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

February 28, 2007


It has been a full winter in Hanover "” and a cold February. For winter carnival we had to haul in snow for the sculpture and a week later a snowstorm caused us to close down some campus operations! Our ski team is undefeated going into the nationals. Our men's and women's hockey teams won Ivy titles, the first for the men since 1980, and now advance in the playoffs. This weekend Susan and I saw men's basketball twice, including our first season sweep of Princeton since 1946; men's hockey; and the main stage production of "Arms and the Man." We met with a parents' group for a reception where the Dodecaphonics entertained us. Last week we had thirty students to our house for dinner and a discussion, and I had two student lunches in my office.

Last week Professor Ron Green of the Religion Department, the Director of the Ethics Institute and the Eunice and Julian Cohen Professor of Ethics and Human Values, gave the annual presidential lecture, a celebration of the work of a distinguished faculty member. Professor Green's lecture addressed the subject of bioethics. Dartmouth has received national recognition recently for its sustainability efforts and for the accomplishments of the Greek system. And, with all of this, students and faculty are quietly going about their work to know more each day about those academic matters that intrigue them. It is in this environment that I write to share with you observations on a few important topics.


Dartmouth's mission, as I have said on numerous occasions, has not changed but organizations periodically should remind themselves what it is that they are about. Following wide consultation, I have drafted a more concise mission statement:

Dartmouth educates the most promising students of this generation to be leaders of the next generation with a faculty of scholars dedicated to teaching and the creation of new knowledge.

I plan on discussing the statement with the trustees at the March meeting and will then finalize it. I am confident that President Dickey would have recognized this as the mission of the College, even as I am confident that fifty years from now it will continue to inform Dartmouth's purpose "” and be affirmed by the contributions of our graduates.

In this process I also set out to describe a series of core values that mark Dartmouth. As I met with groups of students, faculty, staff from all levels including union employees, alumni and alumnae, and with the trustees, I asked them what it was that best described Dartmouth when it was at its best. What struck me through these many conversations was how consistent the responses were. We are surely all united around these values:

We are committed to academic excellence and to a culture that encourages collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

We expect faculty to embrace teaching and mentoring students with a passion and to be leaders in the scholarly or creative work shaping their fields.

We welcome and respect difference and believe that diversity is a key strength of our shared sense of community and contributes significantly to the quality of a Dartmouth education.

We recruit and admit exceptional students from all backgrounds, regardless of their financial means.

We foster a culture that instills a sense of responsibility for the broader community and the environment.We encourage the vigorous and open debate of ideas within a community that encourages mutual respect.

If many fine institutions could claim to share these values, few have this combination and none have them along with Dartmouth's special legacy: 

Since its founding in 1769, Dartmouth has provided an intimate and inspirational setting for distinguished faculty and talented students to come together in one of the finest academic communities in the world. Dartmouth faculty contribute substantially to the expansion of human understanding around critical issues. Dartmouth is committed to providing the best undergraduate liberal arts experience in the world and is enriched by excellent, historic professional programs in the Dartmouth Medical School (founded 1797), the Thayer School of Engineering (1867), the Tuck School of Business (1900) and the graduate programs in the Arts and Sciences. Together they sustain an exceptional learning environment that emphasizes independent thought, academic excellence, and the lifelong pursuit of learning.

Pioneering programs and continuing leadership in computation and international education are hallmarks of Dartmouth. The College provides a comprehensive out-of-classroom experience, including service opportunities, engagement in the arts, and strong athletic, recreational, and outdoor programs. Dartmouth graduates are marked by an understanding of the importance of teamwork, a capacity for leadership, and their keen enjoyment of a vibrant community. Alumni/ae loyalty to Dartmouth is legendary and their engagement is a defining and sustaining quality of the College.

A couple of weeks ago, we posted the statement on the Dartmouth homepage and invited feedback. I have been gratified by the number of people who wrote to say that they thought it captured the essence of Dartmouth and who wanted to tweak one part of it or another. Let me reflect briefly on a few of their observations.

Some respondents wanted more explicitly to recognize the critical role played by research as well as the contributions of the graduate schools. The mission and values statement aims to be inclusive of all of Dartmouth's schools and programs. We expect all of our graduates to assume leadership "” as they have done. And research "” the creation of knowledge "” is a vital part of Dartmouth's contribution to a better world and this culture of discovery energizes the teaching environment.

