Skip to main content

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 of Dartmouth College

October 27, 2003

I am very pleased to be here this afternoon and to provide you with an annual report on the state of the College. In brief, Dartmouth is strong and well. We have an excellent record of recruiting faculty and students from pools increasingly eager to be here. We have worked through the worst economic downturn in years and are in good financial condition. This past year, following national searches, I was delighted to appoint Adam Keller as Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration and to welcome Dr. Stephen Spielberg as the Dean of Dartmouth Medical School.

This year marks the 6th occasion that I have shared with you my annual report, and, as is customary at Dartmouth, I have also been working on a five-year report, which I expect to release later this fall. As a historian, I always enjoy dissecting and analyzing historical trends, but I will resist the temptation to indulge this interest. Instead it is more critical to affirm the values and objectives that will inform our work going forward. Last spring, in thinking about the latter, I met with small groups of faculty as well as with students, colleagues in the administration, and alumni/ae. Let me share with you now a summary of some of our major initiatives of the past five years and a list of priorities for the next five years. I know now how quickly five years can go.


In 1998 I set out several goals - to strengthen even more our academic work and accomplishments, to address some long-standing needs relating to the out-of-classroom experiences of our students, to protect and enhance our financial aid programs, to affirm and embrace - and more fully take advantage of - the diversity and richness of this community, and to protect those qualities that define Dartmouth's special position and strength.

It has been a full five years, marked by the unexpected and by the tragic. We have mourned together the senseless loss of Half and Susanne Zantop; we have gathered to eulogize and to grieve, prematurely, them and other colleagues and friends. If the unexpected losses of colleagues and the unplanned mourning for them, if the shock waves of September 11, 2001, if these things had the consequence of reminding us of our mutual dependence on each other as a community, the price of this reminder has been far, far too high.

Over the last five years we have enjoyed a record bull market closely followed by a severe retraction of the market. While surely the decline in the financial markets complicated our ability to move some of our agenda forward, in the fall of 2003 Dartmouth College enjoys a position of tremendous strength. While acknowledging the nuance and subtlety, the absence of clear metrics and the presence of clear subjectivity, I would assert that Dartmouth provides the very best education in the country to its students. The combination of talented and energetic students, exceptional faculty who are committed to scholarship and teaching, and the human scale of the Dartmouth campus have encouraged a culture that is collegial, collaborative, and committed to excellence and creativity. The undergraduate college, the graduate programs in the Arts and Sciences, the three professional schools of Thayer, Tuck, and DMS make for a powerful combination. But the clear strength that we share and seek to enhance always does not happen by accident. It is something that needs to be nurtured and encouraged, and that begins with the people involved. My priorities over the past five years have focused on making certain that we recruit and retain and enable the strong and imaginative and committed students and faculty that this place requires and that we provide them with the right support and the right facilities.

We are fortunate in having resources that are the envy of many of our peers. Despite the recent economic downturn, Dartmouth's endowment today stands at $2.1 billion - up from $1.5 billion in 1998. We rank 20th among universities and colleges in terms of overall endowment, and 23rd in terms of endowment per student. Although this means that we are less wealthy than some of our peers, we nonetheless are fortunate in having the resources that we do. The incredible market returns of the late 1990s and the generous support of alumni, alumnae, parents, foundations, and friends, allowed us to move forward with several critical initiatives including increasing faculty and staff compensation, expanding our financial aid program, providing more resources for academic initiatives, expanding support for the library and computing, and increasing student life options including addressing some needs in athletics.

Over the last five years we have moved forward aggressively with additions to the physical plant that featured academic initiatives such as the completion of the Berry Library, the renovation of Baker Library, the development of the new Rauner Library, the construction of Moore Hall and Carson Hall, the addition to Wilder and the renovation of Steele hall, the Fairchild Center and Silsby Hall, the construction of the Rubin building and the enlarged Norris Cotton Cancer Center at the Medical Center, and Whittemore Hall at the Tuck School. Each of these facilities has made a demonstrable difference in the academic life of the College. We are not yet finished.

