Skip to main content

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

Remarks by President James Wright at Los Angeles and San Francisco Alumni Club Visits

January 12 and 13, 2005

Last Thursday, on the third day of classes of the winter term, we had our largest snowfall of the winter! That afternoon I walked across the Green for two different meetings. It was an invigorating early winter kind of day: crisp and white, the crunch of feet on snow that says Dartmouth. My meetings were also invigorating. The first was organized by students and the Tucker Foundation to discuss ways to provide tsunami relief. I had been impressed by the number of students who had sought to become involved; some fraternities and sororities had already begun to collect funds for the relief effort. I reminded the assembled students of Mr. Dickey's instructions: "the world's troubles are your troubles!" I told them that what always encouraged me about Dartmouth was that in times like these people asked the intellectually curious questions of "what happened," and "how," and "why"? But they then asked the additional question by which education moves beyond self-indulgence: "what can I do to help"? I told them they were engaging in a long-standing Dartmouth practice: reaching out to those in need.

I walked across the Green again at the end of the afternoon, just as the Baker Bells rang the daily 6:00 pm alma mater. A former student of mine had asked me to come and say a few words at a student gathering he had organized: Buddy Teevens was meeting the football team for the first time. In 105 Dartmouth I told the players about Buddy, my memories of him as a history student and an athlete, and my sense of him as a person. But then I shared with them what I had said to him about them when we had talked the previous week: They were Dartmouth football players that he would appreciate. They were hard-nosed and aggressive; they may have lost but they never quit. I told him about going over to the Blackman fields to watch practice before the final game, the Princeton game.

I typically attend practice several times a season. This would be the last time in 2004. It was one of those bitter November nights, those times when the ground is hard, when standing around during drills cools down perspiration, when hits sting and the ball is hard. One of those nights when a 1-8 team is ready to head to the dining hall. These guys weren't ready to call it quits. They were not practicing like a one and eight team. They were enthused and engaged and practicing as though the championship was on the line. They were Dartmouth football players, the kind that Buddy Teevens would want and the kind who would want Buddy Teevens.

These two meetings - the Tsunami relief gathering and the football meeting - different in so many ways, also reflect so well on the nature of Dartmouth. The goal and strength of a Dartmouth education is to develop a life-long curiosity, an eagerness to learn and relearn, a sense of independence and initiative, the discipline and commitment to persevere, and a respect for the individual - all within an environment that is collegial and that encourages a deep sense of loyalty to the community. Our graduates assume roles of leadership and of responsibility. This is the enduring strength of a Dartmouth education - my aim is to protect and to enhance it as the best undergraduate experience in the country.

Over the past two and a third centuries, the Dartmouth experience has evolved as our students themselves have changed and as the educational expectations of our society have changed. But there has always been a clear intent to educate the whole person. Dartmouth's charter calls for education in "reading, writing, and all parts of learning which shall appear necessary and expedient." As the academic program has expanded, so has our society's sense of what is necessary and expedient. Almost 200 years after the charter was issued, John Sloan Dickey argued "to create the power of competence without creating a corresponding sense of moral direction to guide the use of that power is bad education." I have told our students that being a learned person does not necessarily make you a good person.

For most students, their Dartmouth experience begins with the freshman trips. We are now up to 85 percent participation in freshman trips, an all-time high. These are still organized, defined, and managed by students. And this initial introduction to Dartmouth continues to be important. Affiliations with student groups from theatre to fraternities and sororities, from the Outing Club to the Tucker Foundation to debate, to a rich range of clubs play an important part in the lives of our students. There are close to 300 different student groups. They are part of the backbone of the life and the heart of the community.

Students participate in musical groups and performances, continually organizing their own. The most popular improvisation comedy group at Dartmouth at the moment is the Dog Day Players, although we marvel at the innovation of the Lodge crew during freshman trips! The Sheba dance group is always in demand and there currently are seven a cappella groups. In recent years students have organized publications such as the Undergraduate Journal of Science and Main Street, the latter presenting the work of Dartmouth's Asian-American students.

