Address to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

This is the fall, and the fall is really, I think, the most awesome term here. I love the fall. We have the new class coming in, and I don't know what your experiences have been with our new first year class, but mine have been extremely positive. I think they're an amazing group of young people. Michael Herron and I are again teaching QSS 30, which is not freshmen, but we've got a great class. Fall is awesome.

As you know, each fall I deliver my annual State of the College address at the General Faculty Meeting upcoming in a few more weeks. I'll be looking forward at that meeting and talking in particular about the campus resources, about our financial sustainability, and the sustainability of our physical plant and other resources. We've done a lot to secure that but we have challenges ahead, so I want to talk about all that at my General Faculty Meeting Address.

I want to thank all of you who have been busy keeping us at the forefront of teaching and learning. You the faculty do the core work of this institution. I am always extremely proud for those of you who which the work is recognized externally. I'm proud of all of you, but I'm especially proud of all our external recognitions. As usual, we have quite a number:

  • Sienna Craig earned a Guggenheim Fellowship for her project, The Ends of Kinship;
  • Nate Dominy earned a Fulbright Award for the Africa Regional Research Program;
  • Matt van der Meer and Jonathan Winter earned CAREER awards from the NSF;
  • Michele Tine, Roger Sloboda and Vicki May earned an outstanding five-year grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the NIH for a project focused on STEM education in low-income, rural communities.

Congratulations to all of you. The list goes on and on and I know that's not complete but I'll stop there.

It has been great, as always, to have so many of you on the road with us this past year in connection with the capital campaign, our 250th Anniversary celebrations, and other important gatherings with alumni and donors. They value very much their interactions with faculty, they had a really important perspective when we make presentations. You're doing the core work of the institution, and our alumni and parents want to hear about that. I of course have to especially recognize Don Pease and Cheryl Bascomb for their leadership of the 250th celebration, and I'm especially excited about two upcoming events on November 8th and 11th, respectively – one celebrating 100 years of women on the Dartmouth faculty (that's November 8th), and the other focused on Dartmouth's history with the military on November 11th. Both of those are going to be awesome and I urge all of you to attend if you can.  

And tomorrow, we've got the tremendous honor of welcoming back to campus Nobel Prize Laureate from the Class of '64 Barry Sharpless, who will present on his latest chemistry research as part of the Celebration of the Sciences. I hope you'll all get a chance to attend one of these or more of these three events that are coming up.

Two or three weeks ago, in London, we had the first of four global summits. Thanks to the many A&S faculty who participated, as well as Joe, Elizabeth, Alexis, Dennis, all were there and presenting. The purpose of the global summit was to really convene our European community of alums and parents to, first of all, emphasize our aspirations to expand the global footprint of Dartmouth. In other words, to give us greater visibility and recognition outside of the US, to be able to recruit talent more effectively from every part of the globe, and to make sure that our community is even more on the ground and involved in key challenges facing humankind and learning in every part of the world.

I think there was a lot of energy and excitement around that, we had great attendance. There will be three more, one in Hong Kong in December, assuming it's stable enough for us to be there, another in Toronto in April, and a final one in Lima next August. This is really a statement that we want to have a greater global presence and convene our community in different parts of the world to give them that message but also get their advice on how do we do it better.

Carl Renshaw asked me – this is switching topics – to offer some reflections on the breakdown in mutual tolerance in our society and within our nation. I know that this request is motivated by the prevalence of partisan attacks leveled at some faculty, at students, at administrators and at the College itself. Often, these criticisms are highly aggressive and deeply personal, and very disturbing.

This last summer, I finally had a chance to read How Democracies Die, a book that was recommended to me by many, many people. It's by two political scientists from Harvard – I'll excuse them for that – Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. I believe Levitsky was here last year to give a lecture. They persuasively make the argument that mutual tolerance, being willing to listen to alternative points of view with an open mind is one of the pillars of a healthy democracy.

I think this is a hugely important issue for our nation and our globe at this moment in time and I'm so glad that faculty members have brought this up and continue to bring it up.

What I want to talk about for a second is what can we, at Dartmouth, do about this? We are, in some sense, a small institution, so how can we actually have an impact on this topic?

As usual, I believe the way that we impact the world most powerfully is through our graduates, through our students who we educate. They go out to lead lives of leadership and impact, they become influencers. So despite our scale, we can in fact have a meaningful impact on this. What we need is to have our graduates leave with a firm commitment to mutual tolerance and listening to different perspectives, and in fact I would go further and say that they should have a penchant for actively seeking out views that are different from their own, not just allow them to be heard, but they should actually go out and seek views that are different.

