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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
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Remarks by President James Wright at Florida Alumni Club Visits

March 14-18, 2005

In the community letter that I distributed a few weeks ago, I mentioned that in mid December, Booz Allen Hamilton, the global consulting firm, announced the conclusion of an extended project using 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 ten 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 Oxford University in England -- and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. As Booz Allen Hamilton noted, this endurance came in the face of some real challenges. And surely those we have had -- starting a College in the wilderness as the colonies moved into a revolution, dealing with an attempt by the state of New Hampshire to assert authority over the college, addressing tremendous political tensions during the Civil War when President Nathan Lord's hostility to the Union cause led the Board to seek his resignation.

I know that stewarding Dartmouth is about more than endurance though, more than about simply hanging around. Strong and enduring places do not simply happen. As the 16th member of the Wheelock Succession and as a member of this community for now nearly 36 years, as someone who has served under Presidents Dickey, Kemeny, McLaughlin, and Freedman and who has counted among this group friends and inspiration, I am humbled by my role and I am energized by the strength of the College.

As a historian, I have always been interested in the history of the College and among the presidents I admire are William Jewett Tucker and Ernest Martin Hopkins. Both expertly balanced the changing needs of the student body with the traditions of the College. Both responded to a changing world, recognizing the need for Dartmouth to stay true to purpose and relevant to the needs of a vital and energetic society.

President Tucker brought Dartmouth into the 20th century, significantly expanded the student body, recruiting aggressively outside New England, and emphasized the importance of faculty being on top of emerging knowledge. Tucker's Dartmouth was known as "The new Dartmouth." When his successor, Ernest Fox Nichols, talked of "The newer Dartmouth," Tucker said, "That was right; the new is always passing over into the newer. So doing, it lives. If it were not for this process, a college would not grow old, it would grow stale." President Hopkins (1916-45) continued in President Tucker's steps. He too introduced important changes including selective admissions, a new curriculum, and an ambitious construction project that resulted in a new library, new residence halls, and new academic buildings.

He once said about change in higher education:

"The College which is overcautious in its method or overfearful of making a mistake in its policy withers intellectually and dies spiritually even more promptly that the college which is guilty of mistaken boldness suffers grievous harm. Progress should be unceasingly sought"¦."

What Tucker and Hopkins wanted for the Dartmouth of 100 years ago is not much different from what inspires me today: staying anchored by our purpose of providing the strongest undergraduate education in the country and staying competitive with all in this pursuit by not compromising on excellence and on the changing needs of a changing world.

Let me give you my assessment of Dartmouth today. 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.
  • Students are especially pleased with the faculty -- 96 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with the access they have with faculty. It is simply not the case that faculty are not available to students because they are too busy doing their own research.

And there are other indicators of institutional health.

  • I am delighted to finally have a shovel in the ground on some of these much-needed facilities.
    • Kemeny Hall and Haldeman Academic Center
    • The MacLean Engineering Sciences Center
    • Residence Halls -- both the David T. McLaughlin Cluster north of campus and the new residence halls on Tuck Mall.
  • And we are moving ahead with planning on 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 on the endowment 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 and we have received a number of large gifts to the faculty.
  • 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. We consistently get our top choice of new faculty.
  • Our graduate schools continue to excel -- Dartmouth is enriched by the strength of these schools and by their focus on the same things the undergraduate experience celebrates: close working relationships between faculty and students in the process of learning, a true sense of community, of belonging, an environment that encourages accomplishment through teamwork and mutual support.

My assessment of the state of the college is very strong, but I also know that there are questions out there. I have a tremendous respect for the role that Dartmouth alumni play in the life of the College, a respect honed by 35 years of visiting alumni clubs and by all of the former students and friends whom I encounter in my travels. My task is to try to address your concerns and to be strengthened by your guidance. Dartmouth is too strong, our story is too good, to be marred by misunderstandings.

