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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

Remarks by President James Wright to the General Faculty

October 30, 2006

I am very pleased to join you for my annual report to the faculty. This occasion provides me with an opportunity to review the state of the college, to reaffirm the good work undertaken here, and to remind us all of our priorities going forward. I would like to take a moment to recognize Dean Carol Folt on her appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Following the strong recommendation of the search committee, I was very pleased to be able to appoint her to this position, and I look forward to continuing to work together to advance the work of the faculty.

The newly admitted class of 2010 is among the strongest and most diverse ever admitted to Dartmouth - a testimony to the good work of Karl Furstenberg. I would like to take a moment to recognize Karl for his good work. For the past 17 years, Karl has admitted class after class of outstanding students. Provost Barry Scherr has organized the committee to find a replacement for Karl, and Peter Hackett from the Theater Department has agreed to chair this committee. Karl will be a tough act to follow!

Provost Scherr is also chairing a search for Jim Larimore's replacement as Dean of the College. Barry has held several open meetings to receive input from the community on what qualities are most critical. We need someone who will be able to work effectively with faculty as well as students, who will be extremely visible on campus and eager to assume leadership in working with faculty and administrators in protecting our sense of community, and, finally, someone who is a good manager - the Dean of the College area is a significant one that includes a range of activities from the health services to athletics, from academic skills to student life. I know the Provost will be updating you periodically on both searches.

I have also asked Barry Scherr to examine how we have organized our diversity efforts. The departure of both Ozzie Harris [Director of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity] and Tommy Lee Woon [Director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership] provided us with an opportunity to review both positions, approximately five years after they were created, to consider if any adjustment in responsibility is in order to assure that we meet our ambitions. The purpose of the committee is to examine what we have done and how we might improve upon that model. They are looking at how other institutions are organized to see if there is anything that we can learn from them. One of my top priorities has been to ensure that the Dartmouth campus is open to people from all backgrounds. Diversity is an essential component of any educational environment, and Dartmouth has a strong legacy in this regard - one that we need to protect and build upon. I expect to have the results of that review shortly and we will initiate searches for these positions.  But regardless of any adjustment in the responsibility of these two officers, there can be no change in the fundamental fact:  every member of this community needs to assume responsibility for advancing the College's commitment to diversity.

You may recall that I established three committees last spring to follow up on the recommendations from the McKinsey team that was here to look at our administrative structure: one on culture and communications, another on hiring and retention, and the third on the budget process. All three are close to concluding their work, and I hope to be able to move forward with their recommendations by the end of this term.

You should have received a copy of my letter to the community that we sent out earlier today. In it I discuss two issues of importance to Dartmouth: early admissions, a program we will continue, and our institutional mission. Let me discuss the latter for just a moment.

This summer and fall I have spent some time thinking about our mission statement. I have met with a number of different groups - including faculty, students, and staff - to discuss what it is that distinguishes Dartmouth when it is at its best. I have enjoyed these conversations and I was struck, although perhaps I should not have been surprised, with how often people returned to the relationships that bound them to Dartmouth. There really is a profound sense of shared community here. Every group also mentioned our student focus and our commitment to academic excellence. I expect to be able to share a new statement with the community and to ask for feedback during the winter term. And I hope the Board of Trustees will sign off on it at the March meeting.

It has been a privilege to dedicate several new facilities this term - the new residence halls in the McLaughlin Cluster (Berry, Bildner, Byrne, Goldstein, Rauner and Thomas Halls as well as the Occom Commons, named by an anonymous donor for Samson Occom) and the Fahey and McLane Halls on Tuck Mall.

We also dedicated the McLean Engineering Sciences Building at the Thayer School at the end of September. And later this week we will dedicate Kemeny Hall for the Department of Mathematics - the mathematicians have already moved in and classes are underway there - and Haldeman Center for the academic centers - the Leslie Humanities Center, the Ethics Institute, and the Dickey Center. These are all wonderful spaces that add immeasurably to the quality of the educational environment.  We have already commenced the process of preparing Bradley and Gerry for demolition, and I am looking forward to seeing them gone.

As faculty, you continue to excel in both your research and teaching. I was delighted that we appointed Rick Granger as the Neukom Professor of Computational Science and that we have pushed forward with that initiative. We also welcomed several other new faculty in the professional schools and the Arts and Sciences, including seven senior hires. I had dinner with many of them earlier this term and was so impressed with the quality and enthusiasm of the people who are joining the faculty. In the long run, nothing we do is more important than recruiting the best young faculty, supporting their development as scholars and teachers, and then fighting to keep them!

