Address to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Good afternoon! It's great to see you all, even if it is digitally this time around. I hope you and your families are well and staying healthy, both physically and emotionally.

There is much that I hope to update you on – thanks for allowing me this opportunity.

It is easy to dwell on the challenges of the moment. But I want to begin with three things that inspire me during these tumultuous times.

The first is that the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the importance of our mission. As we've watched our nation's political leaders grapple with the realities we are facing, we've had a clinic in leadership – offering a stark contrast between effective leadership and, in some instances, destructive leadership. Those leaders who have stood out as most successful:

  • Show empathy, compassion, and an understanding of the human condition;
  • Appreciate the complexities of society and economics and the links between them;
  • Have a respect for, and comprehension of science;
  • Are fluent in mathematical and statistical reasoning;
  • Recognize the capacity of the arts to elevate the human spirit.

In short, the leaders who have lifted us up during these very dark times are those who have mastered what the liberal arts has to offer. Never have I been more convinced that the work we do at Dartmouth to prepare graduates for lives of leadership and impact is absolutely crucial for the success of our nation and our world.

This applies equally to our research mission. At this time when our public health is imperiled, the nation has looked to leading research universities for solutions. A recent public opinion survey conducted by the AAU found that 80 and 78 percent of respondents expressed confidence in university hospitals and leading research universities, respectively, to be able to help the nation deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Those numbers led all institutions that were tested in the survey, including local hospitals, law enforcement, local, state and the federal government, big pharma, and Congress. On our own campus, faculty are making breakthroughs on testing, contact tracing and therapies to battle the coronavirus.

So, the first thing that inspires me is the validation of the importance of the work that we do to educate our students and move the frontiers of knowledge. Our mission has never been more critical.

A second thing that inspires me is the way that Dartmouth has stepped up to help the State and our local communities in the Upper Valley. Specifically, we:

  • Donated truckloads of Personal Protective Equipment from our labs and theater department to DHMC, as well as hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and wipes to the Hanover PD – an effort led by faculty;
  • Designated West Gym as a DHMC alternative care site;
  • Made housing available for up to 25 first responders and health care professionals at 11 Webster Avenue to be used if and as needed;
  • Provided storage and freezer space for local organizations including DHMC and Meals on Wheels;
  • And provided rent relief for April and May to more than a dozen Hanover businesses.

In turn, Dartmouth Hitchcock is partnering with us to put in place the health protocols and infrastructure that will help us bring students back to campus in the Fall. So, it is truly an all hands on deck moment here in the Upper Valley and that is a second thing that inspires me.

Finally, I am inspired that the important work and regular cycle of the academic year continues. Let me start by recognizing the Herculean effort that all of you have made to mount classes this spring term. Despite the dramatic operational shift we've undergone in the last eight weeks – and at breakneck pace – your commitment to delivering an excellent educational experience for our students hasn't wavered for a second.

The way in which you sprang into action to mount virtual learning has been extraordinary. Many of you have done so at a time when you are managing child care and home schooling, or a disruption of spousal employment, or illness within your own extended family. I recognize how complex and difficult this is, and I applaud your unwavering commitment to the education of our Dartmouth students.

In total, 94 percent of scheduled spring classes have been offered as planned. That's 884 courses becoming virtual across campus – a transformation that happened in two weeks' time, from the point at which we decided that spring term would be remote learning to the point at which spring term opened.

The content you put together for your classes, including coursework and student projects, the wisdom you add to your lectures as experts in your fields, the additional guidance you provide to students in office hours and one-on-one meetings is truly unique and special.

I know it has not been easy. On top of the family challenges noted earlier, you are learning new technologies and new modes of delivery. You have taught classes that cross many time zones and have adapted your teaching to students who have less access to technology. I have heard from many of you that you are spending more time interacting 1-1 with students than you did with in-person teaching.

And, you have been creative in thinking about how to continue our educational work despite the current circumstances and how to use technology to elevate what you do in the classroom. You are implementing group writing projects using Google Docs, using breakout rooms on Zoom to fuel discussion or to enable students to tackle computer programming challenges together. You are even sending hundreds of oscilloscopes and 3D printers to students' homes to enable lab courses.

In short, you are stepping up at a time when Dartmouth needs you most. And for that, I want to say thank you. All of this collaboration, creative thinking and can-do spirit serves as a reminder that the greatest antidote for uncertainty and turmoil is a resilient, creative, and determined community. At this moment, I see evidence of that across the entire Dartmouth family, and it's a third, powerful source of inspiration and hope.

