Yoeli: Image Over Impact
By Max Yoeli, Guest Columnist
Published on Thursday, March 29, 2012
When I heard about President Jim Yong Kim’s acceptance of President Barack Obama’s nomination to head the World Bank, I wasn’t exactly surprised — nobody was, at least in Hanover. After all, who could expect a relatively young, ambitious man with no ties to Dartmouth to stay here for long? Still, I think we were all shocked by just how little time Kim was prepared to spend at Dartmouth, leaving behind for his successor an unfulfilled vision and a campus in turmoil. If and when Kim does leave Hanover, he will have spent less time here than most undergraduate students.
Ascension to leadership in an unfamiliar environment forced Kim to quickly learn about the College and acclimate to its constituencies. As someone who had never been involved with Dartmouth coming at a trying time for the College, Kim faced large obstacles. After adjusting to his new position, his short three-year tenure was insufficient to address all of Dartmouth’s diverse needs. In President Kim’s brief time at Dartmouth, he has won a number of hard-fought successes, including addressing the budget deficit, the National College Health Improvement Project, the hiring of Athletic Director Harry Sheehy and extensive fundraising. Still, at best, most of these initiatives have had little immediate impact on daily student life. Furthermore, many of Kim’s initiatives were attempted with little student input and a stunning lack of transparency.
The central contradiction of Kim’s presidency is that, to those outside the immediate Dartmouth community — including alumni and the media — who can afford to think of Dartmouth in terms of endowment dollars and long-term visions, Kim’s presidency was fairly successful. But to students and faculty who are focused on issues of day-to-day campus life, Kim consistently abdicated leadership. Through working with the Kim administration, I’ve become aware a number of troubling patterns in his leadership style. These hallmarks of Kim’s leadership include a lack of responsiveness to student opinion, a commitment to image above transparency and a failure of communication on campus. Kim has focused his presidency on increasing fundraising, improving image and health care delivery, which are important priorities, but at the expense of adequately addressing the issues that impact daily student life.
As Kim’s presidency continued, he took steps to raise Dartmouth’s profile and reach out to alumni for contributions, as any college president must. Here, the commitment to image over substance became increasingly clear. Two tools Kim used to celebrate Dartmouth were the football program and the Dartmouth Aires a cappella group. I can’t speak to Kim’s fondness for singing, but I would imagine the former quarterback’s penchant for Big Green gridiron is largely authentic. Still, the Kim administration’s visibility surrounding football and the Aires entirely eclipsed any enthusiasm for other student programs. While numerous administrative emails, YouTube videos and Facebook ads bombarded the community about the Aires’ nationally televised “Sing-Off effort,” Kim could not find time to attend a single event of V-Week — 11 days devoted to combating violence against women — despite its clear relevance to campus life.
During his tenure, Kim claimed that taking action is not necessarily a matter of choice, but one of potency, or lack thereof. Among the numerous scandals and issues of contention to hit Hanover recently, none is more immediate than the current hazing debacle. What issue speaks more to Dartmouth’s state of community and student health? After the initial allegations broke and went viral, the reaction from President Kim was a disheartening and prolonged silence. When Kim did finally choose to speak up on the issue, he spoke first to The Boston Globe rather than the campus paper. When Kim did finally speak to The Dartmouth, he claimed a lack of power inhibits his efficacy. Suddenly, the man who marshaled a $35-million gift for a massive and headline-grabbing health care initiative felt powerless to tackle an issue at the core of our community. In light of recent events, Kim will likely escape Dartmouth without making any meaningful progress on hazing.
If and when Kim does depart, his time at Dartmouth will be an aberration. Among the many things that will distinguish him are his utter lack of ties to the community and the shortest presidential tenure at the College since the early 19th century. Kim came to Dartmouth at a difficult time, with a pressing budget crisis and the deanship in flux. Rather than a grand entrance endearing him to students, faculty, alumni and staff, Kim was forced to make difficult decisions and fill multiple roles, which cast a preemptive shadow on his presidency and made him unpopular in Hanover. In his brief tenure since, Kim has shown a remarkable devotion to image over impact, a disregard for student input and selfishness in his fulfillment of a tremendous responsibility. If, by some fluke, the World Bank bucks history and does not elect the American nominee, it is hard to see how Kim could return to campus and be effective. I hope in my heart, both for Kim and the developing world, that his tenure at the World Bank is marked by tremendous success. Still, he will leave behind a fractured and disappointing legacy at the College. Moving forward, we must put bitterness and dismay aside and study the failure of what three short years ago was a golden opportunity so that the 18th president of Dartmouth does not make the same mistakes.
Max Yoeli '12 is the student body president.