Over the same period we have increased our dependence upon income distributed from the endowment, which in turn left us vulnerable to downturns in the market. The Trustees are considering a change to the endowment distribution formula that will smooth annual distributions from this source. This will allow us to weather economic downturns more effectively and will temper spending spikes during bull market periods.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your cooperation, support, and input over the past two years as we worked to bring the budget into balance. We did balance the budget in 2003 and we will do the same for 2004. I also would like to acknowledge the very hard and committed work of my colleagues in the administration. Dartmouth is incredibly well served by the officers and staff here who do so much to help to administer, maintain, and advance this very complicated enterprise, and to do this in a way that facilitates our purpose, the work that you do. And it was very gratifying to see the effort by Palaeopitus to say thanks to the staff this week.

Looking ahead, the subcommittee on priorities is working closely with Provost Barry Scherr and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Adam Keller on the 2005 budget. We continue to have a few problems - namely, our expenses are increasing at a slightly higher rate than our projected revenues, something that clearly cannot continue in the long run. The administration and the subcommittee are looking at a range of options to help bring those two lines into closer relationship, and I expect that the Provost will be prepared to describe the proposed 2005 budget sometime in the winter. We had a sustained 24-hour session with the Subcommittee on Priorities in July at which time we discussed candidly our priorities going forward.

As we relied more on endowment revenue over the last several years we also decreased our dependence upon tuition. Indeed, the tuition increases for the 1999 through 2002 were the lowest increases since 1966. Nonetheless, the price of a Dartmouth education is expensive - this despite the fact that tuition only accounts for about half of the full cost of that education. Families often have to stretch their resources to the maximum in order to meet this cost. We have twice expanded our financial aid program so as to remain competitive with our peers and to more fully support student and family needs. We have seen significant increases in our financial aid budget and expect it to continue to increase in the next couple of years before beginning to level off. The need blind admissions process coupled with a commitment to meet 100 percent of a student's demonstrated need ensures that Dartmouth remains accessible to a wide range of students - something that I know you value highly.

In addition to protecting need blind admissions, a top priority of mine when I took office five years ago was to increase the size of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. The faculty has grown by 20 positions over the past five years, from 361 to 381 - this increase includes 7 new endowed chairs budgeted as add-on slots and 4 new position overrides from the central budget. Just in the past few weeks we heard Professor Bruce Donald in computer sciences give the inaugural lecture for the Foley professorship and we just announced the Robert Clements Professor of Democracy and Politics.

We have also over this period provided more support for current faculty through senior faculty fellowships and additional funds for academic initiatives including the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, which includes faculty and students from DMS, the Arts and Sciences, Thayer, DHMC, and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, the Leslie Humanities Center, and the Summer Arts Program. Three years in a row we provided additional faculty compensation increments as we worked to bring Dartmouth salaries in line with peer institutions, consistent with goals established in consultation with the Committee on the Faculty. We still have some work to do in this regard but we have made progress. Last year we protected faculty salaries at a time when some of our peer institutions saw salary freezes and a few even experienced cuts in positions.

The library of course is at the center of our intellectual life, both symbolizing and substantively advancing it. We have made real progress with the digital library and, despite reductions in the overall library budget last year we protected the library acquisitions budget. Indeed, between 1997 and 2002 the Dartmouth library budget had the second largest growth among the top 100 research libraries in the country. Provost Scherr and I were surprised and disappointed to learn of Richard Lucier's decision to step down as the College Librarian. Richard has accomplished a great deal in his time here, advancing our long-standing commitment to taking fullest advantage of new digital opportunities. As we seek his replacement we will be looking for someone who will sustain and expand a cutting-edge digital library with a commitment to all of the traditional aspects of a library including service to students and faculty.

Barry Scherr is currently engaged in discussions about organizing a search committee - he has met with the faculty members on the Council on Libraries and is meeting tomorrow with the COP.


Let me say a word about each of the graduate programs. Those things that I described five years ago as my vision and objectives for Dartmouth fully included them. Because their budgets are separate from that of the College and central administration, they are essentially tubs on their own bottom, and they are less dependent upon endowment than is the College-only budget. But while our various budgets may be separate, our faculties and students, our intellectual values and ambitions, and many parts of our academic support infrastructure, are not. The amount of collaboration, cooperation, and discussion that takes places across the schools is really remarkable and is one of Dartmouth's distinguishing characteristics. Here our size and scale become absolute intellectual advantages. Faculty from arts and sciences and each of the schools work closely with colleagues across the campus, while undergraduate and graduate students move back and forth freely. I am not aware of any university community in the country that does this so easily and so well. The professional schools have each prospered over the past five years and together we have all been advantaged by this growing strength.

