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The Yale Law School, Dartmouth and ???

The Yale Law School (YLS) and Dartmouth College are similar in many ways: they have the smallest student body among their sister schools (Yale Law enrolls about one third as many students as Harvard Law); students and faculty are aware that the school is different from others — they are a a real élite; classes are small, and students and faculty interact closely on a compact campus; and both schools are animated by an ésprit that shies away from competition in favor of cooperation. They are situated in places that some people would say are less than ideal: New Haven and Hanover are far away from the urban centers of Cambridge and Manhattan — though I’d take Hanover’s trees over New Haven’s grit and crime any day.

The real difference between the schools over the past decades is that Dartmouth has shied away from its particular qualities while YLS has embraced them. Dartmouth has seen its staff balloon; YLS has stayed lean. Dartmouth has tried to do all the things that a university does, and it has failed to rise above mediocrity in most of them; YLs sticks to what it does superbly well and is usually ranked as the best law school in the world.

As Dartmouth searches for an acting-President and its next permanent leader, it would do well to return to the YLS-type model that used to animate it. At first glance, a leader from Yale Law might appear suitable as our president, and there are are plenty of good people down there. But pause for a moment.

If we want to look at leaders of small institutions that punch well above their weight, that are well managed, and that receive recognition in national and international rankings, we don’t have to go to Connecticut. There is another example very close to hand.

The Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth has quietly forged an identity for itself over the past decades that is close to being on a par with YLS today, and with the undergraduate program at Dartmouth as it used to be. When I was an undergrad, we’d joke that there was only one student at Tuck: a 5’11 sandy-haired guy in a lambswool sweater, chinos and weejuns. Well, the place has come a long way since then, and when off and on Tuck is ranked #1 among business schools — it is almost always in the Top 10 — one is looking at the results of conscious effort. Add to that an intense loyalty among Tuckies to their school, with a percentage of alumni giving today at levels that Dartmouth used to boast about many year ago, and one would seem to have a formula that could advantageously be applied to Dartmouth.

So how did Tuck rise as Dartmouth slid? Down at Tuck, they’d say that achievement was a team effort. They sure do like to talk about teamwork. But as in sports, the great teams have great coaches; these are the people who put the players together that then feel they are a team.

Who has done this at Tuck, in a quiet, thoughtful, staying-behind-the-scenes way? Tomorrow we’ll look at Tuck’s leader over the past 17 years, a man who could become Dartmouth’s interim-President right away: Dean Paul Danos.


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