2013 State of the College Address

Good afternoon and thanks to all of you for being here today for this dialogue about the future of the academic enterprise at Dartmouth, and let me begin by saying how privileged I feel to join the academic community here. You are an outstanding faculty, and I feel very fortunate to have you as my new colleagues.

I have been impressed by the quality, the creativity, and the impact of your work and your commitment to both the teaching and research missions. And of course collectively, we share the joy of working with some of the most talented, passionate, and engaging students you'll find anywhere in the world. So just to start, I am lucky, indeed, to have the chance to return to Dartmouth.

I am also very excited about the opportunities we share to take this already great academic enterprise to new levels. I want to share with you my thoughts about that today.

In my Inauguration address, I highlighted some of the themes—experiential learning, learning technologies, research impact, affordability—and issued a call to action to build the academic enterprise around those themes.

And so today is a chance to flesh that out a bit. Why do I think those are the right themes for Dartmouth? How do I envision these themes coming to life at Dartmouth? How can the faculty be involved—what am I asking the faculty to do in my call to action?

This will take some time, these are meaty topics. My plan is to talk for something like 40 minutes and then open it up for your comments, questions, and advice.

Our discussion today will focus on Dartmouth's core missions—education and scholarship. We are going to have a chance to talk again on November 18 on the topic of student life.

Now, I am well aware that those are not disjoint topics and that there are important dependencies between the two.

But they are also both very complicated topics, and I thought to have a meaningful dialogue on both topics in one sitting was just too much and so I split them in two.

Needless to say, it is important that we all put on our "Dartmouth hat" today and focus on what is best for the institution as a whole, setting aside parochial interests or considerations of what might be best for our own departments or schools.

I'm going to organize my remarks today to go from 40,000 feet down to ground level. So, in other words, I will begin with mission and vision, and I will follow that by some discussion of the external environment and the forces that are shaping higher education today.

With that as context, I am going to turn to the strategies that I think will make Dartmouth successful in the next decade. And then I'll end up with concrete steps that I hope we can accomplish within the next couple of years.

What follows is my best thinking at this moment—thinking that has been informed and tested through discussions with hundreds of you over the past 11 months.

I've also benefitted from the inspiring content in the strategic planning documents. And so I want to thank all of you who contributed time and energy and ideas to that.

And I've had hundreds of conversations with students, with staff, with alumni, and with parents that have also helped shape my thinking. In all these conversations, there was no disagreement on Dartmouth's core mission. It is two-fold: it consists of our education mission, which is to prepare graduates who will go out and change the world for the better; and our scholarly mission, to advance the frontiers of knowledge so as to elevate understanding of the human condition, create works of art and intellect that enrich the human spirit, pursue the most meaningful opportunities that the world has to offer, and devise solutions to some of mankind's most pressing problems.

There was also in these discussions great alignment on what Dartmouth's goals should be relative to this mission. First, Dartmouth is best-in-class at the education mission. This is a strategic advantage that we must not give up. And second, there is a strong, broad-based interest to enhance the scholarly work done on this campus.

I should say that I fully support those two ambitions.

Let's talk about vision—where do we want Dartmouth to be in 10 years?

So let's do a thought experiment. Let's pretend that it is in fact 10 to 12 years from now. It is my last day as president, and I am addressing you to give a report on the state of Dartmouth. Mysteriously, all of you are still here on the faculty, willing to come hear me talk. How do I envision this conversation to go on my last day in office?

I tell you that Dartmouth is a magnet for human talent. We get our pick of the most talented students and faculty—students are drawn to Dartmouth because of the distinctive, innovative learning experiences we offer and to get the chance to work directly with our outstanding faculty.

Faculty choose Dartmouth over other top colleges and universities because of the exciting, path-breaking, innovative scholarship on campus and the opportunity to work with our enormously talented students.

I report that the campus is academically energized, a site of intellectual innovation and risk-taking. Dartmouth is a place of big ideas and bold efforts. I note that Dartmouth has porous boundaries with the world. We are sending our students and faculty out into the world and then we're inviting the world to our campus.

