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A Better Use for the Irving Money

Institute of Arctic Studies.jpgAs we have said before, when you begin an entrepreneurial project, you proceed in a clear sequence — people, idea, finance — and not the other way around, as is occurring with the College’s incipient energy institute. Self-evidently Dartmouth has no significant expertise in energy on which to build; Phil is advancing this idea only because Arthur Irving seems to want to create an institute on which he might put his name. But why do so for a center of which there are already numerous examples at universities all over the country?

An alternative exists that makes sense for the College, for Arthur Irving, and for the faculty here, one that builds on good work that has already been done at Dartmouth: an expanded Dartmouth Institute of Arctic Studies, which is currently a component of the College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

We already have a star researcher in the field: Ross Virgina, who was named a fellow last year in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Virginia is one of two leaders of the Fulbright Scholars Program Arctic Initiative.

The below video that the College recently put up on YouTube describes some of the interesting Arctic research that is already taking place at Dartmouth:

In the spring of 2016, Erich Osterberg, a professor of earth sciences, led a scientific expedition to Greenland. For five weeks, he and his team traveled across the ice sheet taking measurements and obtaining ice cores that were sent to Dartmouth for further study. Osterberg and graduate students he works with talk about what they found, what it’s like to live on an ice sheet, and how their work can help society better understand—and prepare for—climate change.

Beyond those activities, as the northernmost Ivy (yes, we are substantially to the north of Cornell), a focus on the Arctic makes sense — certainly more sense that the federal government’s Arctic Research Office, located, for a reason that escapes me, in San Diego. That said, the feds are not entirely clueless; they have already placed the Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) in Hanover.

Only four American schools (University of Colorado at Boulder, Ohio State, University of Alaska, and University of Washington) have research centers devoted to the Arctic; though a number of universities in Canada and countries of northern Europe are doing work on the far north, too. Ample room exists for the College to distinguish itself in this field.

Given that the College is still recruiting a director for the Irving Institute, Phil has plenty of time to pivot the effort towards an area that works for the College and fulfills a real need in the world. Will he have the courage to do so?

Addendum: In light of the topicality of global warming as a subject of study, and the centrality of the Arctic in understanding climate change, fundraising for an Arctic institute at the College should go well — certainly better than the meager success Phil has achieved to date in obtaining gifts for the energy institute. Phil’s goal is another $80 million to go with Arthur Irving’s equivalent commitment. When he announced the new center, which has been in the works for several years now, he had only received promises for $33 million. My request a few weeks ago for an update from the College about giving elicited a frosty “We have not announced additional commitments related to this project.” from spokesperson Diana Lawrence. And so it goes, or in this case, doesn’t.

Addendum: An alum writes in to note the College’s longstanding interest in things Arctic, including the The Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration at Rauner:

Founded as the private research collection of the Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962), the Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration is an exceptionally rich body of material for research on the history of both the Antarctic and the Arctic. For the Antarctic regions, the bulk of the collection is concerned with events prior to World War II. For the Arctic regions, the bulk of the collection is concerned with events prior to 1930. As Stefansson himself worked exclusively in the Arctic, this part of the collection is more robust.


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