Students serve and contribute in impressive ways. In the last year Dartmouth students have partnered with 9th graders from a Boston High School and 10th graders from the low-income areas in New Hampshire as well as students from New York, Boston, and an Indian reservation to encourage them to think about attending College; our students have cleared land, tilled, dug, planted, fenced, and created large garden plots on farms in Nicaragua; helped restore a Jewish cemetery in Belarus; and built a house through the Dartmouth chapter of Habitat for Humanity for a local family. They have built ice statues as good as any in my memory and they have increased the student participation in the United Way. We used to talk at Dartmouth about well-roundedness. I still do. This adjective continues to describe Dartmouth students - academically talented and involved in a whole host of other things as well. Our education focuses on the whole person.

And of course there are Athletics. I would take the occasion to focus on this subject tonight, to share with you some reflections and insights on our athletic programs-and our ambitions for them. Intercollegiate athletics at Dartmouth are a central part of the educational experience. Athletics teaches our students discipline and teamwork, time management, competing hard and - whether they win or lose - completing the competition graciously; athletics teaches loyalty, and how to build a sense of community and school spirit.

We have a long and valued history of athletics beginning with the first informal games, tugs of war on the Green, early predecessors of football and baseball. These later were formalized - I have in my office an early 1880s photograph of a Dartmouth-Harvard baseball game on the northwest corner of the Green. The Dartmouth football club organized in 1881 although in that first year the faculty and the president permitted the activity with the caveat that they could not travel out of Hanover for competition. Unfortunately no one would travel to Hanover either so there were no games until the second year when Amherst and Dartmouth played home and home games.

Certainly College sports were nurtured in the early days in schools that would shape the Ivy League. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale were early football pioneers but we competed with them and in fact spoiled the opening of Harvard's new stadium by defeating them down there in 1903 (as we did also at the centenary game in 2003).

Intercollegiate sports have evolved since those early beginnings. It is a large and complicated and diverse national enterprise today. On my way out here, I stopped in Dallas at the NCAA convention. The president of the NCAA, Miles Brand, invited me to join 18 other presidents in an extended discussion about the role of College presidents in intercollegiate athletics. With the exception of a few important representatives from Divisions II and III, the presidents who were participating were essentially from Division I, largely from the Bowl Championship Series football powerhouses and final four men's basketball programs.

I was happy to be there and to represent a Dartmouth and Ivy League perspective on this discussion. I had earlier served as a member of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors and in 2001-03 I was one of eight members of the Division I Presidential Task Force that focused on reform initiatives to address real problems in intercollegiate athletics. We discussed things such as the graduation rates of athletes, spiraling financial competition, and the need to reassert academic priorities. Our discussions were framed by several reports and books critical of the changing nature of intercollegiate athletics. I was pleased to have participated in the NCAA discussion and legislative process that addressed some of the most egregious academic issues. This week at the convention the NCAA Division I Board approved the changes we had proposed having to do with holding schools and programs accountable for athletes making progress toward graduation.

After these meetings, I was always glad to return to Dartmouth. We, and the Ivy League in general, have worked to protect a traditional model of college athletics where our students are true scholar-athletes. They meet the academic standards of their institution, they work hard in the classroom and in their sport, they graduate at the same or even a greater level than their classmates, and they are full contributing members of the community. They go on to live full and productive lives, assuming roles of leadership and embracing responsibility.

There is no doubt that Dartmouth athletics has changed over the 35 years that I have been here. We have expanded significantly programs and facilities, our competitive niche is not the same in some sports, and the nature of student-athlete culture has evolved. Some of the changes are due to Dartmouth, some are due to the Ivy League, and some are the result of national changes. Let me start with the latter, which may be the most consequential.

Division I athletics has been marked over the last thirty or so years by a tremendous growth in so-called revenue sports, as entertainment rather than as a part of collegiate culture. This has been fueled by increasingly large expenditures of money, much of it coming from television contracts, by larger salaries for "hot" coaches, by a growing competition for the best young athletes, and by a tendency to pre-professionalism in the revenue sports, or at least a tendency away from amateurism. In the worst cases, student athletes have become simply athletes, with them the losers and their universities the lesser as a result. These changes have been compounded as a result of Title IX. This has required gender equity, an important and valuable goal but one which some national schools have addressed by decreasing the number of men's teams. Equity now requires them to provide grant-in-aid support to all student athletes. There are virtually no "walk-ons."