In Denver and Chicago, I focused on what I understood to be ongoing questions. There I addressed the fear of Dartmouth "becoming" a university, the perceived tensions with research, the financial management of the College, the Greek system, and speech codes. I hope that if you are interested in these issues you will check my comments on the web or you can contact my office and we will send you a copy of those remarks.

Today I would like to address some different issues that have been raised.

Do we have too many large classes?

This particular issue has received a lot of attention recently and there is some misunderstanding floating around. The vast majority of classes at Dartmouth remain small -- students take freshman seminars that are capped at 16 students, introductory language courses that are capped at 22, introductory English 2,3, and 5 are set at 20 students. Higher-level seminars are always below 20 students. Even the majority of midlevel courses are small.

It is the case that some of our most popular courses in the most popular majors have waiting lists and some students do not get into the courses they want. If this is not acceptable, neither is it new. This has always been the case. I remember my courses in American history would often exceed the room limit in Reed Hall and I would need to turn students away. I remember in the 1970s serving as freshman advisor and having lists of courses that students would not be able to enroll in because they were filled as a result of upper-class students. It is the case that many departments have imposed size limits on courses for pedagogical reasons -- they want to be able to set papers for students and to be able to really get to know the students in their class.

Overall, about 10 percent of the more than 2,000 courses offered each year actually exceed their cap, and of these about half are either freshman seminars, where the students need to pick several choices, and introductory languages or English courses where we add sections as needed. So, in the end, only between 2 and 4 percent of upper level courses close resulting in students having to choose another course. Moreover, most students, because of the priority system in place for capped courses, get into these courses on their second attempt.

There is a problem and we should not minimize it, and Dean Carol Folt has reviewed this situation and she has added faculty lines and courses where she believes it is necessary. But it is also the case is that students are very satisfied with their academic experience and with the accessibility of the Dartmouth faculty. As we add more faculty in the arts and sciences, we will be able to better address this issue as well.

What is the role of intercollegiate athletics at Dartmouth? Why aren't we more successful with our men's teams?

We are far more successful than some people recognize -- and not yet as successful as we wish to be. Let us talk about men's teams for a moment -- but recognizing that this only gets at half of our programs and of our success. I would argue that there have been few times in Dartmouth's athletic history -- perhaps in the late 50s and early 60s -- when so many men's teams are doing so well.

I have in my office the Ivy League championship trophy, the Parkhurst Trophy, appropriately, that the men's soccer team won in the fall -- for the second time in three years. The men's hockey team was in the ECAC playoffs, winning the first series against Yale and losing a tough round against the University of Vermont, and they have set records with their wins over the last four years. The men's basketball team has had a remarkable turnaround under new Coach Terry Dunn, finishing at .500 in the Ivy League. Dartmouth skier David Choudounsky '08 won the men's slalom in the NCAA championships this past weekend, the fourth year in a row a Dartmouth skier has done this -- four different skiers. Our team finished fifth in the nation in the NCAA finals. Our baseball team is picked to win the Ivy League and our men's lacrosse team won the Ivy championship two years ago, the first time since 1965, and is ranked nationally. Rugby is in the nationals this spring. There surely have been years in the past when each of these storied programs has done as well -- or better. There have not been many times when they all have done so well. In addition, we have other sports where our athletes compete successful against their peers at other schools. We are committed to being competitive with all our teams. The obvious exception is football, which has been our flagship, the most successful program in the Ivy League, and we are tired of losing. Buddy Teevens is back in town

Now I won't let you focus only on the men's teams though -- women's basketball and hockey continue to be the strongest programs in the history of the Ivy League -- women's basketball has won 14 of the last 25 Ivy titles and defeated Harvard to go to the NCAA tournament and hockey is a national power, participating in three of the first four NCAA final four rounds, as is lacrosse, ranked in the top ten nationally. And our women's soccer program is year after year excellent, winning three of the last six Ivy titles. Women tennis players, squash players, skiers, and swimmers excel.

We need to strengthen our program overall so that it can compete effectively against our peers. We do this academically, and I expect to do it in athletics. The Ivy League model is the right model for intercollegiate athletics. I have served on the NCAA Division 1 Board of Directors as well as on the NCAA Reform Task Force, and I am very much aware of the abuses and the low graduation rates of some programs. But these are not issues in the Ivy League.

