Here's to Hoping

by Dave Gacioch | 4/7/98 5:00am

In the week following the announcement of James Freedman's resignation as President of Dartmouth College, I penned a column in these pages which, in the spirit of a more conducive environment to student influence in the decision-making processes of the College, expressed the hope that our current "Jimmy-O" would not be replaced by yet another "Jimmy." As yesterday's announcement seemed to jump-start my career as a "prophet of doom," perhaps a closer look at what we might expect from our President-designate is in order.

Putting aside, for the moment, James Wright's mention that Dartmouth is, "a research university in all but name," his speech to the community may well have told all of us what the Wright presidency will hold for Dartmouth. Then again, examined in light of his record here at Dartmouth, one never knows ...

President-designate Wright told us yesterday that he looked forward to the entire community -- students, administrators, faculty and others -- engaging in a dialogue about what membership in the Dartmouth community means. It is indeed refreshing to hear him say that the entire community may discuss something as he certainly did all within his power this past year to ensure that even those within our community who are specialists in architecture and design -- not to mention the entire community -- were not given the opportunity to involve themselves in the discussions during the planning of the Berry Library project.

When the community, through a hastily-organized public session at Cook Auditorium, was finally given the chance to enter the discussion, the project turned out to be a fait accompli. One would hope that the entire community's role in the discussions Wright mentioned will not, in the same manner, be relegated to the position of afterthoughts.

Thrice during his comments, Wright alluded to his "vision of Dartmouth." The leaders of the Student Assembly's Visions of Dartmouth initiative (in which over 800 students submitted their ideas on what actions over the next 10 years would create an ideal Dartmouth of 2008) were also invited to a special, closed reception with the new President and selected members of the faculty.

Might this signal President-designate Wright's willingness to work in collaboration with student leaders towards a better Dartmouth? If so, his willingness would seem newfound, as Assembly leaders approached him (then dean of the faculty) about the subject of greater emphasis on teaching quality (and more student involvement) in the process of evaluating faculty members for purposes of granting tenure. That initiative met a brick wall as then-Dean Wright refused to consider such changes. Perhaps this most recent incarnation of Wright as the latest president in the Wheelock Succession will lead to a greater openness to student concerns and efforts. I, for one, hope that will be the case.

In fairness, we must also consider that on which Wright's actions and words are consistent. In Alumni Hall yesterday, he "strongly re-affirmed" Dartmouth's commitment to diversity and affirmative action. He spent time telling those assembled of his plans to continue the recruitment of top-notch faculty members to the College.

He further addressed his desire to more effectively utilize the resources of Dartmouth's graduate and professional programs to enrich the intellectual life of the College. On all of these issues, President-designate Wright's record has been strong. While, in the words of the Board of Trustees during the Berry Library controversy, "reasonable people may differ" on the merits of these issues, it seems that the new President's record is consistent and intentions are clear.

President-designate Wright told those in Alumni Hall yesterday afternoon that the consequences of inertia far outweigh the consequences of change. Let us hope the inertia created by a legacy of Dartmouth leadership unwilling to open the door to student involvement and self-determination will indeed give way to cooperative efforts among the students, faculty and the Wright administration. Such actions would ensure that Trustee Susan Dentzer's '77 admonition that "[Dartmouth] is not a democracy" will not reign supreme over the Dartmouth of the Wright Presidency.

If, as President Freedman and Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg '67 continually remind us, the students of Dartmouth are the most talented and able in the College's history, this would seem to be the optimal moment at which to bring students into the inner circle. President-designate Wright's speech yesterday seemed to mark a departure from his business-as-usual.

For the sake of the small college (and arguably, I guess, "research university") that we love, sir, here's to hoping that we can trust your rhetoric and not, in recent cases, your record.

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