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Dartmouth University: Folt Ascendant

Folt & Kim.jpgAlthough alumni have long lamented Dartmouth’s drift towards university status, the most significant move in that direction took place this past term with the elevation of Provost Carol Folt’s position in the administrative hierarchy of the College.

Previously, Dartmouth had had a weak Provost as compared to other schools where the Provost is the chief academic officer. At the College, traditionally both the Dean of the Faculty and the Provost reported directly to the President, with the Dean taking responsibility for the undergraduate College of Arts & Sciences and the Provost overseeing the three professional schools, facilities, and other areas. These lines of responsibility reflected Dartmouth’s emphasis on its undergraduate program.

However, under the recent realignment of responsibilities, the Dean of the Faculty now reports directly to the Provost, and although there is a footnote in the organization chart below about the Dean having a “dotted line report” to the President, few are fooled, especially given the recent short-circuited elevation of Mike Mastanduno to the Deanship from Associate Dean of the Social Sciences, where he had already reported directly to Carol Folt. One does not have to consult the Art History department to understand the meaning of this fig leaf footnote.

Dart Org Chart.jpg

It is no secret that Carol Folt bucked hard for the Presidency of the College; it is even less of a secret that the faculty made known its displeasure at this possibility to the members of the presidential search committee and to the Trustees themselves. This second point seems to be common knowledge to everyone in Hanover except newly arrived President Kim, who has given central Presidential responsibilities to Folt. In fact, Kim did not even want to attend the weekly, half-day meetings of the Committee Advisory to the President (CAP) at which final faculty promotion and tenure decisions are made — traditionally a core responsibility of Dartmouth Presidents and a symbol of their intimate involvement in the life of the undergraduate College. Members of the committee and others pushed back hard at this eventuality, and President Kim does now attend these meetings — but a signal has been sent nonetheless.

I have long maintained that the litmus test for the Kim Presidency would be whether he is capable of identifying Carol Folt as in impediment to progress, or whether he accepts her plodding, her dissembling, and her there-is-no-problem-that-does-not-merit-a-committee reflexes as the manner in which the College should be run. To date, his attitude has been the latter, and this posture is the primary reason that his administration has the pungent smell of Jim Wright’s ineptitude about it.

Note: Don’t discount the importance of reporting relationships. For instance, President Kim was careful to point out that the College’s new Athletics Director would be reporting directly to him — a sign of the President’s emphasis on athletics. Kim said in a press conference that he was restoring a historical relationship that is consistent with other Ivy League institutions. Well, tradition cuts both ways, and while Jim Kim may have proudly restored a tradition in athletics, he has also ended a reporting relationship for Dartmouth’s Dean of the Faculty, arguably the most distinctive academic tradition at the Ivy League’s only College.

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