In meeting, trustees chat with students, talk academic goals

by Erica Buonanno | 11/9/14 7:48pm

The Board of Trustees discussed academic goals, changes to Geisel Medical School and Thayer Engineering School and “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee progress this weekend. Reflecting on the weekend, College President Phil Hanlon said the meeting focused on academic excellence and productivity.

Adding a new component to the weekend, board members met with small groups of faculty for dinner on Thursday night and students on Friday night, Board of Trustees chair Bill Helman ’80 said. Attendees at both dinners included students and faculty from both the College and the graduate schools.

Student assembly chief of staff Thomas Wang ’16 said about 50 students met with trustees over dinner in groups of around eight to 10, with three to five trustees at each.

Wang and student body vice president Frank Cunningham ’16 proposed the idea to Helman in August to improve transparency, Wang said.

“As students, our reach is limited, but he heard our side of things, took the time to meet with us and he followed up,” Wang said.

Helman said that while trustees have met with students in more formal settings before, Friday night was the first time students met with trustees with “no theme or agenda.”

Helman said that trustee and student conversations ranged from discussing “layups,” or easy classes, to grade inflation and time management, and noted that “students have a lot on their minds.”

“Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee chair and English professor Barbara Will updated the Board on the committee’s work in developing recommendations in the initiative’s three main areas: promoting inclusivity on campus and combating high-risk drinking and sexual assault.

Hanlon said he did not have further information on the committee’s proposals, adding that “we want to let them do their work.”

Will wrote in an email that it is not too late for people to contribute ideas. She said that the committee’s report and Hanlon’s response will be made public early next year.

The committee was expected to open its proposals to public discussion this fall and present Hanlon with its recommendations by the end of the year, but the timeline was extended. Hanlon was originally scheduled to present to the Board in November, but he is expected to do so in January 2015.

Much of the Board’s work focuses on factors like academic excellence, the undergraduate experience, higher education and Hanlon’s goals for initiatives like experiential learning.

Board members approved an energy plan that supported the replacement of No. 6 heating oil, which is cheap but environmentally unfriendly , as the College’s primary fuel source. Environmental concerns, future availability, cost and operational efficiency drove the change, Hanlon said.

The Board also approved the establishment of two new departments at the Geisel Medical School — biomedical data science and epidemiology.

Geisel professor Christopher Amos, who will direct the biomedical data science department, said it will be the first by this name in the country. Faculty in the department will work on analysis, data organization, statistical design and implementation, he said.

The department will be located in the Lebanon Williamson Translational Research Center, which is under construction and slated to open this summer.

The institute of quantitative biomedical sciences will also offer a new Master of Science degree, in conjunction with its existing arts and sciences Ph.D. program, Amos said.

The program will allow Ph.D. candidates to receive a master’s degree without having to pay extra tuition, he said, and it will be open to current Ph.D candidates.

The Board also discussed the proposed neighborhood system, announced last spring, which was originally slated to begin with the Class of 2019.

Helman said the discussion was “vibrant” and “robust,” and added that the Board is devoting energy and resources to the topic. He said the new model is still in the planning and development phase.

The Board is discussing how to organize the system in a way that allows a greater sense of community among students and more “intellectual exchange and vibrancy,” Hanlon said.

Thayer dean Joseph Helble presented his academic goals for Thayer.

Thayer is expanding its size and scope by increasing course offerings for non-engineering majors, significantly expanding the faculty in key interdisciplinary areas and beginning the planning for a new engineering building.

Thayer is also building its research activities in two major areas of global importance — engineering in medicine and energy, Helble said.

Provost Carolyn Dever presented on plans related to academic excellence, including growing the faculty, increasing diversity and investing in more teaching resources, Hanlon said.

Helman said the September and November meetings typically focus on strategy and planning and involve less decision making, while the March and June meetings tend to revolve around business and budget. The Board will next convene in early March.