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Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015

Remarks by President James Wright to Class Officers

September 16, 2004

Thank you ~ and let me add my welcome to those of others. It is great to have you here on campus. Susan and I see a lot of friends of a lot of years in the audience - men and women who have regularly taken on leadership roles. I salute you all. This is my opportunity to say thank you - thank you for the work you do for your class, thank you for the work you do for Dartmouth. I would also like to thank the Class Officers Executive Committee, Bill and Jim, for all the work they did to organize this meeting.

I love this time of year. The energy level on campus is inspiring. Yesterday afternoon the band marched around campus. Last week, Susan and I got over at 6:30 am to meet a group of first-year students leaving on their trip-they were very excited to be here - leaving on a DOC trip in a downpour. I have been over to football practice and spoke to the players and visited women's soccer practice. I think we are going to have a good year in each of these sports. Susan and I greeted first-year parents earlier this week and we had the first-class meeting for the '08s on Tuesday and as we have done annually a picnic at the President's House for the them.

Sunday is matriculation. I will meet and shake the hand of every student in my office - that way they know where to find me later in the year. Next week we have Convocation on Tuesday followed by the community picnic, and Susan and I will meet new faculty on Wednesday. We have a good life. I am daily energized by our students and by the rhythm of this place.

Of course, we are mourning David McLaughlin's passing. There will be a memorial service on October 4th, and I know that some of you will attend. I have been privileged to serve four Dartmouth presidents beginning with John Dickey. David McLaughlin was a friend I admired and was someone who served his College well. He doubled the endowment, supported the faculty, strengthened student life, built the Wheelock Cluster, and worked to improve alumni relations. His leadership in moving the medical center was critical to that institution and to the College. I often told him that his audacious decision ranked only behind coeducation in securing the strength of Dartmouth.

It is a busy time. It is always a busy time at this dynamic and energetic place. As I begin the 7th year of my administration, it is easy to get caught up in the complexities of a complicated place. So I remind myself to stay focused on our core purpose. My goal has been and continues to be to have the strongest undergraduate program in the country. Let me repeat that. This is not complicated to state or to understand. We want to have, and I intend to ensure that we continue to have here at Dartmouth, the best undergraduate program in the country and in the world.

I am aware of the voices of concern that you hear and will hear tomorrow at the Association meeting. There are some who would suggest that Dartmouth is on the wrong track. Let me tell you where I think we are going because other people are not always as clear as they might be in describing what we are doing.

Dartmouth has no secret plans - no plans to do away with the Greek system, to devalue teaching. Indeed, we have strengthened both. I have not devoted my life to this place to make it something else. I have devoted my life to making it a better Dartmouth. I am proud of Dartmouth - what it has been and what it is. I am enthused about our future and I am honored to be president of this College. Dartmouth does not seek to be like any other institution. Dartmouth has a special place in American higher education and I intend to protect that place.

Let me tell you where I think we are going and why I think that this is the right direction for Dartmouth. When I say that I intend to ensure that we have the best undergraduate experience in the country, what does this mean?

It means bright and energetic students studying with faculty engaged in the research and creative work of their fields and enthused about teaching students.

It means having here facilities and programs that advance our vision and enrich our soul.

It means protecting a true sense of community, one that enables and sustains our students and graduates for a lifetime.

It means having here graduate programs that meet the same standards of excellence and enrich, rather than compete with, our vision and purpose for the undergraduate college. Tuck and Thayer, the Dartmouth Medical School, and the graduate programs in the Arts and Sciences are small but they are strong. They stand alone as programs from which we can all take pride and they complement and add to the best undergraduate program in the country.

How do we advance this vision?

It begins with students - we need always a strong admissions and financial aid program. Last week, I sent out my semiannual letter to the community. I hope that you received it. It is always gratifying to get back responses. Several of the correspondents picked up on my commitment to keep Dartmouth accessible to a broad range of students.

One alumnus who is now a high school teacher wrote:

we are sending our top two students from last year's graduating class. I know that one of them, one of the most talented and giving people I have ever encountered, would not have been able to attend without generous support from financial aid. Thanks for keeping Dartmouth a place which is open to all who are deserving of its opportunities.

Another graduate who was on financial aid wrote:

Thank you so much for giving me that chance. Thank you so much for that opportunity. What Dartmouth has invested in me I plan to pay back to society. I just wanted to express to you my gratitude for what Dartmouth has done.

