Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Beyond the Bubble

In today's The Dartmouth, Brian Chao '09 writes that James Wright's work with wounded soldiers makes him proud to be a Dartmouth student and that it's nice to be reminded that there are more important things than political bickering at Dartmouth. While I agree that President Wright is doing great things in his work down in Washington, I have some questions about Chao's next point - that President Wright has a duty as college president to contribute to the outside world.

Many universities choose leaders that are nationally recognizable figures. To give some examples from the Clinton Administration, Donna Shalala is the president of the University of Miami and Erskine Bowles runs the University of North Carolina. But we do things differently. James Freedman was the only Dartmouth president in the past century who was not a graduate or faculty member of the college. I believe strongly in internal promotion. Dan Nelson '75, for example, certainly deserves to be named permanent Dean of the College, and I think he would do a much better job than any of the random candidates Dartmouth has brought in. As a graduate and a longtime administrator, he understands Dartmouth like no newcomer possibly could, myself included. Dartmouth has quirks - we don't need somebody to fix them.

As much as the good press about Wright is valuable, the job of college president is to make Dartmouth the best college it can be. When that's the goal, everything else follows naturally. Nobody can name the president of Harvard but they know it's a great school. There's no need for James Wright to become a household name, but we need Dartmouth to be ubiquitous in the public consciousness. I think his work with the soldiers is absolutely great, but it's a nice extracurricular activity, not his job.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

You must be kidding about Dan Nelson! Say that you are. If he becomes Dean, then every single senior administrator in the place will have been here for more than 20 years, including the new Dean of Admissions. What a collection of old cronies! Who hired all this safe, familiar, incompetent people??? The oldest crony of them all.... No wonder the good ship Dartmouth is dead in the water. None of these folks has had a new idea in decades.

David Nachman said...

Well, I like him. I sit on a committee with him and he's very knowledgeable and open-minded. From what I hear, he's also working to ease SEMP restrictions, which I think is very important. Do you really think that any of the candidates would be better than Nelson? I think that Dartmouth tends to react badly to "new ideas" and I don't really see what new ideas somebody could bring that wouldn't involve changing the Greek System or academics, both of which are central to that mythical "Dartmouth experience." I also want administrators who are truly passionate about Dartmouth and are loyal to the school. I don't consider Dartmouth to be just another college and I don't want new hires who view Dartmouth as another roadstop on their career path.

Anonymous said...

It's not about "another roadstop"; rather, we want some adminstrators - Dartmouth alums or not - who have at least some experience at other institutions. For instance, there have been articles in the D about how other schools deal differently from Dartmouth with the alcohol laws. Things are so stuck here on alcohol and many other issues precisely because there is not a fresh idea to be had in the place. Freedman had many faults, but he brought in people of the calibre of Lee Bollinger and Lee Pelton from the outside. They had new perspectives to offer. Inward-looking institutions don't move forward.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to also add that your post seems to imply that he wants the job or applied for it and wasn't considered. I don't know if he applied or not, but it's possible the man doesn't want to be Dean rather than him just being passed over.

David Nachman said...

8:37 am - You're absolutely right. There's no reason to think that he wanted the job, and based on past adminstrative hiring (Wright, Scherr) one would think that he would at least be considered.

7:11 am - I don't doubt the value of outside perspectives, but as a fearful student who will be affected by the hire, I would rather keep the comfortable status quo than gamble with change.

1:54 am - Coincidentally, Kevin Hudak '07 wrote an opinion column today mentioning the possibility that Dan Nelson would address SEMP before he leaves.

A. S. Erickson said...

What about COS reform? Nelson has been the single most obstructive person on that issue.

David Nachman said...

It's tough to tell whether Nelson is truly opposed to reform or is genuine in his desire to let the new dean handle the situaton. I don't agree that the latter is the right thing to do, but that doesn't mean that it's not the case.

By no means do I think that Dan Nelson is perfect and I have qualms with many of his views. But I do think that he would end up better than any of the chosen candidates.