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Dartmouth’s Bitterness Toward Jim Kim

Jim Yong Kim will likely soon leave Dartmouth, and to that I’ll say what all Dartmouth folk, whether critics or fans, are saying: We hardly knew ya, Jim. I for one am doubtful that anyone could ever really know him. Every time I’ve listened to him speak in front of a group of people, and be challenged by thoughtful questions and problems that a leader should be equipped to address, he has never once taken a decisive, principled stance on anything at all.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, as he has many times spoken with some passion about precisely one staunchly-held principle: that the purpose of higher learning is to translate our skills and knowledge into leadership later in life. It didn’t take long for most of us to notice that “Reach for the stars!” was his favorite go-to inspirational line in any speech, or that he would often respond to a call for action by asking us to tell him what we wanted him to do.

However, when we did, explicitly and in great detail, he would resort to more stalling and muddled excuses, with the hope that wrapping up his non-answers with a bow of faux praise for our hard work would be enough to distract us when no change ever came.

Kim Obama.jpgGeneral discontent with him among the Dartmouth community is widespread and obvious; any student or recent alum need only glance at his or her Facebook newsfeed from Friday to see a host of opinions amounting to, “Goodbye and good riddance.” A satirical, derisive version of the e-mail he sent to the campus announcing his nomination went viral, racking up several thousand views in a day. While there may be healthy room for debate on the national stage over whether the attention and praise he receives are well-deserved, the resoundingly unanimous opinion of the Dartmouth community is that he has been a wholly ineffective talking head who never planned to do anything but use us and lose us.

The flood of bitterness in Hanover in the wake of the World Bank announcement has been overwhelming, but it is nothing particularly new. There was an atmosphere of growing impatience with the listlessness of his leadership on campus soon after he took office, and a creeping cynicism about how little he seemed to care about any initiative that could not take place on a larger stage than Dartmouth. Simply put, we all felt a little resentful that our small college and its local problems never seemed enough for him.

Cynicism has exploded in the past days in part due to his announcement that he will stay on as President “for now,” despite leaving for an international self-promotional tour meant to secure his election as World Bank president. He’s like a husband who says he might break up with you if his mistress agrees to elope with him, but just hang tight honey, because it might not work out. Never once in his announcement does he express pride in or love for Dartmouth itself; never once does he speak to his position at the College as one he values in the least.

Even his brief lip service to the value of higher education is not specific to Dartmouth, nor does it express any recognition that the College is itself a community where we should feel compelled to live a life of leadership and service right now.

Jim Kim was simply not suited to Dartmouth, where “those who love her” have long been dedicated to the idea that our isolated campus is a community that matters, and not just in a larger context — in its very own context. He seemed to miss that point, making it abundantly clear that he considered it useless to focus on the lived experiences of the students in the present. His eye was always to the future, to bigger and more prestigious things. He seemed almost baffled by the hands-on immediacy required of the job, and the direct engagement that the student body expected and repeatedly demanded from their president.

Granted, he came to the helm at a difficult time, when budget cuts were needed, but any student input into these decisions was ornamental at best, as made obvious by his administration’s refusal to actually share any specific details of the budget cuts even with the head of the Student Budget Advisory Committee. Repeatedly, he implored the students to draw out the blueprints for the actions we wanted his administration to take, and yet he refused us access to any data that could actually inform our suggestions in a useful way.

I was and remain amazed at his talent for avoiding direct accountability under the guise of encouraging student leadership and cultivating our own progress. But even if I were to accept that the day-to-day experience of going to college means nothing, and that the entire purpose of a liberal arts education is to propel us to greater heights post-graduation, I wonder where he expected us to go, when a ship with no captain will always remain adrift.

Let’s wish him luck in his future endeavors, but I am not alone in my fervent hope that he will step down as the College’s president without further ado. The charade is over; we know where his ambitions lie and they are far from Hanover. I can only hope for the sake of the World Bank that he views his new job as something worthy of sincere care and attention, as he never seemed to view his Dartmouth presidency.

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