2021 State of the College Address

President Hanlon delivered the annual State of the College address at the fall meeting of the general faculty.

Welcome to the fall meeting of the general faculty and the President's annual State of the College address. This comes at a moment of opportunity for the College as we emerge from the pandemic – one of the most significant challenges the Institution has ever faced.  

Indeed, the last academic year was really tough. We experienced disruptions and loss, as individuals and as a community. Many of you lost loved ones and the Dartmouth community mourns four student deaths over the past year.  

Last spring, I met in small groups with about 10% of the faculty to hear first-hand about the challenges the pandemic has wrought to your teaching, research and family lives. I came away inspired by your perseverance, determination and creativity as you found ways to carry out the important work of the College. And for that, I am deeply grateful. So, as I think about how to characterize the State of the College, the word that comes immediately to mind is "resilient."

Thanks to your efforts and to those of so many others, we have turned a corner. Classes have resumed in-person and students are eagerly working with you on research.  Athletics teams are back in action. Live performances (including student performances) are once again dazzling audiences at the Hop. Freshmen are going on trips, we're building bonfires, alumni and parents are visiting campus in large numbers again.  

So much of this is due to you and your grit, but ultimately, it's driven by your joy in being able to reconnect with students and each other (a joy I share). I know you are as thrilled as I am to have come back as far as we have.

And as we emerge from the silence of the pandemic, we see so many of the investments that we've made, many funded by the Call to Lead campaign, coming to life. So, I felt that today was an opportune moment to take a longer view and reflect, not on the turmoil of the last year, but on the path that Dartmouth has taken over the past eight years, and the trajectory that lies ahead.  

Throughout Dartmouth's history, there have been periods when we've focused on various aspects of the Institution:  our breadth, our scale, our diversity, the student experience outside the classroom. And while we've made strides in all of those areas over the past eight years, our primary focus has been academic excellence…the quality of our core missions of teaching, learning, and scholarship and creative work.  

Why is academic excellence of such paramount importance to me?  I would cite two reasons, both deeply embedded in the history of this institution.

First, we ultimately measure Dartmouth's success by the mark that we make on the world – how we better humankind through our academic and creative work and by preparing a talented pool of students to lead lives of leadership and impact.  In the inspiring words of John Sloan Dickey, "The world's troubles are your troubles."  But Dickey also reminded us that the world's troubles are complex and defy easy solutions. So, we must be on the top of our academic game to make a difference.

Second, academic excellence elevates the student experience. For Dartmouth, this pertains especially to the undergraduate experience. The Dartmouth promise is much more than compelling lectures. Outside of the classroom, all of you – our distinguished faculty – take students to the frontiers of knowledge and challenge them to be involved in knowledge creation that will have a meaningful impact on some of the world's thorniest issues.  

John Kemeny may have said it best, in addressing my class, the Great Class of 1977, at our Convocation in September of 1973. He said: 

"I would insist that the person who spends four years at Dartmouth, who attends classes but does not experience the thrill of great ideas expounded by great scholars, who is not enthralled by the beauty that man has created, who has not engaged in debate of the great issues facing humankind, who has not been awed by coming up against the frontiers of human knowledge … I would insist that this person has missed the best that Dartmouth can offer."

We can only deliver on that promise to our students if we enable you, the faculty, to work at the forefront of your fields, and if we have the talent, ambition and confidence on our campus to take on issues of great import together.  In short, we mustn't be satisfied with our students learning about significant advances taking place on other campuses. Instead, we must involve them in creating such advances here.     

Nearly eight years ago to this day, at the start of my presidency, I set out a vision and plan to enhance academic excellence on our campus. That plan was designed to accomplish three things:

First, win the talent wars.

The foundation of academic success is talent – student, faculty and staff alike.  Many of the actions we've taken since 2013, including investments in financial aid, the Academic Cluster Initiative, and the introduction of signature post-doc programs, to name a few, have been directly aimed at building the talent pool on our campus.  

An equally important part of attracting and retaining great students and faculty has been the elevation of our ambitions.  Our investments in centers and institutes and in the West End of campus are tangible representations of our ambitions in that regard and help recruit and retain talented people wanting to work at the forefront of issues of global importance.

Second, we set out to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion.

Why do DEI and academic excellence go hand in hand? Let me take each of them in turn.

