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>  News Releases >   2008 >   February

Dartmouth President James Wright announces intention to step down as president in June, 2009

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 02/04/08 • Roland Adams • (603) 646-3661

Wright’s Tenure Distinguished by Improved Undergraduate Experience, Expanded Faculty, Increased Student Aid, Revitalized Campus, and Strengthened Financial Position
Wright to Focus in His Remaining Time on Completing Capital Campaign, Continuing Faculty Expansion, Launching Planned Facilities Construction, and Academic Initiatives

Dartmouth College announced today that James Wright, the College’s 16th President, has informed the Board of Trustees of his intention to step down as President of the College in June 2009, after 11 years as President and 40 years at Dartmouth.

During his tenure, Wright has led the College’s efforts to enhance the student and academic experience, expand the size and stature of the College’s faculty, increase the quality and diversity of the student body, build and renovate campus facilities, and strengthen Dartmouth’s financial resources – including through the current “Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience,” which last month announced that it had raised more than $1 billion toward its $1.3 billion goal.

Ed Haldeman, Chair of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees, said, “Jim Wright has been a tireless advocate for Dartmouth, and thanks to his vision and exceptional leadership, Dartmouth has never been stronger than it is today. Over the past ten years, Jim has helped to strengthen the College’s academic programs and enhance the student experience to ensure Dartmouth remains the preeminent undergraduate liberal arts college in the country. On behalf of the Board and the entire Dartmouth community, I want to thank Jim and his wife Susan for all they have done and will continue to do for Dartmouth and its students.”

Wright said, “Susan and I have been privileged to be a part of the Dartmouth community for nearly 40 years, but I believe that every institution benefits over time from new leadership and fresh ideas. By June 2009, we will have made substantial progress towards achieving most of my strategic priorities, and after 11 years as president, I believe it will be the right time for a new president to assume leadership of Dartmouth.”

Wright said that completing his presidency in June 2009 will allow him to ensure a successful conclusion of several key initiatives, including the “Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience”; his plans to further expand the undergraduate faculty; groundbreaking for a new dining hall, the Class of 1953 Commons at the McLaughlin Cluster, the Visual Arts Center and the Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center; as well as several initiatives to further enrich the academic experience for Dartmouth students.

The Board of Trustees will discuss the search process for Dartmouth’s next President at its March meeting, and Haldeman noted that consultation with faculty, students, staff, and alumni would be a critical part of that process.

Wright to Expand Work on Veterans Education 

After stepping down in June 2009, Wright plans to expand his efforts to promote educational opportunities for wounded veterans, in addition to re-immersing himself in his academic field of American political history.  Wright conceived and helped raise funds for an American Council on Education (ACE) program to provide college counseling to veterans in military hospitals. He also has worked to extend the GI bill and will continue that work together with Senator Jim Webb of Virginia (D-VA) and other members of Congress. 

In 2005, Wright, a former U.S. Marine, began a series of visits to U.S. military medical facilities in Washington, D.C., and Maryland to meet with Marines and other U.S. military personnel who had been wounded in the course of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He encouraged them to continue their educations, and he subsequently led the creation and funding of an educational counseling program for wounded U.S. veterans that is now being offered through the American Council on Education. He has been honored for this work by the New England Council, which named him 2007 New Englander of the Year, and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation (MCSF), which has selected him to receive its 2008 Semper Fidelis Award, presented each year to an outstanding American for patriotic service.

Major Achievements during President Wright’s Tenure

By virtually every measure, Dartmouth College has made substantial progress under Wright’s stewardship, particularly in increasing the quality and diversity of the student body, enhancing the student and academic experience, expanding the size and stature of the faculty, building and renovating Dartmouth’s facilities and strengthening the College’s financial resources.  Indeed, Dartmouth was named one of ten “World’s Most Enduring Institutions” by Booz Allen Hamilton in 2004 – one of only two educational institutions in the world to be recognized with that honor.

Enriching the Campus Community

During Wright’s tenure, Dartmouth has become more selective and more diverse, while maintaining its reputation as one of the most prestigious undergraduate institutions in the world. Since 1998, the applicant pool has grown by 60 percent to more than 16,000 in the current year.