Dartmouth faculty dare to take on some of the world's most complex issues, trying out-of-the-box approaches, working across disciplines, and far beyond the reaches of the Hanover campus. Likewise, I tell you student life on campus is dominated not by the social scene, but by student efforts to make a difference in the world, working with peers and faculty on artistic and creative works, academic research, and taking ideas into action through social ventures and business start-ups.

And Dartmouth is making an impact. I tell you about something like five-to-ten major areas of challenge to mankind where people generally agree that the best work in the world is being done at Dartmouth.

On the output side, I tell you that Dartmouth grads—at least those who don't launch their own businesses and social ventures—are a really hot commodity in the minds of recruiters, not only because of their academic preparation but also because of their leadership skills and their ability to translate intellectual learning into impact on the world.

In short, I conclude to you, Dartmouth's footprint on the world has never been so large. Now for sure, every element of that vision is in place today, to some degree.

But not as uniformly or as powerfully as any of us would like.

And so our discussion today is really going to be about how we move towards that vision, mindful of the institution's history and culture as well as the external context within which higher education is operating. So let me turn now to that external environment.

Higher education has entered a period of great change—a statement I make knowing full well the time-honored tradition of academic leaders to yammer on about periods of change. But in this case, I believe it! And I believe it because of the powerful forces in the external environment that are driving higher education at this moment. Let's talk about some of those.

The first I'll mention is changes in the workplace. Volatility and disruption, in any domain of activity you examine and according to any measure you want to take, are at an all-time high. More than ever before, there is a premium on flexibility of mind, on having the confidence to innovate and take risks, and on being practiced at changing course when faced with failure. And so, we are obliged to prepare our graduates for that.

The workforce is becoming increasingly diverse—whether one is working domestically or, certainly, in the global economy. To be successful, our graduates must have the ability to work effectively with people from very different backgrounds and perspectives. We must equip them with cultural awareness and cultural humility.

Let's talk about IT and its impact. It is interesting to note that the World Wide Web is college-aged—just under 20 years old. Yet I have a difficult time remembering exactly what life was like before the web. IT has changed everything about the way we live our lives, and so it will inevitably change higher education in profound ways. So let's step back for a moment and imagine how IT will change the ways we educate.

When I wrestle with that question, it helps me to think along a spectrum. At one end, I'll put data and information—facts about the world. In the middle I will put knowledge—the frameworks we create so that the facts that we see make sense to us. At the far end I will put wisdom—the skills to operate successfully in the world based on what you know.

One clear consequence of the information age is that nobody will pay Dartmouth tuition to get information. Right? Information is now a free and public good—if you want it, you go get it on your laptop. The time is hard upon us when knowledge is also going to be a free, public good. If you want to learn about Walt Whitman or quantum mechanics or artificial intelligence, you will be able to view lectures by the great faculty at Dartmouth and MIT and Stanford.

That is not to say that I see a future where we stop having lectures at Dartmouth. I'm not saying that at all. The back-and-forth and exchange of ideas in the classroom greatly elevates the learning experience.

But, what I am saying is that increasingly, our key value-added—the reason great students will choose to come to Dartmouth—has to be that we provide them with wisdom, the ability to think critically, having a well-developed creative mind with the confidence to innovate and take risks, powerful communication skills, the ability to work effectively with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, numeracy and quantitative reasoning, being able to engage the arts and humanities, and having a well-developed set of values and the integrity to act on them.

If you were to ask me, what parts of the strategic planning document spoke most powerfully to me, one passage I certainly would identify is from the Students of the Future section which lists the skills that I just enumerated as key outcomes for the education we provide our students in the future.

And this is good news for the liberal arts because a liberal education has always focused on these generally applicable intellectual skills rather than static knowledge.

Let me pause now to collect my thoughts.

Looking at the external environment has led me to argue that wisdom—the skills to operate effectively in the world—will be the dominant outcome we aspire for students. I've also argued that amongst these capabilities—the well-developed creative mind, the confidence to innovate and take risks, as well as the ability to work effectively with those with different perspectives—are of emerging importance because of the workplace. And I've noted that IT offers amazing opportunities to transform the way we teach and learn.

OK, so what does this say now about the strategies for Dartmouth to stay at the very forefront of teaching and learning?

