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Jim Kenyon: Dear Dartmouth Class of 2018

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

Dear Dartmouth Class of 2018,

Congratulations! As of today — commencement day — you’re officially Big Greeners for life. And with that honor comes responsibility. It’s no longer what Dartmouth can do for you but what you can do for Dartmouth.

So let’s get down to business. Now that the college’s $3 billion capital campaign has kicked into high gear, what better time to show your alma mater a little love?

At last look, the college’s endowment was hovering around $5 billion. That sounds like a lot, but it’s barely enough for Dartmouth to sneak into the Top 20 nationally. If Dartmouth is going to close the gap on No. 1 Harvard ($37.1 billion) and No. 2 Yale ($25.4 billion), alumni must step up. That means you.

Without your support, how can Dartmouth — according to the most recent federal tax documents — pay its chief investment officer nearly $1.5 million a year in salary, bonuses and other compensation? Or $820,000 a year to the dean of its business school?

Disregard the drivel in The New York Times and other fake-news outlets about elite universities just being hedge funds with libraries attached. In 2016, Dartmouth had only 14 people on its payroll who made more than $500,000.

Chump change. A Dartmouth administrator living in the Upper Valley shouldn’t be expected to get by on a half-million a year, not with the price of organic avocados at the Hanover Co-op.

With that Ivy League diploma in hand, plenty of nonprofit organizations will be vying for your charitable contributions.

Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, orphanages.

Ignore them.

Dartmouth has more pressing needs. According to the college’s website, the Dartmouth Development Office has a mere 14 vice presidents and directors. Practically, a bare-bones operation.

No wonder that Robert Lasher, the senior vice president for advancement who oversees the fund-raising machine, earned only $646,678, including $119,543 in bonus and incentive compensation, in 2016.

Lasher and his army of arm-twisters are the college’s lifeblood. Who else would have had the brilliant idea to advertise on the capital campaign’s website that the naming rights to Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s cancer center in Lebanon is now available to the highest bidder?

So what if the cancer center, which has been a joint venture between the college’s Geisel School of Medicine (itself renamed after a large benefactor in 2012), and D-H since it opened in 1972, already has a worthy name.

Naming it after Norris Cotton, the longtime U.S. senator from Lebanon who helped secure a $3 million federal grant in 1970 to build New England’s first regional cancer center, might have been a good idea back then.

But Cotton died nearly 30 years ago. Continuing to honor his legacy is just leaving big money on the table. Besides, Cotton already has a federal building in Manchester with his name on it.

As part of its “Call to Lead” campaign, the college is seeking a “transformative naming gift” for the cancer center. A check with six or seven zeroes should be transformative enough.

As a newly minted graduate that’s probably not within your budget. (Unless, you’re going into private equity.) No sweat.

The Senior Class Gift Committee is suggesting each graduate contribute $20.18.

That barely pays for a box of granola bars, which I presume is what the capital campaign’s website is talking about when it says that some of the $3 billion will be earmarked to “provide more healthy meals and snacks for student-athletes.”

Apparently, the $70,000 a year that Dartmouth charges per student doesn’t cover juice boxes and orange slices at halftime.

A measly $20 donation won’t go far, but it’s meant to “get you in the habit of giving,” a member of your class informed me.

He was among a dozen or so ‘18s whom I met during a stroll around campus last week. From our talks, I got the feeling that some of you aren’t big fans of President Phil Hanlon. Not as long as he’s pulling in $1.35 million a year, anyway.

“If this administration leaves and a new one comes in, I might give,” said a student, who cited a lack of transparency for her reluctance.

“The size of the administration is out of kilter,” added another student. “You feel like your money is going to feed a bureaucracy that isn’t always effective.

“Despite that, I’ll probably give. I still love the school and want other students to have the same opportunities I had.”

I was impressed by how much thought he (and other ‘18ers as well) had put into Dartmouth’s need to become more economically diverse. Particularly, since he was, in college admissions parlance, a “full pay.” (Roughly half of Dartmouth’s 4,400 undergraduates fall into that category, which says a lot about why it’s an elite school.)

But that’s no reason for graduates not to give. If students are worried about where their contributions are going, they needn’t be, Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence told me.

“All funds raised through the senior class gift initiative go directly to support scholarships,” she said.

The college distributed $97 million in financial aid last year.

And according to the Call to Lead’s website, the college plans to devote a big chunk of the $3 billion to financial aid.

Good thing.

In May 2017, the Times released its “College Access Index,” which was intended to measure a school’s “commitment to economic diversity.”

Nationally, Dartmouth ranked 44th.

So what are you waiting for, Class of 2018? Dartmouth needs your money.

Soup kitchens and homeless shelters be damned.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.