Dartmouth is one of only a handful of institutions that is need blind in its admissions program and that meets 100 percent of an admitted student's need. Alumni generosity through the annual fund helps to make this possible.

The faculty are also at the core. We advance our vision through faculty recruitment and support for scholarly and teaching initiatives. We need to continue to attract faculty who are excited to be at a place like Dartmouth. Because of its size and its incredible sense of community, this College encourages collaboration between faculty and students. I am always pleased when I read surveys of Dartmouth students to see how satisfied they are with the accessibility of the Dartmouth faculty. We lead our peers in this measure.

One young woman wrote to me in response to my community letter to say that she is currently a graduate student at another Ivy League institution. She went on to say:

As a graduate student, I've had the opportunity to speak with fellow graduate students from many of the top universities in the US and around the world. From these conversations, I am even more convinced that Dartmouth offers once of the very best undergraduate programs anywhere. The faculty are truly excellent and the emphasis on undergraduate education is unique in an institution of Dartmouth's caliber.

Dartmouth faculty are truly excellent. I am sure that you remember many excellent professors who made a difference in your lives. The College has prided itself on its faculty - faculty who are on the cutting edge of their discipline and who are committed passionate teachers. This is the Dartmouth model. Our faculty are devoted to providing the best liberal arts education.

The best teachers are those who are current in their field - this brings an excitement and rigor to their teaching. Here the term "teacher scholar" is not a hyphenated label for discrete responsibilities. Rather it is a description of a singular commitment and strength. The frontier between the known and the unknown is never fixed. For this reason, research and other creative and scholarly work are essential for a vibrant faculty.

Last year, we took a number of measures to build on the faculty commitment to teaching. In response to student requests, we improved the advising system, we have instituted a new writing program, and we have opened a Center for the Advancement of Learning to provide our faculty with more support for their teaching. And, finally, we provided an additional increment to the faculty compensation pool specifically earmarked to recognize excellent teaching. And we will do this again this year.

How do we know if we have accomplished this vision for Dartmouth as the preeminent liberal arts institution in the country? US News and World Report ranked Dartmouth 9th in the country.

Dartmouth is also listed 9th among the "Great Schools, Great Values." Kaplan/Newsweek named Dartmouth the hottest "tech-savvy" school and ranked the College 5th for "Happy Students." The Templeton Foundation named Dartmouth as one of the top 100 character building institutions in the country. Now, I am uncomfortable with many aspects of these ranking systems. They are certainly one measure of our strength - but as I said in my letter, I am skeptical of their methodology. I would rank our undergraduate program, which is what the US News ranking purports to measure, even higher. Much higher. But there are other, perhaps more reliable, measures.

  • Admissions ~ we already have an excellent pool of students to choose from; more students than ever are applying to Dartmouth and every indication suggests that these students are as strong as ever. Last year, 11 students applied for every one that matriculated. Now I am not suggesting that we simply increase our pool so that we can reject more students - but the size of our applicant pool is an indication of just how attractive Dartmouth is to young people today. A lot of students want to come here.
  • Student satisfaction ~ Dartmouth students are very satisfied with their overall educational experience, with the courses in their major, with the accessibility of the faculty, with their residential experience. We compare very favorably with our peer institutions on all of these measures. 91 percent of students are satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of their education.
  • Faculty recruitment and retention ~ we already get our top choice of faculty but we must ensure that we continue to attract those special faculty who are as enthusiastic about their teaching as they are about their scholarship.
  • Financial data - we have balanced the budget over the past few years and we have weathered some difficult financial times to emerge in a very strong position. If we look at schools that rank above Dartmouth they have larger endowments and more financial resources. (Harvard's endowment is $22.6 billion. Princeton has a much higher endowment per student than does Dartmouth. Princeton ranked 2nd among a group of national universities on this measure, Harvard 4th, and Dartmouth 24th.) We do more with less because we are focused on our purpose - but we need to remain clear about our priorities.
  • Alumni engagement ~ Last year, 35,845 alumni, parents, friends, foundations and corporations gave to Dartmouth and through that action they affirmed their confidence in the institution and in the direction we are headed.

Moreover, thousands of you, literally, volunteered for Dartmouth as interviewers for the admissions process, as career and placement mentors, as officers in clubs and friends groups, as members of the Alumni Council and Association, and as class officers.:) You know what that means and I know how important it is and how demanding it can be. Last year 47.4 percent of alumni participated in the annual fund. This was better than the previous year, which in turn, was better than its previous year. Thank you for all that you did to make this possible. We are not yet finished or satisfied. I know that you work hard to encourage your classmates to participate.

