Choice for President Gets Initial Thumbs Up from Dartmouth Community
Hanover — Dartmouth College English professor Tom Luxon first met Philip Hanlon, provost at the University of Michigan, in May when he was visiting the school for an anniversary celebration of one of its programs.
Luxon was immediately impressed by how a senior administrator could be so involved with undergraduate teaching.
After the encounter, Luxon went back to his hotel room and googled Hanlon and learned he was a Dartmouth College alumnus. Based off that initial interaction, Luxon sent an email to the presidential search committee that would pick the next Dartmouth president. Six months later, Hanlon was selected.
“This is beyond my wildest expectations,” said Luxon, who has been a Dartmouth professor for 25 years. “As a faculty member, it’s very important that we have somebody who has a lifelong dedication to higher education and somebody that is a scholar.”
The reaction from the Dartmouth community was generally positive yesterday, with faculty happy that a president had been hired who understood the world of higher education, and alumni were optimistic of Hanlon’s commitment to the college because he’s an alumnus.
See related story, "Dartmouth College Picks Philip Hanlon as 18th President."
Hanlon is currently the provost at the University of Michigan, and has worked at the university since 1986 in various administrative roles. While provost, he has continued to teach freshman calculus and said he’d like to teach a freshman course at Dartmouth. He is also a mathematician and holds a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology.
For Leslie Bradford, a 1977 class officer who lives in Westchester, N.Y., having an alum was more about commitment to the institution. Former president Jim Yong Kim was committed, Bradford said, he just left earlier than people expected.
Hanlon is also a 1977 graduate, and Bradford said their time at Dartmouth was during a point of great upheaval. For instance, Dartmouth had only recently become co-educational and the college was dealing with athletic issues because of Title IX. And while the issues today are different, there are problems at Dartmouth, such as binge drinking and sexual assault that need attention.
“I think he’ll come with a great historical perspective and also a great sense of confidence that we can attack these things and fix them without compromising the best of Dartmouth traditions,” Bradford said.
But for faculty members, having an alum run the school wasn’t nearly as important to them as having a president who had experience running a major university.
Luxon said he didn’t care about Hanlon’s alma mater. For him, it was about his academic experience and his understanding of the importance of an undergraduate education.
“It looks like we got all those things, and then they got an alum,” Luxon said.
Like Luxon, ethics professor Ronald Green wasn’t won over by Hanlon because he’s an alumnus. In the past, Green has been wary of Dartmouth graduates running the college who are not in academics, but instead come from business or government positions.
“Those people have a rosy undergraduate view of the college and don’t have an understanding of what happens behind the scenes,” Green said. “Someone who has worked within academics knows it’s not all about football games and bonfires and to make a place great a lot of people have to work together.”
Hanlon’s experience working with a $6 billion budget at the University of Michigan will obviously come in handy during Dartmouth’s budgeting process, Green said, but more importantly, he hopes that Hanlon has a strong relationship with faculty.
“Faculties are sleeping dogs,” said Green, who has been a faculty member for 44 years. “They don’t like to be stirred up, but you have to stay in touch with them.”
Green added that he’s not sure Kim did everything he could to reach out to faculty. Green liked that Hanlon wants to continue teaching a freshman course while president, but he said he’s going to have to set his priorities. Teaching just one course at Dartmouth is demanding, Green said, and perhaps a small seminar would be better.
Green teaches in the religion department and said that he was pleased with the hiring of Hanlon, but said his one concern is that the humanities, such as foreign languages and women’s studies, have been overlooked in the past, and hopes that way of thinking doesn’t continue into Hanlon’s tenure.
However, Green was optimistic because Hanlon seems to be committed to interdisciplinary undergraduate teaching.
Even a vociferous Dartmouth critic, Joe Asch, a writer for Dartblog and often an outspoken thorn in the college’s side, called Hanlon a “great choice,” and had mentioned Hanlon on his blog three times in the last two years, twice recommending him for Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees and once for the presidential search committee.
“I think he should have been a trustee years ago,” Asch said. “I’m thrilled by this choice, frankly.”
Hanlon’s background in undergraduate education is what sold Asch, and while Asch called former president Kim a breath of fresh air when he was first hired, he said from the beginning that his lack of experience in undergraduate education and administration would hurt him.
“In a sense, he’s the anti-Kim. It’s really hopeful,” Asch said.
Suril Kantaria, Dartmouth’s student body president, was on the search committee for the next president, and has met Hanlon. He’s very charismatic about teaching and he has a great sense of humor, Kantaria said. And his experience with the greek system - he was a member of Alpha Delta - will give him an advantage with addressing its shortcomings, like binge drinking and sexual assault.
“I think students will love him,” Kantaria said. “He really connects well with students. I think he will be a real hit on campus.”
Valley News reporter Chris Fleisher spoke to VPR's Mitch Wertlieb about Dartmouth's incoming president on VPR Friday morning. To listen to that interview, click here.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.
This article had been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction ran in the Tuesday, Dec. 4 edition of the Valley News:
The federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education programs, including sports, is known as Title IX. A story in Friday's Valley News about campus reaction to the naming of a new president at Dartmouth College referred incorrectly to the law.