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

Remarks to the Alumni Council By President James Wright

May 20, 2005

Welcome back to Dartmouth. It is a sure sign of spring when the Council returns to Hanover. Thank you for coming and for all that you do for this college. Susan and I enjoy seeing here so many friends of many years - companions and colleagues on our life commitment to this College....

I also want to recognize Karen Calby for her work as president of the council. She has stepped up several times this year when we needed her guidance. She has served you and her College well....

I am sure that you have heard the results of the Trustee election. I look forward to working with both Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki - I know that we all start from the premise that we love this institution and we want the best for it.

I am very grateful to the four candidates who agreed to accept the Council nomination. Andrea Lordan '86 and the nominating committee did an excellent job in identifying candidates and in persuading them that they had something to contribute to their College through participating in the process. The nominating committee works very hard and their commitment is inspiring.

I would like offer my warm congratulations to the two recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award. They symbolize so well that which makes Dartmouth so strong. Amy has a stellar record of involvement and support, and, Amy, your alma mater is truly grateful for all that you have given. Gary has played critical leadership roles. And he has provided me insight and advice through his participation on the Dean's Council and later the President's Leadership Council.

Think of what these distinguished and generous friends represent about Dartmouth - what Gary and Amy represent regarding the changes over the past 36 years that I have been here - about the continuity of volunteerism - about the values and purpose of those who sustain the College.

They remind me of another alumnus who has given so much to Dartmouth. This term Susan and I have hosted a series of five senior dinners. Over 100 students and close to 30 alumni attended each one, including Mr. and Mrs. Hal Ripley from the Class of 1929. The seniors delighted in his presence and the Dartmouth history that he represented. Hal Ripley has given to the Dartmouth College Fund every year since he graduated! 75 years in total!

His relationship with this College covers the college presidencies of Ernest Martin Hopkins, John Sloan Dickey, John Kemeny, David McLaughlin, James Freedman, and myself. He has been involved as a Dartmouth College Fund agent and within his Class he has served as the newsletter editor, a member of the executive committee, the gift planning chair, the chair of the reunion giving committee, and class secretary! He has also been a friend to the Tucker Foundation, the Sailing Club, and the Track and Field Team. He has received the distinguished alumni award and the Wearers of the Green. As I told the seniors, Hal Ripley is Dartmouth. As you know, I typically on these occasions recognize a friend in whom the granite has endured - join me in acknowledging Rip's 98th birthday last weekend.

On Monday, Susan and I had the Class of 2005 Senior Executive Committee over to the house for dinner - they are just a wonderful group of students. We met and bonded on 9/11. We had a great conversation with them. I asked what they would want me to report when they return for their fifth reunion. One senior said: report that our class has raised the bar for alumni participation. And they are well on their way to doing that. There are some CFS houses that are working toward 100 percent participation and at least one house has so far met that goal. I have promised to cook hamburgers for any house that does have 100 percent participation.

Last night you had dinner with the Class of 2005. You experience what we already know - the future of Dartmouth is in good hands. This year, as we move into the Celebration of Alumni Service there is much to celebrate:

  • 15,000 alumni providing career advice through the Alumni Advisory Network
  • 4,200 alumni recruiting the best and brightest students for Dartmouth
  • 700 alumni maintaining class connections through class officers, newsletters, reunions, and mini-reunions
  • 800 alumni establishing a Dartmouth presence by leading alumni Clubs nationwide and around the world
  • 1,300 alumni encouraging classmates to increase financial support for the College
  • 500 alumni mentoring students through Alumni Affiliated and Interest Groups
  • 300 alumni promoting visibility for Dartmouth through local community service projects
  • 65,000 alumni serving as ambassadors for Dartmouth College
  • And an Alumni Council of close to 100 alumni that facilitates communication between your college and her graduates.

These are impressive numbers and they speak loudly of the love alumni have for Dartmouth. On behalf of the College on the hill I extend grateful thanks. It is in large part because of alumni support - your support - that Dartmouth is a strong as it is.

In answer to the questions: "How goes Dartmouth?" I happily report she is well.

Our admissions numbers are as strong as ever. We have admitted the Class of 2009 from a record pool of applicants.

