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The Strategic Planning Process

Shortly after my inauguration in 1998, I initiated a planning process to assess the College’s present condition and to develop a vision to guide us into the 21st century. This comprehensive initiative proceeded along several fronts and involved the efforts of a great many members of the Dartmouth community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues in the administration and across the four faculties for their dedication to this task and this College. There has been no shortage of ambitious visions for Dartmouth’s future.

We began Dartmouth’s self-evaluation with a recognition of the school’s remarkable achievement since its last comprehensive plan was published in 1990 — at that time the most thorough strategic planning effort in the College’s history. [1] My predecessor, President James O. Freedman, moved the College successfully toward the vision described in that document and afforded us the opportunity to further explore innovation and creativity as we now embrace the new century. At my inauguration I made a commitment to strengthen Dartmouth as a place of learning marked by scholarship, teaching, and diversity. These characteristics define our community and shape our residential identity. The strategic imperatives set out in this document further these objectives and result from the comprehensive planning process we have undertaken.

Since 1998, Dartmouth has engaged in a concerted appraisal of its strengths and potential. The decennial reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges prompted us to engage in an exhaustive self-study in preparation for a site visit by a committee of outside academics chaired by Hugo Sonnenschein, then president of the University of Chicago. [2] In May of 2000, these efforts resulted in the College’s formal reaccreditation and public commendation for its extraordinary academic strength and reputation. While this external review was underway, the College intensified its internal efforts at self-examination and planning. The quality of student life and issues of institutional diversity were the subjects of separate initiatives by dedicated task forces, leading to the publication of reports in 2000 and 2001 respectively. [3]

Former Provost Susan Prager chaired a committee consisting of faculty members, the Dean of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences and the deans of each of the professional schools, the Dean of the College, and other administrators. The committee asked for and considered proposals from every part of the institution; the Arts and Sciences and the professional schools responded by conducting their own processes to generate proposals and ideas. Out of these fruitful deliberations emerged a draft academic plan that was presented to the General Faculty in November 2000 and discussed with faculty groups in the Arts and Sciences and professional schools. [4] While the academic plan was taking shape, a team of senior administrators under Provost Prager and, subsequently, Provost Barry Scherr, began working with Vice President and Treasurer Edwin Johnson to formulate an integrated financial plan to identify sources of capital and revenue to finance Dartmouth’s future. In a related process, Vice President for Development Carolyn Pelzel undertook an initiative to develop specific strategies for the College’s next capital campaign.

As an important step in our strategic plan, we also reviewed our assumptions about institutional size. The undergraduate student body at Dartmouth is smaller than those of many of our peer institutions, and we have a healthy admissions pool from which we could clearly admit more students without having a negative impact on the overall quality of the class. We determined not to increase the size of the undergraduate college, however, for we recognize that Dartmouth’s strength derives in large part from the intimate scale of the undergraduate college. But we also acknowledge that our small graduate programs could benefit from moderate expansion in their student bodies. Consequently, the Tuck School has expanded the size of its MBA program, and we are looking for a modest increase in the number of students enrolled in the graduate programs at the Medical School, the Thayer School of Engineering, and the Arts and Sciences.

We also reviewed our calendar of operations. In April 2000, the Trustees requested an assessment of the feasibility and cost of adopting a nine-month academic calendar to replace the year-round "D-plan" that has served the College for the past 30 years. Year-round operation offers efficiencies in terms of facilities use and scheduling flexibility, as well as intellectual advantages to our students and faculty. But we recognize that these benefits come at the cost of academic and social discontinuities and unrelenting demands on our physical plant. In response to the Board’s mandate, the Calendar Working Group prepared an analysis of the consequences of changing the current calendar. [5] On the basis of that analysis, the Trustees concluded that adopting a nine-month calendar might be feasible, but that the costs associated with additional facilities and administrative staff to accommodate the increase in enrollment during the non-summer terms would be too great to commit to at this time. Moreover, the benefits of the D-plan continue to be persuasive. The Trustees therefore charged the administration with making year-round operations work more effectively by encouraging greater continuity within this system.

These multiple interrelated efforts from 1998 to the present are the result of countless hours of meetings and discussions involving numerous senior administrators, faculty, alumni/ae, and students. While each of these evaluation and planning initiatives stands alone, each also necessarily informs the others as we weave them together to articulate a clear set of institutional priorities and a single integrated financial plan. As we emerge from this process of strategic planning, we do so with a heightened awareness of Dartmouth’s singular progress and outstanding potential.

The discussions and deliberations that we have engaged in regarding the academic plan helped us identify our key strengths, opportunities, and needs. They also helped us identify a set of finely balanced characteristics that currently define Dartmouth. These include:

  • recognizing the critical place of the undergraduate liberal arts at the College, while also advancing the work of the professional schools and the graduate programs;

  • enhancing support for scholarship, while never losing sight of the central role of teaching;

  • assuring the central integrity of academic departments and schools, while enabling the growing potential for interdisciplinary opportunities and activities that cross school and departmental boundaries;

  • recognizing and addressing the needs of various separate interests within this diverse community, while also advancing the concept of a shared purpose and common experience.

With our strengths and character firmly in mind, we can move forward with setting our priorities for the years ahead. We must be guided by our core values while we build on our historic strengths — yet we also must be vigilant in identifying new opportunities that are right for Dartmouth.

[1] Final Report of the Planning Steering Committee (October 1990).

[2] Report on the Institutional Self Study (October 1999); Report of the Evaluation Team Representing the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Dartmouth College, prepared after study of the institution's self-evaluation report and campus site visit October 24 - 27, 1999 (Fall 2000).

[3] Recommendations Submitted to the Board of Trustees by the Committee on the Student Life Initiative (January 10, 2000); Statement from the Board of Trustees (April 19, 2000); Report of the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity (June 2001).

[4] Preliminary Report of the Committee on Academic Planning (October 30, 2000); Report of the Faculty Response to the "Academic Planning Document" from the Subcommittee on Priorities (March 29, 2001).

[5] Replacing the D-Plan with a Nine-Month Academic Calendar: A Feasibility Study by the Calendar Working Group (August 2000).

August 2002

© 2002 Trustees of Dartmouth College