Consistent with Dartmouth’s belief that the intellectual and educational environment is strengthened by having a diverse student population, Dartmouth increased students of color at the College from 20 percent in 1998 to more than 30 percent today and the percentage of international students from 4 percent to almost 9 percent in the Class of 2011. The number of Native American students attending the College also is at an all-time high – and is the highest in the Ivy League.

Dartmouth also has one of the most economically diverse student bodies in the Ivy League – with 13 percent comprised of individuals who are the first in their family to attend college and 14 percent receiving Pell Grants, a federal grant for low-income students. 

To ensure that Dartmouth continues attracting the most talented students regardless of their economic situation, Wright has placed a high priority on improving the College’s financial aid program. Dartmouth has increased the amount of money spent on undergraduate financial aid from $24.5 million in 1998 to more than $61 million in 2008 – a 250 percent increase – with an additional $10 million next year.  During that time, the percentage of students on financial aid also increased from 42 percent to 48 percent. On Jan. 22, Wright announced a series of major new initiatives to further enhance the College’s financial aid program including eliminating tuition for undergraduates from families with incomes below $75,000, extending the need-blind admissions program to international students, and eliminating loans.

Wright has enhanced the diversity of Dartmouth’s faculty and staff. The College has the highest percentage of tenured women faculty in the Ivy League and among the highest percentage of faculty of color. Wright also appointed Josie Harper, the first woman Athletic Director in the Ivy League. In 2001, Wright created a senior-level position in his administration responsible for diversity efforts and in 2007 appointed a Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity.

Enhancing the Student and Academic Experience

Throughout his tenure, Wright has focused on enhancing the student experience and academic programs.  Under his leadership, the College:

  • Expanded class offerings to increase the percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students from 57 percent to 64 percent, while reducing classes with more than 50 students from 11 percent to 8 percent. 
  • Improved interdisciplinary cooperation among departments and schools, including through the formation of multidisciplinary centers and programs – such as the Fannie and Alan Leslie Center for the Humanities, the William F. Achtmeyer Center for Global Leadership, and the Institute for Security Technology Studies. Additionally, the College last week announced the creation of the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric to coordinate the teaching of writing and speech to undergraduates.
  • Increased off-campus programs from 36 in 1998 to 44 today. Dartmouth now leads the Ivy League in the number of students studying abroad.
  • Doubled the athletics budget, while building and renovating a range of athletic facilities across campus.
  • Increased the number of students living on campus from 85 percent to more than 90 percent. 
  • Introduced the first wireless campus computing network among its peer institutions and continues to be at the forefront of using technology in the classroom as well as cyber-security.

Student satisfaction has increased with 91 percent of students in 2006 saying they were satisfied with their undergraduate education.  Over the same period, the percentage of alumni polled who would recommend their alma mater jumped from 79 percent to 85 percent.

Expanding the Size and Stature of the Faculty

Wright’s sharp focus on academics has resulted in significant growth in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, with the number of authorized tenure-track positions growing from 352 to 411. These investments have helped lower the student-faculty ratio to 8 to 1 this year, from 10 to 1 in 1998. 

The professional school faculties have also grown under Wright. The Tuck School of Business has increased from 37 faculty lines to 55, and the Thayer School of Engineering faculty has increased from 33 to 43. Both have plans for further expansion. Dartmouth Medical School also has increased its faculty significantly. Wright has fostered closer collaboration across interdisciplinary and school boundaries, which has resulted in new degree programs and courses of study — including the Masters of Engineering Management.

To increase support and resources for Dartmouth’s faculty, the College has significantly enhanced the Arts and Sciences faculty budget, met the faculty compensation goals, and created a dedicated faculty compensation pool that is earmarked for recognizing excellent teaching.  Research funding across the institution has more than doubled since 1998 to $185 million. In 2003, Dartmouth opened the Center for the Advancement of Learning to provide its faculty with additional support for their teaching. Dartmouth continues to be recognized for the excellence and innovation of its faculty as teachers and scholars. Earlier this year, the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) recognized Dartmouth as one of the best places for junior faculty to work in American higher education.

