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“I think it’s a really extraordinary moment for the school to explain itself, get a lot of positive attention and really come across.”

I unfortunately missed yesterday’s inauguration ceremony for Dartmouth President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, having just returned to New York after a lovely visit in Hanover, but even from afar it is abundantly clear that the College put an enormous amount of work into choreographing the ordeal and packaging it for media consumption. There is a beautiful website dedicated to the inauguration, complete with an audio track, well-integrated video, photos, a “media kit,” and (ironically) even a list of the 32 individuals on two committees dedicated to staging the thing.

A few thoughts on the careful choreography.

First, it was very skillfully done. Diana Pearson, Dartmouth’s Vice President for Communications (and the source of the quotation in the title of this post), clearly knows what she is doing. Regular readers of this page might expect Dartblog to disparage the vast effort spent on the inauguration, for we frequently criticize the College’s public relations machine. On the contrary, in this case, Ms. Pearson is quite right. The College had a low-cost opportunity for great press, and took it. (For proof that Dartblog does not discount the value of good image in general, one need only compare the professional look and feel of this website to that of the various other campus blogs that exist.)

What do I mean by “low-cost?” Well, the problem with many of Dartmouth’s past PR efforts (e.g. the campaigns against each of the petition trustees) is that their purpose has been to mask serious issues at the College, letting them fester from institutional inertia. By stifling progress, this absurdist, problem-denying PR directly harms the institution—it is anything but low-cost. But yesterday’s inauguration ceremony was not an attempt to hide Dartmouth’s problems.

There are signs that the reign of destructive PR may be ending at Dartmouth. The first event of the inauguration was a panel called “Reflections on Leadership for Social Change,” which President Kim called his “dream panel.” It was moderated by Tuck’s Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management, and it included Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor. Both are scholars of institutional strategy, and both emphasize the vital importance of good data in a leader’s decision making. President Kim espoused the same idea in a recent interview with Bill Moyers—it seems to be a theme in Kim’s thinking. If the new president is serious about bringing this approach to Dartmouth, we may see less problem-masking and fewer tortured statistics out of 7 Lebanon Street in the future.

Here’s hoping.

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