Decades of research show that a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives are necessary to maximize potential in both education and knowledge creation. That is why a commitment to diversity, especially in the faculty ranks, was identified as key back in 2013.  This has led to a number of investments such as the Provost's Diversity Fund, the Mellon post-doctoral program, the EE Just Early Career Fellowships in STEM and the commitment of 15 faculty lines to support recruitment of scholars who study racial justice and inequality. 

Furthermore, equity – supporting every community member in reaching their full potential – became an obvious priority as we sought to elevate our collective academic excellence. This required not only new kinds of support programs such as the Guarini School for Graduate and Advanced Studies and the expanded FYSEP program. We also needed to remove barriers that were impeding success, taking steps like the recently announced program to fully support low-income students who wish to participate in study abroad…and equipping our campus with modern facilities, like the renovated Dartmouth Hall, that support state-of-the-art research and teaching.

Lastly, you know better than anyone that the urgent issues facing humankind are increasingly complex and multifaceted. Grappling with these issues requires that we bring all voices and ideas and perspectives to the table.  Major centers and institutes (e.g., the Cancer Center and the Irving Institute) help convene talent from across our campus.  The need to bring all of our intellectual assets to bear on the great issues of the day is but one example of how inclusivity makes us stronger in everything we do.

That brings me to the third and final goal we set out to achieve: to introduce rigor and discipline in how we steward our resources. 

The vision we laid out in 2013 brought soaring ambitions to our campus.  Yet these ambitions are costly, and so we must make every dollar count.  In a world where many of our competitors have resources well beyond what we can muster, it was necessary to build on our campus a culture of rigor in setting priorities and reallocation from lower to higher priorities.  At the same time, we needed to turbocharge our growth in assets that came from sponsored research, fundraising and investment returns. 

I want to look at how we are doing on these three fronts – talent, DEI and resources – through the lens of some important key indicators.  

Let's begin with talent, and I'll go right to the start of the Dartmouth academic journey with undergraduate admissions yield. 

Yield is the fraction of students we admit who pay an enrollment deposit on May 1 indicating that they plan to attend. Yield is the key indicator of how strongly we compete against our peers in admissions.

In fiscal year 2013, our admissions yield was 49% - bottom of the Ivy League. By fiscal year 2021, that number had grown to a whopping 73%! 

And it's important to note that we didn't increase yield by lowering our academic standards. To the contrary, the academic credentials of our incoming students, while always excellent, have risen substantially. In FY21, 95% of our undergraduate students were in the top 10% of their high school class, up from 90% in 2013. 

The median SAT score has risen a full 50 points, to 1487, over that same time period. Kudos to Lee Coffin and his team for leading this admissions renaissance.  
It stands to reason that increased success in admissions should lead to a more talent-rich undergraduate body and, therefore, greater success in career placements after Dartmouth. 

And it has. 

Every year we administer a "Cap and Gown" survey to all graduating seniors. The percentage of students who report that they either have employment or are headed to a graduate or professional program rose from 66% in FY13 to 84% in FY21. The placement rates for graduates of our MD and MBA programs are even stronger – close to 100%.  

On the faculty productivity front, measures are trending upward, as well. 

One measure of research activity is overall research expenditures. In our case, these have risen dramatically, from $201.6 million in FY13 to $326.3 million in FY20.  

And all your great work on the research front is being recognized, as evidenced by the restoration of Dartmouth to R1 status in 2017, our invitation to the AAU in 2019, and the incredibly prestigious awards you've been earning in your fields.  

In Arts & Sciences, Joshua Bennett, Alexander Chee, and Tarek El-Ariss earned prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships.

At Geisel, T.Y. Chang was elected to the National Academy of Sciences; and Aaron McKenna was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Eric Fossum at Thayer took home a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award this year; and Charles Sullivan and Karl Griswold were elected Senior Members of the National Academy of Inventors. 

At Tuck, Connie Helfat was named a Fellow of the Academy of Management while Brian Tomlin was named Distinguished Fellow of the Manufacturing and Service Operations Management Society. 

I could go on and on.

How do these faculty recognitions compare to our peers?  Even in the rarified air of the AAU, Dartmouth is [performing well].

Turning now to measures of diversity: in FY13, our BIPOC tenured and tenure-track faculty comprised 17.5% of our faculty as a whole. Today, that number is at 24%. There are aspects of this measure that we could discuss – like whether we should include non-tenure eligible faculty or whether it is appropriate to include international faculty in that measure. The important take-way is that we have made some progress, but there is much more that we need to do, especially to get the diversity of the faculty to better match the diversity of the student body.