The Tuck School under Paul Danos' leadership has expanded the students in the Master of Business Administration program by one third and have also expanded the number of faculty by a like percent. The school is consistently ranked among the very best business schools in the world and indeed twice garnered the top slot in the Wall Street Journal rankings. Tuck celebrated its centennial in 2000 and also completed a very successful capital campaign. One of the most tangible results of that campaign is the wonderful Whittemore Hall facility, which combines student residences with conference and teaching space.

The Thayer School with Dean Lewis Duncan has also undertaken some expansion, particularly in the highly successful Master of Engineering Management Program, which is run collaboratively with the Tuck School. Engineering faculty collaborate with faculty at the medical school, the Tuck School, and, of course, the Arts and Sciences where as a department of Engineering Sciences they are fully integrated into the undergraduate curriculum. They have also played a central role in the Institute for Security Technology Studies and continue to compete extremely well for outside funding. A very successful fundraising effort has positioned us so that we are ready to move forward with the construction of an engineering sciences center that will provide critical space relief for Thayer programs.

The Dartmouth Medical School has also prospered. I would like to thank Ethan Dmitrovsky for his work as interim dean following Dean Baldwin's decision to step down. Dean Stephen Spielberg, a pediatrician and oncologist who was previously the head of pediatric drug development research at Johnson and Johnson, has hit the ground running to get his administration moving. New appointments include Dr. Murray Korc as chair of the Department of Medicine at DMS and DHMC, Alan Green as chair of Psychiatry, and Dr. Mark Israel as director of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. We have also expanded facilities at the Medical School with the opening of the Rubin Building and the expansion of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center with four new floors of state-of-the-art labs. I toured the center a couple of weeks ago and was enthused to see the new facilities for research and treatment, to be certain, but most fundamentally was impressed by the open lab concept and collaborative values that literally have shaped the design of this facility.

All of the faculty - in the professional schools as well as in the Arts and Sciences - can take real pride in our accomplishments in generating outside recognition through fellowships, foundation grants, and sponsored research. In March 2001, the Dartmouth held a research celebration when sponsored research surpassed $100 million. In 2002-03 Dartmouth faculty garnered $165 million, with two thirds of this funding going to the medical school. This is a remarkable increase in funding and although we cannot expect the same rate of growth, sponsored research continues to play an important role at the College.


Although we have accomplished a great deal, there is still much to be done. No institution, and certainly not one of the quality of Dartmouth, can simply stand pat. If we hope to continue to provide the exciting learning environment that is our hallmark we must make strategic and targeted adjustments and changes. The Strategic Plan, released in the summer of 2002, outlined the major priorities for each area of the College. Within the next year we intend to launch a capital campaign. Vice President for Development Carrie Pelzel has already begun to organize for such an effort and we have had some encouraging success in the past year. As I announced last month at Convocation we have raised over $90 million for some facilities projects that are part of this campaign. We have other gifts and pledges as well that put us well on the way to reaching the nucleus fund level that will enable our campaign kickoff to be on target and on time. Our Development office, under the leadership of Carrie Pelzel, has done a superb job in a very difficult economic environment. Last year, we saw annual giving records set by a number of classes, notably those of 1968, 1978, and 1953. The generosity and loyalty of Dartmouth graduates is legendary and makes possible so much of what happens here.

Our immediate priorities can be summarized quite simply because they will be familiar to you: to strengthen and support the faculty, to protect need blind admissions and financial aid, to advance the goals of the student life initiative, and to move forward with our priority facilities projects. Let me say something in particular about the central priority of advancing the work of the faculty.