We focus so often, and appropriately on our large gifts. But every gift makes a difference - in this way you affirm your commitment to this generation of students. As Ernest Martin Hopkins said, you are the living endowment of the College.

We need to reach for historic levels of participation and then exceed them.:)

One hundred years ago, in 1904 Dartmouth Hall burned to the ground. Completed in 1791 and built from the trees felled to clear the Green, it was the College for 40 years, before the building of Wentworth, Thornton, and Reed Halls. Daniel Webster had roomed there. Word of the fire spread as quickly as had the fire. Francis Lane Childs, a member of the Class of 1906 and later a professor of English here, wrote in a letter home in 1904, "It speaks well for the loyalty of Dartmouth alumni," he wrote "when you consider that the fire only broke out at 8 o'clock Thursday morning, and at 10.10, before the end walls and part of the back had fallen, a hall in Boston had been obtained and a meeting of the alumni of Boston and vicinity had been called for Saturday afternoon." Because of that outpouring of alumni support, Dartmouth Hall reopened for classes two years later. I told this story to the incoming students on Tuesday to underline for them the community that they now join.

This fall we plan to launch an aggressive but essential capital campaign that will enable Dartmouth to build upon our strengths and our best qualities. The focus will be on financial aid, faculty support, student life, and facilities. Your support and engagement as always will be critical to that. We will set an aggressive goal and with your involvement I look forward to exceeding that goal.

Let us be frank - we clearly do have some issues that we need to address and I plan to do just that this coming year. We need to improve the way we work with students. Our data tells us that Dartmouth students love their experience here. They are among the most satisfied students among our peer institutions. But we also know that there have been some missteps and they are often frustrated with their interaction with administrators. Jim Larimore plans to tackle this issue very directly this year by meeting with students and my colleagues are committed to reduce some of the irritants in this relationship. Last year we worked hard to bring in the CFS leadership and made some important progress. Those discussions were very helpful and the resolution of the issue satisfactory to both the students and the administration. We need to find more opportunities for such common ground. And we will.

I also think we could do better engaging with our alumni. Last year when I issued my Five Year Report, I wrote there that one of my priorities going forward was to improve communications with alumni. You play an awfully important role here-by how you communicate and what you communicate with your classmates. But I am not sure that we always give you all the information that you need. And communication is a two way process. We need to give you the information you need, and we need to develop a greater level of trust with the material coming from the administration. And you need to share better with us your ideas and input. The Annual Fund is one indicator of this - but this is about engagement more than dollars. I am aware of your concerns regarding class dues, the magazine, and our support for your work. Let us work on these matters.

We discussed this issue of alumni communications at our recent meeting of the Board of Trustees. And the Board has agreed to set up a Trustee working group to look into the whole issue of alumni relations. Karen Francis will chair the group and Trustees Bill Neukom, John Donahoe, Michael Chu, Brad Evans, Ed Haldeman, T.J. Rodgers, and I will all participate. We will solicit your advice and feedback. This group will report back within the next year with some recommendations.

Joe Stevenson's group on alumni governance is also a great example of a group that is working to bring people together. I spoke with Joe this morning and told him how much I value what he is doing to bridge the differences among alumni. I am prepared to help with this task. We need to come together - our shared interest in this College on the Hill is too strong for us not to work together. Alumni are not adversaries of the College - we are in this good and historic work together. Let us revel in our strength and in our shared purpose and work together to solve our problems. This is Dartmouth. We have a big tent; come on in. Let us quit the sniping and fighting.

In his inaugural address, David McLaughlin described Dartmouth as "rich in heritage and strong in purpose." In 2004 the heritage is even richer; the strength of our commitment is even greater. I am excited to be here, to be Dartmouth's president, and to be launching this campaign. I have taught you and I have welcomed your children for 35 years (at least 11 students in the current class are the sons or daughters of students I taught). I have visited you in your clubs and at your reunions.

We have had good times and occasional debates. But we share in an important work in keeping Dartmouth as good as it is, as good as it can be. This is my life work and this is your ongoing commitment. I look forward to your participation and to your support. Let us now come together. The Hill winds call your names. Thank you.

Last Updated: 8/21/08