Hanlon draws comparisons to Kemeny, McLaughlin

by Hannah Wang | 12/4/12 9:00am

Correction appended

Succeeding former College President Jim Yong Kim as the 18th member of the Wheelock Succession, President-Elect Philip Hanlon '77, a career academic who has worked as both a mathematics professor and an administrator at the University of Michigan since 1986, has drawn comparisons to several former College presidents. In particular, Hanlon has been compared extensively to former College President John Kemeny, who served as president during Hanlon's time as an undergraduate and whom Hanlon cites as an inspiration.


Many have noted the similarities in background between Hanlon and Kemeny, particularly in their academic experience in mathematics and dedication to teaching undergraduates. Hanlon has stated that he plans to continue teaching during his term as president, and many view this as one of the best ways to stay in touch with the student body, as well as proof of his passion for education.

"What better way is there to understand what undergraduates want and need than to have everyday experiences with them in the classroom?" Steven Pincus '84 said. "This is very much an appointment in the tradition of Dr. Kemeny."

Hanlon has said in numerous interviews that he looks to Kemeny as a role model who shaped his experience at the College and his career as an academic and administrator.

Kemeny served as president of the College from 1971 to 1981, overseeing the transition to coeducation in 1972 and the implementation of the Dartmouth Plan, which allowed the College to sustain the large increase in the student population. Previously the chair of the College's mathematics department, Kemeny continued to teach two courses a year during his tenure as president and returned to teaching after he stepped down.

"He was brilliant and could have taught the most advanced courses, but he chose to try to make math exciting and accessible," Mark Fidler '77 said. "The kids who were the most afraid of math were the ones he wanted to work with."

Among members of the student body, Kemeny was an extremely popular figure, according to Katherine Walcott '84.

"[Kemeny] would get a standing ovation for saying, men and women of Dartmouth,'" she said. "We were nuts about him."

Lawrence Manley '71 said that Kemeny was a "remarkable" president who shaped the "coed, year-round, global" Dartmouth of today. Manley said he believes Hanlon's similar background will be a steady hand in promoting Dartmouth's academic strength.

"[Hanlon] brings a special perspective as a Dartmouth alumnus of the memorable Kemeny years," Manley said. "Everything suggests that he will hold undergraduate life close to heart."


Hanlon is the first Dartmouth graduate to ascend to the presidency since former President David McLaughlin '54 Tu'55, who succeeded Kemeny in 1981 and served until he stepped down in 1987. McLaughlin formerly served as the chair of the College's Board of Trustees, and in contrast to his predecessor, his experience was not in academia but in business, drawing comparisons to former College President Ernest Martin Hopkins, who served from 1916 to 1945. His tenure was responsible for a variety of major improvements to campus facilities, but he drew heavy criticism from the faculty for his lack of academic leadership to the extent that the faculty formed an ad hoc committee in 1985 to reexamine College governance.

"McLaughlin was seen as an unexciting businessman after the wild popularity of Kemeny," Walcott said.

Leonard Gail '85 also said that he thought McLaughlin's presidency felt "clinical and administrative," lacking a bold vision.

While McLaughlin's tenure was met with a lukewarm response, alumni believe that Hanlon's personal experiences at the College particularly in conjunction with his background in academia, rather than business will help shape and guide his policies.

"Having gone through that same experience, President Hanlon should be able to relate more closely to the desires of both current students and the alumni," Wayne Gray '77 said. "The other major Dartmouth constituency is the faculty, and his background as a professor of mathematics should also give him insights into faculty concerns so the new president seems doubly qualified for the position."

Many alumni said they believe a president with undergraduate experience at the College is uniquely equipped with an understanding of Dartmouth culture, which will help him in addressing some of the major campus issues today.

"As a Dartmouth alum, [Hanlon] is someone who understands the special nature of Dartmouth College," Pincus said. "I'm confident that he'll take whatever position he decides to take with an understanding of what Dartmouth culture is like, as opposed to some abstract notion of what a university should be like."


After the controversy over academic quality that characterized McLaughlin's term, James Freedman, an experienced university administrator like Hanlon, was chosen by the Board to lead the College. Under Freedman, who served from 1987 to 1998, the College administration spearheaded many academic initiatives, such as the introduction of new programs and languages to the Dartmouth curriculum, as well as revitalizing many existing programs.

After Freedman's term, the Board selected James Wright, a former history professor who served as the College's dean of the faculty, provost and finally acting president, to become the next full-time head of the College. During his term, which lasted from 1998 to 2009, Wright raised impressive funds for the College's capital campaign and made significant improvements and additions to campus buildings, including the construction of Berry Library, Carson Hall, Kemeny Hall and Moore Hall.

Wright said that despite the parallels and connections between Hanlon and past presidents, the new president will define his own term, especially since Dartmouth is now vastly different from the past.

"Phil Hanlon is not going to follow some sort of Kemeny recipe," he said. "He's going to address the issues that are pending today."

Kim succeeded Wright in 2009, serving until his appointment to lead the World Bank in 2012. Kim is credited with founding the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science.

The appointment of an experienced administrator, educator and academic is a significant departure from Kim, who had worked as a physician and global health expert before leaving the College to head the World Bank following his nomination in April. Critics of Kim have included students and members of the College faculty, such as English professor Ivy Schweitzer, who previously said in an interview that Kim was responsible for the alleged "corporatization" of the institution.

"I hope it's not a reaction to President Kim," Wright said. "I hope it's an effort to continue building upon the base that [Kim] left here."

In a statement, Kim praised the selection of Hanlon as his successor.

"At a time of momentous global change, Phil's understanding of how higher education must evolve to adapt to the world and improve it puts Dartmouth in an outstanding position to continue to lead," he said.

**The original version of this article stated that John Kemeny served as president of the College until 1980 when in fact he served until 1981.*