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And the Next Provost Is?

Twice burned, thrice shy. I have little patience with people reasoning about our new Provost, Carolyn Dever, based on the press release put out by the College. My statement is not against her, nor for her. By this point in time, it should be clear to everyone that the official version of events too often bears little resemblance to reality.

We’ve seen the proof of that proposition in the reporting about Jim Kim ascending to the Presidency of the World Bank, and Carol Folt becoming Chancellor down at UNC. In the case of those two scoundrels, the recitation of past achievements and the gushing about their personal qualities bore so little relationship to the years that we lived with them in Hanover as to poison one’s reading of press releases forever.

What do we know about the people who chose Dever? Phil Hanlon was picked by Dartmouth’s Trustees, a monied, MBA-bearing group almost utterly bereft of practical and theoretical experience in higher education. As I have written before, these folks are more the Upper Valley PTA than a group of experienced wisemen and women thoughtfully leading the College. The jury is still out on Phil.

Beyond the Trustees, the Provost Search committee itself was led by none other than Bruce Duthu, a prominent supporter of the ASA boycott of Israeli institutions of higher learning. Not only did Bruce support the ASA’s position, he is the Treasurer of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, which voted to boycott Israel before the ASA did. The judgment of a professor who believes in boycotting his peers will always be open to the highest level of doubt.

Putting Duthu’s politics aside — though an ethical transgression like his should never be forgotten — we should note that he does have supporters among Dartmouth’s high achievers; in addition, the rest of the search committee includes both impressive, independent thinkers and some lesser lights (I’ll leave that determination to you): Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris, Nia Foney ‘15, John O’Toole Tu’14, Government Professor John Carey, Engineering Professor Tillman Gerngross, Tuck Professor Robert Hansen, Geisel Professor Yolanda Sanchez, English Professor Barbara Will, and Math and Computer Science Professor Peter Winkler.

However, despite the committee’s qualities, its members never took the time to talk directly to people at Vanderbilt about their experience with Carolyn Dever. They left that task to the search firm of Isaacson Miller, the folks who brought us Jim Kim. I don’t know what they might have learned by doing so — remember, I have no opinion so far about our new Provost — but I do know for certain that if President Obama’s underlings and the Board of Governors at UNC had taken the time to consult people in Hanover about Jim Kim and Carol Folt, they would almost certainly would have made different final decisions.

So it was when Harvard sought a new President in the 1990’s, and Jim Freedman eagerly threw his hat into the ring. As a result, several Dartmouth professors were invited to Cambridge for lengthy meetings with the Harvard presidential search committee, with the final result that Jim Freedman was quickly stricken from the list of candidates. To my mind, Harvard showed that day that it knows how to do its homework, rather than relying on consultants, and consequently making a bad mistake.

What to think of Carolyn Dever? Nothing for the moment, though I do have feelers out. Phil seems to have a good nose for talent: initial reports are that his first hires (Tommy Bruce, Rick Mills and Bob Lasher ‘88) have impressed people around Hanover. But, then, as long as Charlotte Johnson is around, we can’t be entirely sure about Phil’s discernment.

We’ll have to wait until our new Provist gets here and makes a few serious decisions to see who she is.

Addendum: While the College’s press release concerning Dever noted that she will report directly to Phil Hanlon, nothing was said in it regarding the future reporting path of the Dean of the Faculty. Will Mike Mastanduno report to her or to Phil?

As we previously observed, when Jim Kim picked Carol Folt as his Provost, he placed the Dean of the Faculty below her in the College’s organization chart, with only a dotted line report to him. This important change signalled that the undergraduate Faculty of Arts & Sciences was now only at parity with the College’s various graduate schools — rather than meriting the President’s personal attention.


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