We are close to meeting our goal of a 10 percent expansion of the Arts and Sciences faculty, although start-up costs for faculty in some fields remains a challenge. There are several other initiatives underway in the Arts and Sciences, including a search for a new chair in Digital Humanities. The Writing Program and the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning are now well established and have really begun to make a difference. And we have seen increased strength in the enrollment of graduate students in the Arts and Sciences.

Our faculty excel as scholars and embrace fully the culture that marks this College, one that values teaching and mentoring students. I was extremely pleased with the undergraduate student satisfaction data from last year's senior class, where 98 percent of those who participated said they were satisfied with the accessibility of faculty outside of the classroom. It doesn't get much better than that. Your commitment to our students is one of the things that really distinguishes a Dartmouth education. Students were also satisfied with their overall educational experience, the classes in their major, and the improvement they had made in many areas. It's clear that our students are attracted to Dartmouth in large part because of the opportunities you provide to work with them. They want more such opportunities and we will need to look for ways to make this happen.

The Tuck School has had another outstanding year - business schools have multiple different rankings, and year after year, Tuck ranks among the top schools in the world in these rankings. This is an extraordinary accomplishment given their size relative to their peers. But Tuck has kept its focus on its MBA program and in attracting the very best of what Dean Paul Danos calls faculty who are "thought-leaders." They have done it well. We recently broke ground on a new living and learning building that will house some of the MBA students but will also provide more academic classroom, conference, and office space. In addition, Tuck continues to be imaginative with a range of other programs including an executive program for women returning to the workforce. They are a leader in doing this.

Joe Helble is in his second year as Dean of the Thayer School and has already had the pleasure of opening a new building. The McLean Engineering Sciences Center is just a marvelous addition to the campus. The research and teaching lab spaces are wonderful, and I look forward to seeing the Thayer School reach new heights. It is already among the most competitive in winning sponsored research awards on a per capita basis. Dean Helble is engaged in a process with the faculty to identify two areas of concentration (one of which is engineering and medicine and the other is under discussion) so that they can leverage their size to the largest extent possible.

At the medical school, Dean Stephen Spielberg has made some excellent faculty appointments and has formed some new partnerships - most notably with a university in Tanzania as part of their Global Health Initiative. This is a joint collaboration with the Dickey Center for International Understanding and includes the development of an extended health program in Tanzania, discussions on global health issues, and new courses on global health that will become part of undergraduate curriculum. The Center for Evaluative Clinical Studies program continues to be a national leader in assessing health care practices and in contributing to important national policy discussions.  We take pride in their work-and in the accomplishments of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Under our normal procedures, Dean Danos and Dean Spielberg will undergo reviews this year, having completed four year terms. Provost Scherr is currently organizing these.

This past year, the Board of Trustees set up a working group to look at our graduate programs in the professional schools and the Arts and Sciences. Michael Chu chaired the group and Barry Scherr along with Paul Danos, Joe Helble, Steve Speilberg, Carol Folt and Dean of Graduate Studies Charles Barlowe were all involved.

It was good for the Board to spend time on this issue, and I know that they were impressed with the quality of these programs and of the faculty involved with them. We did commit to devote more Board time on graduate issues and the Board will spend time at this meeting at the Thayer School. The Board was also very interested in how the graduate programs complement and supplement the undergraduate program and, again, were encouraged by knowing just how much interaction there is with undergraduates. We need to do all we can to fully leverage our size and quality.

The College is in good shape - there are a lot of exciting initiatives underway. And we have a lot more to do.

The Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience is past its midpoint, and we are on track. But we still have a lot of work to do to fully fund all of our priorities. The remaining major priorities include continuing to raise funds to support the faculty; supporting curricular and non-curricular programs; endowing more of our financial aid program; and continuing with our facilities agenda.  Vice President for Development Carrie Pelzel and her colleagues have done an excellent job and they, along with leadership volunteers and donors, are committed to meeting our objectives. And so am I. 

As the newly opened facilities come on line this year we will need to draw on reserves to cover an expected budget deficit. The operations and maintenance of these buildings will hit the operating budget before we have in all the new funds needed to cover them. We had anticipated this shortfall and have a strategy in place to bring the budget into balance over the next couple of years.

As for the projects still in planning, we have not yet completed fundraising for them. These include the Life Sciences building for the Arts and Sciences, a Translational Research building and a CECS building out at the DHMC site, the entire complex to be called the C. Everett Koop Center in recognition of Dr. Koop's contributions to health care in this country; the Tuck Living and Learning Center; a visual arts building; two dining halls; and the Burnham soccer project. Some of these, such as the Tuck building and soccer, will move forward quickly, as we have already raised the money for them. The others provide more of a challenge - a challenge that we are eager to take up. The Board is committed to advancing these priorities.

