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>  News Releases >   2004 >   October

Remarks to the General Faculty By President James Wright

Posted 10/25/04

This is now the seventh occasion on which I have reported to you, my colleagues, on the state of the College. It is my privilege to share with you my assessment of our shared effort to advance the good work of this historic enterprise. My summary is that the College is strong-almost certainly stronger by any metric or expectation than it has been in my 35 plus years here.  And it has always been strong.

Our position is the result of many variables of excellence: programs, facilities, shared purpose, culture, but finally it stems from our people, from you, from our students, from staff and administration, from graduates who care. We continue to do very well in recruiting faculty-but we need to recognize the importance of getting our first-choice candidates and to work hard to do that. I have been impressed at the quality of this year's starting faculty-and to hear from them why they chose to come here. They will serve Dartmouth well.

I join you in thanking the College admissions office under the leadership of Dean Karl Furstenburg and the admissions committees of the graduate and professional programs-we continue to recruit excellent students. The new students I have met impress and encourage me. These are committed and enthusiastic, bright and curious, and able members of this community who will make us the better.

We are in the midst of some important searches-for the Dean of the Thayer School of Engineering, for directors for the Hood Museum of Art and the Hopkins Center. We have been very pleased with the appointment of Jeffrey Horrell as the Librarian, Martin Wybourne as Vice Provost for Research, Robert McClung as the Associate Dean for the Sciences, and Charles Barlowe as the Dean for Graduate Studies, and we expect to be equally successful in these other searches.  

I recognize that typically much of my annual assessment of the state of the College focuses on Arts and Sciences and the undergraduate programs.  But we all understand that Dartmouth's strength and reputation also derive from the growing quality of the professional schools. Dean Paul Danos and his colleagues at the Tuck School continue in a focused and successful effort to enlarge and strengthen the faculty and energize the curriculum.  As a testament to their work, the Tuck School of Business is recognized as one of the very best business schools in the world. 

The Dartmouth Medical School increasingly has research programs that define how we think about health care and, with the clinical programs at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, is playing leadership roles in several areas of translational research and treatment.  Dean Stephen Spielberg is working with faculty in the essential task of advancing even more this important nexus between basic science and clinical application. 

The Thayer School of Engineering stands as an interdisciplinary model for engineering research and, in areas ranging from sustainable resources to biomedical technology, for  the education of leaders in the essential work of applying science to the problems of our world.  I am grateful to Bill Lotko who, along with Charlie Wyman, has stepped up to provide leadership for this work while we search for a successor to Dean Lewis Duncan.

Each of the professional schools continues to recruit and matriculate stronger students and to recruit and to enable world-class faculty.  Their efforts help to energize intellectually this community, and our collaborative and interdisciplinary culture is enhanced by the close ties we all share. Dartmouth is much the stronger because of the quality of these schools and their participation in the work of the College - including the undergraduate programs.

Our legacy is strong and our responsibility is to build upon it. This process requires having facilities and financial resources that meet our needs, programs that anticipate tomorrow's needs, and people who advance this good work.

We all know here the importance of our facilities-facilities that advance our aspirations and enable students and faculty to excel. Dartmouth is undertaking construction projects that are historically significant in terms of their range and their potential to shape the programs and the quality of life on this campus for generations to come. We have begun construction of the MacLean Engineering Sciences Center at Thayer; we have expanded the Sudikoff Center for Computational Science; we have opened new labs for biologists at Centerra; we will shortly break ground for Kemeny Hall and for the Haldeman Center-and we have secured an architect for the Arts Center and have accelerated planning for the life sciences as well as for medical school facilities at the DHMC site.

We will break ground this fall for the David McLaughlin residential cluster and next spring for the Tuck Mall residence halls-at which time we will also move ahead with the fitness center project in the Alumni Gymnasium. We have advanced planning for dining facilities and for a Tuck School building that will provide both additional student residences and classrooms. When completed over the next several years, these projects, along with a new soccer facility, will permit us to meet some long-deferred needs. This is a historic time at Dartmouth in terms of construction of new facilities as we seek to meet our needs while maintaining our aesthetic expectations for this campus.

