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An Historian Hides His Story

Wright Sealed Records Comp.jpgPresident Jim Wright transformed Dartmouth: he grew the bureaucracy by 40% in his first few years in office, though the number of students remained unchanged; salaries and benefits skyrocketed as he attempted to buy popularity; he lowered tenure standards so much that the College will be burdened by about one hundred sub-par professors for decades; a plethora of senior administrators fled to other schools (Lee Bollinger, Jamshed Barucha, Susan Prager, Mike Gazzaniga); his borrowing binge and overspending left Dartmouth with fewer financial resources on net at the end of his eleven-year reign than when he started in office; he did virtually nothing to improve the academic climate or the undergraduate program; and he engendered a toxic institutional culture of spinning, lying, and punishment for dissent.

Most importantly, Wright changed governance at Dartmouth from a 16-person Board of Trustees, half elected by alumni, to a 24-person Board dominated by an in-crowd of appointed MBA cronies with no knowledge of higher education.

For all his trouble, Wright was fired by the Board. Not that it was announced that way, of course. Shortly prior to his resignation, and also until just before a hearing on an alumni lawsuit where the College was clearly bested by insurgent alumni’s counsel, Wright had been giving interviews in his avuncular style: he felt younger than he looked, he guffawed, but he expected to be the College’s President for several more years, at least. And then, out of the blue and not long after the problematic hearing, boom, he announced that he was retiring. Needless to say, several College publications found themselves scrambling to reset their type.

Now we learn that Wright, an historian by trade, has made sure that his time in office won’t be comprehensively studied by scholars until all of the actors in his administration are playing golf on the big green in the sky. The Alumni Magazine is reporting that by decree in 2003 Wright bottled up for 50 years all of the documents relating to the Board of Trustees from his time in office. That’s a shame. The Trustee records of Wright’s Presidency would make interesting reading for historians of the College. And for anyone interested in the truth. But, then, history was never really Wright’s concern; it was always about Jim.

I wonder, can Wright’s self-interested decree be un-decreed by a future President?

Addendum: Worst President ever.

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