It is the case that the cost of these facilities has increased as a result of fuller program planning and the escalation in the cost of construction. We will need to think about how to control costs and to fully leverage our revenues to enable us to complete these projects. We have to be aggressive and careful moving forward to meet our agenda - aggressive in leveraging our resources and cautious in not taking inappropriate risks. The Board of Trustees and I recognize our responsibilities in this regard.

But we are surely not poor and we are asking our friends and supporters to support a very ambitious capital campaign goal. Let me share a few observations about our capacity, our means, and our aspirations and needs.

The size of the Dartmouth endowment has more than tripled in ten years (from $902 million in June 1996 to $3.1 billion in June 2006). We earned a 15 percent return last year, compared to the benchmark of 11.8 percent, which placed us in the top quartile of our comparative universe. We rank 22nd among the 746 institutions in terms of the size of our endowment and 16th in the country in endowment per student, for institutions with more than 1,000 students. 

These are the common metrics and we do well in them - but there is about all of this if not a fallacy at least a tone and framework that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I am not a banker accountable for investment success and capital growth that keeps up with or exceeds my competitors. I am a teacher, an educator, the president of an institution that has a wonderful history, an enviable reputation, and a challenging ambition to educate the best of this generation to be responsible, productive citizens and leaders of the next generation. 

Dartmouth's endowment is composed of multiple different funds that are used to support the College's work, consistent with donor restrictions. These funds need to be protected so as to be available to the College for future generations. Despite common definitions that consider an endowment fundamentally as a bank account, it is my view that more comprehensively Dartmouth's endowment also includes the physical property and aesthetic legacy, the intellectual strength and energy, and the culture of excellence and responsibility of which we are the custodians. And while the largest bank account in the world may enable a great many things, it would not alone assure the heritage and the mission that is our responsibility. The capital endowment needs to be directed to maintain and enhance the true endowment, the strength of the College.

There has been recently a fair amount of public scrutiny of higher education, and particularly of the wealthiest institutions with very large endowments that are also undertaking multi-billion dollar capital campaigns. The criticism is often unfair. Some of the largest of these institutions are marshalling their resources to confront and solve the world's most vexing problems.

Some critics argue that wealthy institutions have been too conservative in spending their financial capital. It is, to be sure, a careful balancing act to spend enough of the endowment to ensure our strength without jeopardizing future generations. And it is possible to be too cautious and to assume all or too many of the risks today while passing on the advantage of investment growth. This may protect the financial legacy that future generations will inherit while failing to protect the intellectual legacy they will receive. The former is easier to recover than the latter. 

But let us then return to our current objectives, our sense of purpose and of mission.  I believe that American higher education is one of the great growth engines of the modern world. The higher education community has assumed a comprehensive multi-front assignment: to solve the world's problems.

We need recognize the elusiveness of this goal even while acknowledging that no privileged institution can ignore this social need. Our comprehensive ambition has evolved over the last one hundred years from the more narrowly focused traditional purpose of educating young people to be informed and learned citizens and of providing an environment that encouraged faculty to reduce that which was unknown. 

During the progressive period of the last century, universities, the public ones at any rate, became more focused on their civic purpose, to assist in addressing public problems and to educate responsible and productive citizens, following up naturally on the land-grant mission of many of them.  During the Second World War and the following Cold War, federal research dollars sponsored a remarkable expansion of basic research in the physical sciences and engineering, dedicated to national goals.  This expanded further during the 1960s with even broader bio-medical funding and with universities extending their sense of civic purpose to one of more comprehensive social responsibility, including at the core a fundamental shift in providing full access to all for a college education.

This has been a wonderful story - and American higher education has reason for real pride. These economic and social forces have clearly enriched Dartmouth as well and that has had an impact on our sense of institutional mission and purpose.

Dartmouth is an exceptional institution. We are smaller and more focused than most of our direct competitors. Our per capita research strength compares with the top American universities, our commitment to student learning and development is recognized as exemplary, and our deeply rooted culture of service and responsibility is among the strongest. While Dartmouth alone cannot solve the world's problems, we embrace the responsibility of providing here an environment that supports faculty engaged in their own work that will contribute to the knowledge that will address the world's problems.

