Verbum Ultimum: The Audacity to Answer
“The Call to Lead” shows Dartmouth’s readiness to realize its potential.
With his announcement of the College’s $3 billion capital campaign, “The Call to Lead,” College President Phil Hanlon acknowledged an obvious truth: Dartmouth is distinct. The College maintains a unique identity and educational opportunity among universities. In “The Call to Lead,” Dartmouth has shown it is intrepid enough to strengthen those aspects of the College that will further distinguish and advance the school while also acknowledging Dartmouth’s current shortcomings and steps for improvement. Regardless of the campaign’s self-congratulatory tone, this declaration exemplifies the direction and spirit that Dartmouth needs if it is to thrive. A confident vision for the future of the College has been set forth: will alumni and students be willing to answer?
The most impressive aspect of the campaign is perhaps its synthesis and proper balancing of the long-term needs of the school while addressing issues students have voiced to the College for years. It could be argued that much of President Hanlon’s administration since 2013 has been dominated by crisis management and rehabilitating Dartmouth’s backward image. In “The Call to Lead,” however, the current administration has put forward a clear and affirmative vision, one that incorporates many grievances from students and alumni over the past few years.
The College’s persistent housing crisis accompanied by the dilapidated condition of many existing dorms on campus have been major points of concern for students; the campaign’s commitment of adding new a residence hall accounting for 350 beds is thus welcome. Deeper academic concerns about the lack of support for students at the College interested in nontraditional career paths have also been addressed, at least in part, by commitments to integrating entrepreneurship and technology at the west end of campus and the further development of the College’s nascent arts district. And while the College’s commitment to reestablishing need-blind admissions for international students contradicts its still-recent abolishment of the practice, its goal remains laudable.
In addition, this campaign also creates unanticipated opportunities that will greatly benefit the College’s undergraduates during and after their time at Dartmouth. The campaign’s focus on increasing collaboration between students and faculty, as well as an increased emphasis on experiential learning and interdisciplinary projects, speaks to the core of Dartmouth’s liberal arts model in the 21st century. Its emphasis on improving leadership at the College is an opportunity that cannot be wasted. The anticipated four-year program put forth by “The Call to Lead” must be dynamic and comprehensive if it is to have a true impact on the experiences of students. “Leadership” is a buzzword the College must also further define if it is to have any hope of success. The potential for imparting skills and competencies that will further distinguish Dartmouth students in the world, however, is great; Dartmouth would do well not to reduce this ambition to mere platitudes.
“The Call to Lead” is not without faults. A particularly polarizing aspect of the campaign is its emphasis on encouraging women to donate to the College. On the one hand, by encouraging women to donate, Dartmouth is enabling them to shape and impact the College for future generations. At the same time, however, there is something unseemly about asking women to surrender their hard-earned funds, considering how they have historically been neglected and marginalized on this campus. Dartmouth must ensure that it will do whatever it takes for incoming generations of women to be comfortable and thriving on this campus if it is to be so bold in its requests.
It is understandable that at this early stage in the campaign, with galas filled with alumni and donors to be held across the globe, many of the finer details of “The Call to Lead” are not yet established. That said, there are several points that the administration should consider deeply as it moves forward with raising funds and implementing aspects of the campaign. First, the role of the recently established Frank J. Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies and its relationship with other graduate schools and the undergraduate community at Dartmouth must be interrogated. The further development of graduate level research and education at the College should be welcomed, so long as its rise does not impinge on the experience students at the College’s undergraduate or professional schools. The presence of graduate students and researchers has the potential to greatly enhance the experience of other students at the College. That said, Dartmouth mustn’t stray from its roots as a liberal arts university, committed to the teacher-scholar model. Any signs that this commitment is being strained by the Guarini School should be addressed seriously and swiftly.
A point of further consideration for the College during this campaign is the redevelopment and integration of campus more broadly. As the College renovates old aspects of campus and establishes new ones, it is important for Dartmouth to remain cognizant of the cohesion and health of its community. Equally important, the College should pay attention to the changing geography of campus. In revamping the west end, the College is shifting a significant amount of activity across the campus; it may be necessary to establish new foot traffic pathways, food services and dormitories. The same questions must be asked wherever the College builds new centers of activity that will be heavily trafficked and populated. This is especially important in the context of the housing communities, whose main hurdle is a lack of geographic integration on campus.
It could be said that the College was lost in the wilderness for much of the past decade. “The Call to Lead” is a sign that Dartmouth has found its voice once again, and it is crying out for aid in carrying out its mission. The administration has made a commendable effort to, in Phil Hanlon’s words, “dedicate itself to building the on the best of Dartmouth on behalf of humankind.” The Dartmouth community should remain attentive, supportive, yet skeptical of these efforts. Only through diligent collaboration between community members can Dartmouth continue its legacy. “The Call to Lead” will require an audacious answer.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief