Due to printing schedules, I need to sign off on this report at Thanksgiving. While this seems premature given the dynamics of this year, I also acknowledge that it is an appropriate time for closure: All of us at Dartmouth have much for which we are thankful. This is also an ironic time—I must submit a report summarizing the work of the last decade at the very moment we are undertaking a major expense reduction in response to the economic downturn. Over the next six months I will need to preside over a dramatic postscript to this report.
The further irony is that, superficially at least, so many of the economic forces and institutional challenges of the current time mirror those that confronted Dartmouth when I came here 40 years ago. At that time the budget was significantly in the red because President John Dickey and the Board had made a major commitment to enhance financial aid and to strengthen the faculty. A sharp decline of the stock market in the late 1960s significantly reduced endowment support for these initiatives.
My reflection on that experience is not aimed at mitigating this situation. I don’t think of my professional field of history as being a palliative one, where we seek to ease our own pain and discomfort by finding past examples of equal or greater pain and discomfort. History provides an opportunity to place our own lives in context and to understand better the growth of institutions and of human society. My understanding is that Dartmouth’s historic strength is not the result of ever having surplus financial resources, but instead is the result of having remarkable human wealth in students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, parents, and friends—what I have described as the true endowment of Dartmouth. This wealth will sustain Dartmouth through yet another economic downturn.
Just this past week I had several meetings regarding the budget and the steps we will need to undertake in order to reduce expenses. We will be consulting widely and seeking input on this. It is depressing but necessary work. It is also the case that in recent days I have met with students to talk about a service project, was delighted to see a number of faculty recognized for their research, including seven Fulbright scholarships, congratulated a senior for her Rhodes scholarship, wrote several graduates to salute their accomplishments, met with alumni/ae and parents, watched the men’s soccer team win an NCAA playoff game, and met with Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris ’84 and learned of the increase in the number and the strength of the pool of applicants for the Class of 2013. Dartmouth is well—and will continue to be. The 17th president of Dartmouth will be a lucky person—as I have been.
There is no way I can identify all of those individuals I would like to thank. I would simply say that both Susan and I have been privileged to have colleagues and friends who have made a difference for Dartmouth—and for us. But now this sounds more like goodbye than is warranted. We have a full agenda in front of us. So instead of farewell let me sound the call that I have used at Convocation for the last decade: We have work to do, you and I. Let us begin.
I welcome your good company in this good effort.
November 27, 2008