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>  News Releases >   1998 >   September

Dartmouth: Forever New An address by President James Wright

Posted 09/23/98

On the Occasion of his Inauguration as the 16th President of Dartmouth College, Sept. 23, 1998

President McLaughlin and President Freedman, my fellow Dartmouth Trustees, Professor Franklin, Assembly President Green, colleagues from the faculty, from the staff and administration, graduates, honored guests, Dartmouth students, good friends and neighbors: it is with a sense of awe and with keen anticipation that I embrace this new responsibility at the institution I have loved and served for 29 years, under four presidents. I am grateful for the confidence placed in me, and I ask for your help and your support in the years ahead.

I have been blessed by the exceptional people who have been part of my life. Provost Brinckerhoff has already acknowledged the presence on this occasion of members of my family. May I add a word about a few of them. My mother bears the distinction of being the only person who for a half-century has been confident that I would do well when I grew up. And for the last six months she's been telling everyone -- complete strangers even -- that of course, she was correct. My children, Jim, Ann and Michael have reversed normal process and obligations by teaching me far more than I have taught them. They obviously have enjoyed this and in fact, they still enjoy it. I am even prouder of them today for the sorts of people they are, than my mother possibly could be proud of me. And Susan. Susan, whose affection for this College matches my own, and whose commitment to its students inspires us all. From Susan I have learned much about love and life and laughter, and about courage.

Many of us have been fortunate to have special teachers who have had a profound influence on who we are. Two of my undergraduate teachers are here today, historians, professor Roger Daniels and professor Tom Lundeen. Your presence means so much to me. I have been privileged at Dartmouth these many years to have colleagues and friends within the faculty and administration who have taught me much and have encouraged me often -- and who now sustain me as I assume this new assignment. Thank you.

I am also fortunate to share this platform with and to inherit the legacies of my predecessors in the Wheelock Succession: James O. Freedman and David T. McLaughlin. These are not only my friends, but they have also been sources of enormous support and invaluable counsel to me over the years. Much of what Dartmouth is today derives from their work. And Jean Kemeny and Sukie Dickey, who are in the audience, we honor you and through you Presidents John Kemeny and John Sloan Dickey, men with whom I was privileged to serve and who did much to enhance and to enrich this College.

This ceremony affords a rare opportunity -- and for a historian it constitutes an obligation -- to consider the values that, engrained in Dartmouth's past, define the institution today, and to ask how that past informs our future. We all know that Dartmouth is a place that is marked by strong traditions. But Dartmouth's history is one that resonates and lives, not one that encapsulates and confines. I will share with you my understanding of what those traditions are and what they mean with regard to the tasks ahead of us.

Our traditions embody Dartmouth's core values -- they have enriched us as an institution. Here at Dartmouth the sound of feet crunching on snow, the look and feel of soft September sunsets, the horizons marked by granite hills and large vistas, and a campus filled with secluded places, here these are not simply poetic abstractions. They are things that shape memories that mark lifetimes and they continue to bind generations of Dartmouth's sons and daughters to each other and to this special place.

Dartmouth is part of a system of higher education that is the envy of the world. Like so much in this country, this system derives its strength from its richness and diversity. But the range of colleges and universities masks fundamental tensions within the academy -- tensions between the individual and the community, between elite and democratic values, and between teaching and scholarship. These tensions, of course, play themselves out within this College as well.

Few institutions value more -- or indeed, require more --independence of thought than do colleges and universities. Yet there are also few institutions that depend more on shared values. Here we are responsible for ourselves and we are free to pursue our interests. But this cannot be where our responsibility ends. This implicit tension between self and community is inherent within the academy, it is a tension that results in tremendous fragility, on the one hand, and tremendous strength, on the other. Through acknowledging the tension between our personal freedom and our responsibilities to each other, we are more likely to appreciate the former and to acknowledge and embrace the latter.

Since World War II American higher education has established a stunning record in democratizing access for students who, in the past, would not have continued their education. But Dartmouth, in fact, had much earlier taken on this responsibility. While Dartmouth is an elite institution, to the extent that it is highly selective in admitting its students and recruiting its faculty, this was also the College that historically empowered the hill country farm boys of New Hampshire and Vermont. And our mission is even more explicit than that.

Dartmouth's tradition means the recognition that from the very beginning of the College our charter dedicated us to educating a diverse population of students. In 1921 Dartmouth's Board of Trustees affirmed this by adopting the policy of "selective admissions" to assure a more diverse student body. We were one of the first institutions in the country to take such a step.

