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Memories of Phil Hanlon the Student

Bob Norman1.jpgProfessor Emeritus of Mathematics Robert Norman has a clear memory of one of his favorite students, Phil Hanlon ‘77; and President Hanlon returns the favor: in a recent interview in the Alumni Magazine, Hanlon cited Bob Norman as one of his memorable teachers, along with professors Jim Baumgartner, Donald Pease, Ken Bogart, Joan Hutchinson, and a fellow named John Kemeny.

Since his retirement from the College, Norman has continued to work with students: in addition to being a thesis advisor, he has sponsored 52 WISP interns. He has also kept an eye on campus affairs: in 2007 he wrote a well received piece in The D that was critical of the change in the voting system included in the proposed alumni constitution. The efficiency of various voting systems is one of Norman’s particular areas of academic interest. The constitution was rejected by a majority of alumni. However the Trustees overrode Professors Norman’s views, and in the subsequent year they unilaterally changed the voting method used in alumni elections.

When I returned from a Thanksgiving trip a few weeks ago, an announcement caught my eye: the new President of Dartmouth had been chosen, my former student, Philip Hanlon. I couldn’t have been more pleased! Actually, that’s not quite true — after I read about his accomplishments as Provost at the University of Michigan, I was even more pleased.

Phil was an outstanding student in one of my advanced mathematics classes, and he was also a participant in an NSF-sponsored undergraduate summer research group in which I participated. Phil’s work in that course was excellent — earning him one of the three citations he received in his course work — particularly because he was so imaginative and creative. He was the youngest member of the research group, but his work was outstanding.

Phil found one of the topics that we looked at during that summer to be sufficiently intriguing that he chose it for a senior thesis with me. In his research on that project, he soon went well beyond what I could do. Phil’s work was one of the two best senior theses that I reviewed in my more than 50 years as a professor at Dartmouth (I was on the faculty for 36 years, and I’ve been a professor emeritus since then, continuing to work with students, including being a thesis advisor).

If that were all you knew about Philip Hanlon, you might think he was a nerd. Far from it. Phil was very sociable, both with his colleagues and with some lucky faculty members. He was active in his fraternity, and he was well liked by students both in and outside the fraternity. I knew Phil had a broad set of interests, but, through conversations with his fraternity brothers, I found they were even wider than I had realized. He had a strong interest in sports, particularly basketball. I remember that if I suggested an evening meeting time to work on mathematics with him, his answer was a clear “no” — if there was a Dartmouth basketball game that night.

Dartmouth has made a fine choice to lead the school.

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