And we recognize our mission to provide an education that will provide tomorrow's leaders with the intellectual tools and the will to solve the world's problems.  As President John Sloan Dickey said, "the world's problems are your problems." We meet our goal of providing an educational experience that enables and encourages our students to meet their responsibilities, I believe, by focusing on priorities that build upon strength and values and that provide an enviable learning environment. 

This capital campaign is about enabling Dartmouth to meet this goal. There are several related elements to this:

1) We must recruit and support Dartmouth faculty who are engaged in the scholarly research and creative work that is defining - and stretching - the boundaries of their fields, faculty who are confronting the basic and most vexing problems, and who have a commitment to sharing their passion with their students as teachers, as mentors, and, when possible, as collaborators. To achieve our hopes in this regard we need to continue upon our work to expand the size of the faculty.  This generation of students seeks - and the next generation of leaders requires - opportunities to take on independent study and research projects with faculty.

2) We must recruit students who are among the most accomplished and promising of their generation and to provide them the advantages of a Dartmouth education, regardless of their financial background.  We need to sustain and to expand the College's historic commitment to a student body diverse in background with a shared commitment to a culture of collaborative learning.

3) In order to advance the work of faculty and students, Dartmouth needs to provide facilities and support that sustain a world-class learning environment.  We recognize that out of classroom support for the arts, athletics, student organizations and social and cultural activities are fully a part of the learning environment for this residential community.

4) Dartmouth needs to protect and enrich our historic culture, while continuing to encourage its relevance to the demands of the 21st century: welcoming a diverse community from diverse backgrounds; emphasizing teamwork and collaboration; encouraging initiative and creativity; promoting a sense of institutional and civic responsibility and leadership.

5) We need to protect the scale and size of Dartmouth and to encourage even more opportunities to cross lines of disciplines and of schools.  Our disciplines are important intellectual centers, but their impact is the greater because of their recognition that the world is not bound by academic disciplines. The world's problems will be met only by those who can truly collaborate beyond departments and boundaries.

If we do these things, we will meet our historic mission of educating men and women with the potential to have a positive impact upon society.  Our faculty will continue to be recognized as leaders whose work does address the major issues of our time, and Dartmouth will provide the finest education in the world.  If this is an audacious ambition, it is one that is rooted deeply in the College and it is one that can be accomplished. 

As we situate our place in American higher education, there is another historical development that we need to acknowledge and to consider.  In the years since World War II higher education has played increasingly a certifying role - access to professional fields, to desirable employment, and to prestige is determined by the degree of the applicant. In this process, field of study is influential, especially at the professional level, and reputation of the degree-granting institution is often determinative. Obviously a Dartmouth degree is a valuable certification and we all take pride in that.  But I am also uncomfortable with any sense that this is our purpose - we need to explicitly understand that the most valuable thing we can provide our students is a Dartmouth education.

A Dartmouth education is one that encourages students to be creative problem solvers, to work in a collaborative environment, to develop their keen analytical skills that are grounded in the best work of their field of study, and to have a clear sense of ethical values and social responsibility. It also means, of course, being able to think clearly, to write and communicate well, to be global in outlook, and to be fully grounded in the liberal arts from technology to science to social science, to the humanities and the creative and performing arts. 

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has undertaken a number of curricular initiatives in recent years, but it may be a time for us to consider again the way that we structure our degree requirements and the place that the major field of study has. What does constitute fully grounding in the liberal arts? To initiate consideration of this, I have asked Dean Folt to engage the faculty in a discussion of the relevance of our current curriculum and to consider where there are areas for improvement and opportunities for innovation. I do not take this step lightly-after all, I chaired the last two curriculum reviews that we have undertaken.  I recognize that done well this will require a great deal of time-but I also know that here are few things more crucial for the faculty than the process of considering and discussing what they hope to accomplish through the requirements they set for the students.  What will constitute a Dartmouth education for the next generations? I look forward to engaging in this conversation and to being informed by your perspectives.

Finally, I would like to make a comment on the current debate over the alumni constitution vote. While this has played out on the campus more than we might anticipate for an alumni debate, I think the energy of this discussion affirms the deep and passionate engagement of many alumni with the College. They do care. Nonetheless, I will be very pleased that the voting will be closed this week and then, regardless of the results, we can all focus our energy on advancing the priorities of the College.

Despite all of the rhetoric being tossed about, I want to assure members of this community that this should not be a matter for distraction. I continue to be focused on our priorities and you can be confident that the Board of Trustees is resolute in their support of your good work.

Thank you again for all you are doing. It is a privilege and an honor to serve with you.

Last Updated: 8/21/08