So we as a faculty, we have an opportunity to try to instill that in our students, these kinds of habits of mind. So how can we do that?

One is I'd love to see more debates on campus. I don't know how many of you went to the OSHER debates this summer – they were amazing. They were debates done correctly. They modeled civil discourse, they were on really important topics: freedom of speech, gun rights, affirmative action, freedom of the press, privacy. The two people making the arguments were incredibly distinguished. These were debates done correctly. Each person presented a side, but was willing to admit the merits of the other person's arguments, as well. I'd love to see more of that.

I know there are places on campus where we do that very well and I want to make sure they get credit. The Ethics Institute, under Sonu Bedi has been doing this for a couple years. The Political Economy Project sponsors debates, as well. And I know that Elizabeth has an interest that we have more debates, as well.

We can use our collective bully pulpit, of course. We can all redouble our commitments to offer multiple perspectives when we teach subjects in class. When we have opportunities to address students, we can stress mutual tolerance. That's something I always do when I address the incoming class at first class meeting, I get to address them again at Matriculation. I always stress mutual tolerance. I've also used past Commencement addresses and DAM columns to do so. But we can all come in here together and make sure that's a value we stress.

And then, of course, the way we treat each other sends a message to our students. I think this behavior is not only needed; it's expected, and again, I come back to Elizabeth's emphasis, and I know she's spoken to the faculty about this, of civility.

So there are things that we can do. This is, as I said, a very serious challenge for our society, the erosion of mutual tolerance. There are ways that we can, even as a small institution, try to make sure that our graduates leave with the right values and go out into the world to try to make a change for the better.

A few additional topics before I end.

This is the season for rankings and the USNews ranking came out recently. Don't worry, I do not for a second think that this ranking makes a meaningful comparison between institutions, but it is interesting to look at the inputs that go into to the ranking, and how we compare to our peers. As usual, this year some of Dartmouth's scores went up relative to our peers and some of our scores went down.

On the positive side, on the upside, our "Peer Assessment" continued to climb. Peer assessment is where other presidents, provosts, and admissions officers are asked to give a rating 1 to 5 for every institution in the country. Four or five years ago, we were at 4.2, which put us at the lowest of the top 20 schools. We've climbed up to 4.4 now, which puts us at 12th. Of the top 12 places, they're all above 4.4, a bunch of them are at 4.5, so we're getting close.

As another measure, as all of you know, Dartmouth's faculty salaries, we lost a lot of ground relative to our peers in the 2010-2012 period, post recession. So when I began as President, Dartmouth was ranked 16th in the country in average faculty salaries in the USNews ranking. This year, thanks to the efforts we've made and what you all deserve, for sure, we've climbed up to number 5 in the country in average faculty salaries. That's a meaningful and appropriate change in our position.

We're all impressed by the recent incoming classes, as I just said. Also increasing this year in the USNews ranking is the fraction of our students who enter in the top 10% of their class. That's gone up relative to our peers, so that's good, and our overall graduation and retention rank has also improved.

Interestingly, even though our overall graduation and retention rank improved, focused areas that they look at within the completion and retention realm have gone down relative to our peers. I want to just mention a few of these because I think it's always thought-provoking when you see these things.

So, our freshman retention rate fell along with our rank relative to our peers. It's still very strong by any absolute measure, but relative to our peers we lost considerable ground on freshman retention.

They have something called the projected graduation rate. What they do is they take the academic qualifications of your incoming class and they have some algorithm by which they predict what the graduation rate should be. We under-performed their projection by a larger margin than last year.

The 6-year completion rate of our Pell eligible students dropped, as did the comparative completion rate of our Pell eligible students relative to our other students.

I mention this just because I think it might be interesting to understand whether this is just a variation that's statistically insignificant or is there something systematic going on in terms of our retention and graduation rates. I would offer that as something that we all collectively should be looking at in the next year or so.

So, let me close with an important reminder.

The outside committee for our reaccreditation through the New England Council on Higher Education will be on campus for their site visit at the end of the month. They will hold a series of open forums for students, faculty and staff. The faculty forum takes place on Tuesday, October 29, from 12:15-1:15 p.m. in the Paganucci Lounge at 53 Commons. I encourage all of you to come. It's an opportunity to meet with the Reaccreditation Committee, discuss the recent self-study report, so if you haven't yet read the report, please do so in advance of the forum. It's available on the reaccreditation Web site. I would be remiss if I didn't thank Jon Kull who has been leading us through this reaccreditation process very skillfully, along with Alicia Betsinger who has helped a great deal, and thanks to all of you who have participated at various stages in this process. I look forward to the visit of the reaccreditation committee and their observations and thoughts will be very helpful to us.