Skip to main content

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

Community Letter from President James Wright

October 30, 2006

Dear Friends,

The 2006-07 school year is underway. Students have taken their mid-term examinations, and we have celebrated Homecoming and Dartmouth Night. I am pleased to have an opportunity to share with you some news from the College and to offer my reflections on an important debate regarding the early admissions process as well as on discussions of Dartmouth's mission statement.

Opening of the Academic Year: This fall I welcomed my 37th class of Dartmouth students. The '10s are as enthusiastic and engaged as any class that I have seen, and they have begun to make the campus their own. We have also welcomed into the community several new faculty who are eager to embrace Dartmouth's legacy of teaching excellence.

Students were excited to move into the eight new residence halls - Berry, Bildner, Byrne, Goldstein, Rauner, and Thomas Halls within the McLaughlin Cluster (which also has the Occom Commons, named by an anonymous donor for Samson Occom who helped Eleazar Wheelock raise money for his school), as well as the Fahey and McLane Halls on Tuck Mall. As a result of these wonderful new buildings, we have had more students than ever wanting to live on campus this year. We also opened MacLean Engineering Sciences Center, which will move Thayer to an even higher level in its providing an excellent education in engineering; Kemeny Hall, for the faculty and students studying mathematics; and Haldeman Center, for the Leslie Center for the Humanities, the Ethics Institute, and the Dickey Center for International Understanding.

By the end of this term we will have completed more major construction projects than at any previous term in Dartmouth's history. But our concern is not about quantity, it is about meeting student and faculty needs, and it is about quality. The new buildings relate aesthetically to, and generally fit in well with, the rest of the campus; in fact, it is easy to believe they have always been here. And it is so exciting to see the students and faculty living and learning in these beautiful spaces.

The Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience is on track. We ended the academic year with a record number of gifts and increased to 51 percent participation in the Dartmouth College Fund. I was particularly pleased that 73 percent of the Class of '06 participated in the senior class gift - a Dartmouth record. Indeed, Dartmouth alumni continue to humble us all with their generosity and ongoing commitment to the College. It is their support that makes possible Dartmouth's leadership in higher education.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg has informed me of his plans to retire at the end of the current academic year. Over the past seventeen years, Dean Furstenberg has worked magic in admitting remarkable students who affirm the academic quality and character of the Dartmouth student body. He has also helped us to increase diversity and to expand our financial aid programs. In addition to his work at Dartmouth, he has become recognized as a national authority on admissions issues and is one of the most forceful advocates of fair admissions standards. Provost Barry Scherr has initiated a search for Dean Furstenberg's successor and has asked Professor Peter Hackett '75 to chair the search committee. We are also in the process of recruiting a Dean of the College and a senior person to coordinate our institution-wide diversity efforts.

Early Decision: The undergraduate admissions process has been in the news of late, as a result of the decision by Harvard and Princeton to suspend their early admissions programs. Several additional institutions - although at this time no other Ivies - have also eliminated their early programs, and I suspect that we will see still others following suit. The national debate centered upon this issue has been interesting and thoughtful. When we at Dartmouth reviewed the matter once again, however, we decided to continue our early program, which began in 1959. It is an option that works well for our students and for this institution.

Under the early admissions program, students who wish to apply early must do so by November 1st, rather than by the regular January 1st application deadline. They may apply to only one school in this way and, if admitted, must agree to attend that institution and to withdraw all other applications. They are notified by early December of their admission status and any financial aid package that may be involved. At Dartmouth, we typically admit about one-third of the incoming class through this program. (Harvard and Princeton took closer to 50 percent of their classes through the early process.)

The early pool consists of highly qualified young people who obviously could have their pick of any number of very selective institutions, but who have Dartmouth as a clear first choice. The higher admissions rate for the early pool at Dartmouth, and elsewhere, is, more than anything else, a result of the differences in the composition of the early pool as compared to the regular pool. Approximately two-thirds of our recruited athletes come to us through the early admission process. Coaches work hard to attract candidates who meet our high academic standards and have both the athletic skills to compete successfully in the Ivy League and the desire to attend Dartmouth. These students are heavily screened prior to their application in order to ensure that they are, in fact, qualified to attend. Consequently, their admit rate tends to be higher than that of the overall pool. Our Ivy League peers also admit most of their recruited athletes through early programs.

About 17 percent of the early admits are legacies - daughters and sons of Dartmouth alumni. The College generally admits such candidates at a significantly higher rate than non-legacy applicants. These are very talented students, many of whom knew from a young age that they wished to attend Dartmouth, and the intergenerational loyalty of alumni has, of course, long been a vital aspect of the Dartmouth culture.