The Ivy schools properly resisted this tendency to commercialism and professionalism - and they were isolated for advocating this position when the NCAA Division I football powers, concerned about voting patterns that challenged their strategy, established the Division IAA category over twenty years ago - explicitly removing Ivies and other smaller schools from any influence over football television contracts and policies.

The Ivy agreement in 1954, which eliminated athletic scholarships, set us on a course that would increasingly vary from the national developments. The Ivy League emphasized round-robin play, balance and representativeness, and limited post-season play. It needs to be clear though that over the first half century of the league, the non-Ivy schools have shifted from our collegiate model far more than we have determined to move from the national stage. This situation was underlined when the Ivy schools essentially addressed Title IX by adding women's sports rather than by eliminating men's teams, a decision wholly consistent with the Ivy philosophy but one that would entail some real costs, financial and otherwise.

Dartmouth today has 34 intercollegiate teams - more than the University of Michigan, for example, which has, with a student population of 38,000, only 27 teams. This does not count the Dartmouth "club" sports - activities such as water polo, the equestrian team, the figure skating team (national champions in 2004), and the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club (the men's rugby team has qualified for the nationals in the spring). Dartmouth had 20 teams when I joined the faculty in 1969. We have increased the student body by 35 percent while we have increased the number of teams by 70 percent. Indeed, we now have one-third fewer male students than we had in 1970. Moreover there are far fewer two-sport athletes-training and preparation and workouts are not simply seasonal engagements.

These numbers are critical to understanding Dartmouth athletics today. There is a related dimension though: unlike in 1969 when even football had a few walk-ons and most other sports had rosters filled with walk-ons, virtually all of the Dartmouth (and Ivy) athletes today are "recruited." This means that a coach has identified them, persuaded them to apply to Dartmouth, and worked with the admissions office to secure their admission. A typical Dartmouth class will have some 18 percent of the students who are in this category. As the smallest Ivy school, this puts our percentage among the highest in the league, even as some larger places are able to recruit more students.

We are smaller and we are also less wealthy than some of our Ivy competitors. This has always meant that we have had to invest our resources wisely and with a true sense of priority. Some have asked if we have lagged some of our competitors in investments in athletic facilities. Perhaps, but we have also lagged some of them in faculty salaries, in student faculty ratio, in laboratory and academic facilities, in financial aid packages, in residence hall availability and quality, in cultural facilities, in dining and social spaces. We are addressing those matters in the capital campaign - as we have been over the last several years. During this period we have invested heavily in our academic programs and in faculty salaries, in academic facilities, and in our financial aid program.

But we have also invested in athletics. In recent years we have added Scully-Fahey field, the Boss Tennis Center and the Gordon Pavilion, the McLane lodge at the skyway, the Blackman practice fields; we have significantly renovated Leverone field house, the squash courts, and the golf course. We have commenced work on the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse and this spring will initiate a major renovation of alumni gym, including a significantly expanded fitness center. We are raising money to do a major new competition soccer field. And I have asked the facilities planning office to undertake a major review of the needs of Red Rolfe field, Memorial Field, and the Davis Varsity house. We expect to begin in the near future to address in a significant way some of the long-deferred issues in these facilities.

We have raised coaches' and assistant coach salaries to competitive Ivy levels; we have invested more money in equipment, recruiting, team travel expenses. And the financial aid enhancements we provided in 1998, 2001, and 2004, while clearly aimed at all of our financial aid students, means that we are not losing admitted athletes - or any students - due to financial aid packages.

This is Dartmouth! We often find ourselves with less than some in the company we keep - smaller endowments, smaller scale, fewer students. But we know that by focusing on our own purpose and priorities even as we adapt to a changing world, that we can and will compete with them. What I told Buddy Teevens when we met over the holidays was really pretty simple, the historian in me and the president agreed: Dartmouth football has the strongest winning record in the history of the Ivy League and I wanted to affirm and assert that was where we intended to stay. We needed to move to protect our position. He has an athletic director, a dean of the college, an admissions dean, and a president who share that goal and will work with him to make certain he can make it happen.

