Q&A with Provost David Kotz ’86 on his changing perspectives of Dartmouth
Kotz reflected on his experiences as a student at Dartmouth, from the Dartmouth Outing Club to Green Key.
David Kotz '86 began work as interim Provost on July 1 and will serve in the role until the College finds a permanent replacement.
This article is featured in the 2022 Green Key special issue.
Provost David Kotz graduated from Dartmouth in 1986, where he studied computer science and physics. As provost, he is the College’s chief academic and fiscal officer. He is also a computer science professor and the director of emerging technologies and data analytics in the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health at the College. The Dartmouth sat down with Provost Kotz to discuss how his background has shaped his connection to the College and his job today, as well as his experiences with Green Key and other Dartmouth traditions.
You are one of the few people who has the perspectives of being a student, alumnus, parent and member of the administration. What has that been like for you, and how has it shaped your view of Dartmouth?
DK: Wow, that’s a really big question considering I first arrived in Hanover almost 40 years ago as an incoming first-year student. I’ve clearly been deeply fond of the College for all of that time, and every new phase of that relationship for me has been very special. Now, as a parent in particular, it has been especially exciting to watch my children enjoy their Dartmouth experience.
Why did you decide to join the Dartmouth administration?
DK: I’d been asked from time to time to play a role in various leadership capacities across the College as an institute director, as an associate dean and as interim provost into provost. To me, ultimately, it’s about an opportunity to give back to this school that I love so much and to help it thrive in so many ways. I’m really pleased that I have that opportunity.
What do you remember about being a student at the College? What are some of your favorite memories and what do you think has helped you the most when it comes to navigating your job today?
DK: When I was a student, I was very involved in the Dartmouth Outing Club, particularly in the Cabin and Trail division. I also lived off campus in an off-campus house with a lot of other DOC students. For me, that was a big part of my life at the time and a big part of my Dartmouth experience and still, in many ways, that’s a big part of me. A lot of my friends from that era are still my closest friends today. Many of them actually live in the Upper Valley. Also, in one of my DOC roles, I was the director of Freshman Trips — now First-Year Trips.That gave me an opportunity to really pay it forward and helped me understand the profound importance of that program in helping launch most Dartmouth students’ time at the College and how much of a difference it makes in building the Dartmouth sense of community. I was pleased to be involved in the administration this year as the DOC navigated a particularly challenging year in First-Year Trips. I’m looking forward to hopefully a more normal round of Trips this coming fall.
What is something that your many different perspectives and experiences have taught you over the years?
DK: I have many perspectives on the College. Certainly not all perspectives, but one advantage — as a former student, as a professor, as an administrator, as a parent — is that I recognize that there are many different perspectives and that people approach the Dartmouth community and the Dartmouth experience from different angles. That helps me to better understand and better respect the different ways that people experience Dartmouth, and I celebrate that. It’s great that people have different ways of appreciating Dartmouth, and hopefully I’m able now, in my administrative role, to help make that possible.
What memories do you have of Green Key as a student?
DK: I don’t remember very much about what Green Key was when I was a student compared to how it is today, so I can’t really comment on that. Again, I was very involved in the Outing Club and Cabin and Trail, so most weekends I was out in the woods somewhere on a hike or leading a trip or something like that. That’s what was really important to me, so that’s where my friend group and I spent our time, most likely including Green Key weekend.
What are your thoughts on Green Key now as an alumni and a parent?
DK: My impression of Green Key now is that it is an opportunity for students to really celebrate spring, to get outside if we have good weather and to enjoy themselves towards the end of the academic year, and I hope they can do this in a safe way. That’s really my main concern, both as a parent and as an administrator –– that Green Key is fun and safe.
Why do you think traditions like Green Key are valuable for the College?
DK: I think for any long-running institution, traditions are a way of building community across generations. Because some of these traditions date back for decades — and I suppose in some cases even longer — they give us all a sense of this continuity of this much larger community that is Dartmouth over generations. To me, that’s a really valuable part of traditions. On the other hand, I also recognize — and I think it’s very important to recognize — that traditions evolve as an institution evolves. Traditions come and go, traditions change, and that’s fine. Today’s students are defining what Dartmouth is today and tomorrow’s students will redefine that in their own view, and I think that’s wonderful.
What advice would you give current and incoming students based on both your time as a student and the perspective you have now as an alumnus?
DK: I always encourage students to take advantage of the incredible resources that Dartmouth has to offer — intellectual resources, physical resources, program resources —the kinds of activities and opportunities there are to learn from each other and from the faculty and staff. There’s so much here that you can draw on to learn and to grow, so I really hope that every student takes advantage of that. The four years go by remarkably fast, and probably never again in your life will you have this incredible variety of opportunity in front of you. So that’s the main thing. Try something new, try a lot new, and learn and grow along the way.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.