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In Forums and Meetings, Trustees Hear the Community’s Hopes for the College’sNext President

During an open forum on April 14 for students on Dartmouth’s presidential search, Lee Cooper ’09 imagined the job interview for the College’s 17th president. “What’s your hard sell?” he asked Trustees Ed Haldeman Jr. ’70 and Al Mulley ’70. After noting Dartmouth’s reputation and strengths, Haldeman said, “the students.”

mulley and students
Trustee and Search Committee Chair Al Mulley '70 (right) talks after the student forum with Molly Bode '09 (left) and Anne Kasitaza '08 (center.)

The exchange between Cooper and Haldeman was one of dozens that took place over the past few days as the two Trustees hosted a series of public meetings April 14 and 15 on the search for Dartmouth’s next president. In sessions for students, alumni, and staff —as well as a dinner for faculty members — they engaged the community in conversations about the most important qualities the search committee should look for in the College’s next leader. “Ask anything that’s on your minds,” Haldeman said at the session for students, echoing his words at the earlier meeting for staff and the subsequent forum for alumni. “We want to get your input early in the process.” Mulley added, “There isn’t a person in this room that doesn’t want to see a successful search that will make Dartmouth an even stronger institution than it is now.”

Haldeman, CEO of Putnam Investments, is Chair of the Dartmouth Board and Mulley, Chief of the General Medicine Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, will head the search committee, whose members will be announced in June. The sessions for students, staff, and alumni were recorded and will be shared with the entire Board of Trustees. Feedback generated through the meetings, together with responses that come in via the website and through the mail, will be considered as the Board develops a “Statement of Leadership Criteria” to guide the presidential search committee’s work.

More than 70 Upper Valley Dartmouth alumni gathered in Dartmouth 105 to meet with the Trustees, and about 50 students and 75 administrators attended meetings the previous day in Alumni Hall. Mulley said the Trustees wanted to open up dialogue about the presidential search, adding, “Our purpose is to listen.”

Chair of the faculty Committee on Priorities (COP) Deborah Nichols said, “The faculty were very, very pleased to have the opportunity to meet the trustees face to face. We had a very candid discussion about the search process.” Nichols, who holds the William J. Bryant 1925 Professorship of Anthropology, said that the relationship between teaching and research was “a significant topic of conversation during our discussion. Faculty members don't feel a tension between those two things, in fact they feel teaching is enhanced by research. But some alumni do and express concerns about it.” Nichols convened the COP the morning after dinner with the two Trustees and she said, “faculty members who were there felt very confident. We were very impressed with Ed Haldeman and Al Mulley. People walked out with a sense that we’ll have a strong search, and that both Ed and Al are well-versed in the issues.”

alumnus speaking
David Bradley '58, Tuck '59, speaks during the forum for local alumni.

“In some senses,” said Haldeman at the session for administrators, “it’s too early for us to have any meetings. But we wanted to visit with you early in the process, before we make many decisions.” He explained that choosing a president was the single most important thing a Board of Trustees does. “If we get that right, and I’m sure we will, Dartmouth has a very bright future.”

While the forums were held separately, common themes emerged from all constituent groups. Sustainability was one. Margaret Fanning, Thayer ’79, who works at Thayer School of Engineering, said, “climate change is the greatest challenge our species has ever faced.” At the forum for administrators, she urged the Board to consider how Dartmouth’s next president would take up the challenge as an educational issue and also as a matter of institutional sustainability. Speaking at the student session, Nick Devonshire ’11 asked how “green” Dartmouth’s next president would be, while Thomas Glazer ’08 suggested that the new president commit to reducing the College’s carbon footprint. “Climate change and environmental issues are a major concern for today’s young people,” he said.

Diversity was also very much on the minds of members of the campus and alumni communities. Bill Montgomery ’52 spoke at the alumni forum on how that might manifest itself during the search itself. “The credibility of the decision will be based on the perception of the diversity of the committee, and it will influence not only the success of the committee’s work, but also the perception of its success.” Francis Vernon ’10, who spent the last term on a Language Study Abroad program in Mexico, said she wants Dartmouth to integrate its diverse communities, and in the process strengthen global opportunities for students. “We should think about how to develop a global perspective from Hanover, and then take that throughout the world.”