And in myriad other ways, the regular cycle of the academic year continues. The promotion and tenure process is well underway – every step, from departmental decisions to CAP considerations, have become virtual.

Departments and programs, working with the Associate Deans, have recruited some stellar new faculty to join us as colleagues next year.

And Dartmouth faculty and students continue to be recognized for their accomplishments.

  • Frank Magilligan in Geography and Mukul Sharma in Earth Sciences earned highly coveted Guggenheim fellowships;
  • Kate Mirica in Chemistry won the prestigious Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award;
  • One Dartmouth student was awarded a Beinecke Scholarship, two others were awarded Goldwater Scholarships and four others were named as Udall Congressional Interns.

These are a few of the many ways that the talents and accomplishments of our campus have been recognized.

Speaking of talent, at the end of March we offered admission to 1,881 exceptional applicants to the Class of 2024. They are as talented, motivated, curious, and engaged as any we have ever admitted. 96% are in the top 10% of their high school class. They have average scores of 1501 on the SAT and 33 on the ACT, tying last year's record highs. And they are among the most socioeconomically diverse we've ever accepted. Huge kudos to Lee Coffin, our Dean of Admissions, and his team. Despite the historic uncertainty in this year's admissions cycle, he delivered a fantastic class and hit our enrollment target right on the nose.

More details about the Class of 2024 will be coming out shortly. But I can tell you that a whopping 62% of the prospective class applied for financial aid, and that was before this pandemic and the associated job loss was fully upon us.

While financial aid was already a top priority in our Call to Lead campaign, its importance and urgency has skyrocketed. Given the devastating effects of the current economic downturn on so many families, we wonder how many talented students may say that a Dartmouth education is just too high a cost to them or perhaps even question whether they can afford college altogether. We cannot and will not let that happen.

Let me be clear: our commitment to need blind admissions and to meeting the full need of all undergraduates is steadfast and unwavering.

That's why I designated the 20% of my salary I'm giving back to the College to financial aid and why we are working tirelessly to rally the Dartmouth alumni community behind this priority.

There are two pieces of news on the compliance and oversight front. First, we completed a very successful re-accreditation review. In early March I received word that Dartmouth achieved an unconditional ten-year reaccreditation. Thanks to all of you who participated in the site visit, but special thanks to Jon Kull and Alicia Betsinger who led the overall effort.

Second, as many of you know, the U.S. Department of Education released new Title IX regulations at the end of last week. I'm going to ask Sandhya Iyer to give a brief summary of the most significant changes with these new regs and their impact on our processes and practices.

There will be time for Q&A when I finish my remarks, including any questions you may have about the new Title IX regulations.

Let me turn now to the economic side of the house, where I've got challenging news to report. We – along with all of our peers – are facing a very tough road ahead. Our institution-wide finances will face both immediate and long-term consequences for four key reasons:

First, we're losing significant revenue - most notably, from room and board. We're facing $15 million in lost room and board revenue for spring term, alone, while keeping Residential Life and Dining staff on payroll.

Second, we're seeing an enormous spike in our students' financial needs as the economic circumstances of their families change. Early estimates suggest that our financial aid expenditures will exceed budget by a minimum of $8 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

We feel for all of the Dartmouth parents who have lost their jobs. We recognize that students, too, are losing income they typically earn through work/study jobs and off-term employment. Dartmouth will and must step up with additional financial aid to meet the full need of our students.

Third, we anticipate a decrease in philanthropic revenue, especially contributions to the annual fund, as our alumni face financial challenges of their own and so we expect to fall short of our DCF targets this year.

On top of that, our institutional investments have seen significant declines in value. The subsequent loss of endowment value will impact an important revenue stream for Dartmouth now and into the future.

We are constantly updating our financial projections as we get new information. But as of last week, we were projecting an $80 million loss in Q4 of this fiscal year, and additional losses in $40-50 million range for the next fiscal year.

While we had already taken some important steps to prepare for an economic downturn, the speed and magnitude of this historic financial shock has gone well beyond the moderate recession we had been preparing for.

In early April, we announced a series of actions that included a salary freeze, a hiring freeze, a suspension of expenditures from discretionary accounts and leadership reductions in salary. But it won't be enough. We'll need to undertake a second round of budgetary actions in late June or early July to help close these gaps.

As I said in an earlier message to the Community, I especially regret that we will not have salary increases this year because of the extraordinary work you are doing as we cope with this pandemic. If ever there was a time when your contributions deserve to be recognized, it is now.

