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The Wheelock Succession of Dartmouth Presidents

JOHN G. KEMENY, 1970-1981

John Kemeny

If William Jewett Tucker can be said to have "refounded Dartmouth," then certainly it was John Kemeny who began the institution's "transformation." A Hungarian by birth, a Princetonian by education and an esteemed mathematician, his appointment was met with enthusiasm by the faculty but with skepticism by alumni, some of whom felt that he could not understand the Dartmouth experience. Yet he succeeded in realizing the ambitious goals of his presidency while teaching two courses a year, and never missing a class.

Reversing a 203-year tradition of single sex education, John Kemeny presided over the coeducation of Dartmouth in 1972. He also instituted the "Dartmouth Plan" of year-round operations, thereby allowing a significant increase in the size of the student body without a corresponding increase in the College's physical facilities. During his administration, Dartmouth became more proactive in recruiting and retaining minority students and revived its founding commitment to provide education for Native Americans. The co-inventor, with Thomas Kurtz, of the BASIC computer language, President Kemeny made Dartmouth a pioneer in student use of computers, equating computer literacy with reading literacy.

During what was, for most American colleges and universities, a tumultuous period of student protest, Dartmouth enjoyed a period of relative calm due in large part to John Kemeny's appeal to students and his practice of seeking consensus on vital college issues.

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Last Updated: 6/25/09