Facilities projects require a strong financial base and the means to make capital investments and to maintain and operate the new buildings without impinging on other resources. Provost Barry Scherr and Executive Vice President Adam Keller will report on the budget within a week or so but I would simply preview that we have gone through some difficult budget years and have come through this in good shape: last year's budget showed a surplus even as we have continued to advance our objectives.

We also continued successful efforts to reduce spending and reallocated resources to academic and student priorities. The Provost and the Executive Vice President, along with their colleagues and with good and full input from the Committee on Priorities and the Student Advisory Budget Committee have all collaborated to take us through some tough times. We will continue to solicit their participation as we seek to balance the 2006 budget. Structural issues remain and we will need to continue to look for opportunities for efficiency and reallocation if we are to move critical priorities forward.

This past year was a particularly strong year in fundraising with $118.1 million in charitable gifts, nearly one-third more than in 2003. A total of 35,845 alumni, parents, friends, foundations and corporations gave to the College - a gratifying and also humbling statistic. The endowment also did well with an 18.6 percent return. And Dartmouth faculty - led by those in the Medical School - continued to be very competitive in attracting external funding for their work. We saw a 24 percent increase in dollar value of awards for a total of $205 million (it was just three years ago that we celebrated passing the $100 million mark!).

We remain subject to external events and to expense growth that is hard to control-the flat equities market is not encouraging; exchange rates continue to hit hard all of our international programs and purchases of goods and services; cost of health care has been a special problem-with retiree health benefits in particular growing at a rapid rate.  Compliance issues continue to require more time and attention.  Since 9/11 we have seen a doubling of insurance costs and, related to this different world, we now have the equivalent of twelve FTEs working full time, compared with just 2 FTE when I became president, to protect the security of our computer systems and our data bases and digital records and files.

It is clear that support for our aspirations cannot be sustained through existing sources of revenue only. As you will all know we are preparing to initiate the public phase of a capital campaign, the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience, with a very aggressive goal of $1.3 billion. We will have the public kickoff for this effort next month.  While our goal is high, so are our needs.  I, and many others, will spend increasing amounts of time on this effort-and we expect to reach this goal.  Through the committed and professional development operation that Vice President Carrie Pelzel has assembled, we are already on schedule to meet our ambition.

We will of course share with you more information regarding this campaign effort but the basic objectives will be familiar to you-we have been discussing them for several years:  support for financial aid, resources to enable us to expand the faculty and to support faculty and departments in their work; and the facilities projects that I described above.

Conversations about capital campaigns in excess of a billion dollars warrant the prior question: to what end?  Let me share with you my response to that. I have often described Dartmouth as providing the strongest undergraduate experience in the country-this is our niche, this is our strength, this is our ambition. And we seek no less for the students in our graduate and professional programs.

There are several elements that are essential to our meeting this aspiration:  these have to do with our shared purpose, culture, and scale; with the quality of our students; with our ability to recruit and retain the strongest faculty-and our related capacity to support faculty and student research and to sustain an environment and infrastructure that enables the highest quality teaching and learning; and finally our strength and our niche depend upon protecting the nature of our community and the quality of our out-of classroom experience.  Let me discuss these in some more detail-relating them to our priorities and our aspirations.

Words such as purpose, culture, and scale can be vague, even abstract, if we allow them to be ill-defined or subjective slogans. Here at Dartmouth our purpose is expanding and sharing knowledge, learning together; our culture is one that values independence and initiative, interdisciplinary work and other forms of scholarly collaboration, and where informed, engaged, and inspired teaching is expected; our scale is one that encourages a true sense of community and of belonging, one where collegiality comes naturally. 

Reflecting on these, it is clear that they are increasingly special and defining:  all institutions talk about expanding and sharing knowledge; many value research, collaboration, and teaching-although fewer manage the coexistence of these things so well, to have the shape of a small university and the focus of a college; and finally very few places can claim to pursue all of these activities in a physical environment that, because of scale and quality and accessibility, is so conducive to the existence of a true community of learning.  Protecting these defining qualities while aggressively competing to excel is our assignment. 

In this regard, I would share my concern about any temptation to link growth with strength-so that the former is considered a necessary means to an end.  We need carefully to assess any plans to increase the size of the student bodies, administrators, and support staff. Dartmouth does need to have a larger faculty-I will discuss this in a moment, but even in this regard we cannot play and win the size-equals-quality game. And if we tried to do so we would lose something. As other institutions seek to become bigger, we aim to be better. 