Raymond Rodriguez ’09 said that a new leader should make an increased dedication to diversity “one of his or her priorities, as the world becomes more interconnected.” At the staff forum, Nels Armstrong ’71, special assistant to the president said, “We’re very lucky to be able to talk about a top-notch faculty, wonderful students, and dedicated alumni. They’re talked about with reverence.” He was concerned, though, that staff turnout had not been larger. “I wonder if that’s because they’re not recognized as much as those other groups.” Haldeman said he agreed, adding, “That’s why we’re holding this session first.”

crady and trustees
Dean of the College Thomas Crady (left) with Trustees Al Mulley (center) and Ed Haldeman (right) at the session with students.

Rabbi Moshe Gray, who oversees the Chabad Jewish community in the area, remarked that Dartmouth had done a wonderful job of providing more resources for religious and spiritual life, citing the recent 10th anniversary of the Roth Center of Jewish Life as an example. He said that student interest in spiritual growth was increasing and that there were some 28 different groups on campus, most of them in need of more space.

Haldeman said that the Board, working with President Wright, had revised Dartmouth’s mission statement within the past year and that diversity was one of the most important priorities in its section on core values.

Forum attendees also held common views on Dartmouth’s prominence, its academic strength, and the vitality of its programs. Jim Weinstein A&S Grad ’95, DMS ’95 said that the search committee should find a President who would focus on faculty recruitment and retention, facilities, and opportunities for Dartmouth to engage the wider world. Mulley observed that a candidate’s past experience would provide telling information on his or her abilities. On faculty recruitment and retention, Haldeman referred to the previous evening’s meetings with faculty members. “We know that it is a competitive world for faculty,” he said. Dartmouth competes to recruit “the very best, and a narrow subset of the very best,” scholars who are at the cutting edge of their fields, who love to teach, and are good at it. The College’s next president, he suggested, will need to be someone who can be proactive about recruiting and retaining faculty, someone who can “represent to them the great advantage of coming to Dartmouth.”

Stephanie Lee ’11 said that Dartmouth should ensure that it maintains its academic prestige, and the new president should make hiring the best professors a high priority. Graduate student Sara Walker asked that Trustees keep graduate students in mind, and a Ph.D. student, joking that he will be at Dartmouth until 2014, asked that the College dedicate more resources to research programs. In response to a question about the balance between undergraduate and graduate education, Mulley said the “dichotomy about graduate education and research on the one hand versus undergraduate education is a false dichotomy. Having Dartmouth College be a leader in undergraduate education, with a good deal of that leadership reflecting the fact that it’s an institution that generates knowledge as well as transmits knowledge, is what we’re about.”

student
Nick Devonshire ’11 asked how "green" Dartmouth's next president will be.

Mike Amico ’07, attended the staff forum as an employee of the Hopkins Center. “Dartmouth needs a president who will maintain the College’s national prominence, while also taking positions on important issues—those pertinent to Dartmouth and those that affect all of higher education,” he said, adding, “We also need someone who can use Dartmouth’s history and traditions to inform its future, and someone who has been involved in higher education broadly—both at Dartmouth and around the world.”

Everyone at the forums expressed high hopes that the committee would find a president who would understand Dartmouth and appreciate its distinctiveness. John Engelman ’68, referring to the title of Jean Kemeny’s [wife of former President John Kemeny] book, It’s Different at Dartmouth, asked how the search committee would balance the desire to have a leader who understands what makes Dartmouth unique with the benefits of bringing in someone with a fresh perspective.

Mulley said there are advantages to both, adding that the search committee will “not decide who’s in or who’s out on any single attribute.” Rather, the goal is to “identify a whole set of desirable attributes,” and then look for their match in a leader for the College. And it will be important, he said, “that we know that they know the importance of Dartmouth’s rich history.”

“This is a complicated institution at a complicated time,” said Carey Heckman ’76, “a time when Dartmouth needs a leader with humility who can inspire personal trust.” John Hatheway ’48, Tuck ’50, offered a list of qualities he felt necessary in order to rise to Dartmouth’s challenges as well as its opportunities. Those qualities, said Hatheway, include “being open minded, a good listener, accessible to all constituents, a good communicator, and the ability to gain respect from all segments of the community. That’s a tough task,” he said, “in the current fractious environment.” Hatheway was referring to the response by some alumni to the College’s planned expansion of its Board of Trustees.

Tyler Grace ’11, at the student forum, asked how a new president might end some of the tension that exists between some alumni groups and the administration. “Jim Wright has worked hard to bring alumni together,” responded Haldeman. “Clearly the new president will understand that there are some issues that will divide alumni but will also understand that passion and commitment is a huge asset to the College.”

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Dartmouth staff members listen to comments at the first campus meeting on Monday, April 14.

