Skip to main content

Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015
Email: james.wright@dartmouth.edu
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Remarks by President James Wright at Chicago and Denver Alumni Club Visits

February 15-17, 2005

Last weekend was Winter Carnival. Students constructed a marvelous sailing ship on the Green, and, by all accounts, they enjoyed the weekend. Susan and I joined them at the opening ceremonies on Thursday night. We saw the women's basketball team win two games to secure their hold on first place in the Ivy League; we saw Bob Gaudet's hockey team give him his 200th win and position them for a bye in the ECAC playoffs"”again. And we joined the squash team to salute the seniors before their last home match"”women and men defeating Brown. And on the road the men's basketball team and the women's hockey team split their two game sets. The ski team just barely lost in the team standings at the Carnival"”after winning the last two. Barbary Coast performed to a full house, the Club officers were in town for their annual meeting and the campus was alive.

I am always pleased at the opportunity to meet with alumni and to give you an update on the affairs of the College. Dartmouth alumni have always played a critical role in providing support for the College and there has always been a strong connection between the College and her graduates. But the strength of this connection rests on communication"”alumni can only support Dartmouth if they have a clear sense of what is going on. And we can only be the stronger if we continue to know your views and benefit from your advice. This occasion provides us with another opportunity to share ideas and concerns.

In mid December, Booz Allen Hamilton, the global consulting firm, announced the conclusion of an extended project utilizing a panel of scholars to determine the world's most enduring institutions. They identified two institutions in each of five areas: academic, arts and entertainment, business and commerce, government, and non-profits. Institutions on the list of 10 included the Salvation Army, General Electric, the American Constitution, the Rolling Stones, and Sony"”In the area of education, the two institutions they named were Dartmouth College and Oxford University in England. We were in heady company indeed! While it is best not to take these sorts of things, including college rankings, too seriously, they are interesting and they have an impact on how we are perceived. Of course, I always like them better when we do well. In this case, I believe that Booz Allen had it right"”Dartmouth is an enduring institution. But why has it endured and, more importantly, why should it continue to endure? For this is finally about more than hanging around.

Ralph Shrader, the CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton, described an enduring institution as "one that has changed and grown in unswerving pursuit of success and relevance"”yet remained true through time to its founding principles." This is Dartmouth. For over two and a third centuries we have endured because of a single-minded attachment to our central core mission"”to provide the best education possible to our students. The charter calls on Dartmouth to provide "for the education and instruction of Youth "¦ in reading, writing, and all parts of Learning which shall appear necessary "¦ as well as in all liberal arts and sciences." This is what we do.

We are fixed to this purpose and yet always recognizing our obligation to our students and to our society. We are not an academic museum but a vital and energetic institution that has for each generation since before the American Revolution graduated students with the capacity for leadership and for living lives of responsibility. If definitions of leadership and expectations of responsibility have evolved since 1769, so have we"”while staying focused on our mission. I often describe our purpose as to provide the best undergraduate education in the country"”we accomplish this because we stay true to purpose while responding to a world of change. There are few institutions that fulfill this mandate quite as well as we do.

Let me give you my assessment. The College is in great shape.

  • Our student satisfaction is as high as it has been since we began to gather this data. Ninety-one percent of seniors in 2004 were either satisfied or very satisfied with Dartmouth.
  • The pool of applicants for the Class of 2009 is the highest in Dartmouth's history. It is up by 8 percent over last year. Young people really want to come to Dartmouth. We are a "hot" school.
  • Students are especially pleased with the faculty. 96 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with the faculty.

This suggests that we have the right kind of relationship between the faculty and students. Dartmouth provides an environment that sustains a culture devoted to learning as a collaborative experience involving students and faculty, and one that extends from the classroom and the laboratory to the residence halls, the playing fields, and the granite ledges and rushing streams of the north country.

And there are other indicators of institutional health.

  • I am delighted to finally have a shovel in the ground on some much-needed facilities:
    • Kemeny and Haldeman
    • Engineering Sciences
    • Residence Halls -- both the David T. McLaughlin Cluster north of campus and the new residence hall on Tuck Mall.
  • And we are moving ahead with planning on some other critical facilities:
    • Arts Building
    • Life Sciences
    • Dining facilities
    • Soccer field
    • New Tuck School residence hall and academic center
    • Translational research center for the Medical School at the DHMC
  • Dartmouth's endowment is at its highest level ever at $2.6 billion
  • Our return last year of 18.6 percent put us in the top quartile among our peer institutions.
  • We have had two record-breaking years for fundraising.
  • We continue to attract and encourage the sort of faculty who are committed to their own fields, who are doing the important work defining the frontiers of their discipline and who love to teach"”and we consistently get our top choice of new faculty.

But while my assessment of the state of the College is very strong, I have been struck in my many discussions with alumni that there are questions that come up. Let me address some of them directly.

