State of the College address

Good afternoon, everyone! It's wonderful to be here today.

I want to start by saying what an absolute privilege it's been, since my first day, to join this academic community. Over the past few months, I've met with some of you one-on-one, including so many in the room today. I've been meeting with faculty by division and in our graduate and professional schools. If I haven't gotten to you yet … look out! I'm coming for you.

You have made me feel welcome; you've been generous with your time; and I want to thank you for being so open and thoughtful and candid in [those] conversations.

I've left those meetings, along with a lot of other experiences — such as watching our faculty Innovation panel at my inauguration, touring several labs and scholarship spaces, my trip to the design initiative [at Thayer], learning about our interdisciplinary work in Native and Indigenous Studies — just in awe of the talent and caliber of people in this faculty. You are the ones, year after year, who serve as the enduring, lasting examples of what Dartmouth is all about. So as we talk about this journey ahead of us, I see it as a true partnership.

I touched on this at inauguration, but it bears repeating: We are at an inflection point. For Dartmouth and higher education as a wholeOnly 36% of Americans have confidence in higher education right now. Many are questioning our value in the first place — of a humanities or liberal arts education, or of an MBA. Moreover, the basic idea of creating dialogue across difference has been stunted in our country and the world.

Perhaps I don't even need to say any of the above. We all experienced it last week. We watched in horror as Hamas murdered and took citizens hostage; we continue to watch with deep dismay and condemnation as innocent Palestinians and Israelis suffer and die in this horrible war. 

On campuses across the country, including ours, there has been immense pressure for leaders to take political stands that I believe squash dialogue. It has not been easy, in any way shape or form, but I am proud of what we have done. We have been morally outraged at brutality while at the same time working to understand what leads to it, where it comes from, and what explains it. We have engaged in dialogue based on scholarly expertise — which is distinct dialogue at a university (as opposed to news or on social media). This is the mission, the responsibility, of higher education. 

We have also been working to support our students — whether Jewish or Muslim, Palestinian, Israeli — and we have more work to do. Last week, I met with our Jewish student leaders, as well as our Palestinian and Muslim student leaders. All of them are horrified by the violence, and are hurting, but are committed to a community where there are not mass protests or violence. This is not the case for many of our peers.

I want to begin by thanking the interdisciplinary Jewish Studies Program; the Middle Eastern Studies Program; and the Dickey Center — for putting on two panel discussions this week on the horrible events in Israel and Gaza. And I especially want to thank the faculty who helped lead these dialogues: Chair of Jewish Studies Susannah Heschel; Chair of Middle Eastern Studies Tarek El-Ariss; Senior Lecturer Ezzedine Fishere; Professor Jonathan Smolin; and Visiting Professor Bernard Avishai, among others.

These panels, watched by thousands of people and reported on across the nation, were not easy. But they were true examples of the brave spaces I know so many of us are interested in creating. The relationships that these departments have built — to teach together, to work together, to disagree together — doesn't happen overnight, nor at most other institutions. 

As I said in my inauguration speech — and thank you so much for being there — a community is best supported, and the best solutions and understanding developed, when a diversity of perspectives are brought to the table; so, we must commit to hearing viewpoints and voices that aren't always heard and to creating brave spaces to let that diversity of thought and lived experience shine through. 

We must also commit to evidence-driven discussion. The principle of freedom of expression isn't about saying whatever you want whenever you wish. It's about individual members of our community holding their own opinion, doing their homework about an issue, listening closely, and respectfully discussing with others, and sometimes even changing their mind. 

The talent of our faculty, our ability to come together, interest in our [undergraduate] programs and our graduate and professional schools, and we're certainly a global leader on financial aid for undergraduates. We still have more work to do.

As we look forward, understanding Dartmouth means understanding our place in a complex environment of higher education and the world.  We have incredible strengths, which were on full display last week.  We're not immune to challenges. Some infrastructure related, some size and resource related, some brand related.

The question I'm going to continually push to you [is] how do we take Dartmouth to the next level? To answer this question, I look to continually come back to another question: What is Dartmouth? I'm very data driven, to say the least.  I spent the last few months gathering data. 

From all those conversations, the answer to this question consistently boiled down to three things: ONE — Dartmouth should always strive to be the college with the best undergrad experience in the world. That's a given. TWO — and most importantly, this is NOT mutually exclusive with number one — Dartmouth is a university ecosystem that generates knowledge and impact. A place that is delivering cutting‑edge research, expertise, and impact in areas of global importance. A place where scholars come together across disciplines to push the boundaries of how we think, and to help us hone our thinking. One and two are not mutually exclusive. And THREE — Dartmouth is a lifelong community, from students' first day on campus throughout their career, and lives. Dartmouth over-indexes in preparing and supporting them to be leaders — locally at the community level and the national and world level. 

In my inaugural address a few weeks ago, I laid out a roadmap to turn these defining strengths into real points of distinction. I won't rehash every detail today, but I want to remind you of those key areas of strategic focus:

We want to build health and wellness across the Dartmouth community — understanding that nothing else is possible without it. Nothing else is possible unless our student and faculty and staff feel like they're doing okay. This is at the intersection next to academic excellence, it's a precursor to it. 

