Wright to be 16th President

by Erin Loback | 4/7/98 5:00am

Provost James Wright, a 29-year member of the Dartmouth community, will succeed James Freedman as the sixteenth president of the College, Trustee William King '63 announced yesterday afternoon at a special meeting of the general faculty.

Wright was welcomed with a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 500 people who attended the announcement in Alumni Hall. An additional 700 people watched the meeting on closed-circuit television in Spaulding Auditorium. All students on campus were invited to the meeting via e-mail.

Freedman, who has served as president since 1987, announced his resignation Sept. 25, citing the job's toll on his personal and intellectual life.

Wright's appointment follows a six-month presidential search conducted by a search committee, which King chaired.

Wright told The Dartmouth yesterday the presidential search committee contacted him a few months ago about the presidential position, and he then met with the committee.

Over this past weekend, Wright and fewer than four other candidates met individually with the entire Board of Trustees in Boston, King said. King declined to give further information about the other finalists, but he did say the original candidate pool, which consisted of several hundred applicants, included many minorities and females.

Research and teaching

In his speech before the faculty and students yesterday, Wright outlined his objectives for the coming years, focusing on Dartmouth as a research institution and affirmative action.

"Dartmouth is a research university in all but name," he said. "Research in the academy is not a pasttime that competes with teaching, but a critical activity that informs the best teaching."

He said he believes Dartmouth should be characterized by learning, not teaching, and stressed student participation over passive observing.

Wright affirmed the College's commitment to affirmative action and a firm financial aid program. "It is hard for me to imagine education going on without a richly diverse student body and faculty," he said.

But Wright said diversity goes beyond recruitment of minorities; "This community needs to do still more to welcome and salute difference."

Wright's humble origins, far from the environs of Hanover, emphasize the need to reach out to students from communities where post-secondary education is not the norm, he said.

Neither of Wright's grandfather's finished the eighth grade, and his father was a bartender with one year of college education. Wright himself began college at age 21 following a job as a powderman in 300-feet-deep hardrock mines.

Wright received his bachelor's degree from Wisconsin State University and his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

In his speech yesterday,Wright highlighted the legacies of his recent predecessors, such as John Sloan Dickey, who reminded those at the College of their common obligations to the world and to others; John Kemeny, who oversaw coeducation; David McLaughlin, who brought financial strength to the College; and Freedman, who will be remembered for his intellectual contributions.

Wright's first contribution as president will shape the future of the College as he chooses his colleagues.

The first big task

The resignations of several top-level College administrators following Freedman's announcement he will step down in June have left vacancies at the top of the Dartmouth hierarchy.

But Wright is getting a head start on his new job as soon as this week, setting the pace for his tenure as president.

"This is likely to be a long presidency before people start writing my epitaph," Wright told The Dartmouth in an interview yesterday afternoon.

Wright said he plans to meet with the already appointed heads of the search committees for a new provost and dean of the College this week to discuss plans for moving forward with the searches.

He said it is likely interim administrators will serve in these positions, and Dean of the College Lee Pelton is expected to announce an interim dean of residential life this week.

Vice President and Treasurer Lyn Hutton announced her resignation last week to become vice president and chief financial officer for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, Ill.

Pelton, who will become the new president of Willamette University in Salem, Ore., announced his resignation in January.

Dean of Residential Life Mary Turco announced her decision last week to leave the College on April 10 to complete two books she is currently researching and writing.

Dartmouth experience

Wright first came to the College as an assistant professor of history in 1969. After becoming a full professor in 1980, his career began to take an administrative turn which culminated in yesterday's announcement.

Although he will not be inaugurated as president until August, Wright has already begun to leave his own mark on the College.

Wright said it has been estimated that he has taught between 3 and 5 percent of all living Dartmouth alumni.

Dean of the faculty from 1989 to 1997, Wright was acting College president during Freedman's six-month sabbatical in 1995 and an instrumental player in the curriculum revamp which led to distributive requirements for graduation for the Classes of 1998 and later.

In 1987, before his two terms as dean of the faculty, Wright chaired a residential life committee which issued the "Wright Report" -- a comprehensive recommendation suggesting the College build a student center, reduce the importance of the Greek system on campus social life and create a more cohesive feel in residence halls.

Wright was named acting provost in January, 1997, following former Provost Lee Bollinger's decision to assume the presidency at the University of Michigan. He held both this office and his position of dean of the faculty until Edward Berger was named his successor last summer.

Shortly thereafter, Freedman appointed Wright as permanent College provost -- without going through an official search process -- in order to oversee the searches for new deans of the Thayer School of Engineering and the Dartmouth Medical School.

Following faculty criticism at the deviation from standard appointment procedure, Wright announced he would step down as provost after June 30 of this year.

"I didn't want to be in a position where I was a point of contention between the president and the faculty," he said yesterday.

Although nearly 60 percent of the faculty signed a petition Fall term supporting Wright as a full-term, four-year provost following his resignation announcement, he did not rescind his decision.

The presidential search committee led by King also included Trustees Susan Dentzer '77, Jonathan Newcomb '68, Richard Page '54, Stanford Roman '64 and Kate Stith-Cabranes '73.

Dartmouth Medical School Professor James Bernat, Philosophy and Religion Professor Nancy Frankenberry, Biology Department Chair Mary Lou Guerinot, Sociology Professor Raymond Hall, Thayer School of Engineering Professor Ulf Osterberg and Amos Tuck School of Business Administration Professor Frederick Webster '59 represented the faculty on the search committee.

Amy Cammann Cholnoky '77, president of the College's Alumni Association, was the committee's alumni representative.

Erica Ryu '98, the sole student on the committee, "did superbly" on her task of giving a student voice to the presidential search, King said.

Wright and his wife Susan, the associate director of Career Services, will move into the College President's House on Webster Ave. after his inauguration.

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