But the actions we are taking are absolutely necessary. They will require some tough choices and will be painful for our campus. But I can assure you that they will be made thoughtfully and with the mission and people of this institution always being front and center.

The Provost and Deans will be looking to the Committee on Priorities, the Budget Committee, the Committee on the Faculty and the newly formed Council on Priorities to help us decide how to overcome these challenges.

As we do fiscal planning for next year and the years ahead, there is an almost unprecedented level of uncertainty. Where we see the most notable levels of uncertainty are in the financial markets, the extent to which the financial aid need of our students will increase, and what our enrollment and corresponding tuition and room and board revenue will look like.

That said, I'm confident that we can meet whatever challenges lie ahead and do so in a way that preserves the excellence of our teaching and research and the core commitments we've made to our community.

I would like to conclude by looking forward, beginning with the next academic year. Provost Helble and I sent a message to the community last week in which we articulated our goals for re-opening our campus as well as the process by which decisions will be made.

Our goal is to have as many faculty and staff working on campus again, as possible. One of the first areas of campus to be slowly repopulated will be our research laboratories. We will begin to bring some graduate students and employees back to our research labs over the course of the summer.

It is also our strong desire to bring some number of undergraduates back to live and study on campus this fall--the largest number we feel we can accommodate while minimizing risk for students, faculty, staff, and our neighbors in the Upper Valley.

Decision-making will be assisted by three working groups:

  • An Academic Working Group consisting of the Deans and Associate Deans of Arts and Sciences and Thayer, along with the Dean of the College, will be consulting with the relevant faculty committees in making a series of recommendations on which undergraduates might be on campus and how to address any associated curricular issues.
  • A Health Working Group comprised of individuals from Dartmouth and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has been formed to advise us on how testing, monitoring, contact tracing, quarantine, and treatment will be handled when the campus is repopulated. 
  • Our COVID-19 Task Force will advise on other operational matters related to our gradual return, such as whether off-campus programs can run this fall, what facilities we will designate for quarantine and isolation space, and a host of other issues.

We plan to finalize decisions about the Fall Term by June 29. Rough outlines of our plans are as follows.

The Health Working Group will help us understand how many students we can reasonably bring back to campus in the Fall.

As mentioned, the Academic Working Group will advise on which students to bring back and the many curricular issues that may result. Most likely, we'll end up with a mix of in-person and virtual classes, which comes with a host of issues that need to be sorted out. The Academic Working group will need to tap the wisdom of Committees and Departments in recommending the best way forward through this complex set of challenges.

Achieving our goals for the fall will require us all to do the best we can under less than ideal circumstances. As an institution, we are facing challenges unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes, though I am confident that we will get through this and remain a strong and vibrant institution. But we must move forward together and I am grateful for your partnership as we navigate these turbulent times.

Let me close with some thoughts about the longer-term outlook for Dartmouth and higher education more generally.

One of the things we've learned over the past three months is the fragility of the model of residential higher education. At Dartmouth, we focus on, and take pride in working at the high end – our residential, in-person delivery of the Bachelor of Arts, PhD, MBA and MD degrees. In addition, we have outstanding masters programs again largely based on a residential, in-person learning experience.

As an institution, we have just begun to explore hybrid degree programs (e.g., the MHCDS) and on-line certificate and degree programs (e.g., the MPH and on-line Bridge programs).

As I said at the outset of my remarks, I have never been more convinced of the importance of what we do at the high end – our residential degree programs. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated for us the risks of a singular focus on residential education and the advantages that might accrue from having a more diversified portfolio of educational offerings. In other words, expanding our current activities with a broader sweep of hybrid and on-line degree and non-degree programs taught by an expanded instructional faculty.

Our forced experiment with virtual learning elevates the opportunity of this moment. By necessity, we have had the chance to learn about the capabilities and limitations of on-line delivery of content. If there were ever a time to consider expanding our educational offerings, it is now.

I will be asking the Senior Leadership Group to consider what kind of diversification of offerings might make sense for Dartmouth as well as what experiments we can begin in the short term and to consult broadly across campus on these ideas.

I share this with you because in all my years in higher education, there has never been a disruption that was as fast and deep as this one nor have I seen less certainty about the future of higher education than there is right now.

I couldn't ask for a better set of colleagues to have on board to help us weather this storm, and I have every confidence that Dartmouth will emerge from this crisis stronger and better than ever.