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Presidential Position Profile: The Plan to Radically Expand Graduate Programs

We’ll discuss the Search Committee’s statement as it relates to the character of our new President on Wednesday; there are weightier matters right now that require our attention. The Trustees have decided to use the Presidential Position Profile to give the Dartmouth community an indication of where IP Folt’s strategic plan is supposed to take us. The first two paragraphs of the piece lay out Folt’s goals:

The 18th president of Dartmouth will have the rarest of opportunities: to lead a thriving, elite, research and teaching intensive institution which is poised to make the single largest academic investment in its 243-year history. Dartmouth is on course for the bold, transformative, and strategic expansion of faculty and facilities that it needs to compete in this increasingly global world.

With graduate programs in the arts and sciences, with schools of medicine, engineering and business, and with an unqualified commitment to research, Dartmouth presents as a university, yet in size, temperament, warmth, and abiding commitment to teaching, it remains the College. [Emphasis added]

The little coda about remaining “the College” should not distract us from the blueprint to sharply expand Dartmouth (no word yet on changes in the number of students) and emphasize the College’s graduate programs. You will have noted that the introduction contains no mention of undergraduates at all.

The strategic plan’s goal of growing Dartmouth and changing its essential character is its most disturbing element. Alumni have long been concerned about the degeneration of the College into Dartmouth University; Folt’s plan make no bones about this ambition. Later in the document, we are given some detail about the upcoming changes:

Significant growth in the faculty will allow Dartmouth to continue to develop new programs in areas of strength that leverage expertise across the institution. The integration of graduate students into the mosaic of collaborative education will also be essential to this effort. [Emphasis added]

And the Appendix to the Presidential Leadership Profile leaves no doubt as to the Trustees’ intention to expand graduate programs:

Dartmouth expects to see a more expansive and strategic graduate program in the coming years, consistent with faculty expansion plans. Ongoing and planned increases in services for graduate students are expected to add significantly to the growing academic culture.

Graduate students throughout the institution + Growing the faculty = Dartmouth U. I don’t think that the administration has ever articulated this misguided ambition as clearly. For shame. The College’s unique characteristic in the Ivy League is that graduate students do not teach undergrads (save for certain low-level science courses); they play no role in our, uh, “mosaic of collaborative education.” However it seems that they will do so in the future — if IP Folt has her way — so as to free the professoriat to do more research. The quality of undergraduate education be damned.

The College has been hindered by incompetent leaders for the past 15 years; however, the underlying character of the institution has not significantly changed. A great President could quickly establish Dartmouth as the preeminent undergraduate college in the world. But if the changes alluded to in the Presidential Position Profile are put into place, the College will turn a corner, and perhaps never be able to realize that promise.

If you have been silent about Dartmouth’s direction until now, please consider making your lonely voice heard.

Addendum: Should the administration choose to build on Dartmouth’s strengths, the College’s graduate programs are not the foundation to choose. The most recent U.S. News rankings show that our graduate schools and PhD programs are far from the best part of the College:

Grad Schools.jpg

One of my faithful correspondents writes in:

Slightly more than 40 years ago, the College instituted M.A. and PhD graduate programs in the Arts & Sciences. The programs were created to be small and excellent with the specific understanding and direction they were not to diminish or detract from undergraduate education. The stated reasons for the graduate programs were to assist in the recruitment of better faculty and enhance the academic reputation of the College.

Vast sums of money and time have been committed to the establishment, maintenance and growth of the A&S graduate programs. New “deaneries”, support, counseling and administrative structures encrust the programs. Substantial new housing and other physical accommodations have been constructed to accommodate the influx of graduate students. Faculty members have diverted substantial time toward graduate students and away from undergraduates.

Have these decisions and investments been vindicated by the results over the last 40+ years? The answer is a resounding “no”.

And a College insider offers a clear view of the College:

I’d also note on your checklist of qualities—I might rephrase your comment about “Love of Dartmouth” prompted in part by what your faculty correspondent mentioned. I might say an appreciation for Dartmouth—i.e., a true understanding of why Dartmouth people love Dartmouth. Which is really an appreciation of Dartmouth’s unique characteristics in terms of the way it shapes character and spirit as well as minds. An appreciation for the value of an engaged and vigorous life as well as cerebral. And, above all, an appreciation of the idea of comparative advantage—that Dartmouth’s focus on a superior, liberal arts, undergraduate education is a source of strength that should be cultivated, not a weakness that needs to be overcome.

It is precisely because Dartmouth can offer the best undergraduate liberal arts education in the world that it can attract the best faculty and students who self-select for that experience, rather than offering the 15th or 20th research university experience in the world. By focusing on and promoting Dartmouth’s unique strengths in a comparative advantage sense, Dartmouth can actually attract an overall higher level of students and faculty than it can by chasing the herd. Some departments, like Economics, understand this. Others seemingly do not. Carol Folt most clearly does not, as do the others who continue to promote the Dartmouth University vision.

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