We have hired excellent young faculty. Typically, we hire between 20 and 30 new faculty each year both in replacement and new positions, and we consistently get our first choice of faculty.

Student satisfaction is very high - I was particularly pleased with the percentage of graduating students last year - 96 percent - who were satisfied or very satisfied with their access to faculty. The relationship between faculty and students has always been at the core of a Dartmouth education and it continues to be so. Our faculty like working alongside our students.

Last week, Susan and I hosted the annual Academic Gala where seniors shared their work with underclass students. Several hundred students attended and four students presented the work they have done this year for either their thesis or their senior fellowship. The event is always both inspirational and humbling as you see what our students are capable of doing.

The Campaign for the Dartmouth experience is going very well. Alumni have pledged close to $550 million! That is an extraordinary amount and shows that the campaign is very much on track.

Alumni participation in the annual fund has increased over the past few years and I am especially impressed with the senior class commitment.

Moody's and Standard & Poor's both renewed Dartmouth's AAA rating, with S&P pointing to "An impressive management team with conservative budgeting practices has led to historically positive results at Dartmouth." Both recognized Dartmouth's strong competitive position.

After 25 years of conversation, we have moved forward aggressively with several construction agendas including two new residential clusters that will add spaces for over 500 students, which will in turn relieve overcrowding elsewhere in the system and allow more students who want to live on campus to do so. The MacLean Engineering Sciences Center, Kemeny Hall and the Haldeman Center are all making progress. And we have started work on the Alumni Gym and we continue in the planning stages for the Arts and the Life Sciences.

Facts and figures and construction cranes can tell you a lot, and they are important - but another measure that is important to me comes from the daily conversations and interactions that I have with students every day. I have office hours once a week on Monday afternoons and in addition I try to have lunch weekly with 10 to 12 students where we have a pretty free-ranging conversation about current affairs at the College. Susan and I also try to attend as many performances, presentations, and athletic events as I can - probably 50 to 60 this year. These occasions give me the best sense of what is happening today at the College. And let me assure you, this is a place of tremendous energy and enthusiasm.

A philosophy major told me that the thesis he wrote was a fitting culmination to his Dartmouth experience; indeed it was essential to his sense of doing Dartmouth right. He went on to say that "Dartmouth's commitment to undergraduate research means that students do not need to hover outside of the doors of lectures not meant for them, nor do they need to plan two weeks ahead in order to have coffee with a professor." He made real the numbers on faculty accessibility. Our students regularly meet with real faculty to discuss their real work.

A student at the academic gala spoke about his senior fellowship that had focused on Mozart's work in the last year of his life. His fellowship culminated with a stunning performance in Rollins Chapel that he conducted that Susan and I attended.

On a cold early spring day, I also attended the dedication of a Habitat for Humanity House that Dartmouth students had participated in building. Hundreds of students every year work through the Tucker Foundation and other student-led groups to give back to the wider community. I am always humbled by the work they do.

Just a few weeks ago I received a letter from a local alumnus about the work the football team had done to help a local boy with a brain tumor. The alumnus after he described all that the team had done for the boy wrote, "I remain proud to the point of smugness of my alma mater." Another story of the football team this year is the incredible job they did one late winter day cleaning up the campus. I saw them from my window in Parkhurst swarming over the ground in front of Baker Lawn. Buddy, my old history student, was back in town.

Last weekend, Susan and I attended the women's lacrosse game in the rain, where they defeated Georgetown to make it to the NCAA final four. They play Northwestern this evening - does anyone have a score yet?

Then last week, as we were working in Parkhurst we began to hear some noise in the stairwell and when we went out there we found the Dartmouth Aires getting ready to sing. They sang a couple of different songs including of course Dartmouth Undying as part of a week-long campus-wide Palaeopitus effort to thank the staff for all that they do for students. A lot of the staff came out of their offices to listen and to give them a rousing round of applause when they had finished. I suspect that this does not happen at most institutions.