None of our strategic discussions have considered increasing the size of the undergraduate student body-our goal is to have a campus that physically meets the needs of our current students. We have for the last few years monitored carefully any growth in non-academic administrative positions. At this time I would encourage the Provost, deans, and faculty in graduate departments to initiate a discussion of our ambitions for graduate student enrollments. I am pleased to announce that the Provost and I, in response to a priority defined by Dean Carol Folt and the graduate departments, have committed resources to increase the stipends we pay to graduate students, beginning next year. We wish in this way to advance our objective that Dartmouth compete for the strongest graduate students.  Larger and bigger will not define us-but better will as better has.

Growth inevitably entails physical expansion and I believe we need to recognize some real limits here.  It may be that our substantial current and planned construction projects approach these. There is a scale on this campus that encourages and enables-and we can't squander that through sprawl or massing.  We have here an exceptional academic community in under a square mile of space, separated by only a few miles from the energetic Medical Center. Our geography is a tremendous intellectual resource-there are few square miles in the world that offer so much to students and faculty in terms of sharing an intellectual heritage and expanding our knowledge and understanding-and are physically human in scale, historic in form and texture, and aesthetically inspiring.  We need to focus on enhancing the quality of the experience while protecting this legacy.

Quality is directly related to the types of students we recruit and the faculty we appoint and promote and retain. In terms of students, we need always to aggressively seek to make certain that Dartmouth continue to have a strong, diverse applicant pool and matriculate the student body we want. I believe if we can retain the competitive position we are in now we will be very pleased-surely it would be hard to improve upon the quality of our student body and it may be impossible to improve upon their enthusiasm for the type of education Dartmouth offers.

This is not a question of standing pat: it is a profound challenge to continue to attract the strongest students in the country-and the world. I believe we do this by providing a clear commitment to their intellectual and residential experience and to having a competitive financial aid package. We have strengthened our financial aid twice in my administration and we are currently reviewing our ability to recruit here the most economically disadvantaged from among our admitted students. We all can attest that even as a strong faculty attracts the best students, so too do our students attract and energize our strong faculty.

In terms of faculty recruitment, we need to continue to monitor those areas where we have difficulty recruiting and aggressively address obstacles to our success.    Competitive compensation and start-up packages are critical elements to this. We worked closely with Dean Gazzaniga on these priorities last year, and we will continue to work on them with Dean Folt and her colleagues. Last spring, following consultation with the Committee on the Faculty, and despite real budget pressures, we augmented the faculty compensation pool with an additional million dollars.

This amount sought to meet in a single year our stated goal of bringing our median compensation for the three ranks to the median of our comparison group of schools. Whether we actually succeeded in that goal will be clear this winter when we receive the comparative data that we use for this purpose. It really depends on what the other schools did-but we cannot afford to lag our peers in this respect. We also attempted last year to respond to the priority items identified by the faculty committee on priorities. 

Our goal has been to increase the size of the Arts and Sciences faculty by 10 percent.  We are half way to this objective and we intend to meet it in the next few years. One of the ongoing discussions about allocation of faculty slots has to do with enrollment pressures. 

These are particularly intense in several departments and I know the Dean intends to work to reduce some of this pressure. We do need to meet the current needs and interests of our students. I also believe that growth of the faculty has to be informed as well by other academic and strategic considerations. Dean Folt and the associate deans have initiated discussions about the best ways to invest these critical resources. We need all think strategically in this regard and we all need focus on better and stronger.  Our intellectual future cannot be shaped simply by current enrollment patterns. Types of classes, structure and sequence of the major, and departmental enrollment limits all affect the experience of students and the allocation of our FTEs. I urge a fuller discussion of ways to enrich student opportunities and maximize our limited resources.

Further, I believe it would be an opportune time to consider initiating another round of departmental reviews, attaching a priority at the outset those departments who may seek the benefits of this type of process and consultation.

