Forever New: A Ten Year Report


Photo of President Wright

This ten-year report provides me with the opportunity to reflect on changes and continuities, progress toward goals, and projects outstanding. As this decade marker coincides with my final year in the presidency, I am not only interested in reporting on the state of the College but also am drawn inevitably into reflecting upon nearly 40 years at Dartmouth.

The Dartmouth that I came to in 1969 was a different school in so many ways from Dartmouth today. It was a school with 3,200 undergraduates, all men of course, and probably less than 10 percent students of color and fewer than 100 international students. We were on a conventional nine-month calendar, with Saturday classes. There were only a few off-campus programs—essentially language instruction programs conducted in Western Europe. The three professional schools were still called “affiliated” schools. Most faculty lived in Hanover and largely spent their days in their offices or laboratories and were avuncular advisors to students on all matters, academic and personal.

Colleges, including Dartmouth, had recently suspended parietal rules—in loco parentis was shelved. There was little discussion about accommodating physical disabilities or mental health problems, and there was not much counseling to assist students dealing with issues of addiction, sexuality, and sexual orientation. Few institutions, including Dartmouth, had a sense of an institutional responsibility for assisting these students. Few had even thought about concerns such as learning disabilities and eating disorders.

Today Dartmouth is a far richer, less homogeneous place, one that operates around the year and around the world, and our affiliated schools have become exceptional professional schools. Dartmouth functions in an environment that is more laden with governmental regulations and demands, with a range of compliance restrictions, with governmental oversight defining some basic relationships between the College and its students. We are part of a global society and subject to the patterns of a global economy.

I am reminded that while we have experienced significant changes in the last 40 years, this is but one period of change in the College’s 240-year history—a legacy only a handful of institutions can claim. A few years ago, the consulting group Booz Allen Hamilton completed a report on the world’s “enduring” institutions. They identified ten institutions in five different categories. In education, Dartmouth was cited along with Oxford University. The Booz Allen Hamilton definition of “enduring” was about more than longevity, about more than hanging around. They focused on institutions that have managed to adapt fully to a changing world, to changing expectations, and still remain dedicated to their purpose and principles. This description certainly fits with my vision and my experience of Dartmouth.

The Dartmouth that I came to in 1969 was a place that quickly drew me in—I was struck by the sense of community, of belonging, of friendship, and of place. I was energized by an institution whose culture and values encouraged—insisted upon—a learning environment in which students and faculty collaborated and engaged with each other. These are deeply rooted Dartmouth values and they continue to define the College today, despite the changes of a world that is never still.

It is essential for Dartmouth to remain true to purpose in order to demonstrate that a real sense of community is not dependent upon a homogeneous community. Our sense of shared mission and values is enhanced by our rich diversity. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni/ae, although different in background and experience and belief, can nonetheless share in a common sense of purpose—and sustain a place that is inclusive, welcoming, and enabling, where friendships are deep and sustaining. Dartmouth demonstrates that faculty can excel as professionals who are defining their fields and who are also committed to their roles as teachers. The world we live in will continue to shift, and Dartmouth must be prepared to respond to these changes. We will do so by assuming responsibility for what I call our “true endowment” and by holding firmly to our heritage and to our purpose.

Dartmouth is an enduring institution because of this “true endowment.” Going far beyond just the size of our financial endowment, it includes those resources that enable the College’s overall strength and our ability to provide an education that is consistently relevant. At the beginning of my presidency, with the Board of Trustees’ approval, I set forth a strategic plan for the College. While the plan included many specific objectives, the overarching priority was the protection and strengthening of this comprehensive endowment.

At the core of the true endowment is the quality of Dartmouth’s faculty. We must always work to protect Dartmouth’s ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and enable their work. Over the last ten years we have focused on providing competitive compensation, growing and diversifying the faculty to position us on the boundary of new fields of study, sharing and facilitating commitment to academic excellence, and providing students opportunities to work alongside faculty in a collaborative environment.

The quality of the student body must continue to be exceptional. We seek to attract students who are among the most academically accomplished and the most creative and interesting of their generation. To attract our first choice of students we need to provide financial aid that is competitive and enables all students to enjoy the full range of opportunities that are part of the Dartmouth educational experience. As the first member of my family to attend college, I remember well the loans I was still repaying when I came to Dartmouth as a new faculty member. From the outset, increasing our support for financial aid has been one of the highest priorities of my presidency.

The Board and I made a commitment to invest in the out-of-classroom experience for students. The opportunity to learn from and with other students is an invaluable part of a student’s Dartmouth experience. Ensuring that Dartmouth remains a residential campus, with a range of dining and housing options to suit many needs, was critically important. Simultaneously, we sought to provide a broader range of social and recreational choices, including inexpensive access to performances, free tickets to athletic events, and increased support for student organizations.

I would also note that the true endowment includes our graduates. President Ernest Martin Hopkins referred to alumni as the “living endowment” of the College. Alumni are not only the key contributors to our $1.3 billion Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience, but they generously serve and advise a range of programs—on and off campus—and their pride and love for Dartmouth carries the good word of the College far beyond the Hanover plain. Over the last decade we have worked to increase communication between the College and alumni/ae and have introduced more opportunities to engage alumni/ae with students and faculty.

Our physical campus is an instrumental part of our success, and we carefully identified needs for deferred maintenance and new buildings before undertaking a significant period of construction. Dartmouth’s campus is beautiful. It is inviting and human in scale, and our facilities enable the strongest faculty and the strongest students to do their strongest work.

Finally, the true endowment includes a committed administrative team. They support the work of faculty, students, and alumni/ae; care for our physical plant; and implement our operational systems. We have a talented staff here—one that gives its best to advance our mission and to care for all members of this community. In the last ten years, we have not only invested in the resources they need to do their jobs well, but have also worked to make Dartmouth an employer of choice.

As I completed drafting this report, we were just commencing a major budget study in order to reduce expenses significantly due to the worldwide economic downturn in 2008. We will take whatever steps are necessary to protect Dartmouth, continuing to be fiscally responsible in our current operations and future planning. I have added commentary on some of these requirements in the sections that follow. As we move forward we need to remember that Dartmouth’s greatest treasures are those component parts that make up the true endowment at this historic institution.

There is an important corollary to protecting and advancing this true endowment. We must not only be sure of our priorities and our resources but also be clear about the purpose for which they exist and what values should guide us. In 2006 I initiated a series of conversations in which I spoke with faculty, students, staff, alumni/ae, trustees, and others about the core values and mission of Dartmouth. It was a productive process—one that resulted in a mission statement and description of shared values and enduring legacy that the Board approved. I turn to the statement often and urge others to treat it as a living document. It summarizes well our collective vision for this College and the priorities that have shaped my presidency. Indeed, this statement of purpose and values was previewed in my inaugural address ten years ago and in the vision and commitment of so many others over the years.

We have accomplished a great deal in the last ten years, and as a result Dartmouth is better equipped to meet the needs of the next generation of students and faculty. No single document can capture all of the initiatives we have carried out, nor all of the challenges we have faced. This report does, however, mark the remarkable progress made across the institution and underscores that the state of the College is strong.

Forever NewA Ten Year Report