First, we should emphasize experiential learning, learning by doing. Because you develop wisdom, these skills, through active, rather than passive, learning. Think about the process of developing the creative mind, building the confidence to innovate. You don't get that by sitting in a classroom and having someone talk to you. You learn that by doing—by trying, by failing, by being coached, by trying again.

You know, I am a firm believer in the old adage that it is easiest to ride a horse in the direction that it's moving. And experiential learning is definitely a direction that Dartmouth is moving. I am in fact amazed by the instances of experiential learning that are going on already on this campus: project-based engineering and design courses (with ENGIN 21 being the grandfather of these); Anne Kapuscinski leading students in Environmental Studies 50 to develop concrete actions that will make our campus operations more sustainable; Mary Flanagan involving students in efforts to combat prejudice and advance social good through games; Jeff Sharlet engaging students with the Upper Valley through the Forty Towns project; Rocky's policy research shop which places students in the roles of staffers in state legislatures; Hood interns each of whom develops their own public exhibits; the Paganucci Fellows or the Freedman Presidential Fellows, service learning through Geisel and Tucker—I could go on all evening, but you don't want me to do that. I think Dartmouth is probably state-of-the-art in experiential learning right now. What is left to accomplish?

First, we should ensure that students take away the outcomes we intend from experiential learning activities—not only the key intellectual skills we discussed earlier, but also an increased appreciation that deep thinking and the power of the mind are their most potent tools we have in addressing the world's complex challenges and opportunities.

Practically, that means that we should equip students with relevant academic training prior to the experience and prompt them to reflect on what they've learned after the experience. For example, before we send students on a service learning experience to rural Kenya, we need to equip them with an understanding of the history and culture of the Masai people. And after the experience we should ask them to reflect on what they've learned.

That example crosses my mind because I spoke recently with one student who had just returned from working in rural Kenya who, upon reflection, had come to realize the important role that narrative played in the working of the village she visited. Importantly, this reflection was influencing the way that she was going about ongoing work that she was doing in U.S. cities.

So with each experiential learning activity we mount, you should ask how you might prepare students before the activity with relevant academic training and prompt reflection after.

And I ask you to continue to push creative boundaries in developing new, innovative experiential learning opportunities. In the undergraduate space, let's tap Dartmouth's outstanding professional schools. After all, a profession is a framework that allows us to take intellectual learning and apply it to the real world. That is why we already see some of the most innovative and well-developed experiential learning going on within Thayer, Tuck, and Geisel.

And now a question for all of you, which I want to come back to in the Q&A: Given the amazing things that are already going on on this campus, in the same way that Princeton brands its senior thesis and Duke brands service-learning through Duke Engage, should Dartmouth actively brand experiential learning as a key part of the Dartmouth academic experience? And if so, what would that look like?

Should we, for example, require a capstone experiential learning project of every student? This project could be a dissertation based on a research experience, but could also be a company or social venture the student has initiated. Or a creative work that the student has composed and performed. Let's come back to that question later.

Let me move from experiential learning to IT and learning technologies. Learning technologies allow us great new tools to enhance the teaching that we do on campus. It does not apply in every domain, but where it can be transformative, we should pursue the opportunities energetically. But what will this look like? How do I imagine that learning technologies will transform the teaching and learning we do on campus? Let me mention four areas.

The first is outreach—IT platforms allow us to share our knowledge and expertise with a broad, world-wide audience. MOOCs are the latest, and surely not the last, generation of delivery tools. Using technology platforms to share our knowledge with the world is a good thing to do—Dartmouth should participate. But I am not a believer that MOOCs will transform higher education. In my mind outreach is in fact the least important, and certainly the most heavily-hyped, of the four areas where technology will impact our education mission.

The second is engagement. It has become straightforward enough to record lectures for broadcast, that we have the opportunity to move moments of truly passive learning for our students to a technology platform so that we can more actively engage students during that time.

Now, thinking about my own section of Math 11 this term, I have just over 30 hours together with the students—precious little time for me to help them master a challenging and fast-moving set of mathematical concepts and tools, and I sure want them actively thinking during as much of that time as possible, and technology offers the opportunity for me to do that.

The third area is analytics. We are in a position to collect amazing amounts of information about how our students are progressing through the learning curve.