In October of 1998, in my first report to you, I said, "My commitment to you is to work to improve more the opportunities for your scholarship as you work to assure our continued strength as a teaching institution." I made clear that as long as you did not let up on the teaching commitment that defines Dartmouth I would work to advance your scholarship and creative projects. You have more than lived up to this compact. While we have work to do, Dartmouth students are substantially satisfied with their academic experience. I met with a group of faculty last spring where I shared some concerns that some of the measures we had traditionally used to demonstrate this were not as strong as they had been.

I am pleased that the senior survey conducted last June showed substantial improvement in student satisfaction. The class of 2004 was particularly satisfied with the access that they have to faculty and with courses in their major. Dartmouth faculty have always exhibited a dual passion for both teaching and scholarship -the subcommittee on priorities wrote in 2001,  "The faculty embrace the view that Dartmouth's claim to distinction rests on the idea that it is a place where research and teaching meet in unique ways." This culture is what distinguishes us as an institution and is what makes a Dartmouth education a transformative experience.  I am proud to be a member of a faculty that is so committed to enhancing this effort.

Students come here with the expectation that they will form close working relationships with faculty, they leave inspired by their experiences with you. Let me read to you from a letter I received just this past September:

As a graduate student, I've had the opportunity to speak with fellow graduate students from many of the top universities in the US and around the world. From these conversations, I am even more convinced that Dartmouth offers one of the very best undergraduate programs anywhere. The faculty are truly excellent and the emphasis on undergraduate education is unique in an institution of Dartmouth's caliber. 

Maintaining this claim to uniqueness while assuring that the caliber, the quality, is enhanced, this is our task.  And you do this well.  The commitment I made to you six years ago is a two-way obligation. Provost Scherr and I have agreed that it is important to invest more money in the teaching and research infrastructure, even as the campaign is just beginning and as we are coming out of some tight economic times.  This is an important time to act rather than to study and to think about acting. 

We have determined to support the purchase of critical new and replacement equipment in several departments.  In addition, this past summer we asked Dean Folt what things we might do in advance of the campaign kickoff that would better support your academic work now.  This consideration was in the context of our concern that the Carson Funds for computer purchase will be depleted after the next upgrade. 

Following discussions with her and the associate deans-and with the Committee on Priorities-the Provost and I, with the involvement and imaginative support of the Executive Vice President, have decided to link the Faculty Research and Professional Development Fund with computer upgrade funds.  Accordingly, we will increase the amount available to eligible Arts and Sciences faculty in the FRPDF by an additional $500 a year for each of three years, beginning in the current year.  This will result in the doubling of these funds to $3000 annually by 2006-07. (For those faculty who hold an endowed chair, the stipend will also increase by $500 a year to $5,000 in 2006-07.) Following your next upgrade under the Carson fund, you will use this account, using the same carryover options you currently have, to purchase your computers as well as to meet those professional and research expenses currently covered under the program. 

We have also responded to Dean Folt's request that we improve upon computer support for Arts and Science faculty. We have agreed to add two computer support persons this year. We also will increase support for off-campus programs in order to compensate for the erosion of actual financing for these as a result of inflation in our host countries and the unfavorable exchange rates of the last few years. These programs are such a distinguishing feature of the Dartmouth experience that we need to maintain, and selectively enhance, the College's support for the participating faculty and students. 

The Board of Trustees has made clear its support of our efforts to strengthen your work.  They have in fact established a small working group of trustees to identify ways in which the Board can be more involved in advancing our academic initiatives.  Leon Black will chair this group and he has already met with the Provost and the Dean of Faculty to discuss the ways in which the committee can become better informed about and more helpful to our academic work in the Arts and Sciences. 

Last year we took several steps to support the teaching responsibilities of faculty:  the establishment of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning and the Writing Program. I am grateful that Professors Tom Luxon and Tom Cormen agreed to provide the inaugural leadership of these respective programs. In response to student requests, we also worked to augment the advising system by adding a new position in the Dean of Faculty Office, filled by Cecilia Goposchkin. 

To further underline the commitment to effective teaching, Provost Scherr and I, following a discussion with the Committee on the Faculty, designated $200,000 of the supplemental compensation pool last year be directed specifically to those faculty who excel as teachers and mentors. While teaching and advising has always been part of the overall annual merit review the Deans undertake, this was in addition to that.  Dean Gazzaniga and his colleagues identified some 100 faculty to receive this additional salary increment. Provost Scherr and I intend to provide supplemental money again this year for this purpose.

