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President Hanlon's Remarks
Item number one is a report from the President. I have a number of items I want to cover, but number one is to thank many of you in this room for your support, for your warm wishes, cards, even gifts, during my recent surgery. They took very good care of me at Alice Peck Day. My new hip is working great and I'm back to 100%. I do appreciate all of the warm wishes, so thank you all.
I want to update you on the work of the enrollment task force, and the consideration of possible enrollment expansion. I will begin by reminding everyone of the reasons that Dartmouth might consider an expansion of undergraduate enrollment. The first is the public good argument, our mission to do good in the world. I believe that a Dartmouth education prepares students in unique ways to lead lives of leadership and impact. So, as an intuition, if we can prepare more graduates, then we'll have a larger positive impact on the world.
This last Friday, I was in New York. I attended – at the Bloomberg Foundation – a meeting of the presidents of the institutions involved in the American Talent Initiative. For those of you who may not be aware of ATI, it's a consortium of colleges and universities that have committed to raise their collective enrollment of Pell-eligible students by 50,000 by the year 2025. To be eligible for membership in this consortium, there's one condition, and that is that your institution have a 70% or higher six-year graduation rate. So, what they're trying to do is target institutions that actually successfully graduate students. Sadly, and kind of amazingly, there are only 290 colleges and universities in this country, out of three or four thousand institutions of higher education, that actually meet this 70% threshold, and 95 of them are involved in the ATI, including Dartmouth.
I mention this because at this gathering, Dan Porterfield, who is the new president of the Aspen Institute, gave an impassioned plea to the 95 institutions in the room that they should not only enroll more Pell-eligible students, but they should grow their enrollments overall. His argument was exactly the public good argument. What he noted was that college graduates are 1.7 times more likely to vote, that they're 2.3 times more likely to volunteer, that they're 2.6 times more likely to be involved in their communities, that they experience lower mortality due to drugs, alcohol and suicide by a factor of almost 4, and that they spend over their lifetimes, on average, $278,000 more within their communities, purchasing local goods and services. So, Dan argued that this is part of the public good that comes from a college education, and these institutions are the ones most successful in actual completion, and so we have a higher obligation to educate more students. That is the public good argument.
A second reason is more parochial, which is that we are the smallest of the Ivies, but we have the same broad ambitions when shaping our incoming class. We seek diversity along many dimensions – race, ethnicity, gender – but also intellectual interests – the humanities, engineering, sciences, and social sciences. We believe that first-generation students and international students add great vibrancy and richness to our community. We seek students who have an interest in the outdoors, we mount 35 sports teams, which provide important growth and learning for our students. And, I think as Lee Coffin will tell you, we just don't have enough slots right now to shape the class in all these important ways.
So, those are the reasons to consider it.
At the same time, if we were to expand, we need to maintain and protect those things that are very special about Dartmouth, including the tight community and the close relationship between faculty and students. So, the important work of the enrollment task force was to imagine a hypothetical implementation plan that protected those things that are very special about our institution. The work of this task force helps us understand all the complexities that would come from an implementation of growth, including housing and dining, essential student services, where we should need to add instructional effort and so on. I very much look forward to receiving their report next month, at which point their work will definitely be shared with the public.
Now, any significant decision or significant change to our enrollment scale is really a long-term strategic move. Therefore, that decision rests with the trustees, who are our long-term stewards of the institution. Let me be very clear: at this point, no decision has been made one way or the other.
At the upcoming trustee meeting, which starts later this week, the trustees will receive an oral summary of the findings of the enrollment task force. Then, considering these findings, the trustees may do one of two things. They may decide that this is not the right time for Dartmouth to consider an enrollment expansion. Now, in that case, the report of the enrollment task force will not only have been invaluable to their decision, but it will still be a highly important document to help us understand what expansion would entail, if at some later date we were to consider that. Or, the trustees may decide that they're actually interested in further consideration of enrollment expansion. Elizabeth and I have repeatedly emphasized the need to get community input in that case, and the board chair, Laurel Richie, who's with us here today, assures us that if they go that route and say they're still interested in this question, then the board will seek community input informed by the report of the enrollment task force before taking any further steps. So, that's the current situation with the consideration of enrollment growth.
