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The Dartmouth
February 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Daniell leaves behind 'real fire'

"How does a 70-year-old man stay young?" asked history professor Jere Daniell '55 at a fireside chat yesterday evening at Phi Delta Alpha Fraternity. "He gives talks in fraternities," said Daniel, who has given about 30 such talks over the course of his 40-odd years at Dartmouth.

The evening began with Daniell adjusting the fire that Phi Delt house manager Ted Finnerty '05 had built. "Where's your wood? I'll build you a real fire."

A liberal arts education teaches one to take advantage of the opportunities provided by luck, Daniell said.

Luck has manifested itself in Daniell's personal trajectory many times. When he was in 7th grade, a knock on the door of his rural Maine residence was his ticket to the half-price year at Exeter that prepared him for college.

One outburst too many from a high-tempered Dartmouth history professor opened up a spot in the department for Daniell. He said, "As long as I walked, I had the job." Finally, a hefty donation enabled Daniell to keep an office on campus through the beginning of his retirement. Though this is his last term teaching undergraduates, Daniell plans to continue holding office hours so that he can advise students working on projects within his specialty, early American history.

Daniell praised the institution he has been a part of for so many years. "Dartmouth is the premier undergraduate liberal arts university in the country." Daniell went on to describe the decision that ensured this identity. During the presidency of John Sloan Dickey, Daniell drafted an agreement stating that graduate students shall not exceed 10 percent of the student population, and that no teaching assistant may teach a course.

Though he is proud of the effect he has had on the institution in terms of keeping it focused on undergraduates, he "never had any interest in being an administrator." He was once asked to become the dean of Columbia University, but told them he "wasn't interested." Two weeks later newspaper headlines reported that the dean of Columbia had been shot. Daniell said that knocked out of him any ambition he might have had to become an administrator.

In addition to teaching classes on the History of New England and the American Revolution, Daniell was on the committee overseeing the construction of Berry Sports Center and the Scully-Fahey Field. For seven years, he was also the chairperson of the Committee for Equal Opportunity, which worked to raise the black composition of the student body from 1 percent to 9 percent.

Daniell said that Dartmouth has treated him well, during his time as an undergraduate and as a professor-- "It is very, very difficult for me to imagine a better fit between personal inclination and institutional involvement."

Thirty years of learning (he earned his Ph.D. at age 31), 30 of working, and 30 of "declining" is how Daniell sees his life. He intends "to monitor and enjoy the decline. I keep a diary of decline. You've got to stay ahead of the game with decline because you want to lower your expectations faster than the reality."

"I make people very unhappy because I'm very happy myself." Daniell spoke about Hanover's "culture of complaint," consisting of people whining about work that world-class architects are responsible for, such as the bridge with balls on it. He thinks that Dartmouth prepares students well to fall into this "upper middle class world of complaining," a world of which he is not a part. His advice to others trying to avoid this world -- "Don't read the New York Times. I haven't bought a Sunday New York Times in 30 years, and I've thrived."