We need not only a model program, but also a successful program (success should be part of being a model). And success comes down to three things: people, student-athletics, and resources.

  • We have the right people -- coaches who focus on being teachers and on winning -- and not making excuses.
  • We have great student athletics and I believe that the relationship with the Admissions Office is strong. They are great students both on and off the court. I admire immensely their hard work, their discipline, and their contributions to their College.
  • We are now three quarters of the way through the most extensive athletics facilities replacement and renovation programs in the College's history. We have either added or renovated a number of facilities including the Scully-Fahey field, the Blackman practice fields, the Boss tennis facility and Gordon Pavilion, the renovated golf course, the new ski lodge, and the renovation of Leverone Field House and the squash courts to international standards. We have begun work on Alumni Gym where we will add a significant fitness center, work on the pool, renovate coaches offices and related spaces. We are well along on the Corey Ford Rugby house and fields thanks to gifts and to substantial College resources. We are moving ahead to address issues with the Davis Varsity House and Memorial Field and Red Rolfe Field. And a competition soccer facility is part of the capital campaign.

What is our policy toward legacies?

In my semiannual letter to the community I wrote that the admissions process should take legacy status into account when evaluating students. We currently admit legacies at least at twice the rate as non-legacies. Legacies provide a generational continuity that is critical to the continued endurance of the College. I was surprised though to receive three or four responses from younger alumni who opposed this policy. Needless to say, we will not change our practice. I have always enjoyed hearing about and getting to know Dartmouth students who are the children of students I taught back in the 1970s and 1980s -- eleven of them in the current freshman class.

Dartmouth alumni cherish their relationship with the College and it is not surprising that they then want their children to have the same sort of relationship with Dartmouth. And they pass along a loyalty to the institution. And so we must communicate better how we value and welcome these applicants. I have asked for a review of our programs of communication and of support -- Dartmouth is a very competitive school, but we can make this process one that reaffirms that we value very much these applicants.

Why do we need a $1.3 billion campaign?

Quite frankly, because of our ambitions for Dartmouth. If Dartmouth is going to continue to offer the finest undergraduate education in the country, we must continue to invest in the academic and residential life programs. As President Tucker and Hopkins knew, to protect the quality of the education, you need to continue to invest in the College.

  • We need more faculty so that every student can work individually or in small groups with faculty.
  • We need more faculty if we are to remain current in areas of new knowledge. The Dartmouth curriculum must remain relevant.
  • We need to be competitive in faculty compensation and support
  • We need more financial aid so that we can remain accessible and continue to provide scholarship support for all students who need it.
  • We need new facilities. In addition to the projects we have begun, we are working on a life sciences building, an arts facility, new dining halls, a new residence hall and academic center at the Tuck School.

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. 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 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.

I spend a tremendous amount of time raising money for Dartmouth -- and I never complain about this part of my assignment because I have a passion for protecting and strengthening Dartmouth; I have a passion for supporting our students and our faculty, and I have a passion not only to raise the large, bell-ringer gifts, but also to increase participation.

Not everyone can give a significant gift. But very, very few can give nothing and by your gifts to the Dartmouth College Fund you affirm that you value what you received and you are determined to make certain it is protected. Dartmouth would not now be Dartmouth if our predecessors had not taken on this responsibility; our challenge and our heritage is clear. Many of you have taken on this responsibility and I thank you for all that you do for Dartmouth. We couldn't do it, we couldn't be Dartmouth, without you.

President Hopkins declared in one of his valedictory addresses, "Dartmouth is not primarily a place or a thing, an assembly of scholars or a student body. It is an influence, designed to make "¦[students]"¦ realize their greater capacities and to be their better selves."

This is Dartmouth. Anchored by historic values, clear in purpose, never static.Enduring. Thriving. Excelling. The Hill Winds Call.

Last Updated: 8/21/08