Students, alumni, faculty members express pleasure with Hanlon's selection

by Stephanie McFeeters, Noah Reichblum and Heather Sz | 11/30/12 4:00pm

Dartmouth President-elect Philip Hanlon '77's experiences as a student and a member of a Greek organization, combined with his emphasis on undergraduate teaching, will help inform his decisions as president and his relationships with College community members, many students, faculty members and alumni said. Other students, however, said they were disappointed that Dartmouth's 18th president will not be a woman or a member of a minority group.

College officials announced on Thursday that Hanlon, a mathematician and currently the provost of the University of Michigan, will replace Interim College President Carol Folt on July 1, 2013. Hanlon has served in a variety of administrative positions at Michigan since 1986 and was the 17-member Presidential Search Committee's first choice, according to committee Chair Bill Helman '80.

Former College President James Wright said that Hanlon's selection was a smart choice.

"I can only think that it would be to his and Dartmouth's advantage that he knows the institution, the culture, the Greek life," Wright said. "He should have an opportunity to come in, and working with the board and faculty, move the College toward the vision he has for the College. He's right on the mark."

Hanlon pointed to "preparing leaders and advancing knowledge that impacts the world" as two of his key priorities as he prepares to assume the presidency on July 1, 2013.

Mathematics department chair and computer science professor Daniel Rockmore said he has known Hanlon for about 20 years and that his experience in mathematics and academia make him an ideal choice for the presidency.

"He's not a narrow academic," he said. "He's been at a big research institution where he's had to gain a great deal of familiarity with all kinds of disciplines."

Math professor Marcia Groszek also expressed pleasure with the Presidential Search Committee's selection of Hanlon.

"I'm delighted to know that someone who values academics is going to be leading the institution," she said.

University of Michigan Vice Provost Martha Pollack '79, who has worked with Hanlon both in her current position and her former role as dean of Michigan's School of Information, said that Hanlon is passionate about undergraduate teaching and has "set a vision" for Michigan in his current role.

"As a Dartmouth alumna, I am thrilled he will be the next president of Dartmouth, but as a friend and colleague, I'm going to miss him terribly," Pollack said.


Compared to previous Dartmouth presidents many of whom were renowned in the private or public sectors but lacked particular experience at Dartmouth Hanlon will be better suited to deal with College-specific issues, Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity President Paul Wagdalt '13 said.

"He'll be able to relate to the problems on campus and find realistic solutions, because he already has that background," Wagdalt said.

Presidential Search Committee member and Student Body President Suril Kantaria '13 cited Hanlon's commitment to teach undergraduate math courses as College president and his previous initiative to design a University of Michigan course about budgeting during financial cuts as examples of his dedication to the undergraduate experience.

"It will allow students to really get to know their president," Kantaria said.

Hanlon's intention to teach during his tenure as president will help "level the student-to-administration playing field," Stuart Ghafoor '14 said.

Continuing to teach will provide some students the opportunity to build strong relationships with Hanlon, according to Kristina Williams '16, who said she thinks it is important for the College president to interact with students.

"I think it sets a strong example," math major David Bessel '15 said. "Even at high levels of the administration, there's always a focus on teaching."

Bessel said he believes that Hanlon's mathematics background could bring a renewed emphasis to the mathematics department.

"It's a rather small department, in comparison to government or economics," Bessel said. "With a president who is a math major, who ran the math department at the University of Michigan when he was provost, we could cultivate a strong department, get better funding and resources to math students and therefore bring more attention to a small but growing part of Dartmouth community."

The department is looking forward to welcoming Hanlon, who is an "outstanding mathematician," back to the College, according to math professor Peter Doyle.

"We have an office waiting for him in Kemeny Hall, and we hope he will spend as much time as he can here, interacting with students and faculty, even when he isn't actually teaching," Doyle said in an email.

Numerous faculty and alumni noted that Hanlon will follow in former College President John Kemeny's footsteps as a mathematician leading the College. Class of 1977 President Nancy Vespoli '77, a former classmate of Hanlon's, noted that Kemeny was both a mathematician and a great president. Rockmore said that the College thrived during Kemeny's presidency between 1970 and 1981, the last time a mathematician was president, and expects Hanlon to have similar success.

"He's well aware of all of the kinds of things that technology can bring to the College," he said.

Hanlon called John Kemeny, from whom he took classes, the College president he most admires.

"He clearly had the same ethic I do, that the teaching mission of the university is something he wanted to be involved in," Hanlon said.

Kemeny's ability to provide strong leadership for Dartmouth through a period of intense change which included coeducation and the adoption of the D-Plan has shaped Hanlon's view of leading a university, he said.

