Verbum Ultimum: A Turbulent Tenure

President Hanlon’s tenure has been marked by a combination of major strides forward and the neglect of longstanding problems.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 1/28/22 4:10am

by Sophie Bailey / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, College President Phil Hanlon announced in a campus-wide email that, after a decade at the helm, he will step down from leadership of the College in June of 2023. Shortly after this announcement, an email from the Board of Trustees praised President Hanlon for “steer[ing] the institution to ever greater academic excellence, inclusion, and impact.”

Hanlon’s tenure has certainly not been without its successes. Through his Call to Lead campaign, which to date has brought in more than $3 billion to the College, Dartmouth has been able to fund the restoration of need-blind admissions for international students, the elimination of loans for families making under $125,000 per year and the construction and renovation of various buildings around campus, among numerous other research and academic upgrades. These are enormous achievements that will make the College a better place for students, faculty and staff and improve its global standing. Additionally, “Moving Dartmouth Forward,” a 2015 Hanlon initiative that banned hard alcohol on campus and required students to undergo four years of sexual violence prevention and education training, has helped to make Dartmouth’s campus safer, despite shortstaffing issues. Hanlon has also presided over an increase in diversity among faculty, staff, and students during his tenure: People of color represent 24% of Dartmouth’s faculty and staff and almost half of the Class of 2025, both up from a decade ago.

But while these accomplishments are deserving of praise, they present an incomplete picture of the legacy Hanlon will leave behind. 

For one thing, Hanlon’s presidency has been one marred by legal action against the College. Just in the past few years: A 2018 suit alleged that Dartmouth ignored claims of sexual misconduct against professors in the psychological and brain sciences department, the College faced threats of litigation in response to alleged Title IX non-compliance in the athletics department and, most recently, a lawsuit alleged that Dartmouth — along with 15 other universities — conspired to limit students’ financial aid via price fixing. Revelations in August 2020 that Hanlon, as the University of Michigan’s provost, promoted a professor despite knowledge of sexual misconduct allegations against him are also likely to cast a looming shadow over the now outgoing president’s legacy.  

Another defining marker of Hanlon’s tenure has been his failure to address the student body’s most pressing needs. As his presidency draws to a close, two crises that have long plagued Dartmouth remain largely unresolved. Despite repeated promises of new housing, the College’s housing shortage — which this past fall caused hundreds of students to be placed on a waitlist and prompted the College to offer students $5,000 to live off campus — has yet to be solved. A mental health crisis on campus, underscored by the deaths by suicide of three first-year students — Beau DuBray ’24, Connor Tiffany ’24 and Elizabeth Reimer ’24 — demonstrated a need to reform the College’s cruel medical leave policies and compassionless academic policies.  Though the College has begun to make strides toward addressing these longstanding issues, Hanlon’s tenure saw them mostly swept under the rug. 

Now, as the search for a successor kicks off, we urge the Board of Trustees to prioritize finding a president willing to learn from Hanlon’s failures. The College’s next leader will, in essence, be faced with using the enormous resources Hanlon raised to fix the problems Hanlon largely ignored. The housing and mental health crises would be good places to start.  

We also call on the College to seek and select a candidate who better represents the diversity of their student body. After all, if Dartmouth is going to hold up progress on diversity and inclusion as one of the key successes of Hanlon’s tenure — as the email from the Board of Trustees pointedly did — it would be strange to then select a candidate that offers none of the diversity the College claims to value. 

Moreover, we urge the College to consult students, who will be among those most directly impacted by the next president, as part of the selection process. We are heartened by Board of Trustees chair Liz Lempres ’83 Th’84’s comments to The Dartmouth this week in which she said the Board will “absolutely” consult with students — and we expect the College to stick to that commitment. 

In the end, President Hanlon’s tenure will likely be remembered as a mixed bag. Though the College was placed on solid financial footing and made a number of key strides forward in academics and infrastructure, core problems like housing and mental health were mostly ignored, deteriorating to the point of crisis while scandals kept Dartmouth in the national headlines. Now that Hanlon is stepping down, we encourage the Dartmouth community to take this opportunity to reflect on both his successes and failures and on what the College should seek in its leaders. This is a call for leadership that is progressive, but retrospective. With the input of students and other members of the Dartmouth community, we are hopeful that whomever the College selects will be up to the task of bringing about the changes Hanlon has failed to.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.