Building and Renovating Campus Facilities

The College has invested approximately $1.1 billion in state-of-the-art facilities during the Wright administration, with academic buildings including the Berry and Rauner Special Collections Libraries, Carson Hall, Moore Hall, Kemeny Hall, and the Haldeman Center; nine residence halls (Berry, Bildner, Byrne II, Goldstein, Rauner, and Thomas halls in the McLaughlin Cluster, Fahey and McLane halls on Tuck Mall, and McCulloch Hall in the Wheelock Cluster); new social space including Occom Commons; graduate student housing on Park Street and Sachem Village; faculty housing on Park and Wheelock Streets and Grasse Road.  The College also expanded Wilder Hall and renovated Silsby Hall and Baker Library.

New professional school facilities include the MacLean Engineering Sciences Center, Whittemore Hall at the Tuck School, and the Rubin building at Dartmouth Medical School. A Tuck School Living and Learning Center is currently under construction and a new research center, the C. Everett Koop Complex, which includes the Peter and Susan Williamson Translational Research building, is being planned for the Dartmouth Medical School. The College is in the advanced planning stage for a Visual Arts Center and the Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center. Work on the Class of 1953 Commons at the McLaughlin Cluster and a new dining hall to replace Thayer Dining Hall will also begin in the coming months, pending final approvals and completion of plans.

The College also has built and renovated a number of athletic facilities under Wright’s watch.  These have included construction of the Floren Varsity Fieldhouse, the Burnham Soccer Facility, the McLane Family Lodge at the Dartmouth Skiway, the Scully-Fahey Field, the Boss Tennis Center and Gordon Pavilion, and the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse, as well as renovations to the Alumni Gymnasium, Memorial Field and Track, and the Hanover Country Club.

Enhancing Ties with the Wider Community

Under the Wright administration, Dartmouth has worked to strengthen ties between the College and its neighbors. To that end, the College worked with the Hanover Conservation Council to preserve 112 acres adjacent to Mink Brook and contributed almost $10 million to the Hanover School building project.  Many local high school students take classes at the College and thousands of community members benefit from performances at the Hopkins Center, exhibitions at the Hood Museum, lectures across campus, and athletic events. Dartmouth has cooperated in affordable housing projects with the local community and has worked to develop parts of the downtown in keeping with the character of the community. And in 2002, the College created a new position of Director of Community Relations.

Strengthening the College’s Financial Resources

During Wright’s tenure, both Dartmouth’s endowment and annual fundraising more than doubled. The College’s endowment grew from $1.6 billion in 1998 to $3.8 billion today. The Dartmouth College Fund grew from $20 million to $39 million in 2007. 

Wright also has spearheaded the “Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience”– the largest fundraising effort in College history.  During this campaign, the College has received 8 of the 10 largest gifts in its history as well as thousands of gifts from alumni, parents, faculty, students, staff and friends. The College also added 26 endowed professorships during Wright's tenure.

Biography of James Wright

Wright, 68, has served as the 16th President of Dartmouth College since his appointment on Aug. 1, 1998 and has been a member of the Dartmouth faculty and a Professor of History since 1969. Prior to serving as President, he served as Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Acting President of the College while President James O. Freedman was on sabbatical.

Wright, the first in his family to attend college, received a bachelor’s degree from Wisconsin State University-Platteville and a masters and doctoral degree in history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. An American historian, his teaching and research has focused on American political history and the history of the American West.

He is the author or editor of five books: The Galena Lead District: Federal Policy and Practices, 1824-1847 (1966); The West of the American People (1970); The Politics of Populism: Dissent in Colorado (1974); The Great Plains Experience: Readings in the History of a Region (1978); and The Progressive Yankees: Republican Reformers in New Hampshire (1987). He received a Social Science Research Council Grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Charles Warren Fellowship at Harvard.

Wright has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he is a member of the Organization of American Historians, and the Western History Association. He also serves on the College Board Commission on Access, Admissions and Success in Higher Education, the Sustainability Task Force of the Council on Competitiveness, and on the board of trustees of the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. Previously, he has been the president of the Ivy Council, a member of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, and a member of a special NCAA commission on athletics.

Wright is married to Susan DeBevoise Wright, who has served in various roles related to student life at Dartmouth since 1978 and is currently the Director of the Montgomery Endowment.  They have a daughter, two sons, and seven grandchildren.

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Note to Editors:  For additional reference, see also letters sent to the Dartmouth Community by President Wright and by Ed Haldeman, Chair of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees

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