"I believe there is a period of change in higher education ahead of us, and I think higher education will look to its leading institutions to set the course," he said. "Dartmouth will be one of those."

Michigan School of Information Dean Jeffrey MacKie-Mason '80, who reports directly to Hanlon, noted Hanlon's dedication to higher education, even at a large, well-regarded research university.

"Research is important here, as it is at Dartmouth, and he knows the combination of research and education is really crucial," Mason said.


Hanlon, who was a member of Alpha Delta fraternity as a student, will have the personal experience needed to make informed decisions about the Greek community, according to students.

"Because he already has that background, it just puts him in a better place to move forward," Wagdalt said. "I'm excited."

Wright said that Hanlon's experience in the Greek system 36 years ago will help him when working with community leaders.

"Obviously it has evolved since then it's a far different Greek system today but his experience there can only be an advantage as he works with his colleagues, and the administration and the Board of Trustees to address some issues," Wright said.

Both Hanlon's undergraduate experience and his background in academia will benefit his presidency, Rockmore said.

"As somebody who really cherished his undergraduate days, he's going to try to give the undergraduates of today the same kinds of great feelings about the College he has," he said.

While Dartmouth has its "own particular idiosyncrasies," Hanlon has dealt with a diverse student body, a large Greek system and talented students at the University of Michigan and is prepared to lead Dartmouth, Rockmore said.

During Hanlon's time as an undergraduate, coeducation was still a new phenomenon, and the social climate at the College was "tumultuous," according to former Class President Leslie Bradford '77.

"That perspective will serve him well with a lot of the issues the College is contending with now," she said.

Hanlon's status as an alumnus should comfort those who were worried that the 18th College president would not be committed to dealing with Dartmouth's unique issues, according to Bradford.

Current AD house advisor John Engelman '68, who knew Hanlon when he was a student, said he was excited when he learned of the search committee's selection.

"When he was an undergrad he had a wry sense of humor, he did very well academically, seemed to be the kind of guy who was very engaged in activities at Dartmouth, [and] supportive of athletics and other extra curricular activities," Engelman said.


Some students expressed concern that Hanlon's background will not lead to progress on social issues that are important to students, and others said they were disappointed that the search committee did not select a woman to lead the College.

"Having another president who is a white male alumnus and a member of a fraternity won't bring the kind of social change that the student body is looking for," Gillian O'Connell 15 said.

While some organizations such as the Office of Pluralism and Leadership may engender change on their own, Hanlon will likely maintain the status quo in the Greek system and other social areas of campus, she said.

"There was an element of safety to their choice," O'Connell said. "They knew that he will not take Dartmouth backwards."

Some students expressed a desire for a candidate that better represents the diversity of the College.

"Moving forward we should be trying to reflect the diversity that's on our campus," Ghafoor said.

Jennifer Davidson '15 also pointed to the recent presidential search as an opportunity for the College to make a bold selection.

"This could have been a really good time for Dartmouth to break their typical mold and break outside where they've historically gone, because the president is really the face of the College," Davidson said.

Focusing on research and improving Dartmouth's national rankings has been of primary concern of the Board of Trustees and this is reflected in the selection of Hanlon as the next president, O'Connell said.


One of Hanlon's greatest qualities is his generosity, according to several of his former students. Despite being extremely busy, Hanlon somehow always found time to spend with his students, they said.

Morgen Bills, whom Hanlon advised on his math PhD at the University of Michigan, recalled switching from visiting him in the math department to a different building after Hanlon took on an administrative position. Although "his time was always in demand," Hanlon was very dedicated to his students and made time for his advisees, Bills said.

Andy Lorenz, whose PhD Hanlon also advised, has continued to stay in touch with Hanlon since he left the University of Michigan, "in spite of [Hanlon] being really busy," he said.

Hanlon was a "pretty unique" PhD advisor, according to Sarah Rundell, another former PhD advisee. Hanlon "went above and beyond" and helped Rundell prepare for an oral exam by conducting practice exams with her in the weeks leading up to it, and provided advice during her job search, she said.

Hanlon is extremely devoted to his students, Rundell said. As provost, Hanlon has continued to teach calculus and continued to advise students as a dean, which is uncommon, she said.

"He has such a passion for education, he loves everything about it," Rundell said. "He gets really into the administrative stuff, but he never really loses sight of the education components."

Hanlon is brilliant and determined, according to Lorenz, but Bills said his intelligence is not overpowering or off-putting.

"His knowledge of the topics always seemed comprehensive without being intimidating," he said.

Hanlon has an ability to give students "just enough" information for them to solve problems on their own, his former students said.

"He gave me just the right amount of guidance," Rundell said.