Second, we have to be a brave space — a place that has diverse lived experience and free expression, the ability to talk about differences, at its core.

Third, we want to lead on sustainability — and show the world what it looks like to have an environmentally conscious campus and community.

Fourth, we want to propel our students and everyone in this community upward.

And finally, we want to be a place of innovation and impact

As someone who comes from a science background … I know that the word "innovation" is often used to connote STEM. That's not how I mean it here. I mean innovation across every single thing we do. Innovation is about how we think about teaching and creating knowledge in the arts, humanities, social sciences; and how we ensure that knowledge impacts the world. It's about rethinking what the best undergrad education even looks like in this landscape, and about how we can collaborate across schools and divisions to do the best research that will have important applications in our world. It should be our goal every day.

I know there has already been great work done in each of these areas that predates me. Part of this is about building on that foundation. But I think it's equally important to note: Great institutions are not stagnant. Great institutions will not stay great, in a moment like this, unless they evolve

And the only way we'll evolve is if everyone in this room has bought in. 

I want us to be connected to our areas of strategic focus. They're reflected in what you have talked to me about. I want us to come together intentionally and purposefully and joyfully, too  that's important  as we write the next chapter of what Dartmouth can be.  

I know I covered a lot in my inauguration. 

But what I want to do today, for the next 10 minutes or so, is talk more practically about how we can actually achieve success in these areas of focus. I'm going to break up what I will cover today into a few buckets: 

I want to talk about being connected, first. I want to talk about being strategic, second. And I want to talk about being creative, third

First: Being connected as a College and a community means we all realize: 1+1 = 3. We are more than the sum of our parts. There is an unquestionable value-add when we are unified and telling a clear story to the world. The top institutions in the world do that, and you see it in the results — in rankings, in admissions, in fundraising, in impact. It's not a coincidence that, when you look at the largest gifts in higher-ed around the country, overwhelmingly they are directed across schools (A&S and engineering, combining humanistic inquiry with the sciences).

This idea of institutional connection is at the heart of some of the early changes I've made in the President's Office: 

First, I have taken an active role with CIPr (Council on Institutional Priorities; our only appointed cross-institutional faculty committee). I'm meeting with them regularly, working with them on important topics, attending meetings, and getting feedback. 

Second, I have asked Professor Nina Pavcnik and Provost Kotz to lead the next stage of our Arts & Sciences Future project, building on the fantastic momentum of Dean Elizabeth Smith — she's not out of the woods yet, she's working alongside — to help us think about how we can assemble the organizational and budget structures that not only centers the arts & sciences at Dartmouth, but gives faculty a strong voice, and makes clear how we can better collaborate across schools. 

Right now, the dean of the college focuses on the undergraduate students. The dean of faculty of A&S focuses on faculty. They report to different places, and the budget isn't really tied to strategy. In fact, when A&S is strategic, raising funds to endow a new chair, central deducts the same amount from what we used to give A&S. There is no real incentive to collaborate across disciplines within A&S. It's hard, and even harder outside A&S. There are of course amazing examples of  of faculty pushing across this, even when we're not providing that kind of institutional support. You can look at our Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies programs, or many of our RO 1 grants from NIH that cross Geisel, engineering, and the sciences. But we as an institution are not helping enough to facilitate this strategically — and because we have different systems and structures across the University, we often make it harder rather than easier.

As such, I see the A&S transformation as part of this mission of finding a way to bring together the faculty and research, and aligning decision making across units. You'll hear about this more, there's a lot of hard work from so many faculty going into this already. This is not about changing Dartmouth's core mission or graduate education across arts and science. It does not change our curriculum, the faculty owned curriculum. It's not about budget cuts. Quite the opposite. Over the long term of connected faculty leading will align our mission and help us grow. That's one way I see us really working on connection. 

A second [way] is thinking about health and wellness across our community. I'm searching for a senior‑level position in chief health and wellness officer. The person will be coordinating our physical and mental health for our students across our undergraduates and graduates, but also our faculty and staff, as well. 

Later this week, we'll be rolling out a strategic mental health plan for all of our students, all undergraduates and graduate students across our professional schools and graduate schools. You'll see a lot more about this plan in the coming days. But about creating a culture connected across the entire institution, a key part of this plan is helping faculty and staff be trained to support the students they work with. I'm so proud that we've actually already trained over 700 faculty and staff in mental health first aid. We know you're often the front lines of support and there's more to do.

As we talk about health and wellness, I want to say something about athletics. 80% of our undergraduates participate in club or varsity athletics. More participate in our recreation programs through our graduate professional schools. I believe that athletics is part of their health and well-being and teaches important skills from teamwork to understanding how to lose. It's also part of our identity as the Ivy League, which was founded after all as an athletic league. I believe a renewed emphasis on winning can be completely compatible, but with our students being students first. I want to thank the dozens of faculty and advised teams that work with the students and coaches. And I want to thank our athletic director who is working closely with me to underscore to our coaches that for student athletes, the student comes first.

