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New President Phil Hanlon Talks Agenda At Dartmouth, Addresses Faculty On Priorities, Tuition, Hiring

Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon speaks to Sarah Brubeck of the Valley News and Dartmouth freshman Bryn Morgan, a student in his calculus class, in his Parkhurst Hall office Monday, November 4, 2013.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon speaks to Sarah Brubeck of the Valley News and Dartmouth freshman Bryn Morgan, a student in his calculus class, in his Parkhurst Hall office Monday, November 4, 2013. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon gave his first in-depth presentation of what he termed the “way forward” to faculty members on Monday, the culmination of 11 months of listening to faculty and students and reviewing strategic plans.

Hanlon, addressing nearly 200 faculty members at Alumni Hall, elaborated on themes that he first sounded at his inauguration in September, stressing “experiential learning” and expanding graduate programs. But on Monday Hanlon advanced new ideas that he hopes to implement in the future, such as “cluster hiring” among faculty and increasing hiring, expanding the Thayer School of Engineering and forming an umbrella graduate school that can provide infrastructure and organizational support for current graduate programs.

He also told faculty that they should expect tuition rates to remain flat in real terms, pegging increases to the overall rate of inflation.

“It is important that we all put on our ‘Dartmouth hat’ today and focus on what is best for the institution as a whole, setting aside parochial interests or considerations of what is of greatest benefit to our own departments or schools,” Hanlon said.

In September, Hanlon first introduced his idea of a society of fellows, which would bring about 20 post-doctoral scholars to campus, as well as an innovation and entrepreneurial center, designed to support student entrepreneurs.

But in his first address to faculty, the new college president expanded upon the initiatives that he’d like to see implemented during his tenure at Dartmouth.

Hanlon emphasized the need to “fill the middle” by increasing the number of post-doctoral "young scholars" at Dartmouth. The college currently has a renowned undergraduate program and outstanding faculty, Hanlon said, but it lags its Ivy League peers when it comes to the number of graduate students and post-doc students.

“Young scholars bring energy and new ideas to the campus,” Hanlon said. “They come to us with a sense of urgency. They are just beginning their academic careers and they are hungry.”

Hanlon encouraged the current faculty to engage with the society of fellows by bringing them into faculty research.

He added that one of his chief priorities is to significantly expand the Thayer School of Engineering because innovative learning is happening there and its faculty is “below critical mass.”

He’d also like to see the creation of a graduate school, which would upgrade the organizational support for graduate studies. Currently, the graduate dean reports to the dean of the faculty, even though several of the graduate programs reside in professional schools, Hanlon said.

The free-standing graduate school, if implemented, would shift the dean of graduate studies to report to the provost.

The graduate school would oversee doctorate and master of arts and science degree programs, and it would essentially provide a home for interdisciplinary graduate programs.

Hanlon also suggested increasing the size of the faculty by employing what he called cluster hiring. For example, instead of hiring three faculty members into a single department, a “financial markets cluster” could hire faculty members to serve across the disciplines of economics, government and history as they relate to the financial world.

But that was only one example: Hanlon challenged the faculty to identify other themes to build clusters around.

During the next several months, Hanlon said that the provost and deans will be asking for cluster proposals from faculty.

“I ask that each of you engage in this creative process so we get the very best ideas on the table.” Hanlon said.

Hanlon also emphasized that he wants to continue to grow the Tuck School of Business’ involvement with undergraduates, including teaching basic business skills to students through the innovation center. He said he supports expanding the Tuck faculty and said faculty might be hired through the cluster hiring process.

The new president also said that over the next decade, the college would make a “historic investment in its academic enterprise.” But at the same time he said that the funding model for higher education is unsustainable.

“There is no issue that I hear more about when I am talking with alumni, parents, students, government officials, than affordability,” Hanlon said.

While Dartmouth seeks to keep its rise in tuition in line with inflation, the college will also likely at the same time see “sponsored” research struggle. Hanlon said that the college will need to look to alumni donations and “self-investment,” meaning the institution will need to scale back on the least effective things they do so money can be available for new initiatives.

And as he did during his inauguration, Hanlon stressed experiential learning and embracing new technologies.

In a changing rapidly technological environment, Hanlon stressed that it’s not enough to simply provide students with facts and data, but they also must learn “wisdom.”

“One clear consequence of the information age is that nobody will pay Dartmouth tuition just to get information. Information is now a free and public good,” Hanlon said. “If you want it, you go get it on your laptop.”

He encouraged the faculty to develop new and innovative experiential learning opportunities and posed a question to the faculty: “Should Dartmouth actively brand experiential learning as a key part of the Dartmouth academic experience? And if so, what would that look like?”

When Hanlon finished speaking, he stepped away from behind the podium and sat on a stool in front of the faculty, as if he was switching to an informal talk-show mode.

One faculty member suggested the idea of lowering tuition rather than tying it to the rate of inflation. That would make news, he said.

But Hanlon said he wouldn’t know how to lower tuition without damaging the institution.

“While I do think we need to align our costs with some measure of inflation, it’s not because of supply and demand,” Hanlon said. “We are turning away 90 percent of the people that want our business. I think we need to do it for political reasons.”

N. Bruce Duthu, chairman of Native American Studies, said after the talk that he’s supportive of Hanlon’s idea of cluster hiring and said it had been discussed during the strategic planning initiative.

For instance, Duthu said that faculty members have discussed what a sustainability cluster hire might look like, recruiting scholars from the fields of economics, business and science.

“I think it’s great that he’s picking up on a current that’s already there,” Duthu said.

Richard Howarth, a professor of environmental studies, said he liked Hanlon’s idea of “filling in the middle.” There can be a perception that teaching graduate students detracts from undergraduate teaching, which is what Dartmouth is so well known for, Howarth said. But he said he doesn’t think that will be the case. Instead, he thinks that graduate students can be the glue that brings undergraduates into the world of scholarship.

Dartmouth is known primarily as a teaching college. Faculty teach most of the classes, not teaching assistants. In an interview prior to his address, Hanlon assured that faculty would still teach classes even as the number of graduate students grows, allaying any suggestion that he was signaling graduate students would take over teaching students, a common practice at large universities.

“It’s something that’s been a part of our culture forever,” Hanlon said. “The direct access to faculty is I think above all else what makes the undergraduate experience here so special.”

However, Howarth said he was most excited by how Hanlon was able to articulate his vision.

“We know what the issues are, but it’s a real art to drive an organization that allows it to become what it might be,” Howarth said. “That was really the best part of his talk. He clearly has that type of vision in mind.”

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

CLARIFICATION

Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon wants to attract more post-doctoral scholars to campus for research and other academic pursuits to "fill the middle" between undergraduates and the Dartmouth faculty. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.