What of socio-economic diversity? Applicants in the early pool tend to be less financially needy than those in the overall applicant pool. Dartmouth's commitment to economic diversity goes back to our very founding, and today we admit students without consideration of their ability to pay. About 12 percent of our students are the first in their families to attend college. The College provides 100 percent of students' demonstrated financial need. Close to 50 percent of all students receive some form of financial aid, and 14 percent receive Pell grants - a federal program for high-need students.

Financial aid is a top priority of the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience, and it is a top priority of mine personally, to keep Dartmouth accessible. Our financial aid program is one of the most comprehensive and generous of any college in the nation. We have been a leader in reducing the need to rely on student loans as well as in offering additional scholarship resources. Students who apply early have access to our full suite of financial aid programs, and in the past few years only a handful of early decision students have been unable to attend Dartmouth because of financial restraints.

The racial and ethnic composition of the early decision pool is also somewhat less diverse than the regular decision pool. We have worked to address this issue, and just last year experienced a 30 percent increase in the number of students of color who applied early. More important to me is the composition of the entire class that matriculates in September, whether or not they applied early. And we have seen a significant increase in the racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity of our student body.

Some critics argue that early decision puts too much stress on applicants, and certainly there is too much stress surrounding the admissions process. Still, it is not clear that early admissions programs contribute to this situation. My own sense is that they do just the opposite. For those students who are admitted early, the application process is completed by December, and they can then focus their attention on finishing their high school careers.

There are students who know well that they want to go to Dartmouth. Perhaps there is a family connection to the College, or perhaps they have visited Dartmouth and know that it is right for them. Those students admitted early ensure the formation of an enthusiastic core of the incoming class. They are extremely talented and academically strong, and they tend to do well at Dartmouth. Their satisfaction with their experience is extremely high, they graduate on time, and they report higher grades than other students. I am delighted to have them at Dartmouth.

Early admissions, as you can see, is a complicated topic. I applaud anyone who wishes to increase the number of low-income students at selective schools and who wants to decrease the amount of stress involved in the admissions process. I share their goals, for I want to do both of these things also. And I would happily compare our accomplishments in this regard with any other institution. Dartmouth will continue to have an early admissions program - one that we use carefully and modestly as part of our approach to shaping the nature and the quality of our extraordinary student body. As with all of our admissions processes, we will continue to assess how early admissions works and will continue to seek ways to improve upon it.

Dartmouth's Mission: The College's mission is quite simple - to provide our students the best education possible and to create an academic environment that enables our faculty and students to reach their full scholarly potential. Our mission has not changed substantially since our founding, and our current mission statement is a strong description of our values. But it is useful and necessary to revisit periodically the way that mission is articulated. I have started to undertake this process of articulation, and hope to share with the community a new draft of a mission statement during this coming winter term, one that will be more concise and will express more clearly our aspirations.

To initiate the process this summer, I met in small groups with approximately two hundred members of the Dartmouth community, including students, faculty, alumni, staff, administrators, and union employees, to talk about the qualities that best describe Dartmouth when it is at its best. The Board of Trustees at our annual retreat in September also engaged in a good discussion of the College's mission. I was pleased to hear in all of these sessions a broad agreement about the values that characterize Dartmouth. These include the commitment to teaching and the liberal arts, academic excellence, strong community bonds among a very diverse group of people, and a special sense of place.

Many colleges and universities can cite a similar list of attributes, but I suspect that few combine them in quite the way that Dartmouth does, and within, moreover, an uncommonly strong sense of community. I was pleased by how each group I talked with emphasized the importance of the people who are here and of the relationships formed here.

We possess at Dartmouth an entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that drives the scholarly accomplishments of students and faculty. Since before the birth of the American republic, Dartmouth has provided an exemplary residential environment for students and faculty who are diverse in background but united in purpose: to collaborate in learning while expanding what they know, to seek excellence, and to share in advancing a welcoming, empowering community with a singular sense of identity, mission, and responsibility. In this community of learning, with its intimate and inspirational setting, we transform the life of every student who walks through our doors. I very much look forward to sharing with you the results of these discussions. Dartmouth is an outstanding institution, and any mission statement will reflect both that fact and the real sense of excitement and energy that is the College.

In Conclusion: As you receive this, we will be concluding a long and intense campaign regarding the proposed Alumni Association Constitution. I have elsewhere expressed my views on the questions that are before our alumni. Now - regardless of the election results, which I do not know at this writing - it is time for us to focus on the task at hand. We must ensure that Dartmouth provides the best educational environment possible for its students and faculty. We cannot be distracted from this purpose. Let us now work together to sustain Dartmouth's legacy and to exceed our ambitions.


James Wright

Last Updated: 8/21/08