“Dartmouth is a privileged and wonderful place to be,” said Brian Kunz, assistant director of outdoor programs, at the staff forum. Commenting on Dartmouth’s increasing selectivity for students and this year’s low acceptance rate for the Class of 2012, he wondered if there could be an expansion of the undergraduate student body to provide more young people the opportunity to study at Dartmouth. He also said that he hopes that the new president will have an appreciation of Dartmouth’s “sense of place.” Buddy Teevens ’79, head football coach, drew an analogy from his experience with recruiting, observing that “fit” matters in evaluating who comes to Dartmouth. The College needs a leader, he suggested, who truly appreciates Dartmouth’s location and all it has to offer.

Community also emerged as a theme during the meetings. “The town of Hanover is part of the Dartmouth community,” said Bill Baschnegel ’62. “There are stresses and strains between neighbors,” he pointed out. The College’s leader should be conscious of them and should find ways for College and town to work as “true neighbors in a cooperative venture.” Joannie Wiredu ’92, a recruiter for Human Resources, spoke about the need to deepen the concept of diversity at the College and in the Upper Valley. “My job,” she said, “is to go out and tell people what a great place Dartmouth is to work at. We need to help prepare the Upper Valley community to become more diverse and engaging.”

Library employee Barbara Sterling said that the College might provide more support for staff members who serve in volunteer roles in the Upper Valley. She also commented on the changing nature of her job and voiced concern about compensation. Haldeman responded by saying that it was clear that the Board needed to find a president who is not only a visionary but also a skilled manager. “We have to find someone who’s good at figuring out how to allocate the resources we have.”

Speaking to issues of community among students, Kaili Lambe ’09 told the Trustees, “As a member of a Greek letter community, I hope you will look for someone who has an opinion on Greek life or someone who might look to expand social options on campus.” Nafeesa Remtilla ’09, newly elected Student Assembly vice president, said she hoped the new president would address some gender equality issues, while Anne Kasitaza '08 asked that the College be more vigilant about consistently communicating with students.

martha
Martha Beattie ’76 said a new president should be “an intellectual and a visionary, but also someone who can bring and inspire excellence in management.”

There was also broad agreement on how Dartmouth’s next chapter would build upon President James Wright’s legacy. Barry Harwick ’77 praised Wright’s daily presence among the students, and his visibility, together with his wife, Susan, as spectators at athletic events. Haldeman remarked how much the students and their parents appreciate that support from the Wrights, noting they have set a tough standard for the next president to follow. Tim Duggan, assistant director of the Collis Center and student activities cited the need for a new student center. Haldeman said he was glad to have input on this subject and pointed to the work President Wright has done since taking office in 1998 to enhance the Dartmouth campus. “One of the things we can be grateful for is the wonderful condition of the College’s physical plant. We have work to do, but Jim Wright’s legacy is a great one in terms of the growth of this campus.”

Jerry Mitchell ’51, Tuck ’55 praised Presidents Dickey and Wright for their “presence everywhere,” and advocated for a leader who would be “part of the community and part of the College,” engaged with the town and the student body.

And of course, everyone wants a president who can manage all of Dartmouth’s priorities.

Rex Morey ’99 of alumni relations encouraged the Trustees and the search committee to look at “the whole candidate, not just his or her professional achievements.” Martha Beattie ’76 said, “I dream of a president of ideas, and a president of structure,” she said, “an intellectual and a visionary, but also someone who can bring and inspire excellence in management.”

bean
Safety and Security Officer William Bean pointed out that all staff--regardless of their jobs--serve in the role of teachers in interacting with Dartmouth's students.

While still early, Haldeman and Mulley encouraged forum attendees to speak about the search process, and to do so with candor. Nora Yasumura, adviser to Asian students, said that she appreciated the opportunity to be at the forum and was pleased that the Trustees had provided other members of the campus community with a way to provide feedback online and through alternative methods. “But the cynical part of me,” she said, “thinks it doesn’t matter what I think or say. So I really hope that the search process ensures that as many people as possible will be involved, and I hope the people who serve on the search committee are drawn from a wide variety of levels at the College.”

William Bean, who works the third shift in Safety and Security, seemed to capture the core of what everyone was thinking in his remarks at the staff forum. “Everyone at Dartmouth serves an educational role,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we do. I hope the next president continues to look at everyone at the College, from deans and vice presidents to union personnel, because everyone here makes Dartmouth look better.”

By LAUREL STAVIS, STEVEN J. SMITH, KELLY SEAMAN

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08