Our next topic is strategic initiatives. About a month ago, Lindsay [Whaley] approached me on behalf of the COP [Committee on Organization and Policy] with their interest in enlisting more systematic involvement of arts and sciences committees at early stages in the consideration of strategic questions that are facing the institution. Questions like scale, as we were just talking about. I very much welcome this. I convened a meeting of the FCC [Faculty Coordinating Committee] a couple of weeks ago so that we could think about how we could actually make this happen.
We've come up with a plan that will call for the current and incoming chairs on the FCC to meet with the Dean and the President and the Provost in late May each year to share our perspectives on the highest priority strategic questions facing Dartmouth, and which one or ones we should focus on in the coming year. It can't be a very long list because, as with the enrollment task force, these strategic questions are complex. They're going to require deep study, so we don't want to be doing too many at a time. We're going to try to come up, collectively, with one or maybe two that we're going to look at each year. We plan to, in addition, have an extra arts and sciences faculty meeting at the very start of the fall term where we get to talk about the work ahead of us for the coming year. That's the plan. We're going to test drive it starting this May. Stay tuned; we'll see how it works.
I want to talk about residential planning, which I know is on many people's minds. I know you're interested in the work underway to consider renewal of our undergraduate housing stock, so let me give you an update on that.
As many of you probably know, many of our residential halls are aging rapidly, and we do need to put resources into refreshing them, and possibly retiring the ones that are in the worst condition. To even start that work, we need swing space. We can't do a deep renovation of a dorm with students still living there, so we actually need to build additional beds which they can move into while we renovate.
So, we were in the early stages of examining the possibility of constructing the dorm complex of 750 beds that would allow us to take offline the Choates and the River Cluster, and provide swing space to engage in a decades-long cascade of renovating our existing dorm facilities. As many of you know, during the fall we conducted a geoengineering study of the College Park site, which is the only site on campus with sufficient room to construct a complex of that magnitude. Feedback from multiple departments to Executive Vice President Mills actually helped our consideration of that site. The engineering study was also important because it allowed us to estimate the cost of such a project with much greater accuracy, and those results came in late in January. We have now determined that the cost of building 750 beds is simply beyond our current financial capacity. We can't do that as we keep our focus, particularly, on maintaining and enhancing academic quality. So that project is off; we just can't afford it.
I want to point out an important reason that this project is beyond our financial capacity is that, as with our academic buildings, Dartmouth has woefully under-funded depreciation in its residence halls. What that means is, we don't have a pot of money to refresh our residence halls, so any construction that we do needs to be funded through either philanthropy or reallocation within the operating budget, and that puts a lot of limitations on the financials. As we discussed at the General Faculty meeting in November, over the past five years we have begun taking steps to address the issue of under-funded depreciation, including systematic annual additions to the depreciation line within our operating budget, and a commitment to build depreciation into our philanthropic goals when we do new capital projects. But, this is going to take time. Our under-funding of depreciation is a problem that's been 50-100 years in the making, so while we aren't going to solve it in a couple of years, we are making progress and we will stay on it.
Now, in terms of the dorms, what this means it that since 750 beds is not tenable, the trustees last month asked that we explore options for a smaller project, and for that, multiple sites are possible. We are now undertaking that exploration and it's just in its early stages. So, that's where we are on the residence hall planning.
The last topic I want to cover here is the Provost search. Our Provost search committee under the able direction of Deb Nichols has been hard at work, so Deb is going to give us a report on how that's going.
Just to be pretty brief here on the matter, the search is ongoing – it's not meant to be a secretive process but it does have to be a confidential one. We began with hiring a search firm, Witt/Kieffer, and I think we've been very pleased with their efforts on our behalf. They have been very active outreaching to possible candidates, seeking nominations, actually consulting with senior leadership at other universities to identify possible candidates and then talking to them, as well as many who you have nominated. I believe every individual who's either expressed an interest or been nominated by someone in fact has been contacted by the search firm. We are continuing to receive applications both from internal and external candidates. The search committee spent much of December – when everyone was off being able to do their own thing, at least in Arts and Sciences – informing ourselves about the complexities of the position and the qualities that would be important and the experiences that we should be looking for in applicants. I feel that it was a learning experience and I appreciate everyone who took the time to meet with the committee and help us get better educated. It is our goal and charge from President Hanlon that we give him a list of three or four names of individuals who the search committee concludes would be strong candidates for the position. Then, ultimately, he will make a decision about them in the spring. Our goal is to be able to do that early in the spring term. With that, I really can't say too much more except to appreciate the support of all of you during the process.