Wright oversees faculty increase, academic changes

by William Schpero | 9/24/08 4:27am

College President James Wright has overseen a significant increase to the size

of the faculty and changes to Dartmouth's curriculum during his 10-year tenure,

according to Dean of the Faculty Carol Folt. Still, not all members of the Dartmouth

community agree with this assessment or the statistics the College uses to justify

it.

Wright, who joined the College's faculty as an associate history professor in

1969, also served as Provost and Dean of the Faculty before assuming the role

of president.

"The faculty know [Wright] in a way that many faculty members at other institutions

don't know their presidents," Folt said. "He has a perfect memory -- he knows

[faculty] by name -- you would find a million stories about [Wright] knowing personal

anecdotes about someone's children or an injury."

The size of the faculty has increased by 20 percent during Wright's tenure as

president, which brings the student-to-faculty ratio down from 10:1 in 1998 to

8:1 today. The number of classes with under 20 students has gone up by eight percent.

Wright also said he has worked to increase faculty compensation in order to boost

recruitment efforts. He has also focused on employee health care benefits, placing

more of an emphasis on years of service to the College, rather than age.

"Expanding the faculty has been an explicit goal of ours," Wright said in an

interview with The Dartmouth. "Increasing the richness, the diversity of the faculty,

and I am proud of the way the faculty has responded to that."

Wright's focus on infrastructure improvements has also helped his efforts to

recruit professors, Folt said.

"Facilities were in a declining state to the point where we would not have been

able to recruit new faculty," she said.

Despite Wright's apparent gains in these areas, the College's average class size

and student-to-faculty ratio became politicized talking points as alumni-elected

candidates for the Board of Trustees often disputed the College's reporting of

the statistics in their campaigns. This trend was evident most recently in 2007,

when Stephen Smith '88 was elected to the Board.

The College publicly responded to criticisms by Smith and others with the launch

of the Ask Dartmouth web site in March 2007.

Among the questions that appeared the day the site launched were "How big is

Dartmouth's administration? and "How effective is the administration?"

"Keeping in mind that various sorts of claims were being made by various parties

on all sides on various issues at that time, it did seem like a particularly timely

way to address some of these questions and put out accurate information," director

of Media Relations Roland Adams said in a previous interview.

As Dean of the Faculty in the 1990s, Wright chaired the Curriculum Review Committee

that outlined the degree requirements that remain mostly in place today.

"I don't think that a single discipline is going to empower you to do anything

that you want in your life," Wright said. "We want to prepare our students to

assume leadership positions in the world -- it is very hard to be an isolated,

precious little place."

Wright has also overseen the creation of the Dartmouth Institute for Writing

and Rhetoric, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Leslie Center for the

Humanities and the Neukom Institute for Computational Science.

The evolution of the Dartmouth curriculum under Wright, Folt said, demonstrates

how he "supports the development of inter-disciplinary programs, international

courses, small classes, individual research."

"I think Jim's 10 years have been characterized by the same things that have

characterized the world in the last 10 years -- international thinking, digital

communication," Folt said. "The curriculum has been reflecting the changes in

the modern world."

Executive Editor Grace Wyler contributed to the reporting of this article.