At the same time, the diversify the student body is advancing in a number of areas. 

We are expanding our global reach across our campus.  In 2013, only 8.5% of undergraduates were international students. Today, nearly 14% of our undergraduate student body is international, matching corresponding gains at Tuck, Guarini and Geisel.  

Turning to other ways in which our student composition brings diversity of perspective, we've seen significant growth in first-gen student numbers. This fall, 14.9% of our incoming class of undergraduates were first-gen students, compared to just 9.6% in FY13. 

And we've seen significant growth in the percentage of women in our MBA and PhD programs from 2013 to 2021 (MBA: 33% to 46%, PhD: 41% to 53%).  

But progress has been uneven, and there are other areas where we haven't experienced such meaningful change in representation. For example, the percentage of first-year undergraduates who are Pell eligible has grown by about 2% from 14.1% in 2013 to 15.9% in 2021. But this remains well below the 20% target we've set for Pell enrollments.  

Similarly, the fraction of students who are US citizens and BIPOC has remained essentially flat in all degree programs.

The bottom line is this: when it comes to building diversity within the faculty and student body, we have made notable progress in some areas, but there is much more to do.  

I know that Shontay Delalue will provide leadership and expertise in driving this work. But this is something that we must all be committed to. I'm confident with sustained focus from all of us, we will move the needle in the right direction.

Finally, let's talk about resources.

Two years ago, in my 2019 State of the College address, I spoke about Dartmouth's financial position and the steps we had taken to strengthen it.  But I also shared long-term projections for our operating budget that showed us moving into a deficit position by the year 2030. I am happy to say that today, the outlook is more positive. The ten-year projections for our operating budget are now better than break-even, even before we incorporate this year's endowment returns. 

And we have enacted a plan to deal with our most daunting deferred maintenance issues: last March, the Board of Trustees approved the Infrastructure Renewal Distribution, which is a small percent increase in the endowment distribution targeted towards modernization of student housing, energy and our IT infrastructure.  

On the philanthropic front, just last month we were thrilled to announce that we officially crossed the $3 billion milestone in the Call to Lead campaign.  

To put this in context, there have been approximately 30 university capital campaigns that have exceeded $3B.  Of those, only Caltech and Dartmouth have done so with fewer than 100,000 living alums.  

Here's a look at new gifts and commitments we've secured throughout the course of the campaign compared to the annual average from the five-year period prior to the start of my presidency. 

These resources are critical to maintaining excellence and spurring innovation across our campus.

And let me assure you that just because we've reached the $3B milestone doesn't mean we intend to stop now. We still have almost $400M in critical priorities to fund before we can say that the Call to Lead Campaign has fully achieved its vision. 

Financial aid has, of course, been at the top of our priorities list and, at $500M, is the single largest Campaign item. We are looking to close the gap on the remaining ~$197M of our endowed scholarship goal.

The Presidential Commission on Financial Aid has done an extraordinary job in helping to build and sustain support for financial aid and in developing strategies to attract a diverse applicant pool, and I know we can get there.

We must also maximize creativity and innovation on campus through the completion of both the west end district and our arts district, in which the truly transformative renovation of the Hood is matched with an equally inspiring renovation of the Hop.

And, of course, we must meet urgent and increased needs for student mental wellness, undergraduate career and professional development, and initiatives surrounding faculty diversity and racial equity. I see these as absolute imperatives in helping the members of our community achieve their full potential.

In terms of resources, we have clearly made substantial progress. We've brought greater rigor to our resource allocations. The long-term projections for our operating budget have improved dramatically. We are completing the largest ever Capital Campaign in our history. And our endowment has grown, thanks in large part to Alice Ruth and her team in the Investment Office, from $3.7B in FY13 to $8.5B today.  

I hope you will take as much pride as I do in the progress we've made together towards enhancing academic excellence over these last eight years. Whether in the area of talent and productivity, diversity equity and inclusion, or resources, the key indicators I've shared tell an impressive story.  

But the real story are the people of this institution – first and foremost all of you. We wouldn't be where we are today without your incredible commitment to both your students and your scholarship.

And I hope you join me in feeling, like never before, a sense of possibility and the motivation to do more.  

Thank you for all you do for Dartmouth, and I welcome any questions you may have.