove a blessing to this community to the remotest generation." This is still a good summary of our legacy and our continuing responsibility -- to protect the village of Hanover, and the College, "to the remotest generation."

Last Updated: 8/21/08