Used effectively, that information can help us understand how well our curriculum fits together, determine what works well, or not, in our own teaching, and diagnose deficits and deliver personalized tutoring to our students. This is an enormously exciting area in its infancy, and Dartmouth is ideally positioned to lead.

The fourth area is collaboration. There are amazing experiments going on across higher ed where IT is allowing students to collaborate with each other, with faculty, with people across the globe.

So Outreach, Engagement, Analytics, Collaboration. What I would ask of every member of the faculty is first, be curious and open-minded. Ask yourself whether there are moments of passive learning in your classes and what you might be able to do during that time that more actively engages your students.

Open your imaginations to how technology could help you harvest information about student learning to help you better diagnose and understand student strengths and deficits and gain insights into how sequences of courses fit together, or not. Think creatively about how technology-based collaborations might enhance the learning your students do.

This is an amazing opportunity space. Your creative thinking combined with the true commitment to teaching and learning can put Dartmouth at the forefront. I'm convinced of that.

Let me move now from teaching and learning to the scholarship that we do on campus.

Again, let me begin with a driving force from the external environment. Specifically, the complex nature of the challenges and opportunities facing the world today.

Many of us grew up, academically, during a period of great reductionism. The driving philosophy was to reduce the world's phenomena to their smallest components. If we sequence the genome, we will be able to cure all diseases. If we analyze how brains are wired, we will understand creativity and feeling. If we could just sample weather data broadly and deeply enough, we'll understand global climate and weather patterns.

Two things have resulted. First, we developed wondrous technologies to measure fine-grained phenomena, and they have delivered amazing datasets to us. Second, we learned that knowing the finest components doesn't actually give us all the answers.

Instead, we now face a set of critical challenges that are complex in nature—working out integrative behavior and emergent effects. Combating adolescent substance abuse. Transforming K-12 education. Creating a sustainable job base for this nation. Using the arts as a force for urban renewal. I could go on and on. These are issues that cannot be addressed within a single discipline, even within a single school.

An interesting observation is that the nation's great institutions of higher education are the only sites where the full range of expertise needed to take on these problems resides in a single place. And so it has become an urgent responsibility of the great colleges and universities to embrace these challenges, to stimulate interdisciplinary investigation and bold thinking.

We have a powerful example on our campus. Bringing together sociologists, economists, physicians, policy experts, public health practitioners, Dartmouth has done more than any other institution to chart the way in health care delivery for this nation over the past several decades. Dartmouth's footprint in this crucial area is enormous.

That's a worthy goal—to catalyze Dartmouth's intellectual assets against other major challenges and opportunities. And to position us for that, I think we have steps to take.

When I compare Dartmouth's intellectual assets to our peers, I see a fabulously talented, engaged set of undergraduates. I see a truly outstanding faculty. But what falls between, what I call "young scholars"—our graduate student and postdoc cohorts—that middle part is thin. Not necessarily lacking in quality, but certainly lacking in quantity.

So one strategy we need to employ is what I call fill the middle. Increase the flow of young scholars to Dartmouth. Many advantages will accrue. Young scholars bring energy and new ideas. They come to us with a sense of urgency—they're just beginning their academic careers and they are hungry. They push us, the regular faculty, they invite us into their work, stimulate our thinking. In doing so, they create an environment that is more exciting and rich and thereby help us with recruitment and retention. And when young scholars leave Dartmouth, and go out across the academic world, they enhance our reputation through their words and deeds.

Second, in order to reach the goal of increasing Dartmouth's impact on the world, we must expand the faculty. We are already below the critical mass we will need to undertake major new scholarly initiatives, and I've just identified two strategies, an emphasis on experiential learning and an expansion of young scholars on campus, that will that will stretch the regular faculty even thinner.

I feel strongly that we are best served by organizing faculty expansion around areas of interest and impact, hiring clusters of faculty in different disciplines and schools around a common theme so as to jump-start interdisciplinary research and teaching on important academic or world issues.

But imagine hiring a cluster in Atlantic studies crossing history, architecture, French and Italian and classical studies. Or a cluster of faculty from engineering, medicine, computer science and anthropology who share a passion for developing health technology devices that can be inexpensively deployed and will be readily adopted by cultures of the developing world. Or a cluster built around financial markets, touching Tuck, economics, government, and history.