Our charter purpose -- "the education of American Indians and others" -- has over time included not only Native Americans, but also African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino and Hispanic students. It encompasses international students, as well as American citizens. And since 1972 Dartmouth has admitted women as well as men. Although many women came to Dartmouth before that date -- faculty pioneers like Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood in the Russian Department and Hannah T. Croasdale in Biological Sciences, and the first women exchange students -- few things in our rich history have so positively shaped the quality of this community as did the decision to become coeducational.

Dartmouth is enriched by its diversity. We will not turn our back on our history. It resonates with our purposes and provides examples of their success. Remember that it was because of the efforts of Samson Occom, a Mohegan, that Eleazar Wheelock's vision found success here. It was here that Konichi Asakawa, the son of a samurai, studied a century ago and then, as a professor, initiated in the United States the field of Asian Studies -- even if we later permitted him to remove to New Haven. It was here that E. E. Just, the son of a slave, both studied and taught, a pioneer in the field of developmental biology.

As in the past, Dartmouth must be a place of opportunity for students of all backgrounds. It is hard to imagine education taking place in an environment that is fully like-minded and homogeneous. And so Dartmouth seeks to attract a student body that reflects the richness of the world in which we live, and to offer an education that enables and empowers. To this end we must continue to enrich our financial aid and scholarship programs to ensure that we can do this. I pledge myself to this purpose.

We are prepared now to build upon our heritage of providing a comprehensive experience outside of the classroom. The diversity of our social options needs to reflect the diversity of this community. Students have a vision of what this might be and I am excited to be able to work with them to pursue this. While the undergraduate student body should not be larger, we need to expand more our social and residential choices and opportunities. We will attend to these things for this is a special place and our mandate is to protect it and to enrich it.

The privilege of education also entails obligation to others. Dartmouth's tradition includes a dedication to the greater society to which we belong. It was here at this place that Paul Tsongas and Nelson A. Rockefeller and Daniel Webster studied and began lifetimes of public service to our nation. We know that the purpose of a Dartmouth education is not merely the enhancement of the self. This is not a sufficient consequence of privilege. At Dartmouth and elsewhere education needs to engage and sustain a life of broader responsibility.

Thirty-five years ago this month, on the centenary of the emancipation proclamation, Dartmouth's President Dickey reflected upon the fact that the United States -- and Dartmouth -- had failed to meet the promise of Abraham Lincoln's action. He wondered how to explain such a thing in a society and at an institution that had been marked by good people. He concluded that the failure did not represent the triumph of human evil but rather the apathy of the good. President Dickey said, "In communities such as this, it is not so much that bad things were done, as that good things were not." President Dickey was right, our obligation is greater than to be self-indulgently successful or passively good.

While the tensions between the individual and the community and between elite and democratic values play themselves out in many institutions of higher education, it is the tension between teaching and scholarship that has particular meaning for Dartmouth.

When I spoke to the Dartmouth community last spring upon the announcement of my election as president, I reiterated what my predecessors in the Wheelock Succession had earlier acknowledged: that Dartmouth College is a university in all but name. What was true in President Dickey's day is even more true today. If neither of the descriptive labels -- college or university -- fits us easily, that is eminently acceptable, because we are comfortable with what we are and with what we aspire to be. Typically colleges are primarily concerned with undergraduate education and teaching. Universities are primarily engaged in graduate education and also place a greater emphasis on faculty research. We at Dartmouth are proud to call ourselves a College, recognizing that Dartmouth is a college that has many of the best characteristics of a university. We are a university in terms of our activities and our programs, but one that remains a college in name and in its basic values and purposes. In this paradox, in this tension, lies our identity and our strength.

Dartmouth was a pioneer in the establishment of professional schools: the fourth medical school in the country and the first in a rural area, the nation's first school of engineering, its first graduate school of business administration. From this heritage comes our enduring commitment to support the valuable work of these schools, and to ensure, in turn, that Dartmouth as a whole is enriched by their presence. Interdisciplinary work is strong here, and, in part because of our size, we can make it stronger. The professional schools can serve as a greater resource to the College even as the College can be a greater resource for them. I shall work with these schools, as well as with the graduate and undergraduate programs in the Arts and Sciences, encouraging them in particular to pursue ever more their fertile intersections.

Our support for the graduate and professional programs does not diminish our commitment to undergraduate education or our emphasis on excellence in teaching. Nor does taking seriously our obligation to pursue excellence as teachers in any way blunt our commitment to cutting-edge research and scholarship. Each strengthens the other. Our direction is clear. We seek to build upon and to expand our dual commitment. We will work to continue to attract the very best faculty possible and to support them in their scholarship and research endeavors. And, in turn, we are equally committed to excellence in teaching, at all levels of this institution. We can enjoy the best of being a college and a university.

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