Dartmouth’s Tuck School gets $52M donation, largest in its history, for ‘Wicked Problems’ summit

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/7/2022 11:37:02 PM
Modified: 7/7/2022 11:34:25 PM

HANOVER — A $52.1 million donation made by an anonymous donor to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth will establish a new annual summit to solve “Wicked Problems” facing the world.

The donation, which is the largest in Tuck’s history, creates an endowment for a Health, Wealth and Sustainability Summit. While the details are still being worked out, the event will likely be held annually over the course of a few days, said Matthew Slaughter, dean of the Tuck School. Scholars, students, business and civil leaders and government officials from around the world will share ideas to come up with practical solutions to big issues that can be applied at local levels.

“That’s the spirit, I think, of this summit, which is to recognize in the 21st century there’s pretty interconnected challenges of health, wealth and sustainability that need some new thinking and new ideas and the application of those ideas,” Slaughter said.

The goal is to have the first summit in 2023 at Tuck.

Wicked problems are “things that are vexing society” that require different perspectives to solve problems that don’t have easy solutions, said Matthew Garcia, a professor of history and Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean studies at Dartmouth. Climate change is one example.

“What that requires is dialogue and connecting with people who might have come at the problem from a different perspective,” Garcia said. That is, in part, what the summit aims to do.

While Dartmouth has held different conferences and symposiums in the past, “oftentimes those do deep dives into specific areas,” Slaughter said. With the summit, “it’s the intersectionality that I think is different.”

In addition to Garcia, professors involved include Ron Adner, the Nathaniel D’1906 and Martha E. Leverone Memorial Professor of Business Administration; Lindsey Leininger, clinical professor and faculty director of the Tuck Center for Health Care; and Douglas Irwin, the John French Professor of Economics at Dartmouth, according to a news release.

Sometimes, academic conversations around solving issues happen and stay within tight circles. There’s a lot of talk among scholars about what can be done but applying those ideas to the real world doesn’t always happen.

“We have to engage the business community for these solutions to actually have some traction otherwise they’re happening in an academic vacuum,” Garcia said. “This emanating from Tuck makes it different because you’ll hear studies of how to solve climate change from environmental scientists or you’ll hear how to end poverty in the African American community, but if it’s not tethered to the ways in which society is being organized around a capitalist accumulation, around employment of people, then we are only (having) that conversation or having those discussions in a vacuum.”

What’s also different is the way the summit is being developed. The idea is that the people who attend will come back year after year to build on what they’ve started instead of treating it as a one-off event.

“The hope is beyond convening with some regularity here on campus, there will be work and engagement with those who are part of the summit community throughout the years in other ways,” Slaughter said. “Ideally through time it’s going to bring together a set of individuals, be they the faculty involved, students and then leaders from different walks of the world who see themselves and self identity with this summit through time.”

Slaughter compared it to Henry Kissinger’s Harvard International Seminar, held in the 1950s and 1960s, which brought people together to discuss international affairs and issues. Participants will take part in panel discussions and other forums where ideas can be exchanged.

“We’re not inviting people only of one mind,” Garcia said, adding that participants will have “contrasting not contentious views.”

“We’re looking to avoid consensus” at the outset of discussions, he added, but as ideas are exchanged, participants can come up with concrete ways for issues to be addressed.

“I think that represents what the donor wants,” Garcia said. “The donor just doesn’t want to rubber-stamp ways of thinking that are already in existence the donor wants to generate new ways of thinking about these solutions.”

The problems being addressed will also be complementary to the three themes of health, wealth and sustainability. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as an example, Garcia said that, while it is classified as a health issue, it touches on multiple issues.

“I think it has some influence on wealth in the sense that if people are not vaccinated, if people are dying in large numbers, it’s going to affect the common wealth of society, but also of individuals to sustain their families, to take care of their families, so these become overlapping issues,” Garcia said.

Summit organizers also want to include Dartmouth students from the undergraduate school and graduate schools.

“All of us early on, we really wanted to stress students play a role and that’s a little bit different from what universities and colleges do when they convene seminars,” Slaughter said. Usually, the focus is on faculty and other scholars. “But we think to build impact and impact through time, we need to be real intentional in involving our students.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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