The idea, the philosophy, the goal, of Dartmouth is to sustain a faculty who are at the forefront of their disciplines, who are engaged with the critical questions of our time, and who are committed to sharing their knowledge with their students - and collaborating with their students in expanding what we know. I believe we demonstrate here regularly that teaching and research are corollary rather than competitive activities. This is our strength and our purpose. Teaching and scholarship are not zero sum games - more of one does not necessarily mean less of the other - at least at Dartmouth scholarship informs teaching and teaching informs scholarship. The Subcommittee on Priorities' report of a couple of years ago made the point that "Dartmouth's claim to preeminence rests on the idea that it is a place where research and teaching meet in unique ways."

But I am aware that the demands on the faculty are often heavy and that our strong student body makes teaching here more rewarding - and, ironically, more demanding. Dartmouth students look for opportunities to work closely with faculty.

We need to make certain that we support faculty fully in order to acknowledge these pressures - and we need to make certain that we have a faculty here large enough to meet the mission we have undertaken. I expect we will raise and identify funds to continue to expand the faculty over the next five years - an additional 19 faculty slots would bring the total number of FTE in the Arts and Sciences up to 400 by 2008 and would exceed our goal of an expansion of 10 percent on the base number of faculty in 1998.

We also need to do better to retain our best faculty. Competitive compensation is necessary to this goal - but it is not sufficient to reach the goal. We have had some losses that frustrate me and, I believe, set back some of our best efforts. Last summer I asked the Provost to meet with the academic deans in arts and sciences and with the office of institutional diversity and equity to review these situations. Among other things, we need to all work harder to provide opportunities for faculty spouses and partners. As a follow-up to these issues I will encourage the Dean of Faculty to consider with the Committee on Organization and Policy and/or the Committee on the Faculty whether we need to pursue any specific new initiatives. In all instances, success in this regard will require a shared commitment to the goal in all of the departments and areas that appoint and hire. I would also like to see us build on our success in hiring faculty of color and women. This is a matter of institutional importance and priority. We have had some notable recent success in this area and compare well with our peers, but this may say more about the academy as a whole than it does about us.

In addition to expanding the faculty, achieving more competitive compensation, addressing spouse and partner professional issues, and providing support for scholarship we also need to develop more support for teaching innovation and development. Excellent teachers do not just happen - they need to be encouraged and rewarded and they need information and feedback on what works and what does not work and what new technologies and pedagogies can be used effectively. Despite our strong teaching culture here, we have not done well in providing this support. A generous donor has just agreed to provide $3 million of endowment that, with existing gifts for this purpose, will fund the operation of the Center for the Advancement of Learning. We have identified space in the Baker Library in the former periodicals room for this activity.

This summer when I met with the Subcommittee on Priorities, we spent some time talking generally about academic needs and priorities. I shared with them some of my frustration with the discussions the faculty has had over the last few years about modifying degree requirements. These changes, at least as they were presented to the faculty, largely focused on practical problems that needed to be addressed or perceived department enrollment imbalances that seemed to result from the ways in which distribution categories had been defined. But with the exception of the changes in the general education requirement initiated by students, there had been little discussion on the floor of the faculty about what liberally educated students need to study or to know in this century. I do understand that the Committee on Instruction has engaged with these broader questions; I wish we could all have done so. It is critical for faculty periodically to engage in this discussion, to assert their collective intellectual ownership over the curriculum. The subcommittee thought the current time was not right for a full curriculum review and, having chaired two of these over the last quarter century, I surely understand the effort involved and I am happy to concur with their judgment.

But there is something I would like to request of you: as our departments and programs and courses of study become even more effective at providing intellectual coherence for their majors, I worry about what we explicitly provide for non-majors. This is after all the substance, the building block of the distributive and general education requirements, however defined. I would like formally to request departments and programs to initiate discussions that aim at answering the question: if a student takes only one course in our department or program, what do we want him or her to know, to understand? Put differently, how do we want to take advantage of this singular opportunity to advance the learning of students who will go on to assume positions of responsibility in the world? To underline my commitment to the importance of this activity, I would be happy to work with the dean and the provost to identify resources for departments and programs that seek to make a difference in this regard.

A related matter that I want to share with you has to do with our pre-major advising system. I think we all know it is in need of some real overhaul - and if you don't know this, talk to some students that you know. Some of you will recall that a few years ago a special committee chaired by Professor Susan Ackerman made some comprehensive proposals in this regard. The budget environment last year was not conducive to implementing some of those things. I have urged Dean Gazzaniga and Dean Larimore to develop some plans that will work to strengthen our academic advising systems and I hope we can make progress this year.