We can't talk about mental health and wellness without calling out issues that I know are important for our faculty and staff and our students: housing and child care. Often times people talk about housing not being related to the academic mission. I don't buy that. We can't recruit the best faculty, we can't recruit and sustain our staff unless we have housing that is affordable. 

I've made it a priority to double down on housing investments in the Upper Valley. I made a commitment to 1,000 new beds within the next decade, and [we'll] start working on beds for each of our faculty, students, graduate students, and staff within the next 24 months. We've also doubled our investment in Upper Valley Loan Fund. In addition to that, we have announced, for the first time ever, [childcare subsidies] for all benefits-eligible Dartmouth employees and we will partner with Dartmouth Health.

We know that that we know part of being at Dartmouth is living and being in this area. Not having to worry about housing, about child care. This is all about the connectedness of our community, and we're committed to putting this first. This is about academic excellence and nothing else. So I talked about connectedness. 

The second thing I want to talk about today is acting strategically. So [for] many of us here, the fact we're a small, tight‑knit community can be a challenge when it comes to our resources. We don't have unlimited funds, as you know, and we don't operate from a position of scale like a massive institution, when it comes to areas like research.

But, if we can act strategically across the board — in our investments, our advancement work, our admissions, everywhere —  there's a great multiplier effect that can occur. This is exactly what I want us to do. To be smart and pick our lanes thoughtfully. Things can change quickly, but right now we have a strong balance sheet. Part of the reason why is because we have made strategic investments in the past. We've leveraged our infrastructure renewal fund, which takes a small amount of money off the endowment to support housing, energy, information technology. And we've seen key investments in our faculty and research and our technology pay off, most notedly with the royalties from the coronavirus research coming in now.

Now, we are in a position to strategically deploy that balance sheet, and fundraise, as well. To invest in historic areas of underinvestment like housing and energy. To try to create a virtuous cycle when it comes to scientific breakthroughs, and to do it all without cutting into folks' operating budgets. We're in a position to do this.

The last area I want to talk about when I talk about being strategic comes to a new landscape we're living in. Especially when it relates to undergraduate admission with the Supreme Court decision in June. I've made it clear since the day the SCOTUS decision was announced, people can have different views on the decision. That goes back to being in a brave space. Where we have an unwavering commitment to is to our institutional values. We know racial diversity is vital to the kind of community we want to be.

Every bit of research shows that diverse teams lead to better outcomes, and so we've made big steps over the last several years to raise more money for financial aid, over $500 million. We've seen our financial aid budget grow 73% for undergraduates [from 2015 to now]. As of mid June, nearly 1 in 2 students in the incoming undergraduate class will receive Dartmouth scholarship based on financial need.

Last year, we made two extraordinary moves, first to eliminate Dartmouth loans from our financial aid packages and dramatically reduce student indebtedness at graduation, and second to extend our longstanding undergraduate admission policy, which does not include a financial circumstances of a student or their family, to all undergraduates with demonstrated need, including international students for the first time. But we have a ways to go. I'm so excited to have Raj Chetty in this role.

The last bucket I want to talk about is being creative. When everyone is questioning the value of higher education, when we are looking to maximize the different ways we bring value to what we do...

Academically, I want to ask you "what does the best education look like?" There are new ways to think about our undergraduate and graduate programs, ways we should be thinking about the size and scope of our faculty‑led study‑abroad programs. How do we think about that for the undergraduates? It provides experiences for MBA students across the business world. How do we invest again so we can have the best off campus programs in the world and size and scale our students deserve? How can we connect that not just with undergraduates but everyone else?

How do we think beyond the four‑year degree? What about five‑year programs, which we have several of? Students get [a degree such as] an MPH in engineering and other studies. How do we think about that as we're pushing? How do we think about supplementing our students' in humanities with business coursework? Should we be thinking about a seven‑year program with our undergraduates in the medical school? These are all the things that as we think about being creative, I believe should be on the table at Dartmouth. 

Our undergraduates work alongside our graduate students along our faculty.  How do we make sure we're getting the most out of that for our faculty and our students, as well? 

And how are we creative financially? It's true I mentioned we have a strong balance sheet, but we tend to have fewer income streams than our peers. We're trying to change thinking about targeted summer programs, especially for precollege students. This is something that all of our Ivy peers do and something we haven't done in the past. We know that being here in the summer is such a special part of the students' experience. How could we think about recruiting better students to our undergraduate and graduate programs by focusing on what we do in the summer? We'll be piloting this in summer of 2024. I'm excited for what we can do here. How do we think about introducing a whole new wave of students to Dartmouth and it's also a revenue stream, as well?

At the end of the day, the message I want to leave is that we have an incredible resource at our hands. That we should push, try new ideas, work out of our comfort zone, and that if we can build on the creativity that I know we all have as individuals and groups, but think about it more institutionally, there's no place that Dartmouth can't go. We can lead in so many areas, from research to teaching to what we do across disciplines. We can lead from our connections from our undergraduate to graduate professional schools, we can do this systemically. We can do it with the whole world watching us.

I'm so excited to go on this journey with you. I'm excited that you'll be my partners. I look forward to working with you and pushing forward in the months, weeks, and years ahead.  Thank you.