Third, beyond bringing in new talent, we must put in place mechanisms to help our current faculty be more productive. Mechanisms that allow you to pursue new ideas, take risks, encourage you to engage in bold thinking. Recognize and celebrate your accomplishments. So three different ideas in a scholarly space.

What is my call-to-action for faculty in the scholarly area? Engage with the Society of Fellows. Bring them into your research and allow yourself to be brought into theirs. Help us imagine themes for faculty clusters that will build on Dartmouth strengths to accelerate the impact of our scholarship. Continue to do your current great research, but open yourself to disruption.

Be willing to engage in new ventures, new directions, with new partners. Help us elevate the level of intellectual risk and energy on our campus.

OK, so I've covered a lot of ground, reading fast. Let me stop once again and pause and take stock. I started with two long-term goals for the academic enterprise at Dartmouth: remain at the forefront of teaching and learning; and increase Dartmouth's impact on some of the most important problems and opportunities facing the world.

And I've identified five strategies to achieve these goals: stress experiential learning; lead in the use of learning technologies; increase the flow of young scholars through the institution; grow the faculty in clusters around areas of interest and impact; and put in place mechanisms to stimulate greater productivity and risk-taking by Dartmouth faculty.

All right, so, given those goals and given those strategies, what are the next steps? What should we prioritize in the coming year or two? Some you know about because they are recently announced or underway:

Number one, the Williamson Building is erupting from the ground. This amazing new facility, a major investment of philanthropic and College resources, along with the recently awarded CTSA grant—congratulations Alan [Green]—will energize our efforts to work towards innovative clinical interventions and outcomes research, make a real impact on the world of health and medicine.

Second, I recently announced the Innovation and Entrepreneurial Center for students. Tillman [Gerngross] and Trip [Davis '90] are helping to head that up. This was funded through the generosity of several of our alumni entrepreneurs, and this facility will provide much-needed support in one of the areas of experiential learning that is of particularly keen interest to our students. That's helping with experiential learning.

And third, I announced The Society of Fellows will be a major platform for increasing the flow of young scholars through Dartmouth. The current plan is to begin with approximately 20-24 fellows, and I hope to grow those numbers over the years to come.

Let me turn now to some other ideas, high priorities for me that I hope to announce that we will launch over the next couple of years.

First, I'm going to work to put together the resources for a major cluster-hiring initiative whereby we grow our faculty around areas of impact. You can help in a way I mentioned earlier. We need to identify themes around which to build clusters. Themes that make sense for our campus. And ultimately, these themes will need to arise from the faculty and be supported by the deans—I can't dictate them. Over the next couple of months, the provost and deans will launch a process by which we will ask for your proposals. And I would ask that each of you engage in this creative process so we get the very best ideas on the table.

Second, I want to upgrade the infrastructure and organizational support for graduate studies outside of the professional degree programs. One idea, that I think has merit, is to create a free-standing graduate school. This would be similar to the School for Advanced Study that was proposed as part of the Strategic Planning report.

Under the current structure, the graduate dean and office report to the dean of the faculty, even though several of the graduate programs reside in the professional schools. Under a potential new structure, the dean of Graduate Studies and the graduate school would report to the provost. The graduate school would have responsibility for overseeing quality and integrity of the PhD and Masters of Arts/Sciences degree programs. The graduate school would provide a home for interdisciplinary graduate programs across departments and schools, and the dean of Graduate Studies will be charged with advocating at the provost's level on behalf of graduate programs and students.

OK, another thing that I hope to get going in the next year or two, amongst our units, the Thayer School is a site of research impact, innovative experiential learning and interest in learning technologies. In other words, it hits many of those strategies that I laid out earlier. It is also a unit of academic excellence well below critical mass by any measure. It is a high priority of mine to significantly expand Thayer—there is enormous upside for all of Dartmouth in doing so.

Moving on, Martin Wybourne is poised to announce a couple of initiatives that are aimed at helping you participate more effectively in the vision that I laid out. First, the Provost's Office is set to launch a new funding program to support Dartmouth faculty as they pursue new and innovative research ideas. The program is funded through reallocation within the provost's budget and my own budget. Details will follow shortly.