Another issue of concern to me is faculty governance. This came up in some of my discussions with faculty last spring. It is fundamentally a matter for the faculty to work out, but my view is clear: a faculty with a clear and strong committee structure that is appropriately involved in the governance of the College is vital, essential, to our institutional wellbeing. We have seen over the last year the revitalization of the subcommittee on priorities. The expansion suggested by the Committee on Organization and Policy and voted by the faculty last spring has worked well. More broadly, it may be that the COP will have an interest in considering other adjustments - or more dramatic ideas - having to do with governance and the way an increasingly busy, professional faculty meets this important institutional need.

I would mention a few other matters that came up in my discussions with faculty. There was some concern about growing tension between major areas of the faculty. Both the strategic planning process and the recent discussions about budget adjustments may have exacerbated this condition. Some colleagues identified this specifically as the sense on the part of some humanities faculty that their contributions were not fully valued. Recognizing that this is part of a national discussion that is underway - and in fact will be partially the subject of a conference that the Leslie Center for the Humanities will sponsor next fall under the leadership of Dean Gazzaniga and Professor Jonathan Crewe - I nonetheless would underline here that I consider the work of the humanities, broadly defined, to be central to the liberal arts. In fact my Convocation address this year was designed partially to make my view on this clear. We are blessed here with a very strong and energetic science faculty. Their success in generating federal support for their work attests to their strength and adds to Dartmouth's strength. But we are also blessed with a strong and energetic humanities and social science faculty. If the sources of outside support for their work are limited, our society may be the poorer for it - but this circumstance should lead us to affirm their critical role in our good work. I happily affirm this.

We have also had discussions about Dartmouth's true interdisciplinary strengths. Much of this strength is the result of our strong academic programs - but more broadly the culture here is supportive of those faculty who wish to collaborate with colleagues from other departments - including those of the professional schools. But a supportive culture may not be fully sustained by all of the processes and structures we have in place. Departmental integrity and independence is a critical element in our intellectual strength. But this autonomy as it relates to the way in which new or replacement positions are allocated and defined and searches are undertaken may miss some important new opportunities. Ironically, our strong academic programs may have developed despite structural obstacles. I hope that the COP and the academic deans might consider some ways selectively to expand the ways in which we proceed.

Finally, I would like to mention some major facilities projects that we are advancing. As I announced at Convocation, we are moving forward with several construction projects including the residence halls for 500 students with a first phase north of Maynard Street, a dining and social center, an expansion to Sudikoff for Computer Sciences (starting today!), Kemeny Hall with the adjoining Academic Centers building, and the Engineering Sciences building. We also need to move ahead aggressively with some other important academic facilities projects identified in the strategic plan. I have asked Provost Barry Scherr to work with the Deans of the Medical School and the Arts and Sciences as well as with Adam Keller to explore creative ways of phasing the Life Sciences project. We need to move ahead with a substantial facility to meet both some significant needs as well as some wonderful opportunities. The Arts project is also a clear priority and we are currently selecting an architect for the first phase, which will provide additional space for academic departments and the Hopkins Center. With the help of a working design, we can move ahead with the fund-raising for this critical project.

So many of my conversations over the last several months with faculty members, students, colleagues in the administration, and alumni/ae regarding our steps going forward have, along with my 34-year service at Dartmouth, confirmed for me our essential qualities. Dartmouth is sustained by the work of our faculty and your commitment to teaching and to a strong learning environment; we are enriched by the strong and diverse student body we attract and whom we empower with opportunities to wonder and to discover and to develop skills of collaboration and of leadership; we are distinguished by a size and scale and culture that is cooperative and collegial, one in which interdisciplinary work flourishes - community here is more than geographical neighborhood; we are enlarged intellectually by our historic commitment to international programs and to cutting-edge technology and information systems; we are enabled by the legendary support and generosity of our graduates. Our task is simple: to sustain and to nourish these defining strengths. With your help and guidance, I am fully prepared, even eager, to do just that.

Last Updated: 8/21/08