It is these memories that I return to - the sorts of events that happen every day at Dartmouth - that tell me just what a wonderful place this is. During your stay, look at the publications that students put out from the Undergraduate Journal of Science to the History and Classics Journal to the newspapers. Look at the performances, attend some games, talk to students. I think that they would tell you, as the Daily Dartmouth did this morning, that things are going pretty well. "Though nothing is ever perfect, relations between students and the College are generally good."

They also noted, "While there are still issues worthy of great concern - oversubscription for example - the general state of the College is strong. Each incoming class is stronger than the last, and current students and recent alumni are still among the nation's greatest achievers." While I will not select among our classes as to which is the strongest - no more than I would among my children or grandchildren - I do agree that our alumni contribute significantly in so many ways to our nation.

Dartmouth is, indeed, as Booz Allen Hamilton recently attested, an enduring institution. Dartmouth today provides the strongest undergraduate program in the country.

Do we have problems? Certainly we do, as does every institution in the country. Let me share with you a few of these that I think about and how we are tackling them.

I am concerned, as is the Daily Dartmouth, about the enrollments in some of our classes. Too many students are having trouble getting into the courses they want, notably but not only in the departments of Economics and Government. The Dean of Faculty has tried to address this problem - she has increased both the number of courses and the number of tenure track lines in both departments. She has also worked with faculty to increase the size of their classes.

The market for these faculty is very tight and we have not been able to respond as quickly as we would have liked. We are working on it and I expect that it will ease soon. The expansion of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences is one of the key priorities of the campaign and we have already made a great deal of progress on this.

We do have a housing shortage. Undergraduates have just gone through room draw and we now have some 250 students on the wait list - not as many as last year but still too many. I cannot tell you just how delighted I am that we have finally put shovels in the ground on both the McLaughlin Cluster and the Tuck Mall residence hall. Together these new dormitories will add space for just over 500 students, which will enable us to relieve overcrowding in some halls and to accommodate more students who currently live off campus on campus.

Another issue that has been raised although I do not know if it is really a problem is the question about the administration and whether we have too many administrators. This is a legitimate question - we must always be vigilant and prudent regarding how our limited resources are spent. The S&P and Moody's affirmation of our management practices are reassuring. Nonetheless, we need to look at what we do and how we do it - especially within the administration. To this end, I have asked the Provost and the Executive Vice President to undertake an administrative review to see where we might have overlap and where we might increase our efficiency in delivery of our administrative practices.

We have a problem with our alumni communications. I think it is unfortunate that some critics of the College have suggested that the Alumni Council is simply the dupe of the administration. I know and you know that this is not the case. It is simply not correct that the most engaged alumni, those most knowledgeable about College affairs, those who recognize strength and nuance, those for whom loyalty is more than slogan, are the pawns of the administration because they recognize some of the good things going on. You provide a legitimate and critical two-way conduit between the College and the alumni and I for one very much value your input, your criticism and advice, your support.

I am concerned about participation in the annual fund and also the misperceptions that continue to exist about the College. I am pleased that we are making progress on this and I am very pleased with our work this year with the senior class. But we need to do still more here and we will. I have spent a lot of my time this year meeting with alumni, including trips to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Vero Beach, Sarasota, Naples, New York, Pittsburgh, and most recently Boston.

The Trustees have established an alumni working group to discuss some of the issues here and the Council and the Alumni Association have a group headed by Joe Stevenson to discuss ways to merge the two organizations. The Trustees also met with alumni in Palo Alto and San Francisco.

I know that the working groups have made some progress in their discussions. In response to your request, we are also considering different ways of funding the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine to relieve the burden on class dues. We are also seeking to communicate better our interest in attracting legacies. While we will continue to be extremely competitive, intergenerational continuity is important to the College and this year 11.5 percent of the newly admitted class of '09s will be legacies.

So there is a lot going on and a lot to do. With your help and support, I am sure that Dartmouth will continue to thrive. A few nights ago in Boston, I quoted Yale president Arthur Twining Hadley, who said at the time of the rededication of Dartmouth Hall in 1906, "where so many institutions claim to do more than they actually accomplish. Dartmouth accomplishes more than she claims." It is time to remove the basket from the lantern and to take pride in what we do so well.

Thank you once again for all that you do. The Hill Winds call your names.

Last Updated: 8/21/08