Thinking about learning technologies now, we do not expect faculty to be experts in learning technologies, and we need to get you assistance from those who are in order for you to follow your most innovate and creative learning technology ideas. So DCAL [the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning] will be the focal point for getting you this support, and will partner with academic computing to develop the support model. Look for an announcement from the provost in the very near future.

In addition, we are seeking partnerships to help us advance in the learning technologies space. Upon the recommendation of a faculty task force, we are considering an agreement right now with a partner in the MOOC space. But in addition, we are in active discussion with potential partners who are thought leaders in the engagement and analytics space as well.

And lastly, the Tuck School is one of our most outstanding assets, deeply committed to experiential learning and the study of issues that make a difference in the business world. In recent years, Tuck has begun to grow their involvement with undergraduates by offering a number of courses.

I am encouraging their deeper involvement with undergraduates, and they are far along in the planning for how they can expand their Bridge program, offer business basics to interested students through the Entrepreneurial Center, and launch an innovative new 4+1 program. This will come at the expense of faculty time and energy, and so I also support growth in the Tuck faculty, some of which may come from the faculty cluster initiative.

So many initiatives, much exciting work to be done. I am enthused about the future and excited about what we can get in place in the next couple of years working together.

Let me touch on three important topics that you did not hear me mention. The first is the provost search. This search is well along, nearing its final stages. The finalist pool is outstanding, really terrific, and I want to thank all the members of the search committee, especially the chair Bruce Duthu—where is Bruce? There's Bruce—for their work.

The second and third topics are diversity of the faculty and globalization/global branding of our academic work. I am strongly committed to both of those objectives and I'm a veteran in both those areas from my prior work.

The reason that I'm not discussing them today is that every one of the finalists in the provost search is very well positioned to bring fresh ideas and experiences to help us move forward in these areas. So for today, let me state strongly and clearly that these are crucial priorities for Dartmouth, and while I have experience and ideas on both, as do all of you, I'm waiting for the new provost before we set out actual objectives and approaches.

I want to turn now to the final topic—resources. I've just talked about a boatload of ambitious new initiatives. How are we going to pay for them?

I assure you, over the next decade, Dartmouth, I assure you, will make a historic investment in its academic enterprise. I want to outline how I see that investment is taking shape.

That brings me to a final key consideration from the external context which we, along with all of higher education, are facing. The concern in this nation about the cost of higher education has reached crisis proportions. And for legitimate reason.

If you look across higher education, cost of attendance has gone up 3 to 5 percent above any reasonable index of inflation for 40 years in a row. But the traditional funding model is unsustainable and very near a breaking point. There is no issue that I hear about more when I am talking with alumni, parents, students, government officials, than affordability.

So you should expect as faculty that Dartmouth is going to keep its tuition rates flat in real terms. In other words, our cost of attendance will track in the future much more closely to some justifiable rate of inflation.

Simultaneously, a second major revenue stream, sponsored research, is under tight constraint. I think we all know that.

I think that most would agree that federal spending on research will continue to decline in real terms as far out as the eye can see. So to carry out the innovations, the bold initiatives, that I've outlined above, we will count on philanthropy and self-investment. The first is my responsibility, partnering with our deans and our very able development staff.

I'm optimistic. I'm very optimistic. Dartmouth alumni are as committed to this institution as they have ever been, and I am confident that we will bring historic levels of resources to this institution through gifts and endowment.

But philanthropy will not be enough. We will need to self-invest as well by prioritizing all the activities we do and freeing up resources from those that are least effective or of lowest priority for investment in excellence and new initiatives. This is what any truly successful organization does, and we will need to do this as well.

This is my call to action in this area. Prioritization is difficult work. We need to do it together.

Let me conclude my remarks where I began them by saying how privileged I feel to be at Dartmouth and how excited I feel about the future that lies ahead of us.

I know that we in this room share one thing, a great love for this institution, and I am so looking forward to working with all of you to make it even greater than it is today.

So thank you for your attention, and let me stop and throw it open for questions, comments, thoughts, and thank you.