Jim Staros' Report on the 216th Alumni Council

Dear ’69 Classmates,

Last month (May 17-19), I returned to Hanover for the 216th Meeting of the Dartmouth Alumni Council.  As I suggested in my pre-Council message to you, the meeting revolved around the newly launched The Call to Lead capital campaign, focusing on its priorities and the vision that drove them.  You can read more about the campaign and the vision that drives it here.

Martha Beattie ‘76 moderated the opening forum, during which she reported on the campaign kickoff and on some of the key points about the campaign made by Pres. Phil Hanlon ’77 at the kickoff. One that especially caught my attention is the emphasis on endowed scholarships, with the goal of eliminating loans as part of the financial aid packages offered to accepted students, replacing those loans with scholarships.  This should have a highly beneficial impact for middle-income families.  Dartmouth already provides a full ride for families with a household income of less than $100,000, but loans are an important part of the package offered to families with household incomes above $100,000, but not at a level able to afford the almost $70 K per year that is the current list price for a Dartmouth education.  Martha also introduced Cheryl Bascomb ’82 who this month will succeed Martha as Vice President for Alumni Relations

I had Thursday dinner at “The Onion”, one of those new common spaces built to support the new House Communities.   There has been considerable discussion on the class listserv about – to put it politely – the common spaces’ lack of architectural integration with the campus and their barebones interiors.  If you have not seen them, this criticism is justified.  “The Onion” from a distance looks like a tent pitched near the tennis courts adjacent to Alumni Gym.  However, one has to keep in mind that these common spaces were purposefully built as temporary structures to experiment with configurations of common spaces to find ones that would work.  The plan is to try out various arrangements of common spaces in these structures, and then replace them with permanent, architecturally harmonious structures, the designs for which will have been informed by these experiments.  Two energetic and enthusiastic House Professors, Kathryn Lively, Professor of Sociology and House Professor of South House, and Craig Sutton, Associate Professor of Mathematics and House Professor of School House, joined us at dinner.  They reported that the House Communities are still a work in progress, but growing and developing as part of residential life.  They focused on three characteristics of their houses, intellectual engagement, community, and continuity, the latter being especially important to students returning from off-campus terms.  It is likely to take another 2-3 years before they become part of the general rhythm of life at the College.  An important point made later in a later session of the Council meeting by Ellie Mahoney Loughlin ’89, Trustee and Campaign Co-chair, is that the House Communities are not meant to replace the Greek system, but meant to coexist in parallel with the Greek system.  They are additive, not substitutive.

Friday began with meetings of standing committees.  During my term on Alumni Council, I have served on the Academic Affairs Committee.  We had a presentation on Dartmouth on Location by Professor Susan Ackerman ’80, who has been one of the most active faculty members in Dartmouth on Location events.  Keep your eyes open for a year of “Super Dartmouth on Location” events to celebrate the semiquincentennial (250th anniversary) of the College, beginning with a kickoff party in NYC on January 12, 2019, and culminating in Boston on December 13, 2019, with events throughout the year in other cities.  We also voted on this year’s recipients of the John Rassias Faculty Award (vide infra).

At lunch in Alumni Hall in the Hopkins Center, this year’s John Rassias Faculty Awards were presented to Susan Ackerman '80, the Preston H. Kelsey Professor of Religion; and Vicki May, Professor of Engineering at the Thayer School. We heard a great talk by Hilary Thompkins ’90, former (Obama administration) Solicitor General for the Department of Interior; first Native American (Navajo) to serve at that level.  She described herself as a product of the old Department of Interior policy of placing Native American children for adoption by white families, having been adopted by a family in NJ.  She talked about her years at the Department of Interior, starting with settling a longstanding suit by several tribes about income for natural resources that had not been properly distributed to the tribes, and ending with the Dakota Access pipeline standoff.  She wrote the opinion that Native American water and other rights established by treaty had not been adequately reviewed in the approval of the pipeline right-of-way, an opinion that has been adopted by the court.

We spent the afternoon at Cook Auditorium at Tuck, broken into four thematic sessions and two breakout sessions on the major themes of the campaign: Supporting Our Students; Financial Aid and House Communities; Big Bets on Discovery; and Dartmouth as the Preeminent Institution for the Teacher-Scholar.  I have touched on several of these themes above.  Included under the rubric of Supporting Our Students are goals to raise funds for 350 new beds to develop swing space to renovate older dorms, endowments for the new residential communities, funds for a four-week pre-orientation program for first generation/low income students, and funds for removal of barriers to low income students for full participation in the Dartmouth Experience.  The session on Big Bets on Discovery was moderated by Sherri Oberg ’82 Tu ’86, former Alumni Council President and Trustee emerita.  Ross Virginia, Professor of Environmental Science spoke about Dartmouth’s leadership role in research on the arctic and emphasized the experiential learning opportunities that the Arctic Institute provides for Dartmouth undergraduates.   David Kotz ’86, Interim Provost and Professor of Computer Science spoke about the new Irving Institute for Energy & Society.  Steven Leach, the new Director of the Norris Cotton Cancer Centertalked about Dartmouth’s leadership role in cancer research, including making the fundamental discoveries in immune checkpoint inhibitors that made possible new immunotherapies, like the one that brought Jimmy Carter back from the brink.  All of these are highly interdisciplinary centers (as distinct from traditional academic departments) and all provide experiential learning opportunities for Dartmouth undergraduates as well as research platforms for faculty and graduate students.

At dinner we heard from a panel of deans about their visions for each of their schools as related to the campaign, and on Saturday morning we had a session on Behind the Scenes in the Call to Lead Campaign.  The session was moderated by Caroline Hribar ’00; and included Laurel Richie ’81, Chair, Board of Trustees; Ed Haldeman ’70 (former Board chair); Ellie Mahoney Loughlin ’89; and Bob Lasher ’88, Senior Vice President for Advancement.  Why is $3 B the right number?  The process began with soliciting proposal from across the College.  When those were added together, they totaled $12 B – clearly not feasible.  That big ask was whittled down to a feasible number by setting priorities; $3 B was as high as thought feasible.  This campaign differs from the last one by being more programmatic than the last one, which was more about capital improvements.  Last campaign was structured really as four separate campaigns (College, Geisel, Tuck, and Thayer) under one roof.  This campaign is structured as One Dartmouth.  Another difference is the focus on leadership development.  Ed Haldeman opined that walking through campus, this place is “radically better” than it was when he arrived on campus in 1966, but there is so much that is just the same – and we need to hold onto those special characteristics that make Dartmouth what it is.  About $1.2 B will go to endowment; about $1.8 B for current use.  This is a comprehensive campaign: every donation counts.

The rest of the session largely focused on the work of the Nominating and Alumni Search Committee, filling leadership roles for next year’s Alumni Council and voting on two candidates for alumni trustee.   As I have noted in several of my missives, we are in a period of turnover of alumni trustees, and in the upcoming year two more alumni trustee candidates will be nominated by Alumni Council.  The committee invites and encourages your recommendations.

As I mentioned in my pre-council missive, this was my last Alumni Council meeting as your class representative.  It has been an honor to serve in that role.  I pass the baton to Norm Jacobs with the confidence that he will represent us well and will enjoy his service on Alumni Council as much as I have.

I hope to see many of you at the mini-reunion at CitiField generously hosted by Sandy Alderson and at Homecoming as we build momentum for our 50th Reunion (June 7-11, 2019).

With best wishes,

Jim Staros '69