I am pleased that the faculty has initiated discussions about the introduction of common teaching evaluations. Those departments who already do this are able to provide some important supplemental evidence at the time of merit reviews and for tenure, reappointment, and promotion processes. Individual faculty teaching accomplishments cannot be reduced to single numbers or metrics, but the absence of systematic assessments does complicate many of our shared efforts. I believe that we are alone among the Ivy schools in not having some common assessment methods.  I applaud the Student Assembly's efforts in this regard and I hope we can develop a common evaluation process.

Finally, in terms of the out-of-classroom experience, it is absolutely clear that this is a critical component of the learning environment here. In my first year as president the Board determined to attach a priority to strengthening the quality of student life at Dartmouth-by encouraging more diversity, more continuity, and a greater sense of shared community.  We also set out to provide more program support for student life and to build some long-needed facilities-and we are now advancing these priorities. I appreciate all that Dean Jim Larimore and his colleagues have done to move us to a more comprehensive residential program. 

Professors Ivy Schweitzer and Tom Luxon have contributed immensely to the success of the East Wheelock Cluster and we would like to think about where and how we can repeat that experience for students. We all need to work to engage more faculty with students in the collaborative work that is the cornerstone of a Dartmouth education.  

I have often spoken out on the importance of diversity to the Dartmouth experience. This is fundamentally an educational priority.  Students learn from other students-and for over eighty years it has been a Dartmouth principle that education is advanced by enrolling students from different backgrounds and experiences. Learning at Dartmouth must take full advantage of the diversity of our community.  In response to the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity three years ago, I asked Ozzie Harris to coordinate this effort.  I admire his accomplishments and thank him for all he has done. But we must recognize that advancing this work requires all of our support and collaboration-this is a shared institutional objective. And it is one that only is enhanced when our efforts to recruit a diverse faculty are successful.  We need to do better in the recruitment of faculty of color-never underestimate the power that you have as role models for our students.

Let me conclude my remarks by commenting on academic leadership.  I want to acknowledge and to thank Michael Gazzaniga for his efforts as Dean over the last two years-and as faculty member for many years-to make Dartmouth a stronger institution.  We will continue to enjoy the benefits of his effort. And I want to share with you my gratitude to Carol Folt for her willingness to serve as Dean for a two-year term. I know that the Committee on Organization and Policy is discussing the Dean's responsibilities as part of a broader consideration of faculty governance. I had encouraged the latter last year at this meeting and I stand prepared to assist your work in any way that would be appropriate.

I also want to thank Barry Scherr for his energetic and intelligent leadership in one of the key administrative positions at Dartmouth. The Provost serves all four faculties and oversees the major academic support activities-the library, computing services, the Hopkins Center, the Hood Museum, the Office of Sponsored Projects, the Dickey Center and the Montgomery Endowment. He coordinates strategic planning and is responsible for facilities planning and the budget committee and is the officer working directly with the Dean of the College office, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, and the Tucker Foundation.

As Barry completes four years in this position, he and I have agreed that it would be timely to initiate a review, as we do for each of the professional school deans and as the faculty does for the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.  In order to do this, I will write all faculty and selected officers shortly inviting your assessment of Barry's work. Upon receiving this input, I will meet with the chair of the Committee on Organization and Policy and with equivalent faculty representatives from each of the professional schools to discuss these reviews. I expect to conclude this process by early in the new year. I look forward to your input.

In closing, I would like to thank you all for the work that you do. Despite all of the complexity of Dartmouth as an institution, we need remember that our assignment and our purpose are really quite simple. If every day you understand a little more about those intellectual problems that engage you, if every day you draw satisfaction and energy from sharing with some of the finest students in the world your own enthusiasm for these matters, then every day Dartmouth is a stronger place. I affirm for you and pledge here that every day I and my colleagues in administration hope to find ways to advance this remarkable process. This continues to be our common purpose and our shared compact. I said at the outset of these remarks that the state of the College is stronger today than it ever has been-and this builds upon a position of strength. And we are not yet done. I would simply repeat here what I say every year to the first-year class at convocation:  we have work to do, you and I.  And now let us continue.

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