Acting Dean of the College Dan Nelson ’75 plans to carry on business as usual in the Office of the Dean of the College as a search committee looks for James Larimore’s replacement.
It’s not the first time Nelson, who has worked in the dean’s office since 1987, has served in this role. He also served as dean of the College from 1998 to 1999.
In an interview with The Dartmouth, Nelson sidestepped the issue of whether he wanted to be considered for the position permanently, saying that he wanted to “focus on carrying out [his] responsibilities as acting dean.”
“I’ve got a terrific normal job as senior associate dean of the College,” Nelson said.
“I’m not actively pursuing trying to become the next dean of the College; I’m focusing all my time and attention on trying to carry out my responsibilities as interim dean.”
Nelson, whose last run as interim dean of the College came after Lee Pelton left in 1998, at the time applied for the permanent job, which Larimore landed.
“I was a candidate previously, and I said then and I’d say again that the committee who selected Dean Larimore did a terrific job,” he said.
Josh Green ’00, Student Assembly president during Nelson’s first appointment as acting dean, said that, despite a run-in with Nelson over some comments Green made about College President James Wright in The Dartmouth, he thought that Nelson was extremely effective as acting dean.
“Even then, he did more listening than lecturing,” Green said of the conversation they had about his comments.
“Dan is Dartmouth through and through. Seriously, if you cut the man, I suspect he’d bleed green,” Green added. “My suggestion to the College: drop the ‘acting.'”
As acting dean of the College, Nelson said that he has to walk a fine line, carrying out the mission of the dean’s office while at the same time making sure not to overstep his bounds.
“I think that it’s my responsibility to keep the division moving ahead kind of vigorously. We can’t afford to stand still and tread water,” he said. “At the same time, as acting dean I have a responsibility not to make new commitments on behalf of the division for whoever comes next. I’m focused on consistency and continuity and actively carrying out the mission of the dean of the College.”
“I think that my goal is that students and other constituents of the office don’t experience any change. I don’t think that anyone will experience any reduction in service.”
As far as his goals, Nelson said that he will support students’ education, oversee the College’s diverse communities, respond to student input and collaborate with colleagues.
He pointed to collaborating more with the First-Year Office next year, a goal he attributed to Larimore, as a specific aspect of his agenda.
Nelson said that despite his many years in the dean’s office, he will try to maintain a fresh perspective.
“I feel that I know the dean of the College division and I know the institution, though there are always things to learn. I think that anyone who’s been at an institution for a while should try and see it through the eyes of someone else — there are lots of ways of experiencing and understanding it,” he said. “I think for someone who’s been at any institution for a long time, the challenge is to stay open and experience it from another point of view, and that’s something I try consciously to do.”
Nelson said that communication is one of the most important aspects of effective administration.
He referenced the release of the controversial Student Life Initiative, which coincided with his first stint as acting dean, as an integral learning experience in that regard.
“I think the importance of very clear and open communication is certainly a lesson for the institution,” he said. “Through the SLI, Dartmouth created a number of working groups and committees, and those groups did a terrific job of listening. Good communications and good listening: one can never be reminded enough of how important those two things are.”
Student Body President Tim Andreadis ’07 said that it was difficult to compare Nelson and Larimore because he had not worked much with Nelson yet.
“I feel fairly confident that he’ll be able to fill Larimore’s very big shoes,” Andreadis said. “I think it’s hard to fill those shoes when you have anyone leave who students really like, and Larimore certainly had big ones.”