1. Is there a plan to turn Dartmouth into a university?

No. We are not turning into anything other than Dartmouth"”a place well practiced in knowing who it is and what it will be. Dartmouth will remain true to its mission and history. Certainly we have professional schools, and they are a source of pride. Dartmouth Medical School has a history nearly as long and as rich as that of the College. It has a small MD program today and Ph.D. programs. It excels in student-faculty collaboration.

The Thayer School of Engineering is the oldest engineering school in the country and it provides a strong undergraduate liberal arts program in engineering sciences and a small but vigorous interdisciplinary graduate program.

The Tuck School of Business is the oldest business school in the world and consistently among the top 10 schools in the world"”the Wall Street Journal has twice ranked it as the top business school. It is certainly the smallest of the leading business schools.

The graduate programs in the arts and sciences are more recent"”most of the modern ones were established in the 1960s when President Dickey and the Board sought to strengthen programs in several departments by introducing small and focused graduate study.

Each of these programs is marked by qualities of small scale, a truly collaborative culture, and by very close student-faculty relationships. The graduate students do not teach undergraduate courses but they do work as lab instructors and in other activities. They are a rich part of Dartmouth. They predate all of us and they enrich this College. I have called Dartmouth a "university in all but name""”and it is. But the name is important and it is one we embrace.

I suspect that this leads to the next question"¦

2. Has Dartmouth shifted away from its undergraduate focus as it aspires to be something else?

Once again, the answer is no. Follow my speeches and statements"”and look at our actions. I have regularly insisted that Dartmouth provides the strongest undergraduate education in the country. This is our legacy and this is our ambition"”and this is our niche. Why would we seek to be anyone but Dartmouth College? Let others seek to be like us"”and many are seeking this. Dartmouth is a place that derives its strength from a true sense of community where students have a sense of belonging, of friendship, and of tremendous pride in the good fortune of being Dartmouth students. And as I pointed out earlier, our students are extremely pleased with over 90 percent of students satisfied with their experience.

3. Has Dartmouth come to focus on research to the detriment of its strength as a teaching institution?

No. But I should also point out that teaching and research are not mutually exclusive categories. The Dartmouth that I came to in 1969 was a school where I was expected to be a committed and productive scholar and a committed and accomplished teacher.

This was the Dartmouth of Charlie Wood and David Roberts, of Dick Stoiber, Colin Campbell and Fred Berthold, the Dartmouth of John Kemeny. And faculty who are committed to teaching and scholarship continue to be the Dartmouth model.

And it works. Dartmouth students expect faculty who will value the work of the classroom and who will provide them with guidance and mentoring and even friendship. And they do. Remember"”96 percent of last year's seniors were satisfied with their faculty. I have read the letters of every tenure case for the last 16 years. As part of that process, we compile a packet of letters from former students assessing the faculty member's strength as a teacher and their contributions to the student's growth. We expect excellence in this file"”and I can assure you that this generation of faculty are deeply committed to the values and the teaching culture of Dartmouth.

4. Is Dartmouth well managed financially? Are the priorities clearly set?

It will not surprise you if this time I answer "yes"! I think that the student satisfaction data as well as our admissions results suggest that we have our priorities right. Fortunately, I am not alone in this assessment. Let me share with you the conclusion of Standard & Poors when they completed our recent bond rating. They noted that their AAA rating "issued for Dartmouth College, reflects impressive undergraduate and graduate demand profiles, excellent student quality, historically strong financial results, a large endowment "¦ and a manageable debt burden." S&P also pointed to "An impressive management team with conservative budgeting practices has led to historically positive results at Dartmouth."

Dartmouth today"”despite a very straightforward mission"”is a complicated organization. It may not be evident to you, and if we do our job well, this is as it should be, we are subject to many of the legislative, regulatory, judicial, and market factors that affect businesses and other institutions. Much of our budget goes to compensation. The market for the best faculty and the best staff is a competitive one. In the last few years we have seen a real spike in health insurance costs, especially in retiree health benefits. We have a number of union contracts that have recently come up for negotiation. We have seen tremendous growth in the cost of fuel oil, in building materials, in insurance and in computer security"”we now have the equivalent of 12 people looking after this important activity, while before 9/11 we had at most two people.

The federal government requires a whole set of controls and reports on supervision of their substantial funds. They also regulate health and safety and require more support and consulting for drugs and alcohol; there are mandates and reports required under Title IX and federal equal opportunity laws. There are federal accommodation laws regarding physical handicaps and we need to provide support for diagnosed learning disorders. The NCAA requires compliance officers for athletic programs.

Even with these extensive additional financial obligations, we continue to focus on our key priorities"”providing our students and faculty with the best possible environment in which to learn and work. Standard & Poor's determined that we had done this and they awarded Dartmouth their highest rating.

I have discussed with the Board of Trustees my interest in initiating a major review of the way we organize ourselves administratively and to determine if we meet goals of efficiency and effectiveness in all of our operations. I think we do and I also think we can always find ways to do this even better. I expect to announce action on this shortly. But it will build on a position of strength.