Other respondents noted, conversely, that we should not feature the graduate schools since Dartmouth is an undergraduate college. For sure, we aim to have at Dartmouth the strongest undergraduate liberal arts program in the world "” and we will protect and retain this position. We also have, and have had since the 1790s, exceptional graduate programs that are themselves leaders in their fields and that we can be proud of. They are fully a part of Dartmouth and their strength adds to the College's strength.

Some staff were concerned that they were not represented explicitly in the statement. I have always sought every opportunity to affirm the value of officers and staff in making Dartmouth the place that it is, so we will make what is implicit more explicit. A few students pointed out that we do not have full financial aid for all international students.  This is true "” although we have a very generous international financial aid program. Fully two-thirds of our international students receive financial aid, compared to around 45 percent of domestic students, and the aid package for the former tends to be higher.


One of the most important groups at Dartmouth is the Committee Advisory to the President, composed of six senior faculty members, selected by me from a group nominated by vote of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Dean of the Faculty is the agenda officer and the Provost joins in the meetings as well. This group considers promotions and tenure appointments within the Arts and Sciences, upon recommendation of the home department or program and upon review of evidence of scholarly standing and teaching effectiveness. It is a very responsible group that understands so well the importance of its decisions, for Dartmouth as well as for the individuals under review.  In their third year in rank we consider faculty for reappointment and in their sixth year we review them for promotion and for tenure. This month we reviewed a number of reappointment cases from different departments and programs. This was an inspiring and reassuring session. Many of these colleagues are publishing articles and books, receiving grants, giving papers, and taking on professional leadership. And most have established themselves as teachers. The promotion materials included the following comments from students: the "best course" at Dartmouth; "This course makes me think in a different way"; "cares about his students"; "The best teaching I have seen"; "challenged us to question accepted ideas." These faculty are Dartmouth's future.


This spring the alumni/ae will be involved in an election to nominate a trustee. The election is important, and I hope that all alumni/ae will participate. Dartmouth trustees are dedicated individuals who volunteer their time, expertise, and talents to ensuring that Dartmouth "” at the end of the day and at the end of this century -- will continue to be an exceptional, competitive institution that is a model for education.

I wish all four candidates well, and I have a request to make of them and their supporters. Dartmouth is enriched by vigorous, informed debate and strengthened by critical engagement. It does not, however, advance the College to make allegations or to misstate the facts. Dartmouth classes are getting smaller; faculty are as committed to students and to teaching as they have ever been; free speech is alive and well;  we are fully committed to strong, competitive athletic programs; the Greek system is thriving; and administrative positions have grown more slowly than the growth in faculty. We will be recruiting students and faculty this spring, a very competitive process that is vital to Dartmouth's future. We will correct the record if campaign rhetoric interferes with these efforts.

Some people have claimed that one of the new trustee's assignments will be to elect the next president. This statement will likely prove to be correct "” someday. For now though, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of my retirement are premature. While I may look my age, I am not yet ready to act it. In my thirty-eighth year at Dartmouth, I have things yet to do and I enjoy immensely doing them. So let us hold off on the transition planning.


Many of you know that I served three years in the Marine Corps. Since 2005, I have been visiting wounded Marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital. I have also gone to Walter Reed Hospital. I go bed to bed talking to these young men and women, all of them seriously wounded, and I always urge them to consider returning to school. I have not sought to recruit students for Dartmouth, but a week before Christmas when I visited I gave out twenty-five Dartmouth caps!  I am always moved by their stories and inspired by their courage and sacrifice.

From the outset it was clear that these Marines needed more specific educational guidance than any one person could provide. I contacted David Ward, the President of the American Council on Education. He immediately agreed to help develop a program that could respond to specific questions. I promised that I would raise the money for the program if ACE could organize it. President Ward assigned one of his colleagues, James Selbe, to the task. It has proven complicated, but Mr. Selbe, himself an old Marine, has done this. I have been pleased to help out in this effort. The counseling programs at Bethesda, Walter Reed, and Brooke Medical Center will soon be underway. As a result, these young men and women who served so unselfishly and bravely will now be better served themselves.  I wish we could do more.  We can do no less.


James Wright



Last Updated: 8/21/08