It is perhaps appropriate to address explicitly here the recent controversy regarding the letter that Dean Karl Furstenberg wrote to Swarthmore President Alfred Bloom four years ago. As you know, Dean Furstenberg expressed views critical of the role of athletics in admissions. His comments do not reflect Dartmouth policy or my own sentiments about the important role of intercollegiate athletics. Karl understands this. He has acknowledged that he was wrong and apologized for his comments. In fact, the sentiments Karl expressed in his letter are not a fully accurate representation of his own views. His comments in the letter were overstated in support of an embattled friend. Karl was an intercollegiate athlete himself and continues active athletic involvement to the present. More importantly, he has done his job to admit the best student-athletes to Dartmouth independent of the views expressed in the 2000 letter.

At no time have I ever heard Dean Furstenberg express views similar to those in that letter. I wrote to President Bloom at the time to be clear that the views in the letter were not Dartmouth views. I stated that I was proud of our student athletes and that alumni who had been athletes were among our strongest and most accomplished graduates.

Last month the disclosure of Dean Furstenberg's four-year old letter caught me by surprise. Obviously it angered and hurt a lot of people whose views are important to me, friends of many years, former students. I regret that immensely. It also has created a situation in which the Admissions Dean has been blamed for every admissions decision that people have disliked in the past and is faulted for the record of the football team over the last several years. The latter is untrue and unfair - and anyone close to the situation knows that is the case. Dean Furstenberg is prepared to work with Coach Teevens just as he did when Buddy was here before and, by the way, worked with him to recruit championship teams - does anyone think Buddy Teevens would have taken the position if he were not confident of this relationship?

It may be useful to observe that the world in which I live, the world of which I have been a part for the last 35 years, is a world marked by debate and argument and opposing positions and interpretations. I have heard plenty of things over the years that are at variance with my views - on matters ranging from affirmative action to our support for need-blind financial aid to the place of fraternities at Dartmouth. Surely the sentiments that Dean Furstenberg's letter conveyed were not uncommon at that time-or today.

I have heard many people challenge the value of athletics in academic institutions. I have enjoyed debating with them and have made quite clear my vision for Dartmouth. I value and support athletics - just as I value affirmative action programs, need-blind admissions and financial aid, and a strong fraternity system. Not all have agreed with these things. It has never occurred to me that the way to handle contrary viewpoints is to remove those who hold them. Just as it never occurred to Dean Furstenberg to try to implement the thoughts he shared with President Bloom. He does not set our admissions goals.

Let's face it, my insistence that the Dartmouth approach, the Ivy philosophy, of considering athletics as part of an overall student learning experience is more impressive if we also win! Simply having teams does not establish anything distinctive. Over the past six weeks Susan and I have seen the men's hockey team win the holiday tournament. Bob Gaudet has clearly reasserted Dartmouth as a hockey power in the northeast. We saw the women's hockey team, number two in the country, beat Minnesota - the number one team in the country - one day and lose the next afternoon in a heartbreaking game that went into overtime. (Women's ice hockey at Dartmouth is a success story of historic proportions: for the last several years this team has had consistently high national rankings, regular final four appearances. This is a story that you should appreciate more - even here in California!) We saw the women's basketball team play undefeated Richmond down to the last shot - an early favorite for the Ivy title, women's basketball struggled with early injuries but have played well. We have seen the men's basketball team win their opening game with their new coach Terry Dunn. (Both Men's and Women's basketball defeated Harvard this past Saturday.) And, looking forward, I have met with recruits for men's basketball and women's hockey. We did well in the early decision admissions round.

I have promised Coach Teevens that I would talk to his football recruits this month. I have probably met with 150 potential football players over the last four or five years. I enjoy meeting with any students to tell them about the special quality of Dartmouth. Meeting applicants with Buddy though will be a treat. These students will have a chance to be a part of something very special. We want to restore football to the top of the Ivy League and we shall. It is more than about football though; it is about Dartmouth being Dartmouth, about continuing to admit and to educate men and women for a lifetime of leadership and responsibility, about the secret of an enduring institution. It is time to enjoy - and to nurture - Dartmouth's strengths. The Hill Winds Call.

Last Updated: 8/21/08