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‘Native Son of Dartmouth’

Saturday, September 21, 2013
Hanover — During his inauguration as the 18th president of Dartmouth College, Phil Hanlon laid out two new initiatives to advance student learning and took a firm stance against sexual violence and high-risk drinking.

Much like he did during a letter to students earlier this week, Hanlon emphasized the importance of a safe and inclusive community, and acknowledged that Dartmouth has room to improve.

“These things weaken us,” Hanlon said. “They undermine our community, the very thing we hold most precious. We must be a leader in crafting solutions to these problems so that the Dartmouth experience remains as vibrant and special as it always has been.”

While raising the issues, Hanlon did not give specific strategies Friday for how his administration would tackle sexual violence or high-risk drinking.

As for the two new initiatives, Hanlon announced during his 28-minute inauguration address that Dartmouth will become home to a Society of Fellows program, which will bring dozens of postdoctoral fellows to campus, and that the college will create an Innovation Center and new venture incubator to support student entrepreneurs.

The Society of Fellows program will recruit fellows from a range of academic disciplines, Hanlon said, and provide them the time to develop their research and gain diverse scholarly perspectives.

“They will learn the art of teaching from the true masters on this campus while bringing to Dartmouth their own unique passions and innovations,” Hanlon said.

The Innovation Center will support students, whether they’re interested in business start ups or social ventures , and students will have access to faculty, as well as Dartmouth alumni.

Hanlon also addressed the cost of a Dartmouth education, calling rising tuition a “national crisis of access and affordability in higher education.” He said it’s Dartmouth’s responsibility to operate efficiently and effectively to assure that all students can access higher education, regardless of their financial circumstances.

Friday was filled with pomp and circumstance and all the traditions that come with a Dartmouth inauguration, which took place on the Dartmouth green. Signs with the name Philip J. Hanlon hung across campus like campaign posters — three on the front of the Collis Center — and on lampposts throughout the campus. And former president Jim Yong Kim, who left to become president of the World Bank, was in attendance to hand over the Wentworth Bowl to Hanlon, just as it was handed to Kim four years earlier by outgoing president James Wright.

The bowl has been passed along from each preceding Dartmouth president to his successor since the college’s earliest days.

Kim spoke for only three minutes, congratulating Hanlon, calling the 1977 alumnus a “native son of Dartmouth” and welcoming him home to Hanover.

Hanlon’s family was in attendance, including his wife, Gail Gentes, and two of their three adult children, Michael and Maureen. And Gentes’ brother — who was in the Alpha Delta fraternity with Hanlon — was also in attendance. Before Gentes took her seat in the front row next to Susan DeBevoise Wright, wife of former president James Wright, Gentes, wearing a light green dress and teal scarf, greeted friends with hugs and handshakes.

After the ceremony, Hanlon’s son Michael praised his father for telling jokes.

“Not enough math jokes,” Hanlon’s daughter Maureen interjected.

Before Hanlon took the microphone, he posed for a photo with Kim and Wright, all three with their hands grasped around the edges of the silver Wentworth Bowl.

Hanlon told the audience that as a young boy growing up in the Adirondacks, he watched a lot of hockey and dreamed of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head.

“That image came flooding back just now when President Kim handed me the Wentworth Bowl,” Hanlon said. “And I can say to all of you that the Wentworth Bowl trumps the Stanley Cup every day of the week.”

Hanlon, who after studying as an undergraduate at Dartmouth and earning his doctorate at the California Institute of Technology, went on to join the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he eventually became provost. He has a quiet demeanor and he prides himself on listening.

Kim, a global health pioneer, was the first Asian American to lead an Ivy League college. His inauguration drew numerous Asian media outlets and more than 5,000 people to the Dartmouth green. By contrast, Hanlon’s inauguration brought far less media coverage and hundreds of the white seats that had been placed on the green remained empty. Officials estimate that between 2,500 and 3,000 people attended Friday’s event.

Hanlon has big shoes to fill, said 1960 alumnus Phil Kron, of Chatham, N.J.

“Jim Kim took this place by storm and created a lot of excitement,” Kron said. “That said, it’s just another challenge that Phil Hanlon’s got, but there’s nothing that indicated to me that he’s not well prepared.”

And Hanlon stressed that Friday’s pomp and circumstance was not about hailing his installation as president. He said the fanfare was really about celebrating an institution and recognizing its community of learners.

“It’s not about me or my esteemed predecessors in the Wheelock Succession,” Hanlon said. “Today is about our sacred responsibility to you, our student body. All of us, the very institution that we serve, is about you. The difference is that you don’t have to give a speech today.”

Hanlon reflected on his time as a student and spoke about a math class he took with former president John Kemeny. Hanlon looked up to Kemeny, and has carried on that tradition by teaching a calculus class this term. Just this week, Hanlon learned that one of Kemeny’s grandsons is in his class. He promised the student not be any harder on him than his grandfather was on Hanlon.

Also in the audience were members of another of Hanlon’s extended families — faculty from the University of Michigan, where Hanlon worked for 27 years.

During the inauguration, current president of the University of Michigan Mary Sue Coleman spoke fondly of her former provost. Beyond his deep commitment to teaching, he also has an acumen for fiscal control and an investment to academic enterprise, which Coleman said is every presidents dream for a provost.

Hanlon also led the university through the great recession, which hit the state of Michigan hard.

“But composure is Phil Hanlon’s calling card,” Coleman sad. “The man does not flinch. He steered the university through some of our most fiscally challenging years, all the while advancing academic excellence and impact.”

Many alumni were in town on Friday for the inauguration because this weekend is also class officer weekend, and numerous alumni agreed that Hanlon needs to address the social and cultural issues on campus.

Dudley Smith, a 1969 graduate who now lives in Grantham, said he thinks Hanlon’s biggest challenge will be addressing student life.

In the months prior to Hanlon’s arrival, a day of classes was canceled in April after a group of students publicly protested what they perceived to be a campus culture that tolerates racism, sexual assault and homophobia. And in July, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began a compliance review of Dartmouth for sexual harassment grievance procedures and potential violations of Title IX.

Smith said those issues should be addressed long before students feel they must act out to get the administrations’ attention.

“I think Kim thought those were just cultural issues that would somehow work themselves out,” Smith said. “But I think Hanlon’s got to address that one way or another. He talked about it in his speech, but what is he going to do about it?”

Jim Wooster, a 1959 graduate who now lives in Hanover, echoed Smith’s sentiment. Hanlon needs to address sexual assaults and binge drinking first before he can move on to other long-term initiatives, Wooster said.

Scott Palmer, a 1959 alumnus from Boston, agreed with Wooster, saying that Hanlon needs to spend his time focusing on governance issues, such as ensuring that he has the best possible administrators in place who can push the college forward, and he needs to focus on fundraising and keeping the college financially stable. But before he can do that, he needs to address the social issues that prevent some Dartmouth students from enjoying their experience.

“Binge drinking needs to be solved now,” Wooster said. “It can’t wait.”

Many alumni said they are hopeful that Hanlon will spend a “long, healthy tenure” at Dartmouth. One chord that struck with 1971 alumnus Peter Pratt, of Washington, D.C., was when Hanlon quoted an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

As Hanlon finished his speech and the two-hour inauguration drew to a close, the audience gave the new president a standing ovation. As people clapped, a yellow school bus full of young Hanover students drove by the eastern edge of the green, and the students inside joined in the applause, clapping, hooting and whistling.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at or 603-727-3223.


To see more photographs, follow this link.

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