5. Is the College in the middle of a campaign to eliminate or to significantly curtail the Greek system?

No, not at all. Although there are those who persist in arguing that there is a secret plan to do just that. The Student Life initiative of 1999 started a process, the purpose of which was to make the campus a more inclusive place, one where everyone is welcome, one that affirmed historical values such as community and continuity. We have not yet succeeded in these purposes"”an important task will be to complete the residential, dining, recreational, and social space construction and renovation that is now underway.

In terms of the fraternities and sororities our goal has been to make them more fully a part of the community rather than apart from the community. Because of the responsiveness of student leaders in these organizations as well as alumni leadership in the corporations, this effort has been largely successful. We have completed audits of the physical plants of the houses and the College is offering them low-interest loans to address the code and other issues that have been identified. We also have rechartered the Phi Delta Fraternity, an option we did not have to exercise. We have moved rush back into the fall term in response to requests from the organizations and in recognition of their positive efforts.

The task of relating to these houses is always complicated by the alcohol issue and by the increasing level of controls and changing codes required by the state. We continue to work with students on these matters and of course must meet the requirements of the state and of changing terms of liability.

6. Does Dartmouth have speech codes that curtail free expression on campus?

No we do not. There are no codes. My convocation remarks in September provide a pretty clear and explicit statement of the high value that I place upon free speech. Academic institutions such as Dartmouth depend upon the free exchange of ideas and we cannot tolerate speech codes.

At Convocation, I made clear that freedom to speak does not provide freedom from criticism for that which is spoken"”and I urged students to engage more fully in debating and sharing views that are a part of the learning process.

Part of the basis for this concern about the College stems from the accusation made by FIRE (The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) that the College has speech codes. Trustee T.J. Rodgers, a libertarian who is passionate about free speech, had referred to this ranking in his petition candidacy for the Board last year.

A few weeks ago Mr. Rodgers wrote to FIRE suggesting that they reassess this ranking because he was satisfied that the College does not have such a code and that he is pleased with my position on this matter.

We obviously have had other questions that have come up. Athletics, for example, have been a matter of concern on the part of some alumni, a concern that clearly was exacerbated by the December disclosure of the letter that Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg wrote in 2000 critical of football and other aspects of athletic culture.

I addressed these issues in some length in my west coast alumni club speeches in January and in the webcast that Josie Harper, Buddy Teevens, and Murry Bowden did a few weeks ago. These are available on the College web site and we can send copies to anyone who does not have access to them there. But quite simply I do believe that athletics have an important place at Dartmouth as part of the learning environment. I believe that competitive athletic activities are essential and I believe that Dartmouth football needs to reassert its role on the top of the Ivy League. This is our legacy and this is our intent. Josie, Buddy, and I personally"”and passionately"”share this commitment, as does Dean Furstenberg.

I am sure that there are other questions out there, and I will be happy to respond to any that you might have. But basically, there is a lot going right at Dartmouth today. Ask Booz Allen Hamilton. Ask S&P. Ask our students. I invite you to embrace more fully and enjoy more warmly this wonderful place. The College provides the very best undergraduate education to students available anywhere. This has always been our mission and it remains our mission. We have, as Booz Allen Hamilton suggested, endured and we will continue to endure.

I would argue that Dartmouth today is stronger than it has ever been. Our students, our faculty, our program are all things to be proud of. If we are to claim in another two centuries to be one of the world's enduring institutions we need to continue to adapt and evolve to the environment around us while remaining true to our core values. We need, quite simply, to continue to be Dartmouth.

The Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience that we have recently initiated seeks an audacious goal of $1.3 billion. We can do no less than set for ourselves audacious goals. Success in this campaign will permit us to continue to be who we are. It will allow us to protect need-blind admissions and to keep Dartmouth accessible. It will allow us to hire more faculty to address enrollment pressures and engage emerging fields, and to provide them with the support they need. It will allow us to build new facilities for our students including residence and dining halls, a new arts center, and a life sciences building. It will allow us to construct a new soccer facility and to further improve our support for athletics.

In short, the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience will ensure that today's and tomorrow's student will continue to have the sort of experience that generations of Dartmouth graduates have had. That is the legacy you have received and the responsibility you have assumed. We can do no less.

Each and every gift, no matter its size, is tangibly and symbolically significant for it affirms that this generation understands that we will protect the quality and extend the privilege of a Dartmouth education to those generations who follow. Dartmouth would not now be Dartmouth if our predecessors had not taken on this responsibility; our challenge and our heritage is clear.

Dartmouth will continue to admit and to educate men and women for a lifetime of leadership and responsibility. Your commitment makes that possible. It is time for us to share a pride in our common legacy and a joy in our shared responsibility. This is Dartmouth. The Hill Winds Call.

Last Updated: 8/21/08