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At Dartmouth, Talk of Change

  • Incoming Dartmouth president Philip Hanlon, second from left, sings the school’s Alma Mater along with (from left) Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Mandel, interim President Carol Folt and former president James Wright. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)

    Incoming Dartmouth president Philip Hanlon, second from left, sings the school’s Alma Mater along with (from left) Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Mandel, interim President Carol Folt and former president James Wright. (Valley News — James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Incoming Dartmouth College president Philip Hanlon takes questions from reporters during a news conference in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Incoming Dartmouth College president Philip Hanlon takes questions from reporters during a news conference in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Incoming Dartmouth president Philip Hanlon, second from left, sings the school’s Alma Mater along with (from left) Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Mandel, interim President Carol Folt and former president James Wright. (Valley News — James M. Patterson)
  • Incoming Dartmouth College president Philip Hanlon takes questions from reporters during a news conference in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

After thanking the search committee that chose him, newly elected Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon joked yesterday that he hoped the college wouldn’t conduct too many presidential searches in the future.

His words were met with knowing laughter from alumni, faculty and students who recently said farewell to a president that only stayed three years.

Hanlon, a 1977 Dartmouth College graduate and the current provost at the University of Michigan, will take office as the 18th Dartmouth president on July 1. He follows former President Jim Yong Kim, who left in June to lead the World Bank.

Yesterday was Dartmouth’s opportunity to show off its new president as Hanlon was formally introduced to the campus community for the first time. Hanlon and his wife Gail Gentes dutifully shook hands with hundreds of people for more than an hour.

Pranam Chatterjee, a sophomore, stood in a line that hugged the walls of Alumni Hall so he could shake Hanlon’s hand.

Afterward, Chatterjee said that Hanlon was extremely approachable, and came off more as a enthusiastic student than a distant chief administrator. During a welcome celebration, Hanlon related that when he was a student on campus 40 years ago, he was surrounded by faculty who nurtured and challenged him.

“What he felt as an undergraduate is exactly what I feel right now,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee said he was excited that Dartmouth chose a president who has experience in higher education and he hopes it encourages his fellow students to explore more broadly and be less focused on finding high paying jobs after graduation. Chatterjee thinks Hanlon just might be the kind of college president who can buck that trend and inspire students to learn and become well-rounded.

“I was worried that we’d pick a guy in finance, and what would that do?” Chatterjee said, an allusion to the Dartmouth reputation of turning out Wall Street and business executives. “It would just encourage students to get a high-paying job. We need to work on following our passions. I think President Hanlon is exactly that embodiment.”

Junior Daniel Bornstein echoed Chatterjee’s opinion and said he thinks Hanlon would be someone who can strengthen the student-faculty connection.

“Dartmouth has a reputation about sending its graduates into finance jobs,” Bornstein said. “I think what we should be about is developing students’ ability to write really well, to communicate their ideas and be able to shape our own argument in whatever field you go in to.”

Robert Russell, a 77-year-old Hanover resident, said he watched a video of Hanlon on the college website when he was first hired in November and said he didn’t think Hanlon made a good first impression.

In person, he found that Hanlon has an engaging personality.

“He’s a no brainer in terms of history and academics,” Russell said. “It’s nice to see him in the flesh and the potential.”

During a press conference yesterday, Hanlon said it’s still too early for him to understand fully Dartmouth’s financial situation, but he hinted the college should not take its multi-billion dollar endowment for granted.

“What I will say is that higher education in its entirety has really got to rethink the historic funding models,” Hanlon said. “We just can’t sustain the current track.”

He cited his time at the University of Michigan and how the university committed to efficiency. Hanlon and his colleagues reduced the university’s expenditures by $235 million in recurring costs by looking at such things as energy efficiency and how to deliver benefits more cost effectively. He said he plans to explore similar efforts at Dartmouth.

And while Hanlon was a member of the Alpha Delta fraternity — the inspiration for Animal House and currently facing a grand jury indictment for serving alcohol to minors — he said that student life will be a big focus of his presidency and he won’t tolerate high-risk behavior such as hazing, binge drinking or sexual assault.

Hanlon’s own student days in the 1970s were a time of great upheaval. The country was in an unpopular war and coeducation had just been introduced at Dartmouth. And while Hanlon is returning home to Dartmouth four decades later, he pointed out that higher education is once again “at a moment of churn and upheaval and transformation.”

For instance, Dartmouth must learn to prepare students for an ever changing workplace and must find a way to keep tuition affordable and deal with financial issues in a weak economy.

Information technology is also a part of higher education’s future, Hanlon said, and a way to enhance it. Technology will allow the college to broaden the students and public it can reach and collect data to better understand how students are learning.

After shaking Hanlon’s hand, freshman Victoria Li said Hanlon seems to want to make a connection with students, and her friend Cecilia Lu said it would be “interesting” to take his class.

“And intimidating,” her friend Liz Lin offered.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.