A look back at Larimore's tenure: a rocky SLI beginning, a solid finish

by Phil Salinger | 5/4/06 5:00am

When James Larimore came to the College in 1999, he entered a Dartmouth community in turmoil, intent on preserving its time-honored traditions which, it feared, the administration was trying to change.

Larimore, who will become the Swarthmore College's dean of students after this academic year, strove both to improve student life at the College -- largely by increasing diversity, adding residential halls and maturing the Greek system -- and to improve the administration's communication with the entire Dartmouth community.

He was announced as the next dean of the College soon after the Board of Trustees released their controversial Student Life Initiative, which many alumni and students interpreted as an attempt to dismantle the Greek system. For his first few years at Dartmouth, one of Larimore's primary focuses was to reestablish trust and communication between College President James Wright's administration and an unconvinced alumni and student body.

During his time as dean of the College, Larimore supported the Greek system, attempting to show skeptics that the administration was trying to improve the system, not abolish it. In 2004, the College shifted students' first opportunity to rush Greek houses from sophomore winter to sophomore fall based on his recommendation. Then, in the face of pressure to add an extra sorority, Larimore recommended that the Trustees lift the moratorium on new Greek houses, and in the summer of 2005 the Board obliged. The following fall, the College announced plans to add a seventh sorority.

Larimore did not think, however, that the Greek system was perfect. He thought, and thinks, that excess consumption and "unwanted sexual attention" based on excess consumption are major problems of Greek houses.

"What I would love to see here is more of an effort, staff-supported, bought into by students, to have a good time but to be much more mindful of the health risks and to be much more aggressive about looking out for each other," he said.

Thus, when he came to Dartmouth, Larimore worked to strengthen communication between the College and Greek houses and create a working relationship between the two to make the houses safer, more welcoming places without getting rid of them.

In the wake of the Wright administration's communication troubles, Larimore made sure early on to articulate his goals of increasing diversity and tolerance of minorities on campus, expanding the residential life system and making the Greek system more responsible, all of which he accomplished to an extent.

Now, the dean says that communication between the administration and the rest of the Dartmouth community has improved some but not enough for the College to have the fundraising successes required to compete against bigger, wealthier institutions.

"There is a real challenge to getting accurate, objective information out to alumni, parents and students about what the College is doing, why we're doing it, what the issues are, and I think that's a part of why communication is such a big strategic focus right now," he said.

Larimore will leave Dartmouth this summer without completely achieving his goals for student life and administrative communication, but having made significant progress. The diversity of the student body increased by 50 percent under his leadership, and numerous construction projects are underway to expand the residential life network. He is largely responsible for reconciling some of the Wright administration's difficulties, which he had no part in creating, and because of Larimore the Greek system is stronger. Larimore departs having built the infrastructure between the Greek system and the administration necessary to facilitate improvements that he did not have the chance to accomplish.

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