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The Dartmouth
May 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College president emeritus James Wright dies at 83

Wright, who served as the College’s 16th president from 1998 to 2009, championed veterans in higher education.

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President emeritus James Wright, 16th president of the College from 1998 to 2009, died from cancer at his home in Hanover on Monday, College President Phil Hanlon ’77 announced on Tuesday. He was 83. 

“President Wright’s impact on Dartmouth, both as a dedicated teacher-scholar and as an administrator, was profound,” Hanlon wrote. “Most importantly, President Wright encouraged and empowered students and colleagues, alike, to make a positive difference in the world around them.”

Wright was a “highly respected” Marine Corps veteran, history scholar and professor, Hanlon wrote. Wright joined Dartmouth’s history department in 1969, specializing in the history of the American West. Throughout his time as a professor and administrator, he recommended the creation of the Native American Studies program and was a champion for veterans in higher education, Hanlon wrote.

“[Wright] was among the fiercest advocates for veterans in higher education, routinely visiting wounded service men and women in our nation’s military hospitals and encouraging them to continue their education,” Hanlon wrote. 

According to an announcement from the College, Wright was born in Galena, Illinois and assumed that he would “probably go to work in the mines” or factories. At 17, Wright joined the Marine Corps and served in Taiwan. Upon returning from service, he obtained his bachelor’s degree from Wisconsin State University, Platteville and a Ph.D from University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1969, according to Hanlon’s email. A College announcement also noted that Wright worked during college as a powderman in mines, janitor, bartender and factory worker.

In 1984, Wright married Susan DeBevoise, an assistant dean at the College, according to the announcement. During his time at Dartmouth, Wright also served as dean of the faculty and provost of the College.

As president, Wright launched the campaign for the Dartmouth Experience, which raised more than $1.3 billion — the largest funding campaign in Dartmouth’s history at the time. The funds were used to expand financial aid, hire more faculty and finance the construction of Berry Library and the Rauner special collections library, as well as Kemeny Hall, the Floren Varsity House and the McLaughlin Cluster, among other buildings.

Wright was also known for establishing the controversial Student Life Initiative, which sought to make Dartmouth’s social environment more inclusive. Released by the Board of Trustees in February 1999, the SLI placed a temporary moratorium on the establishment of new single-sex Greek organizations.

After his tenure as president, Wright published three books on military service, which spotlights veterans. According to the College announcement, he received national awards for his history and war scholarship.

In 2020, the College announced the building of the Susan and James Wright Center for the Study of Computation and Just Communities, designed to promote democratic and equitable societies through computational sciences. 

“Dartmouth is, indeed, a better place because of Jim,” Hanlon wrote. “We will miss him dearly and honor him always.”

Hanlon added that there will be a memorial service for Wright open to members of the Dartmouth community.

For students, counseling services are available at (603) 646-9442 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and at (603) 646-9440 outside of regular hours. The Student Wellness Center and Undergraduate Deans Office remain available resources for undergraduate students. 

This article will be updated as more details become available, and a full obituary will be published in the near future. If you would like to share a memory, please contact editor@thedartmouth.com.