Verbum: New President, Old Challenges

The Presidential Search Leadership Statement, as released by the College on Wednesday, establishes valuable criteria by which to select the College’s next leader. The document addresses key concerns Dartmouth as a whole is facing at the close of President Wright’s tenure — most notably the state of its academics and its graduate programs — as it loosely outlines the next president’s agenda.

The statement rightly prioritizes “a personal commitment to teaching,” as well as a “commitment to exceptional scholarly inquiry” and “recruiting strong faculty” in its enumeration of a candidate’s demonstrated qualities and skills. Dartmouth certainly needs someone who puts academics at the forefront of his or her agenda — someone who will take the initiative to strengthen the academic core of the College, starting by working hard to attract widely respected, high-profile professors.

The report also stresses that the new president be able to redress grievances voiced by Dartmouth’s graduate programs, especially the Dartmouth Medical School. While Dartmouth is fiercely proud of its commitment to undergraduate studies, that commitment need not come at the expense of its graduate programs, and the College as a whole would benefit from a leader dedicated to meeting their demands for greatert institutional support and more efficient development. The benefits of invigorated graduate departments — premier faculty, state-of-the-art research and instruction facilities, and a boost to the College’s academic reputation, to name a few — will suffuse through the entire Dartmouth community. Our next president must be able to strengthen the ties between the College’s undergraduate and graduate components without effacing the distinguishing characteristics of either.

But even as the search committee has succeeded in gathering and synthesizing input from the larger Dartmouth community, its Leadership Statement demonstrates an infirm grip on elements of Dartmouth life central to its undergraduate population. Most obviously, the report glosses over the still-important debate about gender relations at the College and makes only a cursory reference to the Greek system. Also lacking is any real discussion, beyond a bizarre passing reference to the Peace Corps and Teach for America, of Dartmouth students’ goals and experiences after graduation. Surely the aspirations of the student body deserve some consideration in the selection of our next steward.

It is also essential that the candidate chosen to lead the College next year already have a strong connection to it; Dartmouth needs someone who is deeply familiar with its traditions and idiosyncracies, and who can start to build on their foundations right from the outset of his or her tenure.

We hope the committee will adhere to the guidelines it has set out in its report, and choose a leader who will effectively address existing challenges and imbue the leadership of the College with much-needed innovation.

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