Q&A with Board of Trustees chair Liz Lempres ’83 Th ’84
Lempres discusses College President Phil Hanlon’s tenure and the Board of Trustees’ plans for hiring a new president.
Board of Trustees chair Liz Lempres ’83 Th ’84 has worked at Dartmouth since 2012, when she joined the Thayer School of Engineering’s Board of Advisors. More recently, she was elected chair of the Board of Trustees in March 2021. Lempres has also served as a senior partner emeritus of McKinsey & Company, a global management consultancy, for 28 years. The Dartmouth sat down with Lempres to discuss the tenure of College President Phil Hanlon — who this week announced his pending retirement in June 2023 — and the search for a new president.
What would you say have been President Hanlon’s biggest accomplishments during his tenure?
LL: I think Phil has positioned us really well as we go forward on a couple of dimensions. One is creating a more inclusive environment. Starting from what he did early in his tenure around Moving Dartmouth Forward, some of the things that we’ve done over the last few years around gender equity and academically and bringing more financial aid to a broader set of the community. So I think there are a number of initiatives that, taken together, really move us forward as an inclusive community.
I think we’ve had enormous academic success. We are recognized as a leading research institution, a leading research university, and we have been invited to join the Association of American Universities, which is an organization of universities that are recognized for their distinctiveness. And I think we’re also on very firm financial footing as we head into the next decade. So those are just three that I would call out, but pretty important ones.
Would you say that President Hanlon has achieved the 10-year vision for the College that he had outlined?
LL: I would say the wonderful thing about Phil is that he is very ambitious. So I’m not sure he would consider his work fully done, because there is always more to do on those kinds of topics. But I think we’ve made enormous progress. And I think all of those initiatives have gotten real traction. So we are certainly well on the way and that’s what Phil is going to be focusing on over the next 18 months.
Now that the Call to Lead campaign has met its $3 billion fundraising goal, what is the impact of this campaign on Dartmouth in the long term — both from a financial perspective and from a campus life perspective?
LL: I’m so glad you asked that question. Sometimes, when we talk about fundraising, we talk about it as if it is an end unto itself. And to your point, it’s a facilitator for what we can do for students and for global impact. I think one of the major initiatives is around financial aid: reducing the debt burden to families and creating need-blind admissions globally for international students, that is a very big component of what we’re able to do. Furthering our academic prowess in areas as diverse as engineering, computer science, all the way through investment in the arts. Those are all things that are made available to us through the Call to Lead campaign. But I think the major message is that it’s an opportunity for us to invest in students and programming and the facilities to support it. That’s what this is about culturally.
We’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I think that's clearly a very prevalent issue that Phil Hanlon had to deal with during his tenure. In your view, has the College, and President Hanlon in particular, handled the pandemic well?
LL: I am so excited about what we’re doing this winter. I think we’ve shown real leadership in helping our students be in the classroom with faculty — that’s at the heart of what we do at Dartmouth. And so I think that where we are headed and what we have done, it is actually a really courageous way of thinking about dealing with something as significant as the pandemic. So I do feel good about where we are now.
The Dartmouth recently found that the Class of 2021 reported President Hanlon a very low approval rating of 11%. Why do you think students have reported such strong discontent with Hanlon’s leadership, and is there anything you believe Hanlon could do, or could have done, to gain higher approval from students?
LL: It’s hard to comment, not being a student myself. I can say that from the trustee perspective, we are very appreciative of what Phil has done, and we feel really good about the way he has positioned Dartmouth as we look forward over the coming years. So I can’t really comment on the student perspective, I can just share the trustee view of our appreciation for the things that have been accomplished over the last eight and a half years and, and for what’s to come. I want to emphasize that there’s still more to be done that Phil is excited about.
What will dorm housing projects, at least one of which has been placed on indefinite hold, look like moving forward? Is this something that you think will be further prioritized in the next administration or something that Hanlon intends to address more directly in the final 18 months of his tenure?
LL: I think everyone would agree that housing is a really important component of student experience at a residential school like Dartmouth. The trustees approve a special grant, if you will, every year of the endowment to free up funds for renovation, and the College has already announced the beginning of that renovation schedule, which will be next summer. We’ve also brought on more housing for graduate students, which is ahead of schedule, and will be coming on this spring. And as The Dartmouth has reported, there are plans to begin looking at senior apartment-style housing. So I think I actually think we’re moving on housing — we have a lot to do, but under Phil’s leadership, I think we’re already getting going.
In your recent email to campus, you noted Hanlon’s disciplined approach to Dartmouth's finances and how that’s improved the College’s financial footing. How would you describe his approach, and what do you think is unique about his investment and fundraising strategy?
LL: I think that the financial health of the College comes not only from fundraising and the endowment, but actually how you manage your resources day to day. One of the things I think is most innovative that Phil has done is creating a more inclusive process, so that more people in the faculty are involved in priority setting. And I think he’s also launched a pretty unique program that is available to all members of the community, on understanding how university budgeting works, to make everyone more educated and therefore, more attuned to the trade-offs. And I think that’s a pretty important piece of both discipline and transparency that Phil has brought to finances at Dartmouth.
What will the selection process for a new president look like? What is the timeline for that process?
LL: The trustees right now are focused on thanking Phil and celebrating his leadership. We’ll be working on the planning for that process over the coming weeks. I can’t yet share the specifics of it because that’s still under development. But you can be sure that it will be a thoughtful process and a very inclusive one, in which various members of the community will have an opportunity to provide input on what they think the most important capabilities and skills are. But more information will be coming out probably in the next two to three weeks on that.
You mentioned that various community members will have some input. Does that include students, as well?
If a successor is identified before Hanlon is set to step down, will he be replaced earlier than June 2023?
LL: That’s actually not in the cards. Our intention is that Phil will be here for the next 18 months with a pretty significant agenda that he wants to take care of. So we’re looking forward to working with him during that time.
What are some of those agenda items that Hanlon has in his remaining time?
LL: Continuing to create the capacity to support Dartmouth students financially, and continuing to make traction. Also, housing is an important one, mental health and wellness is another important one. I know that these are high on Phil’s priorities to make sure that we continue to make progress. Many of the things we’ve done on diversity and inclusion are underway, but that work is certainly never done. And I know that’s important to him, as well.
Are there certain qualities or priorities that the Board is looking for in the next president?
LL: That’s an important part of the search process itself, and we’re going to be doing some listening to the community before we start defining those capabilities. So more to come on that, but with the input of the community.