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Dartmouth joins group of elite universities in all but name

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2019 9:24:59 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 9:24:45 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College has long shied away from calling itself a university, in part because of the alumni’s fierce loyalty to its small-school spirit and accessibility of the faculty.

But this week the Association of American Universities recognized its de facto status by inducting Dartmouth as its 65th member — alongside the other seven Ivy League schools and powerhouse research institutions such as Stanford University, MIT and the California Institute of Technology.

“I consider this the most important academic change since Dartmouth became part of the Ivy League,” history professor emeritus and 1955 alumnus Jere Daniell said on Friday. “We’ve got a lot of stuff going on in this institution.”

In addition to its undergraduate programs in liberal arts, Dartmouth hosts well-regarded graduate schools of business, engineering, medicine and advanced studies and more than 50 research centers and institutes. Quite a bit more than in 1819, when Daniel Webster, while arguing a landmark case on behalf of his alma mater, is supposed to have declared, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!”

That love, particularly on the part of alumni, means that we shouldn’t expect the institution to call itself “Dartmouth University” anytime soon, the AAU membership notwithstanding.

“There will never be a name change,” the 86-year-old Daniell said on Friday. “Not in my lifetime.”

The institution concurred on Friday, through spokeswoman Diana Lawrence: “There are no plans to change the name of the college to Dartmouth University.”

Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon, a 1977 Dartmouth graduate, drew the same line in the sand during an interview with the Valley News in 2014, a year into his administration.

“Our name is Dartmouth College,” he said, comparing the traditional name to those of Boston College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology and adding, “They’re all universities.”

Never mind that over the last several years the school has been branding itself for several years simply as “Dartmouth” on its Facebook page, website and other venues — though “College” remains part of the identity for intercollegiate athletics.

Whatever one calls it, Dartmouth is joining an exclusive consortium of post-secondary research institutions. In addition to its Ivy cousins and Stanford, the roster of private-school AAU members also includes the University of Chicago (1900), Northwestern (1917) and Johns Hopkins (1900).

The 36 public schools, meanwhile, include charter members the University of Michigan, where Hanlon was previously the provost, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the universities of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (1922) and Minnesota (1908).

Inductees joining Dartmouth in 2019 are the Universities of Utah and California-Santa Cruz.

Laurel Richie, a 1981 graduate who chairs Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees, described Dartmouth’s selection, in a college announcement, as “a testament to our faculty’s relentless pursuit of new knowledge. What excites me most is the opportunity this membership provides for Dartmouth to continue to expand its global impact.”

Dartmouth became well-known in 1819, when Webster convinced the Supreme Court to overturn the New Hampshire Legislature’s altering of the college’s charter to make it, in effect, a state-run institution. Between 1817 and 1819, “Dartmouth University” held classes in college buildings at the same time that the original college’s faculty conducted theirs in rented buildings.

Once the court restored the college’s right to operate privately, Dartmouth remained relatively small, with its medical school the only graduate institution. Then, with donations from alumni, it established the Thayer School of Engineering in 1871 and the Amos Tuck School of Business in 1900.

Both schools, Daniell recalled, had the status of “associated” professional schools when he arrived as a freshman in 1951. Tuck has since evolved into one of the top business schools in the world, while Thayer is now doubling its footprint in a $200 million project to meet the growing demand for education in the science, technology, engineering and math professions.

“That whole west side of campus,” Daniell said, “is a physical indication of the transition that is softening the antagonism to using the term ‘university.’ ”

By any other name, he added, “Dartmouth in many ways is an impossible story. Dartmouth should not exist. What is it doing, doing all these things, cheek by jowl with Dorchester and the Mascoma Valley?”

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

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