At Wright's faculty address, less news is good news

by Matthew Kelly | 10/28/03 6:00am

President of the College James Wright addressed the faculty at yesterday's general faculty meeting, where he outlined the College's goals and priorities, while provoking little opposition from the faculty.

Whereas last year's meeting was marked by virulent protest across departmental boundaries regarding budget cuts, President Wright's address yesterday was greeted with strong applause, to the obvious delight of a smiling Wright.

Wright's news was considerably rosier than last year's. Over the past fiscal year, the endowment grew to $2.1 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 1998, but still less than the $2.2 billion of 2001.

"In short, Dartmouth is strong and well," Wright said. "We have worked through the worst economic downturn in years."

However, Wright added that budget projections for fiscal year 2005 indicate the College's expenses will increase more than its revenues. Wright addressed this discrepancy in saying that Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Adam Keller is looking into the problem.

While consistently praising faculty, students, administrators, staff and alumni, Wright stressed that more must be done to protect and develop Dartmouth's core strengths and values, including its collegiality, collaboration and community-based commitment to excellence and creativity.

"I would assert that Dartmouth provides the best education to its students at all levels," he said. "But we need to nurture that excellence."

His priorities included the continuation of increasing and improving faculty, protecting "need blind" admissions and making improvements to the physical plant.

With regards to facilities, Wright cited plans to construct or improve dorm space for 500 students, dining/social, arts and computer science centers, but he expressed frustratation at the inability to develop a Life Science center.

Wright pledged his commitment to need blind admissions, citing the difficulty families have in paying tuition. This comes despite a decreased dependence on tuition, as it pays for less than 50 percent of the budget.

"This is something that I know you value highly, and so do I," he said.

Wright stated his commitment to expanding and retaining the best faculty members, along with improving major advising and increasing faculty governance. He also introduced a new program called the Center for Teaching and Learning, to be located in Baker Library.

This resource would provide technological support for teachers, as well as giving them a forum to better techniques.

This item in the budget drew the only criticism from the audience. Classics Professor Edward Bradley objected to the center, citing the already high quality of Dartmouth faculty. Furthermore, he criticized the using of $3 million from the already strained budget for what he saw as an unnecessary program.

"I just wish there were a little more discussion," Bradley said. "I speak from a small department who has been denied the replacement of a senior faculty member, where $3 million is not a small item."

Wright and Provost Barry Scherr disagreed, citing the need to continue cultivating high quality teachers at what they deemed a low cost.

"It's not a major investment at all," said Wright.

Wright went on to address tensions between sections of faculty, which during last year's budget crunch pitted humanities versus the sciences. As he did in his Convocation speech, Wright stressed the importance of the humanities to a liberal arts education. While sciences often can receive external grants for research, the humanities need to be funded almost exclusively by the school, he said. This creates the illusion that humanities are over-supported, according to Wright.

"We cannot use the same metrics when talking about relative strengths of humanities and sciences," he said.

The decline of the endowment was responsible for budget cuts to the library system, among other programs, which sparked protest at last year's faculty meeting. Yesterday Wright thanked the faculty for their cooperation in balancing the budget and outlined the Board of Trustees plan to decrease reliance on the endowment.

Previously, endowment spending was determined by its market value, which left spending vulnerable to the whims of the stock market. Wright said that the Trustees would likely approve a more stable approach to determining endowment spending, partially based on the Consumer Price Index. According to Wright, this would limit overspending in the boom years and limit harsh budget cuts in the bust.

Wright also addressed the long-term needs of the college, to be explained in his 5-Year-Report, which is set for release later this fall.

"Five years goes by fast, and we need to move forward with items on the agenda," Wright said. He later added, "We must have strategic adjustments and changes."

These adjustments not only include immediate issues such as faculty, need blind admissions and facilities, but possibly more discussion about degree requirement changes. He would like to see faculty discuss what a liberal arts student should learn, which he believes happens far too little.

Wright also praised the graduate schools, especially their ability to attract two thirds of the school's external research funding.

The meeting also included a vote on a proposed change in membership on the Council on Graduate Studies. This body is responsible for the governance of Dartmouth's graduate programs, but does not include any representation from the administration of degree-granting graduate programs. The proposed council would replace faculty of the arts and sciences with those more involved with the programs. This motion passed by unanimous voice vote and attracted no questions or opposition from the general faculty, but must still be approved by the other four faculties.